Bakhtin's Notion of Decrowning in Virginia Woolf's Flush.
One of the ways in which Woolf reconfigures the "female domain"--a woman's place appointed by the patriarchal system--in her novels is by emasculating the source that holds a woman entrapped. In other words, she draws portrayals of father figures who lose their power. Thus, it can be claimed that her fiction suggests the destabilization of the blatant patriarchal order. It is destabilized by the entrapped women as her female characters are portrayed as enthusiastic figures to assert their values against patriarchal precepts. Flush (1933) is one of the novels in Woolf's oeuvre that can be discussed in these terms. This article will analyse Flush in terms of the dethronement of patriarchal authority and specify the similarities between this dethronement and the concept of decrowning in Bakhtin's thought.
Bakhtin sees the act of crowning/decrowning as one of the significant aspects of carnival, a specific period in which people forget about their everyday lives and indulge in freedom from social regulations. During the carnival, decrowning is an act when the king loses his crown, is beaten and thrashed by the crowd, which at the same time appoints another king chosen from the people around. For Bakhtin, "[c]rowning/decrowning is a dualistic ambivalent ritual, expressing the inevitability and at the same time the creative power of the shift-and-renewal, the joyful relativity of all structure and order, of all authority and all (hierarchical) position" (1984a, 124) (emphasis original). To be more precise, by focusing on the act of crowning/decrowning, Bakhtin underlines the idea of constant change, renewal and the inevitable end of all authority. The link that binds Woolf's novels, Flush in particular, and Bakhtin's concept of the carnivalistic acts of crowning/decrowning is the eagerness to mock and ridicule the figures of power in ways that often include humour. Although these figures of power are not physically beaten in Woolf's works, as it happens with the mock kings during the carnival, the ways female characters disregard the fathers' authority suggest the act of decrowing. Woolf's father figures lose their power over the female characters and withdraw themselves from the battleground. So it means that Bakhtin's concept of decrowning and, of course, the concept of carnival, have undergone some changes. As Clair Wills claims, carnival reveals some distortions as it travels through time and space: "Shifted from public sphere [medieval carnival square] to the bourgeois home [Woolf's setting], carnival ceases to be a site of actual struggle [physical thrashing of a mock king], but the conflicts of the modern private sphere may have generated a social force on to which the bodily energies of carnival have been displaced" (96). Thus, although Woolf's novels do not explicitly manifest the crowning/decrowning of a king, they display the emasculation of authority. The major female character in Flush, Elizabeth Barrett, for example, challenges her father's authority through her actual escape from him.
Elizabeth's imprisonment and Mr Barrett's authority
Flush is based on the life of a real dog, Flush, that belonged to a famous British poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Flush is a fictional biography; it begins with an account of Flush's background and ends with his death. The owner of the dog is Elizabeth whose life in the novel is divided into two main periods: bedroom life in Wimpole Street and life in Italy. Between the two periods in Elizabeth's life, Flush is dognapped and then rescued by Elizabeth. When Elizabeth lives in Wimpole Street, she experiences imprisonment because she is treated like an invalid and is not usually allowed to go out of her room. However, eventually, Elizabeth secretly marries Mr Browning and leaves her room, and even England, for Italy.
