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Analysis the Use of Stream of Consciousness in Mrs Dalloway

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As one of the representative writers of novels of stream of consciousness, Virginia Woolf has made important contributions to the development of the technique of stream of consciousness by confirming her own original literary views through the design of a unique structure of stream of consciousness in one of her masterpieces—Mrs. Dalloway. Virginia Woolf constantly breaks through the tradition and works hard for the innovation throughout her life. Mrs. Dalloway expresses the subjective truth in the simple plot and the time-space of leap and shows the aspect different from the traditional novels.

It is known as Woolf’s most typical novel of stream of consciousness.

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Acting not only as a descriptive and narrative technique but also as an embodiment and extension of the themes in the novel, the stream of consciousness helps to fulfill the ideal unity between form and content, without the comprehension of which the unique beauty and profound ideological intentions of the novel cannot be fully appreciated.

This thesis thereby attempts a tentative study of the use of the techniques of stream of consciousness and its functions in characterization and deepening the themes. The thesis consists of four chapters.

Chapter One concentrates on the shuttle of the clock time and the psychological time, which forms a “double narrative” by recording both the characters’ external and internal activities. This special arrangement of time enhances and enriches the structure and patterns of the stream of consciousness. Chapter two pays more attention to the symbolic imagery. This technique is not speciality in stream of consciousness novel, but also is used in other kind of literature works. Chapter three explains the use of interior monologue by some vivid examples.

There is also given the definition and related knowledge of interior monologue which help readers to gain better understanding of the novel. Chapter four stresses on characterization of Mrs. Dalloway, from another point of view analyzing this stream of consciousness.

Key Words: Mrs. Dalloway stream of consciousness writing techniques


Her father, Leslie Stephen, was also a writer, who edited The Dictionary of National Biography. In her childhood, Woolf suffered through a period of sexual abuse by her half brother, Gerald Duckworth, and endured the early deaths of both her mother and brother. For the rest of her life she was afflicted by mental illness and periods of extreme depression, which accompanied the creation of her major works and led to her suicide in 1941. After Leslie’s death in 1904, the Stephen family moved to a house in the Bloomsbury area of London, which was to become the base of the famous Bloomsbury group. The group included the novelist E.

M. Forster, the biographer Lytton Strachey, the painters Vanessa Bell and Dunean Grant, the economist John Maynard Keynes, the Fabian writer Leonard Woolf, and the novelist and critic Virginia Woolf. A central figure of Bloomsbury Group, Woolf had an intense belief in the importance of the arts and a skepticism regarding the social conventions and restraints. Instead of new social ideas such as Marxism, Woolf and her peers sought in new forms of art compensation for the chaos of contemporary history after the First World War. It is said that Woolf’s work cannot be discussed without reference to her view of novel.

In all her literary life, Woolf endeavored to establish a new form of novel, novels of stream of consciousness. Her rebellion against Victorianism lay in her rejection of realism. Woolf looked in and explored the external world of human mind by drawing attention to “an ordinary mind on an ordinary day” and representing the psychological reality with her delicate use of stream of consciousness. Woolf is considered as one of the representatives of writers of stream of consciousness in the 20th century Modernist Movement. Woolf’s style of stream of consciousness is often described as poetic and impressionistic.

Her major works include Mrs. Dalloway(1925), To the Lighthouse(1927), and The Waves(1931). Though there is argument over which is Woolf’s masterpiece, most critics agree that Mrs. Dalloway is the first experimental novel by which Woolf establish her status as one of the most influential modern writers in the 20th century. Mrs. Dalloway records the experiences of two character’s within a single day, from 10 o’clock in the morning till midnight. There is little action, but much shifting in time from present to past and back again in the characters’ memories through such devices as stream of consciousness, interior monologue nd nonlinear narrative. The novel was originally named The Hours, which emphasized the representation of time. The eventual change of the title to Mrs. Dalloway reflects the new depth Woolf gave her central character. It is June day in 1923 in London. Clarissa Dalloway, the wife of Richard Dalloway, Member of Parliament, sets off to buy flowers for her party to take place that evening. In the street, a car, which is said to contain some VIP, catches everyone’s attention, among whom are the two main characters—Clarissa and the shell-shocked veteran, Septimus Warren Smith.

After that, story splits into two lines. On one line, Clarissa has important encounters with Peter Walsh, an old suitor whom she rejected; her husband, Richard; her daughter, Elizabeth, and the home tutor, appropriately named Miss Kilman and so on. On the other line, Septimus, who refuses to be treated by Dr. Holmes, calls on the nerve specialist Sir William Bradshaw with his wife Rezia; and later commits suicide at home by throwing himself out of window in escape of being sent to one of Sir William’s homes.

The two lines join together when Sir William Bradshaw tells Clarissa, in the midst of her party, of Septimus’s death, which inspires her vivid reverie of life and death at the end. In Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf not only depicts the English society after the first World War, which, although recovering from the tragedies of battle, death, and loss, lacks the calming influence of consistency and connection between people, between the past and the present, but also provides insights into “life and death, sanity and insanity; … to citicize the social system, and to show it at work at its most intense. (Woolf, Collected Essays2 89) Mrs. Dalloway has received wide critical acclaim for its innovative presentation of time, narrative, characterization through the skillful use of stream of consciousness marked by its frequent and easy shifts between several characters’ stream of consciousness. This enables Woolf to “look within” several characters’ inner worlds simultaneously and to show their interrelationship through their reflections of each other, thus portraying the characters and commenting on the events in different perspectives.

