- Virginia Wolf was born in 1882.
- She published her first novel in 1915.
- She suffered from deep depression and committed suicide in 1941.
- In her childhood she was sexually abused by her half-brothers George and Gerald Duckworth.
- When she was 13, her mother passed away, which led to her first mental breakdown. Two years later she lost her half-sister Stella.
- Notice how the mirror in the first paragraph is set up as the frame for a kind of a portrait.
- The unnamed narrator attempts to construct a portrait of the Isabella Tyson that consists of her outer self and her inner self. The portrait is reflected in the objects inside and outside the house as they reflect in the mirror. Describe the images reflected in the mirror.
- What kind of contrast is there between the objects inside the house and outside the house, as they are reflected in the mirror?
- Describe how the narrator attempts to compose the portrait through the mood inside the room, through her own imagination, and through the presentation of Isabella in the mirror
- What are the known facts about Isabella’s outer self?
- What material objects inside and outside the house does the narrator use to imagine Isabella’s life?
- What are Isabella’s letters supposed to conceal, according to the narrator? What would one know if one could only read them?
- At the end of the story, according to the narrator, is it possible to know objectively one’s inner reality?
- In this story Woolf questions whether the inner self of an individual is finally knowable. What do you think is her conclusion? Provide support for your statement.
- What do you think is the role of the mirror in the story? How has the mirror been used as a metaphor in literature?
- Describe the characteristics of this story that resemble stream-of-consciousness narrative technique.
- The mirror in the first paragraph is set up as a frame for a kind of portrait as it reflects what the narrator can see about Isabella’s life. The mirror is big and luxurious, and in it you could see the reflection of Isabella’s house and garden. This image represents the aspect of Isabella’s outer life; what the narrator uses to inspire her imagination. However, this image hides who Isabella truly is.
- The mirror reflects part of Isabella’s house and her garden. This environment is fancy and portrays luxury, which reflects the image the narrator has about Isabella. It seems to belong to a successful, wealthy person.
- The contrast between the objects inside the house and outside the house shows the chaos in her mind. Inside the house, there are objects moving all the time portraying turmoil and mess. However, in the outside everything is still and quiet.
- The narrator composed the mood inside the house as harmonic, calm and happy. She describes Isabella as a person who is very successful and now lives surrounded by the consequences of her success. She seems happy and looks like she has lived a lot of adventures.
- In the story, very little is known for a fact about Isabella’s outer self; the description in the story is based purely out of suppositions. The few facts that we know about her outer self are that she is quite wealthy and she lives alone.
- The material objects inside and outside the house does the narrator use to imagine Isabella’s life are, to begin with, the letters. The letters portray Isabella as a social, interesting and passionate woman. Moreover, the narrator saw grey-green dresses, shoes and ‘something sparkling at her throat’. This shows an Isabella who is superficial, materialistic and who cares too much about appearances.
- Isabella’s letters supposed to conceal, according to the narrator, that Isabella had known many people, that she had many friends and if one would read the letters one would find ‘appointments to meet, of upbridings for not having met, long letters of intimacy and affection, violent letters of jealousy and reproach, terrible final words of parting’. The narrator wanted the readers to understand how passionate and experienced Isabella’s life was.
- It is possible to know objectively one’s inner reality. At the end of the story, Isabella has the possibility to meet her inner self by looking at a mirror. When she encountered her truly self she realized how she had no thoughts, no friends, no letters. How she was ‘old and angular’. She felt alone and miserable.
- In this story Woolf provides a contradiction between the inner and the outer self, how different they are and how people may never get to see the inner self of an individual. She reaches the conclusion that the inner self of a person is not knowable to other people, as she expresses with Isabella’s story. The narrator makes up an entire fake image about Isabella, as she sees her as a happy, successful person with a lot of friends and who has lived many adventures. However, in the end of the story, we can see how this outer image of Isabella collapses as the narrator expresses how all the mail she got,which she thought was from friends, lovers and admirers, were actually bills. Isabella’s true self is hidden from the world; nobody truly knows what she has done or if she is happy or not.
- The role of the mirror in the story is crucial. The mirror reflects inside herself, the mirror is able to see beyond the superficiality. Throughout the story, the narrator describes a mysterious Isabella, nobody knew anything about her other than the fact that she was a spinster. In the end of the story, the mirror reflects her inner self, it shows how empty she really was. ‘She stood naked in that pitiless light. And there was nothing’.
- Stream of consciousness is a narrative method that portrays the thoughts and feelings that pass through the mind. “The Lady in the Looking Glass” resembles this narrative technique as the narrator expresses her thoughts about Isabella all throughout the story. The story itself consists of the narrator’s thoughts and assumptions about Isabella, which she is expressing to the reader.
Find a picture of a room inside and a garden to illustrate the house in the story