Lappin and Lapinova by Virginia Woolf
In Lappin and Lapinova by Virginia Woolf we have the theme of love, class, discontent, connection, escape, independence and control. Taken from her The Complete Shorter Fiction collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Woolf may be exploring the theme of love. Rosalind and Ernest while they are on honeymoon are very much in love with Rosalind giving both herself and Ernest pet names. This may be important as it suggests that there is a bond or connection between Rosalind and Ernest. However Rosalind does not feel the same when it comes to Ernest’s family. She considers them old and somewhat archaic or out of touch. This could be significant as Woolf may be highlighting the decline in social classes that was occurring at the time the story was written. No longer did those of a lower social class have the same respect for those of a higher social class. It is as though class had become an irrelevancy in many people’s minds. Though the reality may have been slightly different with those of a higher social class imposing their will on others.
It is also noticeable that Rosalind is dependent on Ernest to cheer her up and the only way that he can do so is by twitching his nose like a rabbit. It is as though Rosalind herself is discontent with life and only finds happiness when she and Ernest play their game with each other. This may be important as it is possible that Rosalind is lonely. Despite having just got married there is no mention of individual friends in her life. Her world appears to revolve around Ernest. The game that Rosalind and Ernest play with one another is also a form of escape for Rosalind. Something which would suggest that Rosalind is unhappy in her life. She is reliant on a children’s game in order for her marriage to continue and progress. It is as though Rosalind is afraid of the outside world (Ernest’s family) and as such needs an avenue in whereby she can escape from the realities of life. Something she succeeds in doing for the first three years of her marriage to Ernest. Once Rosalind has her game that she can play with Ernest she is content.
What is also interesting is that Woolf shifts the mood of the story on three separate occasions. She moves from a sense of peace when Rosalind is first married. Then to a sense of tension when Rosalind is having dinner at Ernest’s family home and finally Woolf shifts the mood to one of hopelessness when Rosalind discovers that Lapinova is dead. It might also be significant that throughout the story Rosalind relies on Ernest to play Lappin. Something which may suggest that Woolf is exploring the theme of male dominance in society. Rosalind is totally reliant (emotionally, mentally and financially) on Ernest. As many women at the time may have been after they got married. Society was controlled by the male with the female being subservient. The fact that Rosalind after she marries Ernest is still not used to his name might act as foreshadowing as it is possible that Woolf is preparing the reader for what happens at the end of the story and the collapse of Rosalind and Ernest’s marriage. Something that appears to be based on the fact that Rosalind considers Ernest to be cold-hearted when she tells him that Lapinova is dead.
It is as though the issue is of no importance to Ernest. Something which registers quite clearly with Rosalind. If anything Rosalind may feel as though Ernest is as cold as she thinks his family is. That he is no different and that she does not wish to be part of a relationship in whereby there is such a coldness or disconnect. It might also be worth noting that at the end of the story the decision to divorce Ernest is Rosalind’s. Which may leave some readers to suggest that Rosalind has found her voice. Regardless of the pet names that she has given both herself and Ernest Rosalind is in fact a very serious woman. Who knows that her emotional needs are not going to be met by Ernest. Hence the divorce. For the first time in the story the reader sees Rosalind acting independently of others. She has taken control of her life and has a clear idea of which direction she wishes her life to go. Though she may struggle financially Rosalind knows that she may be happier divorcing Ernest rather than staying with him and being under his control without the escape of their game. However Rosalind might serve herself well by questioning why she has to play a game rather than engaging with the world in a productive manner.
A more sinister interpretation of the final section does seem possible.
The line ‘For ten seconds he stood there, silent, and she waited, feeling hands tightening at the back of her neck’ suggests that Ernest kills Rosalind. Whilst it is ambiguous I have yet to see an explanation of why Rosalind felt his hands. What do you think?