Her innovative use of the technique of stream of consciousness not only gives new depth to her works, but also makes her one of the most influential writers in British literature. According to the encyclopedia, stream of consciousness, in literature, relates the technique that records the multifarious thoughts and feelings of a character without regard to logical argument or narrative sequence. The writer attempts by the stream of consciousness to reflect all the forces, external and internal, influencing the psychology of a character at a single moment.

The technique was first employed byedouard Dujardin in his novel Les Lauriers sont coupes and the phrase “stream of consciousness” to indicate the flow of inner experience was first used by William James in Principles of Psychology, the quotation of which I put at the very beginning of this paper. Instead of agreeing with his contemporaries about consciousness being “chopped up in bits,” William James took the innovative step towards describing the human mind as a “stream of thought or consciousness”. Soon after, this scientific theory was adapted into a literary term. M. H.

Abrams asserts that a stream of consciousness narrative “describes the unbroken flow of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings in the waking mind ”. Many authors during this time period were influenced by the new psychological ideas that were becoming accepted as ways to identify the true reality of human consciousness. Psychologist Sigmund Freud stepped onto this scene too. His emphasis on individuals interconnectedness made up of the id, ego and the super ego parallels well with how new authors began to characterize using not only spoken words, but also by writing streams of thought possibly going through the characters’minds.

As Freud states , “subject matter … for the earlier novelists are motive and action(external man) and for the later ones, psychic existences and functioning(internal man)”.? Additionally he points out how this new narrative form “presents the character more accurately and more realistically”. Chapter One The time transfer between subjective and objective views A. Some Examples of Time Transferring in the novel Here we mention the time transfer between subjective and objective views which actually can be referred to the shifts that often takes us from “clock time” into “mind time”.

There are two ways to indicate the time in the novel: one is the clock time or the mechanical time, which is represented by the Big Ben and other clocks, and the other one is the mind time or the psychological time, which is reflected on the characters’ mind or consciousness. Because Woolf uses this structure of time, she can follow the rules of the characters’ stream of consciousness in the unrestricted psychological time and keep track of their superficial activities according to the clock time. By doing so, the two-layer narrative is formed: one superficial and external, the other psychological and internal.

The following list shows the hours and events measured by the clock time in Mrs. Dalloway. Some hours are not specified in the novel, but referred from the context. 10:00 Clarissa is on her way to the florist 11:00 People are watching the plane outside Buckingham Palace; Septimus and Rezia are watching the plane in the Regent’s Park; Clarissa arrives home. (shortly after 11:00) Peter calls on Clarissa; 11:30. Peter leaves Clarissa. 11:45. Septimus and Rezia are about to leave the Park; Peter is walking back to his hotel ,through the park and sees the couple. 12:00.

Clarissa finishes mending her dress; Septimus and Rezia are nearing Sir William’s house. 13:30? Septimus and Rezia left Sir William; Hugh Whitbread is on his way to Lady Bruton’s lunch party. 15:00. Richard Dalloway is approaching home; Clarissa is sitting at her writing table. 15:30. Clarissa is resting on a sofa; Elizabeth and Miss Kilman are on their way to the Stores. 18:00. Rezia is sinking into a daze after she drinks the stuff Dr. Holmes gives her because Septimus has just jumped out of the window; Peter arrives at his hotel. 00:00. Clarissa meditates on Septimus’s death; the old lady in the oppsite window is going to bed.

As we can see, the clock time often shows the events in the two plots occuring nearly at the same time. In this way, it enables the double plots to keep pace with each other. By doing so, the narrative cannot move steadily ahead in strict chronological order, but pauses and loops back at certain intervals. For example, the plane appears in the sky over Buckingh Palace shortly after the bells strike eleven times. Then the plane flies west over Green Park, then north Piccadilly, Regent Street, and Regent’s Park, where Rezia and Septimus see it.

The narrative goes on for several pages to cover what happens between Rezia and Septimus in the park. Then the plane flies over Ludgate Circus. In the narrative, Clarissa’s arrival at home comes after the plane flies over Ludgate Circus. Yet Clarissa sees the plane too when she arrives home. “What are they looking at? ” she asked the maid who opens the door. According to the route Clarissa and Richard take to go home, they live near Dean’s Yard and Buckingham Palace rather than the area of Ludgate Circus. As a result, we may infer that Clarissa arrives home around 11:00 when the plane is flying over the area near Buckingham Palace.

And her question links her to Septimus, who is looking at the plane in Regent’s Park at that time. From the list above, we also see that the characters’ activities within a day seem to be divided by the clock into fragments measured by hours, minutes and seconds. And what is presents is only an external, physical desciption of life. In contrast, What is showed in the clock time is the recollection of the characters’ life stories, which is measured by time in mind. The novel often departs from the narrative order of the external reality by following the characters’ mental journeys to the past.

