Mrs Dalloway’s Day

The ambiguity that Woolf creates through technique in Mrs Dalloway is a strong challenge to literary convention. It’s often hard to distinguish the external voice of the narrator from that of a character’s first person view. This ambiguity is present throughout the novel and begins on the very first page: “Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” Woolf deliberately blurs this line between the observer and the observer in an attempt to remove the artificial presence of the narrator, to allow the reader the freedom to examine and explore without obvious mediation.

Woolf also has a tendency to shift abruptly from one persona to the next. In the following passage consciousness shifts rapidly between persona and there is little structural .

Woolf does this to simulate reality, to create the impression of real conversation. Only in the artifice of fiction do people hear what others say, reflect, then respond. Instead, Woolf creates the impression of a fluid discourse, one that hopes to capture both the simultaneous internal and external communication that occurs when people talk. Although her medium limits this to a large extent, Woolf is able to admirably recreate the mingling of thought, speech and perception by dismissing the literary conventions for speech. By refusing to use direct speech and thus avoiding the use of quotation marks, Woolf avoids the arbitrary segregation of speech and thought, of image and sound and instead creates a mingled totality, an experience.

There are however, some problems with seeing Mrs Dalloway as a complete rejection of imposed order. The fact that Woolf includes the dull along with the bright can be rather misleading. Yes Woolf is certainly less selective in her choice of portrayal, but there is still a choice. Mrs Dalloway excludes the moment that Clarissa wakes up to the moment she decides to buy the flowers herself. It excludes thoughts, feelings and experiences from every character in the book and it must be recognised that Woolf imposes some sense of order upon the narrative simply by choosing which part to represent. Furthermore, she does not truly establish a primary link between the reader and the character. The presence of the narrator, and of Woolf’s selective hand, often linger and this is especially clear in her method of representation. Unlike Joyce who tried to represent his character’s every thought through the stream of consciousness technique, Woolf often places us at the centre of a character’s thoughts- the ‘centre’ where thought often uses words instead of images.” As such, she

This may seem like devastating blows to the argument that Mrs Dalloway lacks imposed order but the question is not whether Woolf is successful in her attempts to portray a more real reality, but whether that was her intention when she hesitates to impose order. They may be flawed, but Woolf’s interior monologues can clearly be seen as an attempt to break free of imposed order.

Having arguably established that both the environment in which Virginia Woolf lived and the world of Mrs Dalloway lack a large deal of the order imposed upon fiction, we can turn to the assertion that Woolf is trying to create a “more real reality”. The strongest advocate of this interpretation can be seen in the novel’s focus on a flow of seemingly mundane events and things of little significance. These make up the majority of the novel and are only occasionally interspersed with little bursts of something that seems more meaningful, such as Clarissa’s moment of extreme empathy and admiration for Septimus at the novels conclusion. This, Woolf believed, was the very pattern of life’s narrative; “The individual in his daily life is cut off from ‘reality’ but at rare moments receives a shock. These shocks, or moments of being, are […] a token of some real thing behind appearances”. Mrs Dalloway is an account of life as it is lived; rather than extracting the significances of a character’s life and distilling them into a ‘relevant’ narrative, Woolf leaves them lurking beneath the surface. It is important to make a distinction here between ‘life’ and ‘reality’. Woolf talks of small instances giving momentary windows in ‘reality’ but the reality, the “real thing that lurks behind appearances”, is not what she is trying to portray in Mrs Dalloway. In fact, in order to portray the experience of life, Woolf must include all those falsehoods and irrelevancies that veil reality so that her account is faithful to life.

This is not the only way that Woolf’s style in Mrs Dalloway reflects her own view of living. According to Woolf “QUOTE”. This idea not only ties in with the aforementioned idea of true reality being bursts against the falsehood of ordinary life, but also challenges some of the criticism of Woolf’s selection of reality.

To Woolf, it is “instincts, affections, passions, attachments” that are “the most important” things in a narrative. This can be seen to explain why she makes such a heavy use of interior monologues. In a traditional piece of fiction the focus is either on the narrative, on the exterior- the events and their significances- or on the mind of a single character. When the narrative turns to the thoughts of other characters, the portrayal of their thoughts takes on an implied significance because of its peculiarity. This would, combined with the distillation of detail to relevance, greatly undermine Woolf’s assertion of QUOTE. Rather than portray a character’s thoughts, such a narrative technique simply cherry picks those that serve a purpose. To Woolf, this use of experience is one utterly out of touch with reality. Reality is not experienced through an omnipresent, disinterested narrator but through a network of humanity.

That is not to say that Woolf thinks that the human experience is one of inherent isolation SOMEBODY characterises Woolf’s style as one in which “the emphasis lies in loneliness, not aloneness.” Woolf’s rejection of the external model of narration is in itself a rejection of the superficiality of life where one judges based on actions and snatched impressions, ignoring the “instincts, affections, passions, attachments” Woolf find to be key. When . Woolf believed in an interrelated system of humanity, a view thoroughly consistent with the rise of subjectivity mentioned earlier. Indeed, “”. To Woolf, reality is not a narrative where each person plays their part, but rather a intertwined set of threads where everything affects that which surrounds it. There are no irrelevant character’s, no persona created merely to serve a purpose. This is explicitly clear in Woolf’s narrative technique. There is no clear, overarching narrative voice, no centralised . Clarissa may seem to be the focus of the novel and that is both true and not. She is in the sense that she is the conduit through which all these threads are connected. In many ways however, this is merely coincidental, Woolf’s message is that all the people of the city are connected. AEROPLANE.

Given the strong relationship between Woolf’s view of life and the style of her writing, it appears very likely that her reluctance to impose order upon her subject is rooted in a desire to make her fiction more ‘realistic. Woolf certainly lived in a time of subjectivity and Mrs Dalloway is very much a novel that rebels against restrictive conditions; whether or no Woolf experiment can be deemed to be successful is unclear. However, it was certainly a definite break towards a “more real reality”.

April 11, 2018


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