Writing Technique of the Novel Mrs. Dalloway

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Introduction: The Action of the Novel, Mrs. Dalloway

      In the novel, Mrs. Dalloway, very narrow space is given to the action. It is started, developed and finished within a single day in the life of its central figure Mrs. Dalloway and spatially to a single place that is, London. The novel deals with the experiences of Mrs. Dalloway that she receives after meeting with a few persons anyhow related to her. But the point to notice is that most of the action is not externally visible, it is presented through the consciousness of some people and as mind moves regardless of time and space, the novel describes more the past of its characters rather than the present of its single day. When we consider the mental journey of characters we get action taking place not only in London but in other places also. For example, if we examine the character of Mrs. Dalloway round whom all the actions revolve, we find an alternative movement in time and place. She thinks about her experiences of Bourton, suddenly her thought springs and she starts living in the present of London.

The Mental Journey of Mrs. Dalloway

      The story begins with Clarissa Dalloway’s stepping out into London street in order to buy flowers for her party. But we hardly accompany her when we find her recalling girlhood experiences, far from London to Bourton where we first get introduced with Peter Walsh who is presently in India but expected to be back any time to London. Then after, in the next twelve pages we share with her the world of London morning and her memories. We meet her next-door neighbor Scrope Purvis, her friend Hugh Whitbread and through her mind, her husband Richard Dalloway, daughter Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s tutoress-cum-friend Doris Kilman, Clarissa’s girlhood friend Sally Seton and many people worthless to mention here but the memory of Peter Walsh frequently comes into the novel again and again after short intervals.

      “But with Peter, everything had to be shared everything gone into. And it was intolerable, and when it came to that scene in the little garden by the fountain, she had to break with him, or they would have been destroyed, both of them ruined, she was convinced: though, she had borne about with her for years like an arrow sticking in her heart, the grief, the anguish: and then the horror of that moment when someone told her at a concert that he had married a woman met on the boat going to India.”

      How quickly we are given the intimate knowledge of the characters and their relationships. It is very astonishing to meet with several characters, their experiences in such a narrow framework of the novel.

External Incidents

      The next facet of the novel is those incidents that are externally presented. For example, the backfiring of a motor car engine, and the airplane advertising some coffee. The backfiring of a motor can engine attracts us to the scene in Bond Street to Edgar J. Watkins who is very insignificant character to mention, but also to Septimus Warren Smith and his wife Lucrezia who are among the major characters of the novel. Five years before they got married and now Septimus says something too awful; “I will kill myself.” From this point through the consciousness of Lucrezia we go back to last year when she and her husband stood in the embankment and were very happy The backfiring of motor car draws our attention to the by-standers who are curious to know about the person in the cars. They are Sarah Bletchley from Pimlico, Emily Coates, little Mr. Bowley and others. Suddenly Mrs. Coats looks up, everybody follows her and sees an airplane making letters in the sky through emitting smokes from behind. Among those who looked up are significantly Lucrezia and Septimus sitting on a bench in Regent Park. In a few etched lines the horror of Septimus’ madness is presented through Lucrezia’s terror and Septimus collapsing mind.

An Alternating Movement

      Therefore the movement fluctuates between present and past. A point of Mrs. Dalloway’s consciousness is fixed, and from this point the movement swings back through time, away in space, opening vistas and presenting experience and character, thus we are brought back to the present moment. The second fixed point of consciousness is Septimus and Lucrezia, through them the movement again swings back and present in time. Then again a shift is made to Clarissa Dalloway’s consciousness.

Virginia Woolf’s Artistic Sensibility

      The whole book is built on such pattern. The structure of the book is carefully built up and the most enticing result is that out of a series of incomplete materials a complete plot is constructed. Thus, we can say that Mrs. Dalloway is a compromise between the need for formal clarity of presentation and the formlessness of ‘stream of consciousness’ technique with its persistence that “everything is the proper stuff of fiction” and “no perception comes amiss.”

      It is the matchless achievement of Virginia Woolf to discover a compromise between the need for formal clarity of presentation and the formlessness of stream of consciousness technique. Indeed the artistic sensibility of Mrs. Woolf is praise-worthy and noble.

The Major Actions of the Novel

      In Virginia Woolf’s novel, what happens on the surface level is unimportant. In Mrs. Dalloway a well-sophisticated lady of aristocratic family holds a party at her home in the evening, and a man Peter Walsh who has been in love with Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway comes back from India, a young man Septimus Warren Smith commits suicide because he has been suffering from war neurosis.


      “But how does Virginia Woolf manage to give her characters moments of perception out of which her novels are made? She does so in a number of way. First as with Clarissa Dalloway and Peter Walsh, to recapitulate the lives of the characters apprehending them. Then again, as in Mrs. Dalloway, individual characters are brought into relationship with a member of others of whose existence they may be quite ignorant, brought into relationship by shared experience, of watching a motor car in which the Queen may be sitting on its progress through the West End, of gazing at an airplane skywriting, even of being vaguely aware of the chimes of Big Ben, striking through the day. These all together, in Mrs. Dalloway, create the illusion of many lives lived simultaneously, of a specific place and a sense of community.”

University Questions

Give a general estimate of Mrs. Dalloway.
Critically examine the technique of Mrs. Dalloway.

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