Fiction and Novel Mrs Dalloway

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“How have Virginia Woolf in Mrs Dalloway and Michael Cunningham in The Hours manipulated form to develop the characterisation of Mrs Dalloway in their respective novels? ” Name: Nelissa Nezamuthdeen Candidate Number: 002592 – 011 Subject: English A1 Word Count: 3892 Abstract 300 words The purpose of my extended essay is to compare and contrast certain aspects of literary form employed in two novels which are closely linked, Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and The Hours by Michael Cunningham.

The way these authors have chosen to employ various aspects of literary form will be explored in order to see how each author has characterised Mrs Dalloway. The investigation was undertaken through a close reading of each of the target texts, as well as through the consultation of secondary sources, including texts which discuss notions of literary form and sources which critique both of the novels. Through my background research when trying to settle on a topic for my Extended Essay I found myself developing a strong appreciation for Virginia Woolf’s works.

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I realised that I was particularly interested in the way she was described as making influential breakthroughs in the use of literary form and decided that I would enjoy the opportunity to explore this in order to enhance my own understanding, both of her work and of this aspect of it. It was my hope that my investigation would highlight the aspect of literary form and it is for that reason that I decided to look at Mrs Dalloway in conjunction with a novel which shares a strong link with it, Cunningham’s The Hours.

The investigation has found that through the utilisation of the overall structure of each novel, as well as the use of individual techniques, including the overall structure, the use of shifting perspective, the use of flashbacks and stream of consciousness writing, the character of Mrs Dalloway has been developed. Finally it can be concluded that the notion of “organic” form is more important in the writing of Mrs Dalloway while elements of “conventional” form characterise the writing of The Hours. Acknowledgements

I would like to acknowledge and thank the following people for their guidance, support and effort offered in completion of the essay: •Mrs. Jennifer Sanders (Extended Essay Supervisor and English teacher at the Australian International School Hong Kong) •Mrs. Sue Smith (The English Consultant from International Tutorial School) Contents Page I. Title Page……………………………………………………………………………… 1 II. Abstract……………………………………………………………………………….. III. Acknowledgements……………………………………………………………….. 3 IV. Contents Page……………………………………………………………………….. 4 V. Introduction………………………………………………………………………….. 5 VI. Body……………………………………………………………………………………. 5 – 13 VII. Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………. 13-14 VIII.

Bibliography…………………………………………………………………………. 15 In literary terms, content is understood to mean what is said in a literary work and form is the way in which it is said or presented. The overall form of the work comprises its organisation into chapters, including its beginning and ending. On a more specific level, form can be taken to mean the line-by-line decisions about the way words are used. [1] William Harmon has discussed form as “the organisation of the elementary parts of a work of art in relation to its total effect. [2] Harmon has quoted Coleridge and made mention of the notion of “organic form” and “conventional form”. He describes “organic form” as “innate; it shapes, as it develops from within, and the fullness of its development is one and the same with the perfection of its outward form. ”[3] It is Harmon’s contention that an artistic work is much more than the sum of its components. This definition is one which can be applied to Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway as the different elements within the novel can be understood to be fused together to create a coherence between the structure and content. Conventional form” on the other hand, is more concerned with certain characteristics of organisation and pattern. Its emphasis is more prominently on the level of choices of specific elements within a work. This definition of form could be argued to be more applicable to the constructed post-modernism of Cunningham’s The Hours. For the purpose of this essay I will use the word “form” to encompass both of these meanings. I will examine the structures of both novels as well as the way the novels have been organised as a work of art.

Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, written in 1925, is a novel which employed modern language devices for its time. Cunningham’s The Hours, written in 1998, has a definite link to Mrs Dalloway. Several of the devices Virginia Woolf has employed have been utilised by Cunningham. These include the overall structure, shifting perspectives, flashbacks and stream of consciousness. One effect of these stylistic choices is the development of Mrs Dalloway’s characterisation.