Flush, as Flint claims, is "simultaneously entertaining and serious" (xv). The entertainment lies in the dog's focalization. Observing everything from a dog's perspective brings to the fore the notion of relativity in a joyful manner. For Bakhtin, the notion of relativity is an important element of a carnival sense of the world because it "relativiz[es] all that was externally stable, set and ready-made" (1984a, 166) (emphasis original). Thus, Flush's focalization creates a sense of viewing the world from a new perspective, and makes Woolf satirise people who disintegrate themselves from the world of animals. In this way, the boundary between the worlds of human beings and animals is erased, which is similar to the suspension of the barriers between the classes and between human beings and nature in Bakhtin's carnival. Ryan thinks that this novel is one of "Woolf's most forward-looking texts" because it unsettles the conventional notions of the division of the human and animal worlds. Ryan contends that in this novel Woolf's humour is directed towards those who take their "human position too certainly" (138). In addition to Ryan's ideas it can be stated that Flush's focalization, in fact, underlines the limits of human beings' understanding of their environment. Perhaps, what Woolf tries to do in her novel is to show that the "pomposity" of human beings can be easily deflated (Flush 89). In this vein, it is possible to read the novel as a manifestation of the idea that animals are much more sensitive than human beings with reference to what happens in life. They possess the ability to feel the tiny change that happens in a person's life, but human beings, despite their intellect, lack this ability. By situating Flush in an environment where human beings live, Woolf explores an animal's perception of this environment which leads her to redefine its nature. Ryan states that Woolf provides a "reconceptualization of the complex spaces shared by human and nonhuman animals" (134) and "reimagining of the earthly space shared by humans and animals, where hierarchies are flattened and species categories blurred" (155). Combining human and animal characteristics bears a similarity to Bakhtin's carnival square where there is no hierarchical order. Hence, Flush's focalization depicts a different version of seeing the environment where human beings live. It underlines the effect of human beings' spiritual condition on the atmosphere of this environment. Flush makes it evident that the characters' spiritual condition can be evident in their physical environment; their rooms and houses signify their mood. It can also be stated that the perspective of a dog helps see the woman's condition from a different perspective. Flush's point of view helps the author to present the woman's situation by a voice which is not the voice of a dominant ideology. According to Flint, Woolf shows the reader that "the overlooked and underrated perspective of a dog may be uncannily close to the underrated perspective of the thinking Victorian woman" (xliii). However, Flint's idea of associating a woman and a dog can be extended. Woolf, who has always demanded that women should express themselves, transcends her own demand and makes a woman's condition be visible in a much clearer and objective way through the eyes of a dog because a dog is not subject to the dominant domestic ideology.
As is seen in Bakhtin's works, crownings and decrownings are "sudden and quick changes of fate," "instantaneous rises and falls" of the characters (1984a, 171). Flush also depicts the sudden shifts as the power Mr Barrett holds at home decreases. The analysis of Flush in the light of Bakhtin's notion of the act of decrowning reveals the fact that the figure of authority in the novel is not as visible as it is in Dostoevsky's or Rabelais' works. Although Mr Barrett physically exists in the novel and controls his daughter, the act of decrowning is mainly performed in relation to an abstract idea of patriarchy. The relationship between Miss Barrett and her father is mainly seen through the lens of the dog. This, in turn, makes the criticism of the patriarchal system milder because it adds a sense of humour to the narration.
Mr Barrett's authority in the novel is established through his control of his daughter's life in her backside bedroom. He controls her obedience by visiting her every evening and spending some time by her bedside: "Signifying his approval of his daughter's obedience, Mr Barrett lowered himself heavily into the chair by her side" (Flush 31). Flush's perception of Mr Barrett depicts the father's dominance and his desire to frighten to make Elizabeth submit to his authority.
His eye at once sought the tray. Had the meal been eaten? Had his commands been obeyed? [...] As that dark body approached him, shivers of terror and horror ran down Flush's spine. So a savage couched in flowers shudders when the thunder growls and he hears the voice of God. [...] A force had entered the bedroom which he dreaded; a force that he was powerless to withstand. (Flush 31)
When seen from Flush's perspective, Mr Barrett loses the features of a father and just appears as a dark body devoid of the feelings of sympathy or affection. What is more, although Mr Barrett seems to visit his daughter to check whether she has eaten her dinner or not, Flush's focalization suggests that Mr Barrett's figure exudes the desire to terrorize and frighten. That is why, Mr Barrett is associated with God, who is not visible but can frighten. Although Mr Barrett does not mind Flush, the dog fears his force. Such a sense is described in To the Lighthouse, too, when James' feelings towards his father are presented. James always wanted to kill "the thing that descended on" Mr Ramsay, "tyranny, despotism", "that fierce sudden black-winged harpy, with its talons and its beak all cold and hard, that struck and struck at you" (To the Lighthouse 198-99). Therefore, it can be held that the novels present a struggle against these concepts of tyranny and despotism rather than against the individuals themselves.
Flush's fear of Mr Barrett is just a small reflection of Miss Barrett's desperate condition in the hands of a patriarch. It is through Flush's feelings toward the father that Miss Barrett's condition is expressed and made visible, though not in a complete manner. Elizabeth can neither move nor escape her father's authority. In that sense, Miss Barrett's positioning as an invalid and her use of a bath chair symbolise her spiritual imprisonment. Elizabeth's constant presence in her bedroom is marked by her father's wish to keep her there rather than by her own choice as it is more efficient to control someone in a limited space. The father figure, thus, is portrayed "as choking the individuality" of a woman (Mohammad and Farooq 288). Mr Barrett tries to establish and sustain stability at his home and this makes him imprison his daughter, fix her to a particular place and define her as an invalid.
