The Introduction

tutorial, critical comment, plot, and study resources

The Introduction is mentioned in Virginia Woolf’s workbook ‘Notes for Stories’ in an entry for 14 March 1925. The story never appeared during her own lifetime, and was first published in the Sunday Times Magazine for 18 March 1973. This coincided with the collection of stories and sketches Mrs Dalloway’s Party published by the Hogarth Press in London the same year.


The Introduction

London – Westminster


The Introduction – story synopsis

Lily Everit is at her first adult party in Westminster, London given by Clarissa Dalloway. She is young and socially rather insecure. Earlier in the day she has received a first rate grade from her professor for an essay on Swift – something she values more than the efforts made by her family to make her look smart for the party. She thinks of her life in literary terms – the essay as ‘fact’ and socialising as ‘fiction’. But on arriving at the party she feels that the confidence arising from this small personal triumph will not be sufficient to meet the demands that society makes of her.

Mrs Dalloway introduces her to Bob Brinsley, because she knows that he too likes poetry. But Lily feels this social introduction as a tremendous emotional challenge, largely because of the social expectations for her to perform and behave as a woman in a world which has been constructed by men. She feels at ease in the world of nature, but inadequate to confront ‘civilization’ which she sees in terms of imposing buildings, social institutions, and modern technology.

Mrs Dalloway is meanwhile touched by the spectacle of the two young people she has introduced to each other. It reminds her of meeting her own husband Richard for the first time.

Lily tries not to be overawed by the introduction, but her efforts are dashed when Brinsley casually kills a fly whilst talking to her. She sees him as the embodiment of the man-made ‘civilization’ which seems to have no room for tender feelings and offers her no comfort in her sense of insecurity.


Principal characters
Lily Everit a young woman, inexperienced and clever
Mrs Dalloway a society hostess
Bob Brinsley a young man

Study resources

The Introduction The Complete Shorter Fiction – Vintage Classics – Amazon UK

The Introduction The Complete Shorter Fiction – Vintage Classics – Amazon US

The Introduction The Complete Shorter Fiction – Harcourt edition – Amazon UK

The Introduction The Complete Shorter Fiction – Harcourt edition – Amazon US

The Introduction Monday or Tuesday and Other Stories – Gutenberg.org

The Introduction Kew Gardens and Other Stories – Hogarth reprint – Amazon UK

The Introduction Kew Gardens and Other Stories – Hogarth reprint – Amazon US

The Introduction The Mark on the Wall – Oxford World Classics edition – Amazon UK

The Introduction The Mark on the Wall – Oxford World Classics edition – Amazon US

The Introduction The Complete Works of Virginia Woolf – Kindle edition

Red button The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf – Amazon UK

Red button Virginia Woolf – Authors in Context – Amazon UK

Red button The Cambridge Introduction to Virginia Woolf – Amazon UK


The Introduction – commentary

This is one of a number of stories Virginia Woolf wrote featuring guests at Mrs Dalloway’s party and the social chasms which exist between people who are superficially polite to each other. Others in the series include Ancestors, Happiness, Together and Apart, and The New Dress.

Lily is well-educated and talented, but she is inexperienced socially and feels threatened by the expectations society is making of her. She is not unlike the two young women in Phyllis and Rosamond who are hovering on the brink of maturity, but who see the adult world as a threatening.

The main point of interest in this sketch is that the point of view switches from Lily to Mrs Dalloway and back again to Lily – illustrating how the two of them view the same event in a completely different way.

Lily enters the adult world of the older society hostess full of apprehension, and overawed by what she sees as its expectations of her. Mrs Dalloway acts sensitively as the sophisticated hostess, and introduces her young guest to someone she knows shares Lily’s interest in poetry. The sight of the two young people together arouses in Mrs Dalloway a warm and sentimental memory of her own younger days when she first met her husband. But we learn as the point of view switches back to Lily that the encounter is anything but pleasant for her, as she recoils in disgust when Brinsley kills a fly whilst talking to her.

Lily sees Brinsley as the living embodiment of the male-engineered world that she perceives in terms of tall buildings – ‘the towers of Westminster’ – the civilized society she is being invited to be part of, and a way of life which earlier she had felt like a soft force falling benignly from the skies:

he made her think of the towers and civilization with horror, and the yoke that had fallen from the skies onto her neck crushed her

She leaves the party in a state of disenchantment, looking as another guest observes ‘as if she had the weight of the world on her shoulders’.


Further reading

Red button Quentin Bell. Virginia Woolf: A Biography. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972.

Red button Hermione Lee. Virginia Woolf. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.

Red button Nicholas Marsh. Virginia Woolf, the Novels. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

Red button John Mepham, Virginia Woolf. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.

Red button Natalya Reinhold, ed. Woolf Across Cultures. New York: Pace University Press, 2004.

Red button Michael Rosenthal, Virginia Woolf: A Critical Study. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979.