The purpose of this essay is to answer the question: How have Virginia Woolf in Mrs Dalloway and Michael Cunningham in The Hours manipulated form to develop the characterisation of Mrs Dalloway? Mrs Dalloway, an original construction in Woolf’s novel, has been manipulated in Cunningham’s novel, The Hours. He has done this through the creation of three characters; Virginia Woolf, Laura Brown and Clarissa Vaughn. [4] These characters can be understood as extending the perception of Woolf’s original character and offering three different dimensions on her, in a multi-layered manner.

Cunningham’s first extension of the character is the construction of Virginia Woolf. He portrays this character as the creator of Mrs Dalloway; therefore she knows and understands Mrs Dalloway’s qualities. Cunningham’s second extension is the character of Laura Brown. As she reads the novel Mrs Dalloway, she finds herself “trying to keep herself by gaining entry into a parallel world”[5], the world of Mrs Dalloway. In this way, it is possible to gain an insight into the effects the novel and character has on another person.

Cunningham’s third extension is in the character Clarissa who readers compare with the original Mrs Dalloway. The characterisation of Mrs Dalloway in each book (through the use of Woolf’s original character and through the use of Cunningham’s amalgamation of his three characters) can be explored through an examination of the different forms employed by the writers. The first dimension of the form of both novels is the overall structure chosen by the authors. In this section, the use of chapters will be considered in relation to the development of Mrs Dalloway’s character.

Then, the effect of choosing a narrative style which places all of the action within the timeframe of a single day will be explored in regard to both novels. Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway has an absence of numbered chapters. While it is common for authors to conclude an “episode” in a novel and begin a new chapter with a number or a name, this novel contains no organisational breaks of this kind. The only indication of a break or change is a small gap, longer than the gaps between paragraphs. The function of these gaps does show a change in the focus of the narrative.

The lack of chapter numbers and breaks has the effect of moving the novel away from a linear story line or plot and is able to put emphasis on the exploration of Mrs Dalloway, in particular her thoughts and feelings. This emphasis on her thoughts and feelings can be seen in the following: “In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June. [6] This example shows how Mrs Dalloway’s thoughts, particularly the focus on her immediate surroundings, are used in the novel. This use of form can be said to have a strong link to the notion of organic form as previously mentioned. This is because each ‘section’ while complete within itself, can be understood more in terms of an “episode” which is not linked linearly to the “episode” which follows or precedes it. For example, in the first section, Clarissa’s trip to the florist introduces several characters (who are either met by Clarissa or were in her thoughts).

The following “episode” is more centred on her reflection of her surroundings and on Septimus Warren Smith. The linear link between these two “episodes” is not apparent thus placing more emphasis on inner thoughts and feelings rather than on external plot. In Cunningham’s The Hours, the novel is arranged into more traditional chapters. There is a prologue followed by definite chapters, each of which carries the name of the character the chapter is about. Therefore, at the beginning of each chapter, either “Mrs Woolf”, “Mrs Brown” or “Mrs Dalloway” appears.

This has the effect of providing a more coherent structure to the novel by orientating the reader to the character and therefore the time of the chapter. Indeed, it might be possible to read the book not as the three intertwining stories this structure presents but as three separate stories, by following the characters, rather than the pagination. Each character has roughly the same number of chapters, with seven chapters dedicated to Mrs Woolf, seven to Mrs Brown, and eight to Mrs Vaughn. The effect on the characterisation of presenting the novel in this manner is for each of the character’s stories to be followed.

However, by alternating the narratives of the three characters, a style quite similar to the “episodes” in Mrs Dalloway is achieved. Furthermore, in both Virginia Woolf and Michael Cunningham’s novels, each author employs the technique of confining all of the action in the novel to a single day. However, in The Hours, the action for each character takes place on a different day and in different eras. In each novel, the focus of a single day suggests that any individual day in a lifetime can have momentous and significant impact, yet when the day begins, this is not yet known (or expected) by the individual.

