Stream of Consciousness in Mrs. Dalloway

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      Mrs. Virginia Woolf is truthfully called “a tireless experimenter in whose hands the novel tends to become something different from a more fictional narrative of ‘characters’. She seems to have felt that a literary form, to be capable of reflecting the current idea of life, must be a new literary form; and she proceeded to develop such a form to its perfection. In her early novel, Night and day, she speaks of writing as “that process of self-examination, that perpetual effort to understand one’s own feelings, and expresses it beautifully, fitly or energetically in language.”

      It is in Mrs. Dalloway that Virginia Woolf achieves perfection in the technique of stream-of-consciousness. The action of the novel is confined within a narrow framework of a single day in the life of the central figure, Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway, spatially to a single place, London, and emotionally to the relations of Mrs. Dalloway with few other characters. The action of the novel is mainly presented through the minds of these few people. As the mind ranges without limitation of time and space, the novel basically deals with the past of its characters than with the presence of its single day. Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway is the focal point and all the actions revolve around her. The method of presentation produces alternating movement by going out and back again.

      We begin with Clarissa’s stepping out into a London Street in order to buy flowers for her evening party, but we actually join her when we move in her mind, to her girlhood away from London to Bourton where we meet Peter Walsh. Then after we share with her the world of the London morning and her own world for next twelve pages, meet her next door neighbor Scrope Purvis and her friend Hugh Whitbread, her husband Richard Dalloway and daughter Elizabeth, Miss Doris Kilman, her girlhood friend Sally Seton and again Peter Walsh. Then we meet an external incident, the backfiring of motor-car engine in Bond Street but what happens in the novel on the face is unimportant. In Mrs. Dalloway, a most sophisticated upper-class lady gives a party, and a man Peter Walsh who has been in love with her comes back from India. A man Septimus, a neurotic is suffering from hallucinations and mental imbalance, commits suicide. Mrs. Woolf’s brilliance lies in the knack of Mrs. Dalloway. movement from one mind to another. The whole interior monologue of chief characters is rendered through the subtle use of evocative prose-poetry. The novel is remarkable for the illustration of Symbolistic technique in fiction.

      Thus Mrs. Woolf has deliberately used the technique of stream-of-consciousness with ever growing sureness of purpose, keenness, and intelligence but everything is handled with an almost scientific precision. Mrs. Woolf has limited the novel’s scope in time and place; there are few significant characters in the novel and their relations to each other is crystal clear. The time scheme is patterned with exceptional attention.

      Mr. Albert has said that Mrs. Woolf’s “keen mind and magnificent artistic sense makes her able to weld the parts into a unified artistic whole of subtle portraiture. Her studies of moods and impulses are handled with an almost scientific precision and detachment, with great lyrical and poetic gift”.

      Mrs. Virginia Woolf’s method is altogether different from James Joyce whose character speaks in the first person. But Mrs. Woolf always reports her character’s speech with the phrases like “she remembers”. She does it with the deliberate purpose to control the story in its progression and to lay emphasis over the unifying factors of the story. She is very much particular about the intelligibility of her story and maintaining the form and organization. David Daiches says that Mrs. Woolf who wants her novels to express a certain personal opinion about the life, edits the thought process as she writes them giving her novels internal organization and pattern, selecting, rephrasing and commenting. She does it without allowing the thought stream of her characters to ramble on.

      To sum up Mrs. Virginia Woolf’s reporting of the steam-of-consciousness of her character is different from the traditional novel. She manages to form a compromise between the reported thought stream and the direct translation of the unedited consciousness by the use of the transitional pronoun “one” which stands in between first person and third person.

      “Thus, she is able to present the ebb and flow between the subjective and the objective attitude “for having lived in Westminster how many years now? Over twenty-one feels even in the midst of the traffic or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush or solemnity, and indescribable pause, a suspense” The use of pronoun “one” gives a more general experience.

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