5   Conclusion


It has been possible to trace how Woolf connects ethics to intimacy, making use of literary tropes tying intimacy to the auditory and the home, and how, building on this, she depicts the emergence of subjectivity in a way that not only uses architectural and sonic motifs as poietic devices, but also connects ethics, epistemology, and subjectivity to sound and listening. Throughout the two scenes in which Clarissa is confronted with her neighbor, the echo evolves from a composed sonic figure to a generative metaphor which permeates the text on all levels: It inscribes the first scene with the equally aesthetic and political demand for plurality and guides the articulation of notions of being and selfhood in the second scene. Thus, in the chime of the bells, with which Woolf brings both scenes to climax, the hearing subject comes into touch with itself, brought forth through the encounter with and the responsibility for an other.

Indeed, in both scenes the chime of the bells acts as a signal for Clarissa to devote herself to her social role as a hostess again. In the second scene this becomes particularly clear: “The clock was striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. […] But she must go back. She must assemble. She must find Sally and Peter. And she came in from the little room” (204). The emphasis of the imperative clarifies that being as being-together also means being-for-each-other, as the encounter with the neighbor ultimately reminds Clarissa of her social obligations as a hostess and a friend.

It is precisely in the tension of intimate connection and alterity, which becomes audible in the encounter with the neighbor during the party, that the ground of Woolf’s ethics is brought forth: The experience of intimacy and being-with gives rise to an ethical – and, subsequently, social and political – responsibility; from the realization of being-other and the acceptance of plurality arises the affirmation of being-together as the timbre of being itself.


Although less overtly political than later texts by Woolf like A Room of One’s Own or Between the Acts, Mrs. Dalloway is threaded with the political and ethical implications of sonic epistemologies: In the first encounter with her neighbor, the sonic figure of the echo is connected to a dynamic of subversion, which underscores implicitly feminist and anti-imperialist notions articulated by Clarissa in her rejection of absolutist certainties. In the second scene, the relationality inherent to constructions of subjectivity is tied to a sense of social obligation that connects Clarissa not only to her neighbor or Septimus Warren Smith but also reinforces a reading of her party as a fundamentally political event: The “noise” of the party that is stressed repeatedly in the text (194, 204) is another sonic metaphor for an attitude towards the social that embraces plurality and even antagonism (Mouffe 2007). As becomes obvious in the opening pages of Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf cherishes noise as a part of modern life (Flint 2003: 181), depicting it beyond a logic of disturbance when she has Clarissa think as she steps out of her house: “in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June” (4). In this passage noise denotes a confrontation with the other that carries within itself the potential of an ethical encounter and gives rise to the sense of connectedness that has previously been suggested as the essence of being: being as being-with. As LaBelle writes: “in disturbing you, I also create a space for knowing each other in the extreme. Noise might be said to truly make us visible” (LaBelle 2010: 62). By drawing noise from urban space into the private sphere of the home, the party creates a backdrop for Clarissa’s second encounter with her neighbor, one that clearly develops an idea of being as essentially social and of personal relationships as deeply political.

Thus, the home doesn’t appear as a place of withdrawal from the confrontation with the other and as the scene of bourgeois domestication and patriarchality through the perpetuation of a hierarchical separation between public and private but as the sphere for negotiating deeply felt personal responsibility and connectedness. By articulating an ethics of intimacy in the feminine sphere of the home, the relevance of Clarissa’s role as a hostess is confirmed anew, while, simultaneously, Clarissa is constituted as a subject. Indeed, it is only after the second encounter with the neighbor that the sensation of presence becomes possible, an emergence that Peter Walsh expresses in the novel’s final sentences: “It is Clarissa, he said. For there she was” (212). Finally, the entire project of Mrs. Dalloway – the literary depiction of subjectivity not as stable and monolithic but as relational, transitory, and polyvalent, emerging through a network of complimentary and conflicting perspectives and social ties – can be understood as the depiction of a listening subject as described by Nancy: “The subject of the listening or the subject who is listening […] is perhaps no subject at all, except as the place of resonance, of its infinite tension and rebound” (Nancy 2002: 21-22).