Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway as a Psychological Novel | Mrs Dalloway as a Stream of Consciousness Novel

Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway as a Psychological Novel or Stream of Consciousness Novel

Mrs Dalloway Psychological Novel

The stream of consciousness is new method of writing which departs from the traditional way of writing novels. It catches at the thoughts and feelings of the persons than action or external event actually. It aims to explore the human consciousness, the feelings and thoughts, vague emotions and sensations that pass and re-pass in the minds of the characters at different crucial moments. It renders the very atmosphere of the mind and the outer or external world is introduced only in so far as it helps in bringing out the activity of the mind.

The Stream of consciousness is a difficult technique but in Mrs. Dalloway, so deftly it has been tried and experimented by Virginia Woolf that it achieves great perfection, and shows that it has vast possibilities for the artistic portrayal of life. It may digress into formlessness and incoherence. This danger has been triumphantly overcome by the novelist by lending order and balance to the seemingly disordered and chaotic material of the subjective novel. The novel has a firm and strong structure and the inner life has been convincingly rendered in it. The technique has reached the high water mark of perfection in Mrs. Dalloway.

The subject of the novel is of life a single day, a Wednesday mid-June 1923, from morning to evening. During this brief spell of time the novelist is able to capture not only Clarissa‘s (the main character) past, her revolution, her history, her personality, her character, but also a description of many persons who are either directly connected with her or those who come across her at some moment in the day, or about whom she is led on to think. This is called a psychological time which deals with the internal and the external subjectivity of each character’s thought and emotions in order to represent the flow of consciousness, which is interrupted by the clock.

“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself”

The entire structure of the novel is built on the dimensions of space and time. The central or the focal point follows an alternate course as it passes from the consciousness of one character to another and from London, Bourton. We either stand still in time dare led to brood over diverse but contemporaneous events in space, or we stand still in space and are allowed to move up and down temporally in the consciousness of same particular individual. Events introduced in the novel are largely psychological.

There is a constant backward and forward movement in and out which corresponds exactly with the thought processes. We are at first introduced to the stream of consciousness of a particular character, and then we are made to pause to see into the environments of the characters. Still further on we are given an opportunity to have a peep into the minds of other characters who are relevant to that environment.

There are certain signposts or land-marks in Mrs. Dalloway deliberately introduced by the novelist to lend clarity and afford order and discipline. We stay still in time but rapidly move through the minds of various characters and have before us for a time different kinds of consciousness, which are held together by a unifying force. The clocks of London strike from the beginning to the end throughout the novel. The London clocks strike because the novelist has a purpose in presenting their sounds. The time Septimus, Rezia repeated, ‘What is the time?’ He was talking, he was staring, this man must notice him. He was looking at them, ‘I will tell you the time,’ said Septimus very slowly, very drowsily, smiling mysteriously. As he sat smiling at the dead man in the grey suit, the quarter struck, the quarter to twelve. And that is being young. Peter Walsh thought as he passed them.

The clock strikes the hour as we pass from Septimus Smith to Peter Walsh. We have to pass from one consciousness to another, because they impinge in time and every impingement is suggested by the striking of the clock. The clock strikes or chimes almost every fifteen minutes throughout the novel, or this is indicated in some other way. The time of the day we can easily find out either by looking at a page ahead or by looking at the previous page. The indications of time are most clearly given when we move from one personality to another; they indicate transitions from one consciousness to another.

There is complete self-effacement of the novelist in a stream of consciousness novel, but it results in incoherence, disorder and lack of clarity, which is not good from the artistic point of view. But Mrs. Dalloway is an exception, as it brings a successful compromise between self-effacement of the author and the convention of the omniscient author, and this results in considerable gain in point of clarity and order. The minor characters, like Rezia, Septimus, Hugh Whitbread, the Bradshaw instead of being perceived through the stream of consciousness of other characters, are sketched from without by the omniscient writer himself.

The stream of consciousness novelist employs third person‘he or she’, which is an intermediate sort of pronoun. Virginia Woolf goes even a step further and uses ‘one’ as in the following sentence:

“For having lived in Westminster- how many years now? Over twenty one feels even in the midst of the traffic, or working at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hash, or solemnity?”

This serves the purpose of identifying the thinker and enable he to pass into a new action without in the least impending the stream of thought.

The transitions and connections in the novel are deftly managed, but they are emotional and associational, and not logical. The touch of the air on a June morning makes Mrs. Dalloway remember similar feelings of the morning 30 years ago at Bourton. This brings forth into her mind crowds of memories of the past. She is reminded of Sally Seton who was fond of green colour when she chose the green dress for her party. Memories of Peter Walsh are suddenly roused in her mind when she just by chance happens to meet Hugh Whitbread. Septimus and Rezia are also connected emotionally with Clarissa Dalloway, as they look at the same car and the same aeroplane at the same time and their minds also come to be filled with identical thoughts.

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James Joyce is not bothered whether the readers make out something from the narrative or not. Virginia Woolf tries, unlike him, to be comprehensible and clear. She is an inventive genius. She only reports rather than directly transcribes the stream of thought of her characters. And this reporting is different, very different from the one done in the traditional Victorian novel or earlier. She strikes a compromise between the reported thought and the direct transcription of the chaotic consciousness. She is able to depict the ebb and flow between the subjective and the objective attitude.

James Joyce takes the raw material of consciousness and expands it into a summary of all existence by taking analogies from history, science and art. Virginia Woolf, on the contrary, avoids all such analogies and makes her point by the way she selects her material and organizes the depiction of the thought processes. James Joyce presents all the points of view, whereas Virginia Woolf presents only her own.

As a superb psychological novel, Mrs. Dalloway renders the inner life of characters and their shimmering experiences, and in so doing it is able to impose form and order on what by its very nature is chaotic and disorderly. The novel stands unrivalled, indeed, so far as its technical mastery is concerned. It is Virginia Woolf’s most remarkable achievement, especially in the field of the stream of consciousness novel.

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