Mrs Dalloway Analysis | Mrs Dalloway Critical Appreciation

Mrs. Dalloway Analysis | Mrs. Dalloway Critical Appreciation

Mrs Dalloway Analysis


The book viz., Mrs. Dalloway came to be written not in one continuous round, but in three successive stages. Each of these stages was marked by a different state of mind and a different method of work and technique. But a new form, however, was discovered, which Mrs. Woolf tried and perfected in the course of writing over these three different stages and periods. Mrs. Dalloway saw the light of the day simultaneously in England and America in May, 1925.

Its popularity

It is Virginia Woolf‘s best known and the most popular novel. It has been translated into French, Danish, German, Hungarian, Italian, Spanish, etc. and it has earned the approbation (praise) of one critic after another. In the words of David Daiches it is the first wholly successful novel that Virginia Woolf produced” and Joan Bennett considers it is one of her foremost satisfying novels.” In the words of E. M. Forster, “it is perhaps her masterpiece, but difficult, and I am not altogether sure about every detail, except when my fountain pen is in my hand.”

A study of insanity and suicide

In the words of Virginia Woolf herself Mrs. Dalloway is “a study of insanity and suicide, the world seen by the sane and the insane side by side something like that.” Her novel to precede Mrs. Dalloway is Jacob’s Room, which was produced at random, solving problems as they arose. But Mrs. Dalloway is conceived by her as a whole one piece and she tried to see to it that it was better than the others (books) and she got the utmost out of it. In this novel she wants to expose, as she herself states, “the slipperiness of the soul.” She has been too tolerant often, but the truth is that people do not often care for one another. They have an insane instinct for life, and they never become attached to anything outside their orbit. Apart from this she tried in this novel to treat of life and death and to exhibit the social system at work.

Two parallel inter-related lines of development

There are two parallel interconnected lines of development in the story. But they have a central interest first in Mrs. Dalloway, a woman of upper middle class, wife of a member of parliament, outwardly extremely cultured and highly sociable, and the second in Septimus Warren Smith, a shell-shocked soldier, a neurotic, a halfsane man, who is in the habit of talking to himself and full of dread of the outside world. These two characters and the persons and incidents connected with them develop alternately. They meet at different points in time and space and are made prominent by objects, people and scenes which flash across the consciousness of principal characters in both the parts of the story.

Mrs. Dalloway and Septimus Smith do not meet in the course of the day (which is the complete duration of the story). The scenes relating to the Queen, or the Prime Minister’s car, aeroplane advertising toffees in the sky, a little girl playing in Regent Park and an old woman singing by an underground station, all serve to provide insight into a particular character or are used to bring about a transition from one character to another, as it is the method used by the novelist to abandon one series of characters to follow another In the first part of the story,

Mrs. Dalloway meets Peter Walsh, who has been an is still in love with her and is roaming about at this time in London. Mrs. Dalloway has his lunch with Lady Bruton and Elizabeth goes out for shopping with an old maid. Miss Kilman. And in the evening all these persons except Miss Kilman gather at Mrs. Dalloways’ party. On the same day Septimus Smith goes for a walk with his wife Lucrezia in the Regent Park They consult Dr. Bradshaw, a brain specialist, who advises that Septimus Smith should be sent to a mental home. He commits suicide, however, by throwing himself from a window, when Dr. Holmes comes to take him to the mental home. The two stories are joined to one another only when Bradshaws tell about Septimus’s death at Mrs. Dalloway’s party.

The story of the novel is quite simple and can be narrated in a few words. The time is a few years after the war. The morning in June is fine for walking, and nearly everybody walks. The events are trivial, but they are capable of rousing memories, associations, reflections and feelings in different characters, bringing to the fore the outer and the inner interwoven experiences. Different characters have different paths of their own, which cross and recross. The deeper connections between Clarissa and Septimus are suggested by varying patterns of imagery which exist in their consciousness

The theme of Mrs. Dalloway

The central theme of the novel relates to the life and personality of Mrs. Dalloway. It has a double plot. Mrs. Dalloway as portrayed in the novel, is both an individual and a representative character. She reveals the hollowness of the present day civilization vividly with all its silly chatter and incessant round of parties, its affectation, snobbery and materialism. The novel also deals with the life and personality of Septimus Warren Smith, a shell-shocked neurotic. He is the double of Clarissa Dalloway, as he objectifies the deadness of her soul as well as the deadness of contemporary civilization. Taken together both strongly hit at the materialistic society which brings about “the death of the soul”. The worlds of both stand apart from each other quite distinctly, but when they get inter-linked and are to be judged as a whole, they make a single story. They not only look but are actually the two different facets of society, whose exterior is glittering and attractive, but whose soul is tormented, troubled and “dead”.

An under-pattern of poetry

The novel has a well-knit and coherent double plot. It has also an under-pattern of poetry which is affected by symbol and imagery. The prose pattern builds up the image of the contemporary society; likewise the under-pattern employs devices which are poetic and deeper than the universal aspects of life, such as the tension between life and death, need of spiritual privacy and freedom, and the need for love and social contact. Religion and love are rather too dominating and possessive, Mrs. Dalloway has an ingrained fear for them in her mind. Septimus fears the domination of human beings so much that he commits suicide. Dr. Bradshaw is a satiric portrait of an insolent, aggressive and dominating man of the world whose aim is to possess and destroy the soul of others.

