The Introduction by Virginia Woolf
In The Introduction by Virginia Woolf we have the theme of isolation, fear, insecurity, anxiety, equality and class. Taken from her The Complete Shorter Fiction collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the readers realises that Woolf may be exploring the theme of isolation. Lily while at Mrs Dalloway’s party isolates herself from the other people at the party and it is only through Mrs Dalloway’s insistence that Lily ends up talking to others (Bob Brinsley). It is also difficult to say for certain as to why Lily might wish to isolate herself with some critics suggesting Lily may be shy while others suggest it is a matter of Lily being afraid and insecure about herself. Whichever may be the case it is clear to the reader that Lily feels somewhat anxious and out of place at the party and it may be significant that we learn that Lily prefers spending her time on her own, walking in the countryside. Woolf describing the feeling that Lily gets while being alone in the countryside as being the ‘ecstasy of loneliness.’ This line in particular may be important as it suggests that Lily is different to others. Where many would not like to be alone (or walk in the countryside) it is an environment in which Lily thrives. What is also interesting is Lily’s love of the countryside is in contrast to the environment of Mrs Dalloway and those who are in attendance at the party. Lily is not only out of place at the party but she would be unique in her outlook on life in comparison to those at the party.
The insecurity that Lily feels when it comes to those at the party is interesting as Woolf may be suggesting that Lily’s insecurity is driven by her belief that she is not the equal of others, either male or female. She does not have Mrs Dalloway’s flair for mixing with people nor does she appear to consider herself to be the intellectual equal of Bob Brinsley. It is also possible that Lily does not feel equal in class to Mrs Dalloway and Bob Brinsley. As to why Lily may feel this way is never stated though Mr Bromley does suggest that Lily, like all the Everits, ‘had the weight of the world upon her shoulders.’ This line may be important as though it suggests that Lily and her family may feel beneath others it is also possible that Woolf is suggesting that Lily’s difficulty is the fact that she finds it hard to conform to socially accepted practices (among the upper classes). As readers we are already aware that Lily’s environment is very much different to Mrs Dalloway’s and Bob Brinsley’s. Just as she likes to spend her time outside in the country she is also an outsider when it comes to the upper classes. If anything it is possible that she finds the environment that the upper classes populate to be intimidating. The reality being that Lily, should she be taken out of her comfort zone (countryside and academia), no longer feels as secure within herself.
Woolf’s use of long sentences throughout the story which are punctuated with comma’s rather than with full stops is also interesting. It may be a case that she is attempting to highlight for the reader just how intense Lily’s feelings are when it comes to having to mix with others. Each part of a sentence punctuated by a comma represents a negative feeling that Lily may have or a mountain that she feels she must climb. It is as if Woolf is trying to bring the reader into Lily’s thought processes. Just as Lily likes to go walking in the countryside Woolf walks the reader through Lily’s feelings of anxiety, comma by comma. In many ways Lily while she is at the party is not only insecure and afraid but she is anxious throughout. Something that Woolf manages to highlight to the reader through her writing style. The fact that Lily feels like a fly who has lost their wings may also be significant as Woolf may be suggesting that Lily feels as though she has been humbled without her consent by Bob Brinsley. Which would intensify the anxiety and insecurity that Lily feels.
The end of the story is also interesting as Lily gets completely lost in her thoughts when she is talking to Bob Brinsley. Though we are aware that they are discussing one of his essays rather than engaging with Bob Lily feels dejected as if her own academic input, which she had previously been so proud of, is worthless. In many ways how Lily feels about her essay at the end of the story mirrors how Lily feels about herself. She too just like her thoughts on her essay feels worthless. Though some critics might suggest that Woolf is pitting male against female at the end of the story it is more likely that Lily feels alienated not because a male (Bob Brinsley) may have written a better essay but because she feels as though she has been beaten by someone (regardless of sex). If anything Lily is an intelligent and sensitive individual who finds it difficult to mix with others on their terms. Preferring as the reader is aware to spend her time alone.