Another effect of the technique of confining the action within the course of a single day is to provide more details about the characters’ thoughts, in particular Mrs Dalloway’s. In the course of one day, a person usually has a range of thoughts, feelings, and emotions about the events of that day as well as the past and the future. By confining the novel to a single day, these disparate thoughts are more prominent by providing more of a close up focus on details than would be possible in a longer timeframe. This can be seen in both novels. For example, in Mrs Dalloway, this can be seen in the following description: “Her servants liked her.

And then this dress of hers – where was the tear? And now her needle to be threaded. This was a favourite dress, one of Sally Parker’s, the last almost she ever made, alas, for Sally had now retired, lived at Ealing,”[7] In Cunningham’s novel, this is illustrated in a similar example, “There are still flowers to buy. Clarissa feigns exasperation (though she loves doing errands like this), leaves Sally cleaning the bathroom, and runs out, promising to be back in half an hour. ”[8] In Mrs Dalloway, the significance of the single day lies within the trivial moments. “It was her life… she… elt blessed and purified, saying to herself, as she took the pad with the telephone message on it, how moments like this are buds on the tree of life, flowers of darkness”[9] By showing the reader Mrs Dalloway through thoughts such as these, Woolf is characterising her as sensitive, perceptive and emotional, quite different from how others see her public persona. Her friends, such as Peter Walsh, see her as quite a shallow person yet the writer shows the reader Mrs Dalloway’s depth. Woolf is trying to imply the significance of every day and every moment by expanding and savouring the trivial moments.

These moments are often accompanied by Mrs Dalloway’s deep thoughts which develop her character. “ –some days, some sights [brought Peter] back to her calmly, without the old bitterness… they came back in the middle of St. James’s park on a fine morning… 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 independence there must be between people living together day in and day out… which Richard gave her, and she him… But with Peter everything had to be shared; everything gone into. [10] This above example reveals her strong need for both her own independence and privacy. It also reveals to the reader her feelings of regret over her decision to marry Richard Dalloway rather than Peter. However, this regret seems to be subconscious. Her choice was for stability, which Richard represents, over passion, which is embodied in Peter. Cunningham, in his novel, tracks the lives of three different women in the course of one day, in different generations. Cunningham manages to show the effect the novel Mrs Dalloway has on each woman.

Similar to Mrs Dalloway, Cunningham focuses on the trivial aspects in the lives of each woman. If each of Cunningham’s three characters can be seen as a dimension of Mrs Dalloway’s character, it can be understood in terms of how this day has become significant – with Mrs Woolf’s suicide (compared to Mrs Dalloway’s appreciation of Septimus Smith’s suicide); of Mrs Brown’s escape from the constraints of her family (compared to Mrs Dalloway’s musings on her marriage); and Mrs Vaughn’s shock at Richard’s suicide (which creates the intertwining of Mrs Brown and Mrs Vaughn as Mrs Brown is revealed to be Richard’s mother).

It is for this effect that both authors have confined the action of their novels within the course of a significant day which has ramifications in their lives. In both Mrs Dalloway and The Hours, the shifting perspective is another extremely important part of the form of each novel. Both authors have chosen to write from a third person omniscient narrative perspective. This decision has allowed the characterisation of Mrs Dalloway to be built up. In Woolf’s book, while much of the reminiscences focus on Clarissa’s life, we see her from the perspectives of others including Richard, Peter, and Sally.

However for most of the book it is Peter’s perspective of Mrs Dalloway that is most significant. Peter cannot stop thinking of her after their encounter earlier in the day and he dwells on a number of memories which he has of her. “She kept coming back… like a sleeper jolting against him in a railway carriage… it was thinking of her… trying to explain her. ”[11] And: “That was the devilish part of her – this coldness, this woodenness, something very profound in her, which he had felt again this morning talking to her; an impenetrability. Yet heaven knows he loved her”[12] These flashbacks show Peter’s love for her when he was younger.

