Virginia Woolf's novels, as Frank Kermode indicates, were not immediately received into the canon. In fact, some critics still consider her a minor author. Many of the negative judgments of Woolf, however, reveal prejudice, prejudice stemming from fear. Critics deny her importance rather than face the implications of her work.
This study, focusing on the characters of Rachel Vinrace in The Voyage Out, Clarissa Dalloway, Peter Walsh, Septimus Smith, and Sir William Bradshaw in Mrs. Dalloway, Mr. Ramsay, Mrs. Ramsay, and Lily Briscoe in To the Lighthouse, Jinny, Susan, Rhoda, Louis, Neville, and Bernard in The Waves, and Miss La Trobe in Between the Acts, shows that Woolf uses distance against the patriarchal control of women, death, and character to reveal a dualistic reality under hierarchical appearances. This feminist perspective frightens readers accustomed to a patriarchal perspective.
Woolf establishes distance between her novels and her readers by using distance in her work. Her female characters use distance to resist patriarchal definitions of themselves and thus reveal their complexity. Her artists use distance to contradict the patriarchal denial of death and thus affirm the presence of death within life. Woolf herself creates distance by breaking four conventions of character. Unlike traditional characters that express patriarchal attitudes about women and death, Woolf's characters express her feminist and dualistic attitudes, thereby resisting the reader's urge to control them.
Woolf's distance, then, affirms both the presence and the value of women and death in reality, suggests that patriarchal hierarchies do not describe reality but attempt to control it, exposes the damage such control does to individual lives, and makes her readers aware of their own attempts to control both reality and fiction.
Because Woolf's novels resist control, they threaten the reader's usual way of dealing with the world and make him or her uneasy. Woolf risks her reader's fear, however, and uses the distance of her characters and her characterization to communicate her own vision of an obdurate reality, a reality in which women cannot be defined as inherently inferior, death cannot be denied, and "life itself" cannot be controlled.