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Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway

In "Mrs. Dalloway" Virginia Woolf breaks away from normal story-telling techniques in favor of a style closer to how we actually think from moment to moment. In their thoughts, her characters often pass from the present to the past as one memory piles on another. Her characters also react to experience in a very personal way, describing events or sights immediately as they seem at that particular moment. This does not make Woolf’s writing easy to read, but she is always interesting and original.

"Mrs. Dalloway", broke ground with its minute delineation of thoughts and emotions in the characters. As one of Mrs. Woolf’s most original works, it blended the subjective modes of James Joyce with those authored by Marcel Proust.

Proust explored memory and association where as Joyce with his verbal virtuosity first showed how swiftly the reader might be carried from inner to outer reality and developed complex modes of subjectivity while using many mimetic and parody devices with close attention to sensory material. Mrs. Woolf was part of the second wave of writers in the movement: stream-of-consciousness novel. She brought in modifications to the techniques of James Joyce. "Mrs. Dalloway" is a surreal novel which centers on the character of Clarissa Dalloway and the people who are connected to her, in dynamic and inextricable ways: there is Richard Dalloway and Elizabeth [Clarissa’s husband and daughter, respectively], Peter Walsh and Sally Senton [characters who Clarissa had loved], Septimus Warren Smith and his wife Lucrezia, the Lady Bruton, and Miss Kilman.

It is a novel meant to answer two of the most often asked questions: What is conventionality? and What is the unconventionality? "Mrs Dalloway," is also a powerful treatise on the arts, elegantly accomplished by Mrs. Woolf through the many allusions to (music, painting, literature, dance, and, symmetry in sculpture and design) that she includes in the novel. It is surreal because from the seemingly ordinary lives of the characters there occurs the chance meeting of culture and refinement with metaphysical thought, in a quiet setting of the water bounded village. At some part, the novel strikes you as a John Singer Sargent [1] painting, and in other parts, it is a short art film with touches of Fellini and his fascination with monsters. [2] This observation is not an exaggeration for what marks "Mrs. Dalloway" is the impressionistic method of narration that it has, coupled by the fact that it also has strains of automatic writing, as already mentioned, in an attempt to capture moments of the unconscious.

Impressionism is, after all, a movement in painting, music, and literature, whose aim was to force the beholder, listener, or reader to participate in re-creating the experience of the artist and whose method was to suggest the "impression" or effect on the artist rather than make precise and explicit the objective characteristics of things or events.[3] In literature, the stream-of-consciousness technique [4] presented through vivid peripheral details the immediate impression of experience derived from the senses without analysis, or synthesis, the impression as it is seen or felt subjectively in a single fleeting moment. "Mrs. Dalloway" does not wish to explain the essential central thought or to organize all the details explicitly into a conventional formal relationship to the central idea.

The whole purpose of the novel is to define the significance of design on the theme of transcendentalism which can also be located in "Mrs. Dalloway"...


Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. London: Vintage Books, 1999

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