Essay: Clothing in Woolf's Lappin & Lapinova

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Subject: English » A-level English
Last updated: 31/07/2016
Tags: clothing, english extract, essay extract, lapin and lapinova, virginia woolf

Below is an extract from an essay considering Virginia Woolf's use of clothing in Lappin and Lapinova:

A preoccupation with clothing is inherent across the body of Virginia Woolf’s writing: from her novels to short stories, critical essays to letters. This essay will examine the importance of clothing within Virginia Woolf’s “Lappin and Lapinova”, and will argue that the importance of clothing within Woolf’s writing is indicated in its ability to both create and dehumanise the self, clothes intrinsically tied to concerns of identity. I will also examine Woolf’s use of fashion as a symbol of class and the restrictions this places on expression.

In “Lappin and Lapinova”, Woolf adopts the creation of clothing as a metaphor for the construction of a couple’s identities. She describes how Rosalind actively creates a new sense of self, explaining that “under her hands”(98) the couple’s new rabbit-selves “became very real”(98). This metaphor insinuates the malleability of identity, alluding to it as something tangible for Rosalind to shape. Indeed, this molding of self is explicitly aligned with clothing, Woolf inserting a sub-clause to describe how “she was sewing, he was reading”(98). Her hands are thus busied with the fabrication of a costume- like identity, stitched by words, for the couple to wear as garments in their constructed universe. Indeed, Rosalind dwells extensively on the suitability of these new identities, fitting them to Ernest’s personality in a manner akin to an outfit; she notes that “Bunny”(98) did not “suit”(98) his “thin, hard, and serious”(98) character, slipping names over her husband’s head in a linguistic form of dress-up. “Lappin”(98) is thus evocative of an aesthetically pleasing outfit, extracting a passionate “cry” of pleasure from Rosalind, noting how it “seemed to suit him exactly”(98). Indeed, this bears similarities to the letters Woolf wrote critiquing her sister’s clothing designs for Omega Works Ltd: a design and clothing enterprise “initiated and supervised”(Koppen 19) by Vanessa Bell, and one to which Woolf was a patron. Here, Woolf berates the “reds and yellows of the vilest kind”(L II. III), her involvement in Bell’s company, both economically and on a more personal level, presenting a deep interest in the creation of garments. This passionate critique mirrors the strong significance placed in the creation of clothing in “Lappin and Lapinova”, where clothes are intimately tied to concerns of identity.

Woolf’s descriptions of clothing in “Lappin and Lapinova” present how class can also place restrictions on identity. This is exemplified in the beginning of the short story, where Woolf dresses the “small boys”(97) at the wedding in “Eton jackets”(97). Here, she adopts the name of a public school heavily connotative of the upper-class, an Eton schooling more a marker of wealth and social stature than good education. The specificity of this description immediately alludes to wealth and privilege, an image incongruent with the “Swiss waiter in his greasy black jacket”(98). Here, clothing is once again indicative of social status; the bodies of the domestic staff are enshrouded in their duties, the greasiness of the waiter’s jacket suggestive of the manual labour, or “elbow grease,” enacted by those working subordinate jobs. This sharp contrast enables Woolf to create distinct boundaries between the class of the wedding guests and the Thornburn’s waiting staff, highlighting the importance of clothing as a marker of social standing. One’s identity is written into their garments: whether it is the sweat and toil of the waiter’s greasy uniform or the pomp and privilege of the little Eton jackets.

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Humm, Maggie. The Edinburgh Companion to Virginia Woolf and the Arts. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010. Print.

Koppen, Randi. Virginia Woolf, Fashion and Literary Modernity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.

Woolf, Virginia. “Lappin and Lapinova”. Selected Short Stories. New York: Penguin Books, 2000. 97-107. Print.


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