It is through the characters’ frenquent return to the past that we take a glimpse of their lives. For example, the passed life of Clarissa is mainly told by Clarissa and Peter’s reflections of their shared past. In this sense, these frequent reflections bring back the past to the present and create continuity or duration of life, about which the time on the clock can tell nothing. According to the French philosopher, Henri Bergson, human experienct does not perceive real life as a sussession of demarcated conscious states, progressing along some imaginary line, but rather a continuous flow.

In his Time and Free Will(1889), he attempted to establish the notion of duration, or lived time, as opposed to what he viewed as the spatialized conception of time, measured by a clock, that is employed by science. While the physicist observes objects and events in succession, time is presented to consciousness as duration—an endlessly flowing process, which contains all the impressions, emotions, thoughts, feelings—everyting that one perceive. Bergson argued that the ‘real time’ is experienced as duration and apprehend by intuition, not through seprate operations of instinct and the intellect.

Woolf’s vision of life as “a luminous halo,a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end”(43) undoubtly bears some similarity to Bergson’s theory of time. This is why Woolf calls on the writers to “convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit, whatever aberration or complexity it may display, with as little mixture of the alien and external as possible. ”(102) It is obvious that Woolf disfavors the presentation of life characterized by its systematism and symmetry represented by the ticktack of clocks.

To create confusion of the clock time, Woolf not only purposefully skips certain hours in the account of the clock time and makes some clocks strike the hour later than the Big Ben, but also makes certain moments last longer than others do in the characters’ consciousness. For example, shortly after Clarissa arrives home at about 11:00, Peter calls on her. “ ‘Who can, what can asked Mrs. Dalloway (thinking it was shocking to be interrupted at eleven o’clock on the morning of the day she was giving a party). ”(61) Here, Clarissa’s referrence to the time is probably general rather than specific since no chiming clock confirms it.

That is to say, the time between her arrival and Peter’s visit must be no more than a few minutes. Yet Clarissa’s stream of consciousness flows on for about twelve pages within this short period. And Peter’s visit, which ends as clocks strike 11:30, may last 15 or 20 minutes. But it covers about ten pages as much of the scene takes place within the minds. These are two of the many occasions in the novel when time seems suspended and the focus shifts from external to internal events. B. Typical Effects of This Technique

Instead of formulating life into regular units and parts as the clock time does, time in the consciousness allows certain moments in the past to merge into the present and acquire timelessness in duration. In many places in Mrs. Dalloway, the intersection of time and timelessness arises as the past comes back repeatedly and go together with the present in the characters’ stream of consciousness. For example, after Peter leaves Clarissa’s home and walks through the streets of London to the hotel he stays, his thought keeps going back to the past which he and Clarissa shared, just as Clarissa did an hour ago. The bells of St.

Margaret’s remind him of the image of Clarissa as a hostess. “Ah, said St. Margaret’s, like a hostess who comes into her drawing-room on the very stroke of the hour and find her guests there already. I am not late. No, it is precisely half-past eleven, she says. Yet she is perfectly right, her voice, being the voice of the hostess, is reluctant to inflict its individuality… and the sound of St. Margaret’s glides into the recesses of the heart and buries itself in ring after ring of sound, like something alive which wants to confide itself, to disperse itself, to be with a tremor of delight, at rest-like Clarissa herself… It is Clarissa herself, he thought, with a deep emotion, and an extraordinarily clear, yet puzzling, recollection of her, as if this bell had come into the room years ago, where they sat at some moment of great intimacy, and had gone from one to the other and had left, like a bee with honey, laden with the moment. ” ? Peter’s reference to Clarissa as a hostess comes up several times in both Peter and Clarissa’s memories in the novel. Just about an hour ago when Clarissa was also walking through the streets, she recalled “How he scolded her! How they argued!

She would marry a Prime Minister and stand at the top of a staircase; the perfect hostess he called her (she had cried over it in her bedroom), she had the makings of the perfect hostess, he said. ”? Thus, some scenes, moments and feelings in the past become attached to certain things, places or images and are revived repeatedly in the memory. For Peter and Clarissa, the past they shared has become a permanent part of their present lives. Though the time of the past is gone, the moment, the scence and the feelings at that time still exist in their consciousness.

Here, the clock, which measures changes of things and pass of time, loses its power of wiping off the past. In Mrs. Dalloway, a typical contrast is widely used to express the Woolf’s ideas from different points of view and different levels. Clarissa often “feels even in the midst of the traffic, or walking at night… a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense (but that might be her heart, affected, they said, by influenza) before Big Ben strikes. ”? Her extreme sensitivity towards time is shown through the merging of her image with the late bells of St. Margaret’s in Peter’s imagination.

Yet complete ignorance of the clock time which tells the changes and external connection between things is a sign of insanity. Septimus is never aware of the clock time in the novel, which represents his isolation from the external reality. On the contrary, Clarissa is always sensitive to both the clock time and the mind time. Thus, by putting the clock time and the psychological time side by side, Woolf means to show that only when a person reflects on his life on both levels of time, which means that he is aware of himself both subjectively and objectively, can he be said to have a sane of time.

