The term ‘stream of consciousness’ as applied in literary criticism to designate a particular mode of prose narrative was first coined by philosopher William James in his book Principles of Psychology (1890) to describe the uninterrupted flow of perceptions, memories and thoughts in active human psyche.
As a literary term, however, it denotes a certain narrative technique used in novels in which the orator records in minute but somewhat abstract way whatever passes through his or her conscious mind. The scaled ‘stream of consciousness’ in a work of prose fiction is usually rendered a proper and viable narrative form which is termed the ‘interior monologue’. The ‘stream-efficaciousness’ novelists seek to present an objective account of the subjective process of thinking and thus profess to attain an aesthetic purity in the rendition of the genre of fiction.
This technique is a product of the ‘modernist’ movement in literature in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth entry, but the germs of this technique are quite conspicuous also in such eighteenth century novels as Samuel Richardson Pamela (1740) and Lawrence Steiner’s Tristan Shanty (1759-67). The first proper application of this mode of narration is found in French novelist Detoured Disdain’s novel Less Laurie soon coupes or The Laurels Have Been Cut (1888).
In England such writers as Henry James, Dorothy Richardson and Joseph Conrad made remarkable experiments with this mode which paved the way for James Joyce and Virginia Wolf to master this field. In such novels as Portrait of a Lady (1881) The Wings of the Dove (1902) and The Golden Bowl (1904) Henry James presented a complex, unauthorized prose style quite akin to that of the proper ‘stream-of-consciousness’ novelists.
Joseph Conrad in Lord Jim (1900) and Heart of Darkness (1902) shows his subtlety in the art of objective projection of the complex psychic worlds of the characters in which temporal boundaries of the past and the present are always in an inconceivable flux. Dorothy Richardson sought to apprehend a dialectical balance between the masculine reiterative of objective reality and the feminine mode of subjective narration, and with this end in view she employed in her novel sequence Pilgrimage, especially in the first novel Pointed Roofs (1915), a narrative technique most near to the ‘stream- efficaciousness’ mode per SE.
James Joyce in his pseudo-autobiographical first novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) partially employed the ‘stream-of- consciousness’ mode in an intellectual ‘bloodcurdling’ describing the five successive stages in the life of Stephen Deals who relentlessly efforts to wake up from his nightmarish world of the past of his win life with the aid of Art.
The introspective Journey of Stephen from the dark corners of memory to the positivist ‘epiphany has been delineated astutely by Joyce with skilful employment of the objective and collage-like accounts of the passage of the protagonist’s memory as virtually revealed in a tee randomly chosen pages to his personal diary. The ‘stream-of-consciousness’ mode is rendered a greater artistic and intellectual complexity in his next novel Ulysses (1922).
Here Joyce experimented with a number of stylistic devices in the task of asserting a typically ‘modernist’ discourse f the narrative technique. The novel, set in an apical framework parallel to that of Homer’s Odyssey, recounts the happenings of the day 16th June, 1904 in Dublin as the two characters of the text Stephen Deals and Leopold Bloom perceive them.
The style is highly allusive and Joyce deliberately confuses the narrative by making a pastiche of the styles of several genres together while presenting the flows of the continuous thoughts of the principal characters. Here for the first time Joyce also employed the ‘interior monologue’ which is deemed to be the purest form of the stream-of-consciousness’ mode. In Jockey’s third and last novel Finnegan Wake (1939) the complexity of the ‘stream-of-consciousness’ technique reaches its heights necessitating the text’s being one of the least read ones in any language.
In this novel Joyce used around forty languages other than English and presented an awkwardly extensive range of literary, mythical, political and historical allusions while narrating the one-night dream sequence of the protagonist, a Dublin tavern-keeper named Humphrey Champion Aircrew. Apart from Joyce, Virginia Wolf also made memorable contribution to the development of the ‘stream-of-consciousness’ mode in the modernist English fiction. In Mrs..
Daylong (1925) Wolf presents the diverse mental recourses of Classics Daylong within the span of one single day, and in the interior monologue of Mrs.. Daylong the narrative breaks with the realistic mode in order to suit the inner reality of the narrator’s psyche which is different from the external reality by which she is surrounded. Similar intellectual cogency and finer technical accomplishments are also found in Wolfs psychological portrayals of the inner selves of Jacob in Jacobs Room (1922), of Mr.. And Mrs..
Ramsey in To the Lighthouse (1927), and of the six friends Bernard, Susan, Rhoda, Manville, Jinni and Louis in The Waves (1931). However extensive might the vogue of the ‘stream-of- consciousness’ technique have been among the leading modernist novelists of the early twentieth century, it has never been a popular mode of fiction except among the intelligentsia. Being a bit too complex for the ordinary readers, this mode eluded the mass readership and evaporated from the mainstream English literature within only forty years.
The literary and aesthetic attributes of this mode therefore is to be measured in terms of the intellectual rigor and novelty of the narrative discourse rather than on basis of popularity. Despite its limited readership, the ‘stream-of-consciousness’ novels effectively established a new narrative method in keeping with the modernist discourse in the literature of the early twentieth century, and though the vogue faded within a few decades, it cast considerable influence on the development of newer experimental techniques in the elm of fiction writing in the latter half of the century.