The major focus of the essay by Virginia Wolf titled Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown is the consideration of a character in literature in the context of analyzing the works and literary techniques used by the novelists that were contemporary to Wolf. Accordingly, the author divides the recent novelists into two groups being those who worked before and after 1910 and calls these groups according to the names of British kings that rule before 1910, i. e. Edward VII, and after that year, i. e. George V: “Mr. Wells, Mr. Bennett, and Mr. Galsworthy I will call the Edwardians; Mr. Forster, Mr. Lawrence, Mr. Strachey, Mr. Joyce, and Mr. Eliot I will call the Georgians” (Woolf, 1966, p. 319).
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Further on, Woolf (1966) moves to asserting that the year 1910 brought changes to the human character, and the influence of the social, political, and religious factors that conditioned the mentioned change could also be observed in the literary works by Edwardians and Georgians. One of the examples that Virginia Woolf poses for the readers is Mrs. Brown, an imaginary character of an elderly lady that Woolf considers to be an illustration of the shift in the human nature that marked the end of the Victorian era in Great Britain.
Mrs. Brown is, to Woolf, an example of how the modern fiction that she calls Georgian, differs to the better from the Victorian or Edwardian novelist movements. Although, noting the “fragments and failures” of the modern fiction she defends, Woolf sees bigger evil in the Edwardian “self-contained” literature and characterizes this opinion of hers the description of Mrs. Brown: “She was one of those clean, threadbare old ladies whose extreme tidiness—everything buttoned, fastened, tied together, mended and brushed up—suggests more extreme poverty than rags and dirt” (Woolf, 1966, p. 320).
Finally, Woolf’s portrayal of Mrs. Brown allows understanding why this imaginary character is a better illustration of the literary developments and shifts in the human nature than, for example, Captain Ahab. Mrs. Brown is a more diverse and broad character meaning that her only example allows Woolf to illustrate her whole point better than long and extended theoretical explanation. Mrs. Brown is thus seen as the embodiment of the complete but too inhumane social order that Edwardians depicted in their works. At the same time, Mr. Smith, Mrs. Brown’s counterpart, is something like the representation of the new age of human nature labeled Georgian by Woolf.
Woolf, Virginia. “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown.” Collected Essays. Ed. Leonard Woolf. Vol. 1. London: Hogarth, 1966. 319-337. 4 vols. 1966-67. Print.