Chapter Two Symbolic imagery A. Concrete Use of the Symbolic Image: Clock Stream of consciousness is a very complex psychological process and it can be divided into different levels. According to the Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, it can be divides into three levels: the unconscious, the subconscious and the conscious. The conscious mind can be described directly in demonstrative, ideographic and logical speech. But the subconscious mind, particularly the unconscious mind is ususally a kind of sensual impression or reverie which is so complex, so elusive and so subtle that it is indescribable.

When the demonstrative, ideographic and logical speech is not functional to describe the the subconscious mind, particular the unconscious mind, stream of consciousness novelists, the main purpose of whom is to present to the reader the subconscious particularly unconscious mind of characters, have to find a special vehicle to do it. The special vehicle they find is symbolic imagery. This is because the unconscious mind, the most primitive state of one’s mind, forms in the same way as a symbol forms.

To metaphysically present the sensual impressions and the confused mood, which rest at the recesses of one’s consciousness like the unconscious mind, stream of consciousness novelists have to use symbolic imagery. As a novelist of this genre, Virginia Woolf is not an exception. In Mrs. Dalloway, the clock of London and the striking of the sound form a quite complex symbolic image. The clocks and the striking of the sound are personifies and endowed with the emotion of characters.

Thus, this image symbolizes different things to different characters and it may mean different things even to the same character when the character is in different moods of him or her. For instance, when Clarissa Dalloway crosses Victoria Street thinking of the quick passage of time, she feels a suspensen in her heart when she hears the striking of Big Ben. In this sense, the striking of the clock like a warning of the death. But another occasion, the striking of the St. Margaret’s clock makes her think of all sorts of little things such as Mrs.

Marsham, Ellie Henderson and glasses for ices and have the feeling that “all sorts of little things came flooding and lapping and dancing in on the wake of that solemn stroke which lay flat like a bar of gold on the sea”. In this sense, to Clarissa, the image of the clock and its striking becomes a symbol of life which is composed of countless little things. To Mrs. Dalloway, the striking of the clock means the pass of the good time and the lost of life. All these make her think too much and feel uncomfortable. However, this image means different things for Peter Walsh. When he hears the striking of St.

Margaret’s clock in Clarissa’s drawing-room, Peter feels the sound of the clock is “like something alive”. In Peter’s imagination, Clarissa glides downstairs in white as the sound of the clock floats into the drawing-room. But when he hears the sound of the high bell of the ambulance which carries Septimus’ dead body, the striking of Big Ben becomes the tolling of the knell. Then how about Septimus’s attitude to the striking of clocks? The loud and strong sound comes from the Big Ben touches Septimus’s most weak nerves, and lead him to recall the terriable memories of the War and his dead solider mates unconsciously.

But he does not have pity on the past time, on the contrary, the striking of the clock strenghten his will to end his own life as early as possibable. Obviously, woolf uses the symbolic image of the Big Ben connect two persons together,who don not know each other at all, and quite skillfully reveal the novel’s theme with the help of the characters’ different experiences and opinions about the time. From a general view, the clock is taken as the symbol of the industrialization of the morden society.

The more industrialized the society becomes, the more dependent people are on clocks. “Shredding and slicing, dividing and subdividing, the clocks… counselled submission, upheld authority, and pointed out in chorus the supreme advantages of a sense of proportion. ”? The clock, which attempts to divide human life into average, mechanical units, drives individuality and self-mastery out of human and causes pressure and anxiety. Thus by using the clocks as the symbol image, especially the Big Ben, it exactly shows the local specialty and London style atmosphere.

More important is that the reality which the clock symbolizes, drives people from the far illusion and wake them up from their deep thought, it is the birdge between the stream of consciousness and reality. B. Symbolic Image: Death Death is a very typical and cored theme in Mrs. Dalloway, so Virginia Woolf uses many images to discuss the death and life and to talk about the revelant things. Death can be the wake of life, or it’s just a different kind of life. It’s kind of life with the more subtle and minute quality. It’s more slowly and lasting.

In this book it wants to show the real possibilities of self-expression and self-realization. Nonetheless, the deepest, the most real part of the self is hidden, and wants to keep itself hidden. Repeatedly, the self is described as an underwater creature and, accordingly, it is seen to have a continuous motion, a peculiar freedom and isolation, a capacity to plunge deeper and deeper, a tendency to see objects as luminous and distorted. For example, Septimus’s suicide is taken as the symbol of the killing of the free soul by the society’s strong controlling power.

In this way, it’s easy to understand that the doctor do the cruel things as the terrible sipirtual power of the society, and also understand why Clarissa’s great shocking of the death news about Septimus who she never know during her entire life. Septiums’s suicide just the imply Clarissa’s siprit ciris. Thus according to the same thoery, the old lady who Clarissa observes attentionly when she leave the party for a little while is another symbolic image. The old lady is Clarissa’s lonely soul. So after the light in the old lady’s house out, the heroine also ends her inner thought naturally.