Red button The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf – Amazon UK

Red button Virginia Woolf – Authors in Context – Amazon UK

Red button The Cambridge Introduction to Virginia Woolf – Amazon UK

Red button Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader. New York: Harvest Books, 2002.

Red button Alex Zwerdling, Virginia Woolf and the Real World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.


Other works by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf OrlandoOrlando (1928) is one of her lesser-known novels, although it’s critical reputation has risen in recent years. It’s a delightful fantasy which features a character who changes sex part-way through the book – and lives from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. Using this device (which turns out to be strangely credible) Woolf explores issues of gender and identity as her hero-heroine moves through a variety of lives and personal adventures. Orlando starts out as an emissary to the Court of St James, lives through friendships with Swift and Alexander Pope, and ends up motoring through the west end of London on a shopping expedition in the 1920s. The character is loosely based on Vita Sackville-West, who at one time was Woolf’s lover. The novel itself was described by Nigel Nicolson (Sackville-West’s son) as ‘the longest and most charming love-letter in literature’.
Virginia Woolf - Orlando Buy the book at Amazon UK
Virginia Woolf - Orlando Buy the book at Amazon US
 

Kew GardensKew Gardens is a collection of experimental short stories in which Woolf tested out ideas and techniques which she then later incorporated into her novels. After Chekhov, they represent the most important development in the modern short story as a literary form. Incident and narrative are replaced by evocations of mood, poetic imagery, philosophic reflection, and subtleties of composition and structure. The shortest piece, ‘Monday or Tuesday’, is a one-page wonder of compression. This collection is a cornerstone of literary modernism. No other writer – with the possible exception of Nadine Gordimer, has taken the short story as a literary genre as far as this.
Virginia Woolf - Kew Gardens Buy the book at Amazon UK
Virginia Woolf - Kew Gardens Buy the book at Amazon US
 


Virginia Woolf: BiographyVirginia Woolf is a readable and well illustrated biography by John Lehmann, who at one point worked as her assistant and business partner at the Hogarth Press. It is described by the blurb as ‘A critical biography of Virginia Woolf containing illustrations that are a record of the Bloomsbury Group and the literary and artistic world that surrounded a writer who is immensely popular today’. This is an attractive and very accessible introduction to the subject which has been very popular with readers ever since it was first published..
Virginia Woolf - A Biography Buy the book at Amazon UK
Virginia Woolf - A Biography Buy the book at Amazon US


Virginia Woolf – web links

Red button Virginia Woolf at Mantex
Biographical notes, study guides to the major works, book reviews, studies of the short stories, bibliographies, web links, study resources.

Virginia Woolf web links Blogging Woolf
Book reviews, Bloomsbury related issues, links, study resources, news of conferences, exhibitions, and events, regularly updated.

Virginia Woolf web links Virginia Woolf at Wikipedia
Full biography, social background, interpretation of her work, fiction and non-fiction publications, photograph albumns, list of biographies, and external web links

Virginia Woolf web links Virginia Woolf at Gutenberg
Selected eTexts of her novels and stories in a variety of digital formats.

Virginia Woolf web links Woolf Online
An electronic edition and commentary on To the Lighthouse with notes on its composition, revisions, and printing – plus relevant extracts from the diaries, essays, and letters.

Virginia Woolf web links Hyper-Concordance to Virginia Woolf
Search texts of all the major novels and essays, word by word – locate quotations, references, and individual terms

Virginia Woolf web links Orlando – Sally Potter’s film archive
The text and film script, production notes, casting, locations, set designs, publicity photos, video clips, costume designs, and interviews.

Virginia Woolf web links Women’s History Walk in Bloomsbury
Tour of literary and political homes in Bloomsbury – including Gordon Square, Gower Street, Bedford Square, Tavistock Square, plus links to women’s history web sites.

Virginia Woolf web links Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain
Bulletins of events, annual lectures, society publications, and extensive links to Woolf and Bloomsbury related web sites

Virginia Woolf web links BBC Audio Essay – A Eulogy to Words
Charming sound recording of radio talk given by Virginia Woolf in 1937 – a podcast accompanied by a slideshow of photographs.

Virginia Woolf web links A Family Photograph Albumn
Leslie Stephen compiled a photograph album and wrote an epistolary memoir, known as the “Mausoleum Book,” to mourn the death of his wife, Julia, in 1895 – an archive at Smith College – Massachusetts

Virginia Woolf web links Virginia Woolf first editions
Hogarth Press book jacket covers of the first editions of Woolf’s novels, essays, and stories – largely designed by her sister, Vanessa Bell.

Virginia Woolf web links Virginia Woolf – on video
Biographical studies and documentary videos with comments on Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group and the social background of their times.

Virginia Woolf web links Virginia Woolf Miscellany
An archive of academic journal essays 2003—2014, featuring news items, book reviews, and full length studies.

© Roy Johnson 2014


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