Factors Responsible for the Birth of Stream of Consciousness

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Introduction: The Factors Responsible for the Birth of Stream-of-Consciousness Novel

      David Daiches has very subtly discussed the factors responsible for the birth of psychological novel or the stream-of-consciousness novel in the following remark:

      “The English novel was essentially bourgeous in its origin, and throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was solidly anchored in a social world. The fact of social class was not only taken for granted but even depended on by English novelists; it provided humor and atmosphere and local color as well as motivation for self-advancement. The heroine of Richardson’s Paznela was a servant-girl who married into the squirarchy; and though this fairy-tale pattern was not common in English fiction, it simply exaggerated a feature that was common, namely, patterning of the plot in terms of gain or loss of social status or fortune. Even Hardy less projected his meaning through such public social symbols. Fortune, status, and marital position were all important for the Victorian as for the eighteenth-century novel. The novelist’s world was an assured one, however much he might criticize or wish to reform it. The presentation by the novelist of his world as a wholly objective world determined in large manner his technique; he could display his world like a showman or, with a “two travelers might have seen” type of opening, deploy characters and events beneath the reviewing stand on which he stood with the reader in the confident knowledge that everything of significance that was to happen to them would be externally visible.”

Mrs. Woolf’s Letter to Jane Austen

      Mrs. Woolf wrote to Jane Austen, “To believe that your prejudices hold good for others is to be released from the cramp and confinement of personality; her sense of the significant was intensely personal and individual, depending on subtle shift of mood and feeling, “What is meant by reality?” She once asked and replied. “It would seem to be something very erratic, very dependable now to be found in a dusty road, now in a swap of newspaper in the street, now in a daffodil in the sun. It lights up a group in a room and stamps some casual saying.” This is concerned with James Joyce’s view of the “Epiphany”, the instant realization that few ordinary incident or situation that came in daily experience has an intense symbolic suggestions. Such subtle, significant and private interpretations of plot would essentially take the novel out of the public’s definition of good novel.

The Change in Twentieth-Century Novel

      The twentieth-century novelist are very much influenced with the ‘William James’ views upon ‘specious present’, Henry Bergson’s concept of duree or time as a flow not a series of happenings and following them in a chronological order. The new physological idea is that we think in various directions simultaneously and tracing them in a chronological order is an absurd idea. Moreover, we can not separate present from past. Our mind recalls the past experiences as well as thinks about the present and makes plans for future.


      To conclude in the words of David Daiches: “Around 1920, the apparent collapse of a public standard of significance, new notions of time, and new notions of consciousness made themselves felt on the technique and the themes of fiction, the isolation of the individual consciousness steadily became the most important psychological fact in a world from which public value seemed to have departed and where every individual was sent to be the prisoner of his unique stream-of-consciousness,”

University Questions

What are the factors responsible for the emergence of the new technique of stream-of-consciousness novel.
Trace out the elements that cause the birth of the new technique of stream-of-consciousness.

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