C. Images of birds and waves Still, many of the characters are associated with birds image: Clarissa in the West End standing by the road is described as “perched on the curb like a bird ”; Septimus is“beak-nosed” and Lucrezia is like a bird in her vulnerability and timidity, etc. The birds indicate movement towards the sky, towards life, and the underwater creatures indicate movements towards the dark, towards death, but these two apparently opposing movements are closely related. In another word, they can be different aspects of the same movement. There are wave images in the novel too.

The colors in the florist’s flow over Clarissa like a wave, “…. as if this beauty, this scent, this colour, and Miss Pym liking her, trusting her, were a wave which she let flow over her”,(Virginia Woolf, 1996, p. 4) but Septimus believes he might float away on the colors he sees. Wave for Clarissa often shows vitality and joy, “And now Clarissa escorted her Prime Minister down the room, prancing, sparkling, with the stateliness of her grey hair. She wore ear-rings, and a silver-green mermaid’s dress. Lolloping on the waves and braiding her tresses she seemed, having that gift still”. 135) But for Septimus it often causes terror and anxiety, “Every power poured its treasures on his head, and his hand lay there on the back of the sofa, as he had seen his hand lie when he was bathing, floating, on the top of the waves, while far away on shore he heard dogs barking and barking far away. Fear no more, says the heart in the body”.? And Clarissa’s plunge into the morning air as she bursts open the French windows, her participation in the rising and falling rooks, is the complement of Septimus’s plunge to death from the high windows at the end of the book.

Since the images of death are so similar to images of life, it is not surprising to discover that images of death are not merely deadly. The birds in Septimus’s vision which sing to the dead in Greek proclaim there is no death: “He waited. He listened. A sparrow perched on the railing opposite chirped Septimus, Septimus, four or five times over and went on, drawing its notes out, to sing freshly and piercingly in Greek words how there is no crime and, joined by another sparrow, they sang in voices prolonged and piercing in Greek words, from trees in the meadow of life beyond a river where the dead walk, how there is no death. He has recurrent dreams of drowning, but these dreams or fantasies are always countered by a denial that to be drowned is to be dead. First he dreams that he has been drowned and has been dead, but that he is now alive, like a sleeper before waking, drawing towards the shore of life.

Clarissa, aware of the creeping approach of old age, of her diminishing sensibility and receptivity, finds excitement in the ides of death,and her feelings before entering her drawing room in which she can follow her own thoughts uninterrupted, are anticipation and suspense “such as might stay a diver before plunging while the sea darkens and brightens beneath him, and the waves which threaten to break, but only gently split their surface, roll and conceal and encrust as they just turn over the weeds with pearl. ”?

There is something here of a death wish as a desire for escape and relief, for freedom from the human world,freedom even from the physical world. Yet, Clarissa’s excitement at the prospect of solitude is also excitement at the deepening of life. As Kelley says, “For death, though it is in one sense an ending, is in another sense a greater beginning in the visionary unity that succeeds it… Septimus… is one of the people who complete her (Clarissa)”. (73)His death, then, may fulfill the warnings that surround her throughout the novel and so prove the tentative thesis that Clarissa herself submits for consideration.

Capter Three Interior Monologue A. Definition and Related Knowledge of Interior Monlogue Interior monologue is a phrase closedly relating to the stream of consciousness novel. Unlike external action, the movement of consciousness is a psychological process which we can not see. So an objective description of it is impossible and interior monologue, which can register the slightest waverings of or the world that surrounds consciousness, is the best way to illustrate it. Almost all the stream ofconsciousness novelists use this technique in their works.

Generally speaking, interior monologue can be divided into two types: direct interior monologue and indirect interior monologue. When direct interior monologue is used, the author adopts the first person to narrate and is not involved in the narration by making no explanation or remark on the character’s thought and experience. This device enables the character to thoroughly reveal his/her complex psychological activity and particularly it enables a display of the character’s un-consciousness. The display of the unconscious part of the character gives the reader a chance to a fuller and deeper understanding of the character.

When indirect interior monologue is used, the author will use the third person to narrate and is partly involved in the narration by making some explanation or comment. This device enables the writer to show the workings of the conscious and subconscious mind but not that of the unconscious mind since the movement of the character’s consciousness is controlled surreptitiously by the writer. B. Examples of the Interior Monologue As a master of steam of consciousness, Woolf tends to use the indirect interior monologue.

Examples of indirect interior monologue can be found in many parts of Mrs. Dalloway written by Woolf: So she would still find herself arguing in St. James’s Park, still making out that she had been right– and she had too– not to marry him. For in marriage a little license, a little independence there must be between people living together day in day out in the same house; which Richard gave her, and she him. (Where was he this morning for instance? Some committee,she never asked what. ) But with Peter every thing had to be shared;everything gone into.

And it was intolerable, and when it came 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 the moment when someone told her at the concert that he had married a woman met on the boat going to India! Never should she forget all that! Cold, heartless, a prude, he called her. Never could she understand how he cared. But those Indian women did presumably–silly, pretty, flimsy nincompoops.