Elizabeth is "a prisoner of his [Mr Barrett's] authority" (Drobot 69). She lives in a bedroom that is remote from the other rooms. Although the other members of the family visit her sometimes, she is usually alone. Moreover, her family members treat her as if she is an invalid, which intensifies her immobility and justifies her imprisonment. "Hers was the pale worn face of an invalid, cut off from air, light, freedom" (Flush 18). When Flush enters Miss Barrett's bedroom for the first time, he feels isolation and decay.
Only a scholar who has descended step by step into a mausoleum and there finds himself in a crypt, crusted with fungus, slimy with mould, exuding sour smells of decay and antiquity, while half-obliterated marble busts gleam in mid-air and all is dimly seen by the light of the small swinging lamp which he holds, and dips and turns, glancing now here, now there--only the sensations of such an explorer into the buried vaults of a ruined city can compare with the riot of emotions that flooded Flush's nerves as he stood for the first time in an invalid's bedroom, in Wimpole Street, and smelt eau-de-Cologne. (Flush 16)
The dog's perception helps the reader penetrate into the depth of Miss Barrett's situation with the smells and the colours of her room. Her room is likened to a mausoleum, a room for the dead, which suggests decay and antiquity. Lack of sufficient light intensifies the feeling of death and burial. Anna Feuerstein states that although Miss Barrett's bedroom may seem luxurious for a person, for a dog it smells of crypt and fungus. In this way, "the reader's perception of Elizabeth's bedroom is completely subverted into its near opposite: mold, decay, and old age" (Feuerstein 32). Feuerstein states that the reader "realizes the extent of Elizabeth's oppressed life" (32). She adds that "Flush's epistemology challenges an empirical engagement with gender oppression: Elizabeth's life may not look problematic, living as she does in a rich house on Wimpole Street, yet she is in actuality stifled in the dark" (32). Indeed, even the street where the Barretts' house is situated is described as an isolated space, untouched by change:
Even now perhaps nobody rings the bell of a house in Wimpole Street without trepidation. It is the most august of London streets, the most impersonal. Indeed, when the world seems tumbling to ruin, and civilization rocks on its foundations, one has only to go to Wimpole Street; [...] for as long as Wimpole Street remains, civilization is secure. (Flush 13-4)
The street is the symbol of stability and respect. It symbolises Mr Barrett, his power to stabilize everything and deserve respect because of his abilities. The street is impersonal and suggests loneliness.
During his first hours in Miss Barrett's room Flush realises lack of light, nature, freedom, and love. The doors at home symbolize this lack: "Door after door shut in his face as Miss Mitford [his previous owner] went downstairs; they shut on freedom; on fields; on hares; on grass; on his adored, his venerated mistress" (Flush 17). As time goes by, every now and then, Flush feels that he is in a cage in his new room. The maid's closing the windows prevents the penetration of the outside into the room. "now at the sound of the ivy tapping on the pane Miss Barrett asked Wilson to see to the fastenings of the window" (Flush 24). The window, which is an important element in Bakhtin's notion of the carnival because it links the interior space to the outside world, is closed. The windows in Elizabeth's room do not perform the function of helping the characters escape the domestic suffocating atmosphere. Indeed, Elizabeth disintegrates herself from nature and is made to believe that she is secure in her room. It is evident that Miss Barrett internalized the sense of isolation and seclusion that is imposed on her by her father. "Flush felt that he and Miss Barrett lived alone together in a cushioned and firelit cave" (24) where there are no windows. Elizabeth's life is the life of "a bird in its cage" (33). She possesses her cage but it imprisons her. Her room provides her with everything but freedom. Even if she goes out, it is quite limited: "She sometimes kept the house for weeks at a time, and when she left it, it was only for an hour or two, to drive to a shop in a carriage, or to be wheeled to Regent's Park in a bath-chair" (33-4). Miss Barrett's life is absolutely limited if looked at from a dog's perspective. For Flush, having such a life is the same as being in prison.
