Commerce, Politics And The City In A Room Of One's Own And Mrs. Dalloway

2556 words - 10 pages

Commerce, Politics and the City in A Room of One's Own and Mrs. Dalloway

     "...At this moment, as so often happens in London, there was a complete lull and

suspension of traffic. Nothing came down the street; nobody passed. A single

leaf detached itself from the plane tree at the end of the street, and in that

pause and suspension fell. Somehow it was like a signal falling, a signal

pointing to a force in things which one had overlooked ... Now it was bringing

from one side of the street to the other diagonally a girl in patent leather

boots and then a young man in a maroon overcoat; it was also bringing a

taxi-cab; and it brought all three together at a point directly beneath my

window; where the taxi stopped; and the girl and the young man stopped; and they

got into the taxi; and the cab glided off as if it were swept on by the current

elsewhere." (A Room of One's Own 100)


"Virginia Woolf" - the version of her that narrates the "events" of A Room of

One's Own - observes the above urban scene from her window. In a pattern that

she had perfected in Mrs. Dalloway four years earlier, the rhythms of urban

existence are closely articulated with those of the natural world - and that

rhythmic coordination in turn serves as a kind of authorization of that urban

existence, a guarantee of the transcendent meaning of the evidently constructed

human world. Thus the quietly definitive dropping of a leaf from its branch not

only seems a sort of rhythmic blueprint for the ballet-like convergence of

"girl," "man" and "taxi-cab", but also in fact the mystical cause of that

convergence, a "signal" "bringing" this couple and vehicle together on this

deserted city street.


In the immediately following paragraph Woolf names explicitly what transcendent

meaning this urban vision seems to afford: "The sight of two people coming down

the street and meeting at the corner seems to ease the mind of some strain, I

thought, watching the taxi turn and make off. Perhaps to think, as I had been

thinking these two days, of one sex as distinct from the other is an effort

...." (100). This rumination shortly issues in the startlingly straightforward

conclusion that "[i]t is natural for the sexes to co-operate" (101). The

sentence interests me most for its blatant counter-factuality. Both human

history and, more relevantly, Woolf's own text argue forcefully that nothing in

fact is less natural than this conclusion. It is in response to the

overwhelmingly obvious fact of non-cooperation between the sexes that Woolf's

essay ends by recommending that women fortify their independence from men (the

essay is not called A Taxi-Cab with One's Boyfriend). I am not suggesting that

Woolf is unaware of the sleight-of-hand which lends an air of "naturalness" to


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