And she wasted her pity. For he was quite happy, he assured her–perfectly happy,though he had never done a thing that they talked of; his whole life had been a failure. It made her angry still. (202) Peter is Clarissa’s former love. Compared with her husband, Peter is fantastic, a little bit dominant but not practical. Though she finally chooses Mr. Dalloway as herhusband, she still loves Peter. That is why she feels horrible when she is informed of Peter’s marriage with an Indian girl. Like any other sensitive woman, she becomes jealous of the Indian girl and calls her“silly, pretty, flimsy nincompoop”.

After many years of peaceful but dull marriage life with Mr. Dalloway, her mood is stirred by the news of Peter’s returning to London from India. So she is trying to convince herself that her choice of Mr. Dalloway as her husband is right. This is a subtle description of the psychology of a sensitive woman. This is not a one-hundred-percent indirect interior monologue but more like a kind of internal analysis made by the writer. In this sense, Virginia Woolf is unique in using the technique of indirect interior monologue. In most cases, Virginia Woolf uses indirect interior monologue.

But it does not mean she never uses direct interior monologue. In some cases, she adopts direct interior monologue, too. In Mrs. Woolf’s direct interior monologue, punctuations are there, grammar and syntax are correct, and there are no broken words. Why does Virginia Woolf tend to use indirect interior monologue in her novels or why does she not go to the extreme as other novel writers do by using ellipsis of punctuations, dislocation of grammar and syntax, and broken words even when she uses direct interior monologue? This is maybe because her acceptance of experiment does not extend to anarchy or to irresponsible eccentricity.

It is true that Virginia Woolf is widely admired by her technical innovation in the novel and she expresses her readiness to welcome any experimental technique which achieves its effect: “Any method is right, every method is right, that expresses what we wish to express. ” And she even extends this welcome of novelty to the whole life: “Movement and change are the essence of our being;rigidity is death; conformity is death… For nothing matters except life; and, of course, order. ”? In the lines just mentioned, we read not only her embrace of new things but also her longing for order which existed in the past but not at the present.

In fact, she has too strong a sense of the past, too great a respect for tradition. She is critical of some of the more extreme manifestations of the experimental spirit in the twentieth century though she recognizes the conditions which have prompted them: At the present moment we are suffering, not from decay,but from having no code of manners which writers and readers accept as a prelude to the more exciting intercourse of friendship. The literary convention of the time is so artificial…That,naturally, the feeble are tempted to outrage, and the strong are led to destroy the very foundations and rules of literary society.

Signs of this are everywhere apparent. Grammar is violated; syntax disintegrated… Having this view in mind, she uses indirect interior monologue in most cases and does not go to the extreme to make her writing too difficult to read by using direct interior monologue together with other devices like ellipsis of punctuation, dislocation of grammar and syntax, and broken words. Chapter Four Great success of stream of consciousness concerning the characterization When a novel is studied, besides plot, another important aspect is character and characterization, which has something to do with author’s conception of life and human nature.

Virginia Woold abandons the tradtional techniques of characterization for the same reason that she abandons the traditional techniques of plot arrangement. The reason is that tradtional ones can not be used to express life and human nature as she sees them. Virginia Woolf intends to create the communal character. To create such a character, the multi-leveled mode of characterization is the best technique. A characteristic example of this technique is the characterization of Clarissa Dalloway,the main character of the novel Mrs. Dalloway. In the novel,the character of Clarissa is characterized from five levels.

On the first level,the different impressions Clarissa leaves on the other characters of the novel are described. In the eyes of Scrope Purvis, Clarissa’s neighbour, Clarissa is a charming woman,like the bird of jay, but white since her illness; Miss Pym, the keeper of a florists who owns Clarissa’s help and looks at Clarissa from the angle of a businesswoman,thinks Clarissa is as kind as she has been years ago but she looks older; in the eyes of Lucy, Clarissa’s maid as well as her admirer, Clarissa is “loveliest mistress of silver, of linen,of china” ? ecause Lucy is arranging tableware and table napkins when she has this idea about her hostess; Lady Bruton admires Clarissa’s acute intuition and thinks Clarissa has the special sense of “cutting people up” ; Richard Dalloway regards Clarissa as his beloved wife who always needs his help; Elizabeth,Clarissa’s daughter, is disgusted with the vanity of her mother who likes “old women because they were Duchesses,and being descended from some Lord”? ; Ellie Henderson,Clarissa’ sensitive and poor cousin,thinks Clarissa is a snob. The many shifts of perspective enable the reader to see the different sides of Clarissa.

On the second level, the reciprocal views of Clarissa and the other characters on each other are narrated. Clarissa feels that Miss Kilmen, the governess of her daughter, is “never in the room five minutes without making you feel her superiority,your inferiority; how poor she was;how rich you were”(137); she hates miss Kilmen’s idea of class distinction and thinks of Miss Kilmen as “one of those specters with which one battles in the night”(172). Peter Walsh,Clarissa’s former suitor, often comments on Clarissa with such words as “sentimental” and “civilized”.