Each of these perspectives is able to illustrate the character of Clarissa in a different way. On the other hand, it can be seen from her interactions with Richard that they are not a very intimate couple and that there is distance in their relationship. For example, he is unable to tell her he loves her when he gives her the flowers, as he had planned, and as he goes to a meeting which she knows little about, she muses “there is dignity in people; a solitude; even between husband and wife a gulf; and that one must respect, thought Clarissa… or one would not part with it oneself, or take it, against his will, from one’s husband, without losing one’s independence, one’s self-respect. ”[13] Sally also offers a perspective on Clarissa. At the party, she remembers how Clarissa and Richard have never visited her since their marriage: “Time after time they had asked them. Clarissa (for it was Clarissa of course) would not come. For, said Sally, Clarissa was a snob at heart – one had to admit it, a snob. And it was that that was between them, she was convinced.

Clarissa thought she had married beneath her, her husband being – she was proud of it – a miner’s son. ”[14] In Cunningham’s novel, shifting perspectives are closely linked to his chosen structure of three characters each living a different day (with loose links between the three women’s stories). However, it is the way that the character of Mrs Dalloway is built up through these shifting perspectives that is worthy of exploration. Cunningham has focused on three techniques, one for each of his main characters, to show the reader segments of Mrs Dalloway.

These can be described as mirrored and similar scenes shared between Mrs Vaughn and Mrs Dalloway; identical lines and phrasing which reflect emotion shared between Mrs Woolf and Mrs Dalloway; and a shared and secret kiss. In the opening of Woolf’s novel, Clarissa Dalloway revels in the day and the weather and her tasks, saying “What a lark! What a plunge! ”[15] Mrs Woolf, contemplating the minutiae of her day thinks of “the possibility of walking down a street into another street, and another after that. What a lark! What a plunge! [16] In doing this, the reader is drawn to the strong similarity in task, circumstance and feeling that is created by Cunningham between his construct of Mrs Woolf and Woolf’s construct of Mrs Dalloway. The parallel Cunningham is making between Mrs Brown and Mrs Dalloway is achieved through the kiss. Mrs Brown kisses Kitty after they have been carried away with emotion at consoling Kitty about her visit to the doctor. This strongly mirrors the emotionally charged kiss shared between Sally Seton and Mrs Dalloway which is part of Mrs Dalloway’s memory in Woolf’s novel. To a large extent, the kiss has “shock” value.

When Woolf’s novel was written, this would not have been a common or approved of experience. The same can be true of Mrs Brown whose single day is set in the 1950s. However, it is the effect on the reader which also needs to be considered. Woolf’s contemporary audience would have been much less familiar with this same-sex intimate contact than Cunningham’s contemporary audience. [17] The most striking similarity is between a number of scenes which Cunningham mirrors from Woolf’s novel. An example of this is in the feelings raised in Mrs Dalloway when Peter confesses his love for Daisy and then is overwhelmed by emotion and cries.

This is very similar to Louis’ declaration of love for his student to Mrs Vaughn which also brings him to tears. Both of these scenes are not only very similar in term of the actual situation but also in terms of the woman’s response to it – of a confusion over the declaration of love, of an envy of the love and a jealousy of it. Cunningham has carefully and deliberately chosen instances to echo in his novel in order to build up his characters to be similar to Mrs Dalloway. In terms of shifting perspectives there are a number of links which have been constructed by Cunningham which produce links between the two novels.

For example, while Clarissa Dalloway has a husband called Richard, Clarissa Vaughn (Dalloway) has a lover called Richard yet it is Mrs Dalloway’s emotional attachment to Peter which seems more closely linked to the feelings Clarissa Vaughn had for her lover. Clarissa Vaughn has the same twinges of regret that Mrs Dalloway had about her life choices. “How often has she [Clarissa Vaughn] wondered what might have happened if she’d try to remain with him [her lover, Richard] … Couldn’t they have discovered something… larger and stranger than what they’ve got?

