LITERARY TREND AND AUTHOR CANON
Woolf is one of the most representative modernist writers. She is credited for developing the stream of consciousness narrative technique and for inspiring the feminist movement of the 1970s.
Modernist traits in Woolf’s prose:
- Stream-of-consciousness narrative technique;
- Influenced by post-impressionism: human character is depicted in a new way;
- Opposed Victorian traditions and social rules;
- Expressed revolt at the limitation of women’s rights (including the right to university education, which was denied to her);
- Depicts inequality in marriage;
- Writes about the emancipation of women;
- Incorporates the experience of war in her vision of history.
MRS. DALLOWAY (published 1925)
Genre: a modernist novel
- Multiple narrators;
- Fragmented story;
- Experiments with time representation and perception: literary devices ̶ temporal juxtapositions, sudden jumps.
- Focus on the inner world of the character: literary devices ̶ stream of consciousness, memory, perception.
- The plot is replaced by specific modernist patterns: time, place, character, leitmotifs, symbols, mythic patterns, and cinematic devices (space and time montage).
- Theme: atemporal, eternal conflicts of the soul, philosophy.
- Range: limited, presented subjectively. Life is chaotic, disordered, fragmentary.
- Narration: subjective, limited point of view or combination of points of view.
- Structure: open form.
It is a modernist novel because it seems to focus on something ordinary (a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway) but it tells the story in a non-lineal manner, focusing on the characters’ inner thoughts and using modern narrative techniques.
- June, 1923;
- Flashbacks provide different settings from the past of the characters (Bourton).
Main theme: Society and class
In post-war London, society was conservative and hierarchical. Characters are aware of their social position, with the upper class being proud of their family history and the lower class confined to their limitations. Clarissa only lives among people of the same or a higher social status than her, while the characters who are beneath her socially resent her. All characters are concerned with social status, as it defines their entire existence.
- Memory and past;
The novel follows the events which occur in a twenty-four-hour period in London. Clarissa Dalloway prepares for a big party she is hosting that evening. She runs a few errands in the city, then meets a former suitor, Peter Walsh, who still resents being refused but also has feelings for her. Several flashbacks reveal their past together. Peter leaves to go the Regent’s Park. The perspective moves to Septimus Warren Smith, a World War veteran who is shell-shocked. He waits for an appointment with Sir William Bradshaw, a psychiatrist. Several flashbacks present his war experience, his mental breakdown and his wife’s misery. The psychiatrist fails to see how disturbed his patient is and plans to send him to a mental institution. Threatened with this prospect, Septimus commits suicide. At the party, Clarissa tries to be a gracious host. She is shocked to find out about Septimus but she resumes her duties as a hostess.
Characters presented in the analysis of the literary fragment should be adapted to the fragment itself.
- Clarissa Dalloway– a vivacious woman who cares a lot about what others think of her. She is self-reflective and questions life’s meaning. She feels both joyful of her life and dreads her future. The two opposing tendencies manifest in her desire for privacy and in her will to communicate with others. She reflects on the summer when she chose to marry her husband, despite a close friendship with Peter Walsh and the loving feelings she had for her friend Sally Seton.
- Septimus Warren Smith – a World War I veteran with mental issues due to the war, married to Lucrezia, an Italian woman. He has a similar view of English society as Clarissa and tries to maintain balance between his need to communicate with others and his wish for privacy. He is pale, has a hawklike posture and wears a shabby coat. Before the war he was a young, idealistic poet. He regards human nature as fundamentally evil and considers himself guilty for not feeling enough. He commits suicide rather than to succumb to society
- Peter Walsh – a friend of Clarissa, who used to be in love with her. She rejected his marriage proposal when she was 18 and he moves to India. He is very critical of others his life. He has a habit of playing with a pocketknife. He is easily overcome with emotion and cries. He has frequent love troubles and falls in love with married women.
POINT OF VIEW
- Third person omniscient (the overarching narrator has access to everyone’s thoughts);
- The point of view changes many times during the novel, revealing the thoughts of several characters (Clarissa, Septimus, Lucrezia, Peter, Richard, Elizabeth, and Miss Kilman);
- The narrator remains anonymous.
- Bivalent, light and dark, critical and caring;
- The tone captures the trend of the post-war life, but, at the same time, preserves a note of joy and hope;
- The author captures the tone of each character telling the story.
Complex, psychological style;
Tones and ideas vary within one sentence;
Various styles of speaking and thinking because the reader is inside the mind of several characters;
Reality is subjective, perceived differently by each character;
Present-day observations from all the characters;
Stream of consciousness;
Different types of discourse:
- Direct speech (dialogue);
- Indirect speech (narrator lets the reader know that a character is thinking of something – specific verbs: think, wonder, ask;
- Free indirect speech (the narrator doesn’t specify that the character is thinking of something);
Long, complex sentences, in which the perspective and tone changes and the author alternates between different types of discourse.