Clarissa thinks Peter’s interest is different from hers since she loves the trees and grass on a fine day while Peter is only interested in “Wagner, Pope’s poetry,people’ s characters eternally,and the defects of her own soul”. Peter believe Clarissa’s ideal is to “marry a Prime Minister and stand at the top of a staircase”. As far as emotion is concerned,Clarissa loves Peter. However, she finally chooses not to marry him,following her reason and realizing their marriage will not be a happy one. Peter can not understand her decision of not marrying him and calls her “cold,heartless,a prude”.

But she feels the grief and anguish “like an arrow sticking in her heart” when she is informed of Peter’s marriage with an Indian woman. These reciprocal views of Clarissa and the other characters on each other provide the reader with more knowledge of Clarissa. On the third level,it is Clarissa’s analysis and appraisal of herself. “She felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged. She sliced like a knife through everything;at the same time was outside looking on. ” “She knew nothing; no language,no history. ” She very much wants that people should look pleased when she comes in. At the same time,she is annoyed by the vanity of her.

When she looks at herself in the glass,she finds her self is “pointed; dart–like; definite”. Yet,she knows this self of her is composed by drawing the parts together which are so different and incompatible. On this level,the reader comes to catch more features of Clarissa’s contradictive and complex personality. On the fourth level,we can know Clarissa’s understanding of and attitude towards life. She loves “London; this moment of June”. She is fascinated with the fresh air in the summer morning, Buckingham decorated with flying flags and Bond Streets with its shops and crowds of people.

She sees the poetic splendor of life in the ordinary daily life. So she has the emotional sigh “Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so”(81) when she is crossing Victoria Street. However, life is not always so peaceful. Sensitive as she is,a tiny episode can arouse asurge of her undercurrent. When she enters her cool hall from the hot street and sees the smiling face of Lucy,she feels “blessed and purified” and “moments like this are buds on the tree of life,flowers of darkness” “as if some lovely rose had blossomed for her eyes only”.

But when she learns that her husband is invited to Millicent Bruton’s lunch party while she is not asked to go,her contented mood suddenly changes. She feels herself suddenly “shriveled,aged,breastless”. This is not because she has vulgar jealousy but because she fears time itself. Thus,in her imagination,Lady Bruton’s face becomes a dial cut in impressive stone. She feels that life is dwindling,that “year by year her share was sliced”, and “how little the margin that remained was capable any longer of stretching”.

The description of the subtle and acute change in Clarissa’s mood enables us to feel the pulsation of her soul. On the fifth level, we read Clarissa’s interior monologues. When she is walking towards Bond Street,the idea that she must inevitably cease completely some day comes to her mind. But she does not fear death and thinks it does not matter because she understands life to exist in the way of living in each other; she is part of the trees at home,part of the house there and “part of people she had never met”; “all this must go on without her”.

Since she has understood the transience of individual life and the eternality of the universe,she can calmly regard death as a kind of release and the means to get merged with the universe. When she is informed of Septimus’ suicide,she suddenly wakes up to a deeper understanding of death: A thing there was that mattered; a thing, wreathed about with chatter, defaced,obscured in her own life,let drop every day in corruption, lies, chatter. This he had preserved.

Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate,people feeling the impossibility of reaching the center which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded; one was alone. There was an embrace in death. These interior monologues of Clarissa reveal her philosophical thinking about life and death, and bring By adopting the multi-leveled mode of characterization, Virginia Woolf enables the reader to see a contradictive and complex Clarissa.

She has graceful manners but she is pale and fragile; she is kind and generous to some people but snobbish to some other; she is extrovert and sociable, and at the same time, she is an outsider, looking on things around her with critical eyes; she is sensitive and sentimental,and meanwhile she has more reason than emotion; she does not obtain much knowledge from reading books but she has acute intuition; she loves the secular life and fears the passage of time, but she does not fear death due to her idea that death is a challenge as well as a release.

This character, unlike the character in a traditional novel who is usually simple, is too complex to be drawn in outline or to be summed up as it is done in a traditional novel. In a traditional novel, the identity of a character is supposed to be constant and definable and therefore the character can be covered with a formula. But Virginia Woolf has a different view of the self, which emphasizes the change of individual identity. In her view,life is a bowl which one fills and fills. Every moment,people get new experience which adds to the existing ones and alter their previous meaning by forcing them into new combinations.

Thus, characters are elusive and complex and can not be summarized. To better reveal the elusiveness and complexity of the character, the technique of characterization used in a traditional novel is not functional. In Virginia Woolf’s stream of consciousness novels, we find that characters are characterized not by describing the external details and facts such as what the character wears and where the character lives, but by describing the internal world of the character such as the stream of consciousness of the character.

By using her technique of characterization, she hopes the reader to focus his/her attention on the interior world, the spiritual part and the soul of the character but not on the exterior world, the material things and the body of the character. By using her own technique of characterization,Virginia Woolf shows her tremendous gift for getting inside the mind of her characters. Conclusion As far as we are concerned, Woolf’s works, especially her works of stream of consciousness, are generally highly appreciated, and surely, there’re criticisms sometimes.

However, even the critics admire her beauty, only criticizing its being aloof from reality or passion or association with life. This serves only weak protests, for her aloofness is not by any means equal to unreality or dissociation. She stands away observing and thinking, and turning back writing. She keeps distance in order to preserve its originality. When one is deeply involved, it’s hard to retain the full andobjective view. A writer is supposed to be passionate and aloof at the same time.