It is impossible not to imagine that other future, that rejected future… She could, she thinks, have entered another world. She could have had a life as potent and dangerous as literature itself. ”[18] These close links between the books are able to show how the perspectives shift and change, so that one element of one novel is refracted in the other story. Another aspect of form which is important to the structure of Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway is the use of flashbacks. Woolf’s novel makes extensive use of flashbacks which show the impact of the past on the character of Mrs Dalloway.

Cunningham has used flashbacks in some instances but not to the same extent as Woolf has. The character of Mrs Dalloway has a number of flashbacks as she remembers her youth. In particular, she remembers her time as a young woman, shared with Peter Walsh and Sally Seton. It is through the use of flashbacks that the reader sees the kiss that Sally and Mrs Dalloway share. It is also through flashback that Mrs Dalloway remembers the day she met Richard – a poignant memory now that she wonders about her choice of husband. The other ways flashbacks are used are with Peter.

His thoughts and feelings about Mrs Dalloway are shown, his frustrations as well as his admiration of her. “Clarissa came up with her perfect manners… – spoke as if they had never met before, which enraged him. Yet even then he admired her… courage; her social instinct: he admired her power of carrying things through. ”[19] The flashbacks are used to show the way Mrs Dalloway’s life on the day the novel is set has unfolded and how the choices, decisions and experiences she has had up to this point have brought her life to this moment.

It is also interesting to see how Peter’s feelings and thoughts of Mrs Dalloway reveal things about her, both good and bad. He operates as an observer of Mrs Dalloway’s life. Cunningham uses flashbacks with all three characters, Mrs Woolf, Mrs Brown and Mrs Vaughn. However, they are more extensively used with Mrs Vaughn. Mrs Vaughn reflects on her memories of Richard and the relationship they shared in the past. In many ways this links with Mrs Dalloway’s memories of herself and Peter and this strengthens the way Cunningham’s novel is an echo of Woolf’s.

The final manipulation of form which influences the characterisation of Mrs Dalloway is the use of stream of consciousness. Stream of consciousness can be understood as both “the unvoiced thoughts of a character” and the “leaps of association that connect those thoughts. ”[20] It aims to show “the way the memories keep bursting into the present. ”[21] It offers the novels both greater fluidity as the reader experiences the characters’ thoughts and the opportunity to understand from different characters’ points of view.

In Mrs Dalloway, the use of stream of consciousness allows the reader to understand Mrs Dalloway’s thoughts and feelings, which is a much more realistic way of them being made known to the reader than by expecting everything to be voiced. The flow and intermingling of thoughts, emotions and memory gives the story a fluid movement when combined with the technique of all of the action occurring on the same day as it is possible to dwell in Mrs Dalloway’s thoughts, rather than observing the action unfolding.

Early in the novel, an example of stream of consciousness is Scrope Purvis’s reflections on her. “She stiffened a little on the kerb, waiting for Durtnall’s van to pass. A charming woman, Scrope Purvis thought her (knowing her as one does know people who live next door to one in Westminster); a touch of the bird about her, of the jay, blue-green, light, vivacious, though she was over fifty, and grown very white since her illness. [22] While there is perhaps less use of the stream of consciousness technique in Cunningham’s novel, there are examples of it. In both of the narratives of Mrs Woolf and Mrs Brown, the single characters’ perspective is followed while Mrs Vaughn’s story does show glimpses of other’s views, as an observer. [23] The reason for using stream of consciousness as a manipulation of the form of the novel is in order to have a flowing, fluid ‘look’ into Mrs Dalloway’s own thoughts as well as to capture her as others see her.

Woolf herself had observed that there was a difference between “thoughts spoken aloud” and “thoughts on the floor of (or as part of the subconscious) mind. ”[24] The inner thoughts of the characters and the ordinary, trivial things they dwell on reveal the workings of their mind more clearly than a focus on something larger and more significant, Finally, the use of brackets and parentheses in both novels suggests a desire to separate (as an aside or an addition) individual thoughts which can be reinterpreted.

