Lyrical or Poetical Tone in the Novel Mrs. Dalloway

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The Lyrical Expression of Mrs. Woolf’s Novel

      Mrs. Virginia Woolf was not the founder of ‘stream-of-consciousness novels’ but she is most commendable and creditable for introducing musical notes in her novels. It is solely her credit to poetize and musicalize the novels. Mrs. Virginia Woolf’s novel seems to come out from the pen of a born poetess. They are like prose-lyrics. Joan Bennett has emphatically said, “Often the form and substance of Mrs. Woolf’s novels resemble the form and substance of lyric poetry more closely than they do those of prose fiction. A lyric is subjective in its expression; it is highly musical and has an emotional intensity. It consists in a single mood and emotion. These essential characteristics of lyrics are imparted to the novels by Mrs. Virginia Woolf.

The Subjective Element in Woolf’s Novel

      Mrs. Dalloway illustrates all the afore-said features of a lyric. The novel is intended to elaborate, expose and interpret the moods and emotions of the central figure. It is least concerned with external actions and events. The action is completely internal and as it swings between past and present we see the characters at their emotional responses to it. The characters, mainly the female characters share Mrs. Woolf’s own emotional reactions; sometimes they seem to present the feeling of the novelist herself. Many of Mrs. Woolf’s female characters project their own inner self, “as if they were imagined inside the skin of their creator.” For instance when Mrs. Dalloway feels that “her own gift was knowing people almost by instinct” we see Mrs. Virginia Woolf endowed with this virtue. “The flesh of the creator is often present behind the phantom of the created character” As R.L. Chambers has noted down that the ‘stream-of-consciousness technique’ requires a complete effacement of the artist that results in incoherence and formlessness. There must be a midway between self-effacement and requirement of coherence, form and order. This compromise is well achieved by Mrs. Woolf in Mrs. Dallotuay. In this novel, the novelist’s stream-of-consciousness frequently dissolves into the mind of her characters.

The Lyrical Intensity

      The novels of Mrs. Woolf deal with the emotions, impressions and inner realities of the characters. They inherit the subjectivity that is the essential requirement of lyric. This lyrical intensity is achieved by imparting narrow frame-work to the novel. The action of Mrs. Dallotuay is encompassed within a single day and there are limited characters in this work. According to Joan Bennett “By divers means a group of characters are assembled in the foreground within a narrow framework of time and place, and the reader is continually conscious of wider horizons in the background.” Through this narrow framework the alternating movement of emotion achieves intensity.

Emotional Intensity

      Mrs. Dalloway deals with numerous scenes and moments of great emotional intensity. There are various scenes in the novel that are highly poetical and the link between these scenes is emotional, not logical. Thus the novel consists in emotional structure and unity rather than logical. For instance, the scene between Doris Kilman and Clarissa, the scene between Elizabeth Dalloway and Doris Kilman in the tea-shop, the moment of poetic happiness for Lucrezia and Septimus just before he commits suicide, the emotional agitation of Peter Walsh when he visits Clarissa after thirty years; in the past the exquisite moment when Sally Seton had kissed Clarissa on the lips, an awful scene by the fountain when Clarissa Dalloway had rejected the love of Peter Walsh and preferred to marry Richard Dalloway. On the other hand there are a few external scenes when a royal car catches the attention of every body present there in Bond Street and the airplane advertising some toffee. Thus there are several scenes which are emotionally or poetically tied to each other. These scenes are not logically connected to each other but emotionally hold each other. “There are no consequences but sequences” like we find in music. All these scenes are important regarding the portrayal of the personality of central character.

Poetic Presentation of Nature

      In Mrs. Dalloway, there is poetical presentation of nature. For example, the enchanting cloudscapes that attracted Elizabeth as she was coming back after her ride across the strand. Same cloudscapes and the alternate play of light and shade is seen by Septimus and he experiences a very transient happiness and after few moments he commits suicide. Thus the external nature is closely related to the mind and emotions of the characters like poetry in which nature owes its color from the human soul.

Mrs. Dalloway: Double-Pattern

      Like a poetic play Mrs. Dalloway has a double pattern, prose pattern and poetic under pattern. The story of Mrs. Dalloway and Septimus is circumscribed by the prose pattern and poetic under pattern that is seen in the tension between love and hate, happiness and sorrow, life and death etc. These conflicts between opposite poles reveal the novelists’ extreme consciousness to the beauty and the intense sorrow. Joan Bennett has well said, “the experiences of death and of love which so often provide the climax of a great story, only in her books, interwoven with the texture of human life and so placed that suffering or joy, beauty or ugliness, perplex and quicken the mind and,

Tease us out of thought,
As Doth eternity.

The Poetic Style of Mrs. Woolf

      Mrs. Woolf’s style seems the style of a born-poetess. It is very much poetic, replete with rhythm, repetition, poetic images and symbols. This is something, indeed, difficult to render the internal reality or mind of the characters in prose. Thus in order to heighten the expressiveness of the language, the novelist has used vivid metaphors and symbols which had the intricacy of associations and emotions. Her metaphors are verse-like and they do not easily get erased from the mind. They are more vivid and magnetic than prose-like poetry. Mrs. Woolf's style is highly suggestive and allusive. Like the refrain of a song she repeats the most significant words and phrases. This clever device of “echoing sounds and significant words carries assonance, perilously close to rhyme.” Her novel gets musicalized by the use of rhythm, assonance, refrains and rhymes, etc R.L. Chamber has pointed out, “What Mrs. Woolf does is to borrow the technique of poetry to enlarge the possibilities of expression in prose, at one and the same time to make clear her meaning and drive home its emotional implications.

University Questions

Discuss the lyrical note in Mrs. Dalloway.
Bring out the poetic elements on Mrs. Dalloway.”
Elaborate the dictum: “Mrs. Dalloway’s method is poetic, the unity in her novels is a poetic unity.
Is Mrs. Woolf essentially a born poetess?

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