He or she must deal with the events of his time, and a good writer is not a mere reporter, she is aware of the significance of what is happening in her age, and able to interpret the experience and express the ultimate truth. The true artist grasps the meaning behind phenomen, but technique accounts too. For new ideas, new ways of experience, call for new forms of expression. Originality of thought and spontaneity of emotion create fresh designs and innovative rhythms; some writers create a new vocabulary.

Thus the first essential in the modern writer is the awareness of what is new and important, and adequate technical response to that awareness. Woolf is committed to that enough. She is, from first to last, intensely conscious of making a different thing out of the novel. She tells through her novels the psychology of her time and the struggle of human spirit in a war stricken world. She tells what people are thinking and how they are thinking and she tells a way to describe these. However, Virginia Woolf is a woman.

The genre has been developed and exploited by men, and she is sure that a woman novelist has to create her own form. A woman novelist has something new to bring, and so she experiments ceaselessly in new forms, fresh techniques, trying always to get nearer to an integral expression of life. She devotes herself to truth, which is by all means absent in the stereotyped, conventional and commercial novels. Those novels deal only with certain detached aspects of living, and are filled with set descriptions, coincidences, accidents and such things moving on the surface.

Woolf finds them despicable, and she is seeking a form which would convey the movement of things under the surface, that is the free play of thought, emotion and insight. The free thought, emotion and insight reflect themselves first in the freedom of chronological time pattern. Time is a problem for most modern writers; they feel bound, cramped, by the necessity of keeping to the strict sequence of events, A followed by B, and C following B. They look forward to the possibility of jumping about from present to past and from past to future, or anything like this.

Woolf is extremely interested in time experiment. As we have discussed the different time patterns, Woolf consistently contemplates on the possibility of reproducing what has happened and what is yet to happen. Memory and imagination swim in the dark river of time like a soul wandering in the afterworld. Yet restricted as it is to the field of action, to the telling of a story, the novel has to present the sequence of cause and effect. The reader wants to know “what is going to happen now”.

The writer invites with a new thing never heard before, yet the reader refuses his hospitality, “I don’t want your new perception; I don’t want reality. I don’t understand you. It’s boring and frightening,” the reader might say. Truly, a huge gap broadens between the writer and the reader. So this is what faces the modern writers who are striving for the interior world and freedom of mind and soul. But Virginia Woolf moves on, she works consistently inwards, away from the world of events. Her books are “difficult”, that’s true, yet they are read and accepted.

Her difficulty is more similar to subtlety and beauty, to delicacy and elegance. As all innovative writers are doing, Virginia Woolf is trying to find a better way to reflect the world, life and human nature and she is hoping this purpose of her can be achieved by her technical innovation in her stream of consciousness novels. Anyhow, I believe her efforts in technical innovation can be and should be good reference for those who have the same purpose as Virginia Woolf, and they may get inspiration to try new literary techniques by a study of Virginia Woolf’s.

This paper only covers a part of the study on the literary techniques of Virginia Woolf. In the rest part,many issues such as the influence of her literary techniques on writers of later generations and how are worthy to be studied. So a further study of her techniques is quite necessary and a worthwhile thing to do in the future.


  1. Freud,5,1998,Freud,Readings of the Unconscious and Arts,Beijing: People’ University, Press of China ?
  2. Woolf Virginia, 1996, Mrs. Dalloway,Penguin Group,Penguin Books Ltd, p. 55–56 ? Ibid. ,p. 9–10 ? Ibid. ,p. 6 ? Ibid. ,p. 113 ? Ibid. ,p. 215 ? Ibid. ,p. 169 ?Apter E.
  3. Virginia Woolf, A Study of her Novel. New York: New York University Press. 1979, p. 51. ?
  4. Woolf Virginia , 1996, Mrs. Dalloway,Penguin Group,Penguin Books Ltd, p. 89 ? Ibid. ,p. 266


  1. Eliot, Simon and W. R. Owens (eds. ), 1998, A Handbook to Literary Research, published by Routledge, written and produced by The Open University
  2. Bishop,Edward. Virginia Woolf. London:Macmillan Education,1991
  3. Alexander, Jean. The Venture of Form In the Novels of Virginia Woolf. London:Kennikat Press, 1974
  4. Apter,T. E. Virginia Woolf: A Study of her Novels. New York:New York University Press, 1979.
  5. Freud, S. , 1997, Interpretation of Dreams, A. A. Brill(trans. ), Beijing: Foreign Unguage Teaching and Researeh Press
  6. Bennett, Joan. Virginia Woolf : Her Art as a Novelist. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964.
  7. Alexander, Jean. The Venture of Form In the Novels of Virginia Woolf. London: Kennikat Press, 1974.

Cite this Analysis the Use of Stream of Consciousness in Mrs Dalloway

Analysis the Use of Stream of Consciousness in Mrs Dalloway. (2016, Sep 30). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/analysis-the-use-of-stream-of-consciousness-in-mrs-dalloway/

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