Thus, it seems deliberate that a dog is juxtaposed with a woman in such a condition. Flush is depicted as Elizabeth's hidden desires, her inner self that wants to run in fields and indulge in absolute freedom and freshness of nature and life. Flush misses the outdoors and the freedom to be in nature. Every opening of the room's door seems to be promising and tempting: "sometimes the step on the stair did not pass the door; it stopped outside. The handle was seen to spin round; the door actually opened; somebody came in. Then how strangely the furniture changed its look!" (Flush 28) The atmosphere of the bedroom changes even when the door is opened to let somebody in. The outside world and the freedom that it might provide gradually become condensed into mere symbols for Flush, "with all her poet's imagination Miss Barrett could not divine what Wilson's wet umbrella meant to Flush; what memories it recalled, of forests and parrots and wild trumpeting elephants" (26). It becomes possible for him to grasp all his memories and feelings related to the outside world in an image of a wet umbrella. Flush acquires an ability to associate the outside world with the objects at home to sprinkle moments of freedom into the sense of seclusion.
However, leaving the bedroom and going out with Elizabeth does not solve the problem of Flush's yearning for his freedom. Flush's perceptions of the freedom of the outside world and being outside with Miss Barrett do not coincide. He understands it when they go out together and "a heavy weight jerked at his throat; he was thrown back on his haunches. [...] Why was he a prisoner here?" (22) His actions are controlled and limited even when he is outside. It seems to suggest that women are under control even when they are away from the source of authority and in Elizabeth's case this source is her father. Flush experiences the process of internalization of domestic imprisonment and now he is at the beginning of this process. He has to learn that even if he is outside, he has to behave as if he is in his bedroom. Being outside does not mean that the rules of the indoors are suspended. He has to learn to remember and follow those rules everywhere. Eventually, Flush learns to submit, "[t]o resign, to control, to suppress the most violent instincts of his nature--that was the prime lesson of the bedroom school, and it was one of such portentous difficulty that many scholars have learnt Greek with less--many battles have been won that cost their generals not half such pain" (25). Although it is very difficult to accomplish, Flush suppresses his instincts and acknowledges the power of authority and its values. Flush's condition parallels women's condition in a patriarchal world. A dog stands for a woman: "Thus the country dog finds himself needing to learn submission, [...] a parallel to women's internalization of the obligation to subjugate themselves to the confining social laws of patriarchy" (Flint xx-xxi). Similar to Flush, women have to get rid of the idea that their values are of importance. They have to exist according to the values of the patriarchal system.
As time goes by, Flush gets accustomed to being in the room and he even starts to fear the outside. His fear becomes obvious in his attitude towards Mr Browning, who begins to visit Miss Barrett frequently. Mr Browning's presence in Elizabeth's bedroom awakes in Flush a sense of alarm and intuition that something vital is going to happen, and which he is afraid of. Elizabeth's reading of Mr Browning's letters makes Flush alarmed. "And as she read he heard, as when we are half asleep we hear through the clamour of the street some bell ringing and know that it is addressed to us, alarmingly yet faintly, as if someone far away were trying to rouse us with the warning of fire, or burglary, or some menace against our peace and we start in alarm before we wake" (Flush 34-5). Furthermore, Flush's dognapping proves that the outside is dangerous. The Whitechapel, the place where he is taken, makes him suffer physically and spiritually. When he is dognapped he feels what Miss Barrett feels in her "imprisonment" in Wimpole Street (Flint xxi). Flush's short presence in Whitechapel symbolises a middle-class woman's household responsibilities: "Children crawled out from dark corners and pinched his ears" (Flush 55). The image is similar to an image of a woman with children. Flush's being disturbed by the children symbolises a woman's responsibilities towards her children: "He whined, and a heavy hand beat him over the head" (55). His desire to complain about his situation or his tendency to demand a better condition can be associated with women's lack of opportunity to express themselves. It also can stand for the patriarchal system's aggressiveness and violence as effective weapons to dominate and subjugate. "[Y]et all of them, Flush could see, were dogs of the highest breeding, chained dogs, footmen's dogs, like himself" (55). The valuable dogs Flush meets in Whitechapel symbolise middle- or upper-middle class women, suffering at the hands of patriarchy.
