The Lady in the Looking-Glass: A Reflection by Virginia Woolf

In The Lady in the Looking-Glass: A Reflection by Virginia Woolf we have the theme of materialism, perception, conflict, identity, appearance, honesty and loneliness. 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 reader realises that Woolf may be exploring the theme of identity. Isabella is not seen at the start of the story and the reader is left to try and imagine who she might be by use of the narrator’s words and description. Which is flattering to Isabella leaving the reader to believe that Isabella is a happy, middle aged woman who lives her life entertained by her many friends. However as the story progresses it becomes clear to the reader that all is not what it might seem to be. Isabella has no friends. All the letters that the narrator had suggested might be letters from admirers and friends are in fact nothing more than bills. This may be important, the fact that Isabella has no friends, as it would play on the theme of loneliness. It would appear that all Isabella has in her life is her garden. There are no friends who might call to her home. It is also noticeable that Woolf is using a lot of colour in her description of Isabella’s drawing-room. This could be symbolically important as Woolf may be attempting to give life to the room. Which in many ways is somewhat ironic when the reader considers that Isabella lives a lonely life.

What may also be important is the fact that Isabella’s drawing-room is richly decorated yet in all likelihood she has not paid for any of the items in the room. Hence the bundles of bills in the drawer. It is possible that Isabella is living well beyond her means in the hopes that she can fill her life with something. The narrator does after all advise the reader that Isabella was ‘empty.’ Isabella may be furnishing her home thinking that this will fill the void she may feel in her life. On the surface Isabella appears to have everything. Yet as readers we know that she in reality is a lonely and empty person. It also appears to be a case that the narrator is playing with perception at the beginning of the story. Though the world the narrator is discussing is imaginative it may be the world that Isabella would like society to see. She may wish to be seen as a happy person however the reality is very different. She is again empty.

There is also a sense that Isabella lives her life in conflict or at least lives unrealistically. She has the finest of clothes, the finest of furniture yet she is not happy. Again there is a void in her life that darkens life for Isabella. What this darkness may be is left to each reader to decide. It may be a case that Isabella is unhappy that she never found companionship in her life. The only person in Isabella’s life is herself. There is nobody else. Which for any human being is a sad thing to have to feel or be conscious of. It is also possible that Isabella is buying things for her home to replace the things she cannot have in life, like a friend or companion. All the bills would also suggest that Isabella may be a victim of materialism. Buying so many things in order to make herself feel better. However the reality is Isabella no matter what items she might purchase for her home is no happier.

Appearance also seems to be important to Isabella. That may be part of the reason she has her home so richly decorated. She is attempting to live the life of somebody she is not. However for Isabella to keep up the appearance of being someone who is happy or successful can only end up with Isabella getting herself into trouble. There are countless bills that have not been paid. There are no friends to help Isabella out. All she has is herself. Though she doesn’t seem to recognise this. Her life is a façade and Isabella is living as she does in order to avoid feeling the truth about her life. At no stage in the story does the reader suspect that Isabella has firstly been honest with herself and secondly she has not shown the capacity that is required to be honest with oneself. So painful is the truth to Isabella she escapes into a world that is not real and which cannot be sustained. She is spending money on things she cannot afford in order to feel better about her life. It would be far better for Isabella to accept who she really is and to try and live her life to the best of her ability without being dependent on putting on a show for others. Though again the reality is there are no others in Isabella’s life. She is an empty and lonely middle aged woman with no friends or no one to care for.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "The Lady in the Looking-Glass: A Reflection by Virginia Woolf." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 13 Sep. 2017. Web.


  • I think that was a good explanation but I think you should have added more things that were related to symbolization because I think that because some things in the story represents why she was like that.

    I think this is my idea and please can you explain the use of metaphor in this story

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate it. With regards to Woolf’s use of metaphors in the story. I would need to read the story again and at the moment I have a back log of stories I need to read. Though I can say when a writer uses metaphors (or comparisons) they are attempting to draw the readers attention to something. In the case of the story this comparison may be to highlight that the lady in question is not all that she seems.

  • how did the narrator describe the inside of the house as it was sen on the looking glass? on the other hand, how was the outside of the house reflectd there?

  • summary this story?

  • This is a great explanation. Thank you so much.

  • An interesting analysis and I am certainly with you on the theme of loneliness. However, I think the emphasis on unpaid bills is overdone and not supported by the story. In fact, Woolf emphasizes that Isabella is rich and in no need of money. Isabella to my mind represents a type of well traveled but unformed person. They are able to appreciate and understand beauty and aesthetics without it leaving any trace on their being. Isabella can’t accept ‘who she is’ because that is who she is. There is nothing to accept and the person can’t connect. This is why Isabella has no friends and would push any who tried to get near her away.

    What also intrigues me about this story is the almost Carolligian approach to mirrors. Maybe something else to explore?

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