Mrs. Dalloway as a Stream of Consciousness Novel

Mrs. Dalloway is a stream of consciousness novel, but its form and structure are excellent indeed. What is expected to be incoherent and chaotic is full of the imposition of rigorous structure, a strict adherence to form and order. This has been possible by choosing rather a narrow framework for the novel. In time the action observes the limitation temporally to a single day in June, in space to the limitation of London, and emotionally to the relationships between a few major characters only, with some minor characters also effectively acting in the background. The psychological time has been deftly manipulated with clock time, as for example, when the London clocks strike we may be sure to find a transition from the past to the present or from one person to another.

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The narrator appears again and again on the scene to guide the readers and we have frequent use of the pronoun “one” in place of “T” in the novel. The novel is conspicuous consequently by an absence of confusion, incoherence, and it is marked by discipline and order. “It is a compromise”, in the words of R. L. Chambers, “between the need for formal clarity of presentation and the formlessness apparently inherent in the stream of consciousness technique with its insistence that everything is the proper stuff of fiction, that, ‘no perception comes amiss.” It was perhaps the main achievement of Virginia Woolf’s genius to discover that such a compromise was possible, certainly it required an artistic sensibility of a very high order to apply such a compromise in practice.”

Use of Interior Monologue

Life and character are cleverly portrayed by using the ‘interior monologue’ or the stream of consciousness technique. The whole novel observes the two dimensions of time and space. We either stand still in time and contemplate diverse but contemporaneous events in space or we stand still in space and move up and down temporally in the consciousness of some individual.

By making the persons in the novel to move back and forth in time to catch at an entire life in a few records of thoughts is added an additional dimension, which serves to enrich not only the characters, but also the philosophical depth of the book. Mrs. Dalloway is conceived through her own stream of consciousness as well as through the stream of consciousness of other characters and we are always present with her at the critical moments in her life. Her personality as it emerges, in this manner is thoroughly rounded and life-like. The imposition of the chronological time-sequence is set aside and the action moves freely backward and forward in time. The clock-time and psychological-time both work hand in hand. As far as the historical time is concerned it is suggested by referring to the consequences of the war which has just come to an end. All the three kinds of time viz., clock-time, psychological time and historical time are present in the novel.

Mrs. Dalloway: Its Musicality and Poetic Form

Mrs. Dalloway is very much similar to a musical piece. It represents the musicalization and poetisation of the English novel. It has a backward and forward rhythmical movement like a musical composition. The movement follows an alternating pattern. From the pivotal point in the consciousness of Mrs. Dalloway the movement goes in space backward in time opening up long vistas of experience and character and then it swings to the particular day of the clock-time. The movement further starts from another point and this time it is a June morning and Bond street. It passes through different points of consciousness in different persons-Watkins, Septimus and Lucrezia, Sarah and Bowley. The third point, which is fixed, is seen in the Septimus-Lucrezia consciousness. The movement at this point again is backward and forward, both spatially and temporally. The whole pattern bespeaks of utmost care and precision, resulting in the production of a completely convincing artistic whole, like a perfect piece of music.

The ordinary prose is found inadequate by Virginia Woolf to express the complex aura of spiritual states and experiences which it was her business to express. She employed the methods and technique of a poet, therefore, remedy the lacuna. Her style is poetic, she makes use of abundant poetic imagery, metaphor and symbol. The plain words are exploited by her with a keen perception of their rhythmical and musical potentialities. Her style in on is metaphorical and richly adorned and figurative. She has successful repeated and echoed sounds as in the refrain and rhyme in poetry and music. Her metaphors are different from those of prose, even of romantic prose: are metaphors of poetry. They are not all taken from the visible world, they at times collections of ideas made by the change of the laws of association and reality which only a poet can do. “A candle in a crocus” or “a bracelet of bright hair about the bone”, or “I should have been a pair of ragged claws” or London rushing her bayonets into the sky or the eye as a cup that not only overflows but lets the rest run down its China walls unrecorded, are not prose metaphors, but they present a world of poetry, which is exclusively of the imagination. The style of Mrs. Dalloway is a fascinating poetic style, it is the style of a conscious artist and a cultured woman. It is a musical and vivid poetic prose which is luxuriantly decorated by numerous images and metaphors, following one another in almost a natural order.

Some imperfections

There are, however, some imperfections in the effort on the part of the novelist to resolve a social comedy into something of a tragedy. There is a crucial law in the dramatisation of Clarissa Dalloway’s “death of the soul”, which occurs because her connections with her doubles, Bradshaw and Septimus, are not fully and directly brought about. The roles of Septimus and Bradshaw are not absolutely convincing. Bradshaw is merely a villain of a melodrama, as it were. The positive characters, Peter Walsh and Sally Seton do not serve well the objective for which they are introduced, which is the representation of a fulfilled vitality. The criticism of society that kills the soul is voiced with very little weight and force, with the result that it does not impinge upon the consciousness of the readers, as it should.

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