I’m going to need some help developing this idea (if there is anything here at all). It seems as though there is allusion to or acknowledgement of sexual attraction or connection between female characters in each of the novels we’ve covered so far: The Return of the Soldier, Mrs. Dalloway, and Lolly Willowes.
It struck me that there was a brief moment of (perhaps) lesbian affection between Lolly Willowes and another witch with whom she was dancing at the Witches’ Sabbath. At the dance, Lolly is moving from partner to partner and finally connects with Emily. “Laura liked dancing with Emily … They whirled faster and faster, fused together like two suns that whirl and blaze in a single destruction. A strand of the red hair came undone and brushed across Laura’s face. The contact made her tingle from head to foot. She shut her eyes and dived into obliviousness …” (175). Previous to this interaction, Lolly does not have an intimate connection to anyone she comes across; even to the several men whom her brother tries to set her up with. Although, I understand that writing is not strictly autobiographical, knowing that the author herself found companionship with a woman makes me wonder if there is perhaps some nod to that in the text.
In Mrs. Dalloway, the title character also has a moment of self-reflection as she remembers her love of another woman, Sally Seton. While at first, Clarissa’s internal monologue reflects that “on looking back, was the purity, the integrity, of her feeling for Sally. It was not like one’s feeling for a man” (33), she goes on to describe how Sally “kissed her on the lips” (35). The feelings that stirred in her were profound: “The others disappeared; there she was alone with Sally. And she felt that she had been given a present, something infinitely precious, wrapped up, which, as they walked (up and down, up and down), she uncovered, or the radiance burnt through, the revelation, the religious feeling!” (35). Again, this writing is done by an author who had a female lover.
The female connection in The Return of the Soldier is very different. After concluding that the truth must be told to Chris, Jenny and Margaret share a kiss: “We kissed, not as women, but as lovers do” (116). This seemed to come out of nowhere as I read the book, and indeed did not come up again. In this instance, Jenny and Margaret both loved the same man, perhaps mirroring West’s love affair with a married H.G. Wells.
Most of my classical reading from this time period is by male authors, so this is some of the first exposure I’ve had to early twentieth century British female authors. This trend is interesting as it may connect other things going on socially (ie. women’s suffrage). I’m interested to see if others found this as well, or if it is coincidence.
Warner, Sylvia Townsend. Lolly Willowes. 1926. The New York Review of Books, 1999.
West, Rebecca. The Return of the Soldier. 1918. Broadview Editions, 2010.
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. 1925. Harcourt, 2005.