Decrowning of the father figure
Nevertheless, patriarchal norms are challenged in the novel. First, Mr Browning's entrance into Elizabeth's life is an initiation of the process of the fragmentation of her imprisonment. The change in Elizabeth's life after Mr Browning's appearance becomes evident through Flush's observations. Flush feels the change even in her tiny gestures and redefines Miss Barrett's aim of existence. He becomes cognizant of the fact that Elizabeth gets rid of the psychological walls that have surrounded her hitherto; Miss Barrett, whom he used to imagine in a cave, goes out: "Miss Barrett was outside. [...] Flush had never heard that sound in Miss Barrett's voice before--that vigour, that excitement" (Flush 38). Flush feels the authority and freedom in her voice. "Miss Barrett's voice, that had been pleading and afraid, lost its faltering note. It rang out with a determination and a boldness that Flush had never heard in it before" (42). Miss Barrett challenges her physical condition, too: "Then she did what she had not done for many a long day--she actually walked on her own feet as far as the gate at Devonshire Place with her sister" (39). It is palpable that Mr Browning is the impulse that draws Miss Barrett to think about her ability to go out of her confinement by unsettling the order that her father establishes. Miss Barrett starts to eat everything that is brought to her: "At that night she ate her chicken to the bone. Not a scrap of potato or of skin was thrown to Flush" (39).
Flush feels the change in Miss Barrett, but Mr Barrett does not. Flush wants to make Mr Barrett feel it and this, in fact, stresses Mr Barrett's deficiency. Despite his infinite power to control his daughter, he is powerless to feel what happens in her room. In this way, Flush's focalization undermines his power because Flush is depicted as more sensitive and alert than Mr Barrett. The dog seems to possess more power than Mr Barrett because he can feel the change beforehand: "When Mr Barrett came as usual, Flush marvelled at his obtuseness. [...] 'Don't you know,' Flush marvelled, 'who's been sitting in that chair? Can't you smell him?' [...] aghast at his obtuseness, Flush slipped past him out of the room" (Flush 39). Flush feels Mr Browning's power to change Miss Barrett while Mr Barrett remains blind to this situation. Flush regards Mr Barrett obtuse because he cannot feel such an obvious change in Elizabeth. Such a perception of Mr Barrett by Flush adds a sense of humour to the novel because Mr Barrett's seriousness and authority are deflated by a dog. Mr Barrett is rendered as a stupid and incompetent creature. This humorous focalization of Mr Barrett decrowns his figure of authority.
Flush's being dognapped also contributes to the destabilization of the preordained conceptions of patriarchal authority in the Barretts household. When Miss Barrett goes to Whitechapel to rescue Flush, she comes to comprehend more fully the reality of the outside world: "She had seen more while she sat in the cab at the public-house than she had seen during the five years that she had lain in the back bedroom at Wimpole Street" (Flush 64). She understands that the authority that she subordinates herself to is not invincible; it is fragile. She recognizes the strength of the outside world to challenge the authority of the inside, of her domestic space. Moreover, Miss Barrett manages to go against the men who tell her what to do. All the men around her tell her that she should not pay the ransom for the kidnapped dog.
Wimpole Street was determined to make a stand against Whitechapel. Blind Mr Boyd sent word that in his opinion it would be 'an awful sin' to pay the ransom. Her father and her brother were in league against her and were capable of any treachery in the interests of their class. But worst of all--far worse--Mr Browning himself threw all his weight, all his eloquence, all his learning, all his logic, on the side of Wimpole Street and against Flush. (Flush 60)
She disregards all men's decision to leave Flush in the hands of the dognappers and goes to Whitechapel all by herself. As Flint argues, "the actions to which she committed herself added up to an assertion of her own values. In these terms, rescuing Flush was as significant as eloping with Robert Browning" (xxii). Miss Barrett's action is a huge step in gaining her independence from the men around her.
How easy it would have been to yield--how easy it would have been to say, 'Your good opinion is worth more to me than a hundred cocker spaniels'. How easy it would have been to sink back on her pillows and sigh, 'I am a weak woman; I know nothing of law and justice; decide for me'. She had only to refuse to pay the ransom; [...] And if Flush were killed, [...] there was Robert Browning by her side to assure her that she had done right and earned his respect. But Miss Barrett was not to be intimidated. Miss Barrett took up her pen and refuted Robert Browning. (Flush 61)
She even goes against Mr Browning, the man for the sake of whom she disregards her father. If Flush is taken as a symbolic figure of Miss Barrett's freedom, it means she struggles to obtain her freedom despite all men's authority.
