Mrs. Dalloway: Modern Fiction in a Modern World
Márcio Hemerique Pereira
(Department of Arts and Humanities, University of Minho, 4710-057 Braga, Portugal)
illustration not visible in this excerpt
The present essay is an analysis of the novel Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. The novel will be analyzed through a modernist and postmodernist perspective. The presentation of the essay will raise issues and questions regarding the status of representation and issues of the self in the view of Mrs. Dalloway which we will be looking at, closely, through the lens of the modern fiction.
The novel Mrs. Dalloway was published on May 1925 that details one single day of Clarissa Dalloway. The whole novel revolved around the preparation of Mrs. Dalloway for a party, which she was the hostess. The story also revolves around the life of Mrs. Dalloway by presenting facts of her story through reminiscing, and through the thoughts of the characters as they think in and out of their minds. This kind of concept as written by Woolf was effective on describing the role and different characteristics of her characters.
Benjamin in her essay “Towards an Understanding of the Meaning of Virginia Woolf's ‘Mrs. Dalloway’” (1965:214) pinpoints: ‘A hint of the importance of Mrs. Dalloway in Virginia Woolf’s literary development reaches us in her statement that she felt “more fully relieved” of her meaning’ than ‘usual and in her disappointment at the review in the Times Literary Supplement, where the critic applied the epithet “experimental” to the very book which Virginia Woolf thought expressed her meaning more than usual.’ Mrs. Dalloway, whatever disagreement may exist about its meaning, is a work past the tentative stage implied by the word “experimental” for in this novel and Virginia Woolf ‘was able to find a way of expressing her view of reality and of presenting the complexities of the life of a human being in this reality.’ A special attention to this I shall give further in this essay. I will quote some ideas of different authorities on the subject matter to illustrate my point and the whole referencing is provided in the end of this paper.
It is doubtful whether in the course of the centuries, though we have learnt much about making machines, we have learnt anything about making literature. We do not come to write better; all that we can be said to do is to keep moving, now a little in this direction, now in that, but with a circular tendency should the whole course of the track be viewed from a sufficiently lofty pinnacle.
This is the situation wherein everything revolves as the world turns into modernity leaving the different side of being traditional and less modern. Modern fiction in modern world is a creation of another fact that may have existed or yet to exist in the modern world. Modern fiction is sometimes created through writing and such is called modern writing as Modern writing has a different style from traditional writing. However, Modern writing introduced different set of facts that may be the real feeling of the writer or what may be the belief and opinions of the writer. Ideas infused in that kind of writing are sometimes in abstract form, lyrical way and in any other that confusion may arise.
Virginia Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway, focuses on a day in the life of one woman and her preparations for a society party, is most often interpreted as a purely ‘domestic,’ novel. In fact, before feminist recuperations of her oeuvre made waves beginning in the early 1970s, Woolf’s novels were valued by many scholars of the Modernist period more for their address of important social and political issues. In the few sentences John Fletcher and Malcolm Bradbury (1978) devote to Woolf in their survey of canonical Modernism, her novels are described as “exploration [s] both of the aesthetic of consciousness and the aesthetics of art” characterized by “a kind of jovous artistic freedom” to focus on “form” (408-09).
 Mrs. Dalloway began life as a short story, ‘Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street’ (published in the Dial in 1923), and was drafted under the working title ‘The Hours’. Woolf’s ambition for this work was ‘to give life & death, sanity & insanity; I want to criticize the social system, and to show it at work, at its most intense’ (D2:248). During its writing, Woolf conceived of her method as a ‘tunnelling process’ (D2:272). Woolf’s narrative methods are subtle and elliptical, and shift between the two parallel strands, using a number of the day’s passing events held in common as points of transition between them. Her free-indirect technique allows the narrative subtly to shift interior focus between characters, creating a collective discursive continuum. In Jane Goldman, The Cambridge Introduction to Virginia Woolf (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006, pp.54).
 The impact of this novel has made upon economy, upon writers since 1925, and upon our awareness. The critical material together with this novel explains many of the controversies and uncertainty of meanings that surround and permeate the novel, but they also make us comprehend something of the dialogue that has been inspired by and attract to Virginia Woolf: her life, works, and may be particularly by Mrs. Dalloway. No novel is on perfection in true sense, but some historical books make us to think over it. Perhaps in that, the novel explores us more related to ourselves than about itself. In the 1928 edition of Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf offers the new edition with this extensive introduction: "Of Mrs. Dalloway then reader can only bring light towards the moments a few scrap, of little importance or none perhaps... Such scraps opportunities are offered humbly to the reader in the real and meaningful hope that likes other odds and ends they may come in useful."
 A Writer’s Diary (London, 1953), p.66; TLS, May 21, 1925, p.349.
 The Common Reader (New York, 1948), p. 218 in the essay Modern Fiction.
full title · Mrs. Dalloway
author · Virginia Woolf
type of work · Novel
genre · Modernist; formalist; feminist
language · English
time and place written · Woolf began Mrs. Dalloway in Sussex in 1922 and completed the novel in London in 1924.
date of first publication · May 14, 1925
publisher · Hogarth Press, the publishing house created by Leonard and Virginia Woolf in 1917
narrator · Anonymous. The omniscient narrator is a commenting voice who knows everything about the characters. This voice appears occasionally among the subjective thoughts of characters. The critique of Sir William Bradshaw’s reverence of proportion and conversion is the narrator’s most sustained appearance.
point of view · Point of view changes constantly, often shifting from one character’s stream of consciousness (subjective interior thoughts) to another’s within a single paragraph. Woolf most often uses free indirect discourse, a literary technique that describes the interior thoughts of characters using third-person singular pronouns (he and she). This technique ensures that transitions between the thoughts of a large number of characters are subtle and smooth.
tone · The narrator is against the oppression of the human soul and for the celebration of diversity, as are the book’s major characters. Sometimes the mood is humorous, but an underlying sadness is always present.
tense · Though mainly in the immediate past, Peter’s dream of the solitary traveler is in the present tense.
setting (time) · A day in mid-June, 1923. There are many flashbacks to a summer at Bourton in the early 1890s, when Clarissa was eighteen.
setting (place) · London, England. The novel takes place largely in the affluent neighborhood of Westminster, where the Dalloways live.
protagonist · Clarissa Dalloway
major conflict · Clarissa and other characters try to preserve their souls and communicate in an oppressive and fragmentary post–World War I England.
rising action · Clarissa spends the day organizing a party that will bring people together, while her double, Septimus Warren Smith, eventually commits suicide due to the social pressures that oppress his soul.
climax · At her party, Clarissa goes to a small room to contemplate Septimus’s suicide. She identifies with him and is glad he did it, believing that he preserved his soul.
falling action · Clarissa returns to her party and is viewed from the outside. We do not know whether she will change due to her moment of clarity, but we do know that she will endure.
themes · Communication vs. privacy; disillusionment with the British Empire; the fear of death; the threat of oppression
motifs · Time; Shakespeare; trees and flowers; waves and water
symbols · The prime minister; Peter Walsh’s pocketknife and other weapons; the old woman in the window; the old woman singing an ancient song
· At the opening of the novel, Clarissa recalls having a premonition one June day at Bourton that “something awful was about to happen.” This sensation anticipates Septimus’s suicide.
· Peter thinks of Clarissa when he wakes up from his nap in Regent’s Park and considers how she has the gift of making the world her own and standing out among a crowd. Peter states simply, “there she was,” a line he will repeat as the last line of the novel, when Clarissa appears again at her party.