An example is ‘“Who can – what can,” asked Mrs Dalloway (thinking it was outrageous to be interrupted at eleven o’clock in the morning of the day she was giving a party),”[25] and also “She will kill herself, probably, over some trifle (how can it be made convincing, tragic instead of comic? )”[26] Being able to ‘hear’ the thoughts of the main characters as well as minor characters who interact with them is a way of creating the fluidity which is authentic in thought yet is not captured through the use of dialogue.

The use of stream of consciousness certainly allows the reader to ‘know’ the character of Mrs Dalloway from a multidimensional perspective. In conclusion it can be seen that Woolf and Cunningham, in both novels, have consciously manipulated form to portray the characterisation of Mrs Dalloway. Form is a conscious choice which authors make, and both of these authors have employed the different aspects of form in order to bring the reader close to the understanding of who Mrs Dalloway is.

It is probably fair to say that the use of form makes the character of Mrs Dalloway clearer to the reader in Mrs Dalloway while Cunningham’s post modernist novel plays with the competing characters to create an amalgamation of the character of Mrs Dalloway. Woolf’s effort is perhaps more ‘natural’ in the sense that there is something quite contrived about the choices Cunningham has made, while Woolf has been able to demonstrate the ease of a skilful novelist constructing a character. Bibliography Works Cited

Barrett, E and Cramer P, 1997, Virginia Woolf: Lesbian Readings, New York University Press, USA. Cunningham, M. , 1998, The Hours Picador, USA. Harmon, W. , 2006, A Handbook to Literature, Pearson Prentice Hall, New Jersey. Peck, J and Coyle, M. , 1984, Literary Terms and Criticism, Macmillan, London. Woolf, V. , 2000, Mrs Dalloway, Vintage, Great Britain. Internet Resources English Literature: Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. (n. d). Retrieved May 05, 2009, from http://www. bl. uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/englit/woolf/index. html Mullan, J. (2003).

The Guardian, The Hours: stream of consciousness; Thinking Aloud. Retrieved May 26, 2008, from http://www. guardian. co. uk/books/2003/mar/01/featuresreviews. guardianreview25 Background Reading McNeillie, A. (Ed. ). (1984). The Common Reader First Series Virginia Woolf. London: The Hogarth Press. ———————– [1] Peck, J and Coyle, M, 1984 [2] Harmon, W. 2006 p. 225 [3] Harmon, W. 2006 p. 225 [4] In Cunningham’s novel, this character is referred to as Mrs Dalloway but this is, in fact, a nickname given to the character by her lover, Richard.

In order to avoid confusion with the novel written by Virginia Woolf, the character in Cunningham’s novel will be referred to as Mrs Vaughan, while the name “Mrs Dalloway” will be used for the character in Woolf’s novel. [5] The Hours by Michael Cunningham, p. 37 [6] Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, p. 2 [7] Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, p. 33 [8] The Hours by Michael Cunningham, p. 9 [9] Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, p. 24 [10] Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, p. 4-5 [11] Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, p. 66-67 [12] Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, p. 53 [13] Mrs.

Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, p. 105 [14] Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, p. 168 [15] Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, p. 1 [16] The Hours by Michael Cunningham, p. 167 [17] Recent scholarly works by feminists and academics Barrett and Cramer have focused on Woolf’s attitudes to lesbianism, perhaps as a result of childhood sexual abuse she experienced. [18] The Hours by Michael Cunningham, p. 97 [19] Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, p. 53-54 [20] The Guardian, The Hours: stream of consciousness; Thinking Aloud from http://www. guardian. co. uk/books/2003/mar/01/featuresreviews. uardianreview25 [21] The Guardian, The Hours: stream of consciousness; Thinking Aloud from http://www. guardian. co. uk/books/2003/mar/01/featuresreviews. guardianreview25 [22] Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, p. 1-2 [23] Evidence can be found on page 13 in The Hours: Willie Bass’s reflections on her, which parallel the example just given above. His stream of consciousness extends for almost a page. [24] English Literature: Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway from http://www. bl. uk/onlinegallery [25] Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, p. 34 [26] The Hours by Michael Cunningham, p. 82

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