Finally, Miss Barrett's escape with Mr Browning is the chief factor that makes Miss Barrett and Flush participate in a great change of life despite the norms of the patriarchal father confining her in her room. By her escape Miss Barrett interposes a veil between herself and her father; she asserts her subjectivity and establishes her own values. Flush feels that their escape is their journey to their freedom: "they were leaving tyrants and dog-stealers behind them. [...] He heard birds singing and the sigh of trees in the wind" (Flush 72). Their escape promises them a new perception of their existence: "The light, infinitely sharp and clear, dazzled his eyes. [...] Instead of the solid and soporific hum of London there was a rattling and a crying, a jingling and a shouting, a cracking of whips and a jangling of bells. [...] He felt younger, spryer than he had done these many years" (Flush 73-4). Their destination, Italy, presents to them all the jazzy atmosphere of freedom which sharply contrasts with that of London "dominated by hierarchization, categorization, by regularization, by claustrophobia" (Flint xxiii). Italy is full of life and vigour: "Here in Italy was freedom and life and the joy that the sun breeds" (Flush 76). Flush and Miss Barrett acquire a new sensation related to the outside: "In all of this, Woolf imagines what it may be like to apprehend the world from a different alignment of the senses" (Flint xix). The general atmosphere of the environment changes: "The noise of the street was deafening. Everybody seemed to be shouting shrilly at the same moment" (Flush 73). Elizabeth and Flush feel life outside, a life that is full and strong, that does not oppress silently. Flush leaves behind the decorated and cushioned rooms which symbolise imprisonment. "For at Casa Guidi the rooms were bare. All those draped objects of his cloistered and secluded days had vanished. The bed was a bed; the wash-stand was a wash-stand" (79). Flush feels the freedom when he sees the bare rooms in Italy. Miss Barrett metamorphoses into a lively and healthy woman: "She was a different person altogether. [...] instead of driving in a barouche landau to Regent's Park she pulled on her thick boots and scrambled over rocks" (75). Instead of a woman who was sitting in her back bedroom and closing all the windows, there appears Mrs Browning who "loved to sit there looking, listening, watching the people in the street" (79).
Elizabeth even has a baby and Flush perceives it in a defamiliarised way, in the form of a grotesque image. "Independently of them all, without the street door being opened, out of herself in the room, alone, Mrs Browning had become two people" (Flush 83). Here there is an image of "becoming", where a character embraces a transforming image, an image that gives birth to another image. In Bakhtin's words, "[t]he grotesque image reflects a phenomenon in transformation, an as yet unfinished metamorphosis, of death and birth, growth and becoming" (1984b, 24). Bakhtin mentions the "figurines of senile pregnant hags" (25) when he discusses the grotesque. He states that these figures are "typical and very strongly expressed grotesque. It is ambivalent. It is pregnant death, a death that gives birth" (25). Although Elizabeth is not old, nor dying, it can be stated that her previous condition dies at giving birth to a new life. Such an idea finds its embodiment in Elizabeth's image of a mother with her newly born baby. This grotesque image symbolizes her challenge of the patriarchal order that imposes on her the sense of isolation. Elizabeth's becoming "two people" is an embodiment of her shattering her sense of loneliness. In other words, Elizabeth "escapes her confinement, which is both physical and psychological" (Drobot 71).
Everything they experience in Italy is the opposite of their life in England. The bright dazzling light of Italy contrasts with Miss Barrett's dark bedroom. Miss Barrett acquires freedom and joy of life instead of the invalid bath chair. Flush and Miss Barrett hear the noise of the streets instead of the secluded august appearance of Wimpole Street.
