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On the day of her party in June 1923, Clarissa Dalloway worries about her attraction to beauty in the face of a political and humanitarian crisis:

He [Richard] was already halfway to the House of Commons, to his Armenians, his Albanians, having settled her on the sofa, looking at his roses. And people would say, “Clarissa Dalloway is spoilt.” She cared much more for her roses than for the Armenians. Hunted out of existence, maimed, frozen, the victims of cruelty and injustice (she had heard Richard say so over and over again)—no, she could feel nothing for the Albanians, or was it the Armenians? But she loved her roses (didn’t that help the Armenians?). (MD 120)

This passage resonates with our contemporary situation, evoking as it does the recent fighting in Kosovo, which was in the news when I proposed an MLA paper on the topic of this special issue, as well as recent writings that explicitly or implicitly link beauty with social justice. By way of answering my title question—“How do we keep desire from passing with beauty?”—I want to discuss several works that reiterate Clarissa’s question, especially in relation to the crisis of responsibility that is said to follow in the wake of postmodern theories and cultural criticism.


Author Posting © University of Tulsa, 2000. This article is posted here by permission of University of Tulsa for personal use, not for redistribution. The article was published in Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, Volume 19, Issue 2, Fall 2000,

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.