Summary and Analysis Elizabeth and Her Tutor


It is far more interesting to consider the tutor, Miss Kilman, than it is to consider Elizabeth Dalloway. Perhaps this is true because Virginia Woolf, like Milton and many other writers, produces tour de force creations in her villains. And certainly Miss Kilman is a villain — and a magnificently created one. She is the counterpart of the doctors in the Septimus scenes; they are after Septimus' soul, she is after Clarissa's.

When Mrs. Dalloway was out for flowers this morning, she thought of death — and tried not to fear it; it seemed to promise an end to fearing. Far more than death, we realized when the scene was ended, Mrs. Dalloway fears Doris Kilman. She thinks of the tutor as a tyrant, as a blood-sucking, nocturnal spectre. A monster, she calls her, with "hooves" that threaten "that leaf-encumbered forest, the soul." She is like a heathen invader and it is apropos that when we first meet Miss Kilman she is on the landing, outside Clarissa Dalloway's door. She is outside the Dalloway's social class — and fiercely jealous of their easy manners, their money, and their position. She is a bulky, mackintoshed bundle of hate and self-deception.

Doris Kilman's self-deception has two poles — the secular and the sacred: concerning the first, she was hired to teach history to Elizabeth, theoretically a subject for objectivity, but Miss Kilman lacks all sense of objectivity. She is convinced she has a right to all that the Dalloways possess. Why? For one reason: because she is poor. Her reasoning is that Mrs. Dalloway does not deserve money or social position because her life has been full of vanity and deceit. If this were true, however, Miss Kilman could not logically claim the Dalloway prize either because she herself is fiercely vain. She is a reverse snob. She wears her old, smelly mackintosh as a proud insignia — to show that she is poor and that she is not trying to look as though she belongs to another, higher, social class. The impression is fraudulent.

Miss Kilman's other pole of self-deception, her sacred dimension, is her main source of strength — and hate. She has turned to religion for solace and peace but does not realize that she is actually waging a small-scale holy war against Clarissa Dalloway. She gives herself absurd grandeur by comparing her suffering in life with Christ's agony. Like the church, she is dogmatic, and like all invaders who wage holy wars, she is terribly self-righteous. She is after Clarissa's soul, the goal of the church, and also the most sacred, individual possession of Mrs. Dalloway. Ironically, Clarissa feared males, rebelling against their tradition-conferred domination. She idealized the natural, easy comradeship of "women together." Yet here, in Doris Kilman, is a monster far more terrifying than any man in Clarissa's life. And, though we see that Clarissa can face Miss Kilman in the flesh, it is the idea of Miss Kilman that terrifies her — the vulgar, envious, destructive force that, like a serpent, has slipped into the Dalloway house and threatens to poison and destroy Clarissa.

Miss Kilman, the sweaty, mackintoshed tutor, looks like a nobody; no one would guess the degree of frustrated possessiveness seething in her: if only she can gain Elizabeth, she will have succeeded, as a first step, in conquering Clarissa Dalloway. Her appearance successfully disguises her goal. But Virginia Woolf shows us Doris Kilman's real nature. When, for example, Miss Kilman is eating in the restaurant with Elizabeth, we see her eating "with intensity" — greedily gobbling down the pink sugared cakes and consuming the chocolate eclairs. Ugly, plain Miss Kilman is trying to devour Clarissa Dalloway and Elizabeth. She is hungry for Clarissa's loveliness, for Elizabeth's youth, for money, poise, and class — arid the cakes and pastries will never sate her. As she stuffs the delicacies into her mouth, we notice her hands. They open and close, the fingers curling inward. It reminds us of the convulsive, spreading claws of a cat who is intent on its prey.

Virginia Woolf does not leave us with thorough hatred for Doris Kilman, however; she draws us back and gives us the distance to pity this thwarted creature. Her last words, in fact, as she calls after Elizabeth are "Don't quite forget me." They are very much like the words Clarissa called after Elizabeth as she left the house, "Remember the party." Both women, Clarissa and Doris, are frightened of loneliness. Clarissa's parties are her restorative, but Miss Kilman has no such solace, not even in the church. She feels that Clarissa has won and that she has lost. Her love for Elizabeth and her hate for Clarissa have torn her apart.

Clarissa, on the other hand, fears that Doris Kilman has won the battle for Elizabeth. Neither woman, we realize, has won thus far. If Elizabeth belongs to anyone, which is doubtful, it might be her father. Like Richard, she is pliable. She allows Miss Kilman to dominate much of her time, just as Richard allows Hugh Whitbread to corral him into the jewelry shop. And, also like her father, she prefers being in the country to London. Parties tire her and compliments are beginning to bore her. She is, according to her class, disciplined; so she returns punctually for Clarissa's party. But Elizabeth has not begun to really either live or love yet. She is only at the brink of adulthood. What will Elizabeth eventually be like? It's impossible to say because in addition to being like her father, she is carrying her mother's sense of privacy. She daydreams of helping other people, but it is as the mistress of a grand manor that she sees herself — making the rounds, checking on the health of the workers. It is a silly, adolescent ideal but it does contain this kernel: she would help others, she would love — but from a distance, a social distance, in this case, but still a distance.

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