The bare rooms of their Italian home suggest freedom while the fully furnished room in England imprisons them. Invalid Miss Barrett, who rarely walked and used her bath chair, starts to mount the rocks. The loneliness of Miss Barrett is shattered by her giving birth to a baby. All these events constitute to the act of decrowning; however, the decrowned body is absent in its concrete form. Instead, there is an abstract idea or ideology that is being undermined. Their life in Italy resembles the reversed carnivalistic life. Everything that was ordinary in London is suspended during their stay in Italy and Elizabeth and Flush become the participants of carnival. "All the windows were full of faces; all the balconies were full of figures. The people in the windows were tossing flowers and laurel leaves on to the people in the street; and the people in the street--grave men, gay young women--were kissing each other and raising their babies to the people in the balconies" (Flush 80). As is observed above, there is a carnival atmosphere. The windows are open to the outside world and there is a stress on balconies which bring to mind the "threshold" spaces in Bakhtinian theory. They are spaces that bring together opposites and open one world into another; these are the places where people feel the carnival sense of the world. There is a gay and intense interaction between the people at home and the people outside so that the difference between the two spaces disappears. The whole scene is infused with bliss, familiar contact and freedom. Flush witnesses this carnival atmosphere during his wanderings in the streets:
He went in and out, up and down, where they beat brass, where they bake bread, where the women sit combing their hair, where the bird-cages are piled high on the causeway, where the wine spills itself in dark red stains on the pavement, where leather smells and harness and garlic, where cloth is beaten, where vine leaves tremble, where men sit and drink and spit and dice. (Flush 87)
Flush and Elizabeth leave behind all the categories stemming from the patriarchal world order. Their new life is characterized by the absence of hierarchical divisions between people, between people and animals, and between animals. Flush learns that all the dogs are equal here; "here in Pisa, though dogs abounded, there were no ranks; all--could it be possible?--were mongrels. As far as he could see, they were dogs merely" (Flush 74). As a result, Flush has an opportunity to merge with the rest of the dogs rather than being punctilious in choosing a partner. He meets the world and embraces everybody: "He was the friend of all the world now. All dogs were his brothers" (77). He is happy to feel the equality of the dogs. He does not feel the necessity to behave as a valuable dog anymore. He even gets fleas as all the other dogs do: "With a cruel irony the sun that ripened the grapes brought also the fleas" (88). Flush does not sense any sharp division between people. All the social classes merge one into the other. In one part of the day, they are workers and in the next, they are glamorous people. "In the streets of Pisa pretty women could walk alone; great ladies first emptied their own slots and then went to Court 'in a blaze of undeniable glory'" (76). Even Miss Barrett's maid, Wilson, abandons her strict values and starts to feel herself at home. She falls in love with a bodyguard: "Her fancy was fired; her judgement reeled; her standards toppled" (77). Nobody is afraid of anybody. "Fear was unknown in Florence; there were no dog-stealers here and, she [Elizabeth] may have sighed, there were no fathers" (78).
However, it should also be pinpointed that Elizabeth's escape from patriarchal confinement at home is realized with the help of another man, Mr Browning. Although he provides her with the freedom of Italian atmosphere, he makes it quite obvious that he is a part of the patriarchal authority when he sides with other men in the case of the dognapped Flush. What is more, marriage through which Elizabeth is able to get rid of her domestic imprisonment is another patriarchal construction. In short, what Woolf wants to stress is the fact that, as it is in The Voyage Out, a woman cannot obtain a complete sense of independence; she cannot be completely free in a world governed by patriarchal precepts.
To conclude, the female character in Flush reveals her potential to undermine the patriarchal figures that constrict her at home. Such images of emasculated patriarchs seem to express the author's yearning for a change in the world's social norms, particularly with reference to gender issues. Nonetheless, Woolf makes it clear that what she desires--women's absolute freedom--cannot be totally achieved yet and she depicts this impossibility in her novels. Elizabeth has to submit to a man who can provide her with a freer life than her previous one. Thus, Woolf's Flush does not present a picture of a changed world; it presents the ways through which it is possible to change it.
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Woolf, Virginia. Flush. Oxford UP, 1998.
--. To the Lighthouse. New Delhi: Peacock Books, 2007.
Victoria Bilge Yilmaz graduated from the Foreign Language Education Department at Middle East Technical University in 2004. She received her MA in 2008 and PhD in 2016 from the Department of English Literature at Middle East Technical University. In 2017, she worked as a part-time instructor of English Literature at TED University in the Department of Foreign Language Education. She is currently an instructor of English at the School of Foreign Languages, Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University. Her research interests include literature, teaching English to adults, and philosophy. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) See O'Mahony's "Fin-de- siecle Fantasy to the Western Front: The Aesthetic Gardens of Nancy" (253-72).
(2) See photographs entitled "The Secluded Studio in Spring, West Side Wing of 2 in Kung Hsien Hutung", "'Foreign Style' Gateway of 18th Century Jesuit Design at Entrance to Prince P'u Ju's Garden, Kung Wang Fu" in Memoir of an Aesthete. (London: Methuen, 1948).
(3) See Philippians (4:6-7).
(4) See Edward W. Said's Orientalism.
(5) See the photograph entitled "Moon Gate on 2, Kung Hsien Hutung" in Memoir of an Aesthete (London: Methuen, 1948).
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|Title Annotation:||Mikhail Bakhtin|
|Author:||Yilmaz, Victoria Bilge|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2019|
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