Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

25 Feb 2011

(Novel) Mrs. Dalloway by: Virginia Woolf

(Reaction) Modernity in the World of Mrs. Dalloway by: Camille Tay Silos

In Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, apart from the presence of motor cars and airplanes, modernity can be analyzed in three different perspectives: the consciousness of time, the psychological probing or stream of consciousness of the characters, and the presentation of realities.

Just as the TV series, 24, makes the audience conscious of every second, minute and hour that passes via the presence of a timer on the side of the screen, Woolf makes use of the tolling of Big Ben. From the moment Clarissa Dalloway steps out to buy flowers, to the moment Peter Walsh visits her at 11 a.m., to the party itself via Clarissa's letter to Peter at 6 p.m., the reader is forced to become aware of the fact that all the actions and thoughts of every character is occurring at a fixed and contained limit of time, which is one day, or more specifically, a little over 12 hours. To handle so much depth, namely the swimming into the consciousness of more than one character and having a taste of their thoughts, their realities, in a secured time-frame makes it all the more modern in its portrayal of the complexities of a person's life in one day.

In relation to the point made earlier, the exploration of the psyche of more than one character is something that makes the piece very modern as well. Clarissa Dalloway, for instance, looks into how she is losing her identity as the years pass, how she relives her childhood by imagining herself a child exploring a tower, and how she had found happiness in living at the mention of Septimus Smith's death. She gives a picture of a common woman at that time and age but with a twist. She becomes a thinking, measuring person who gauges other people and herself with clear, biting eyes.

Another character, Peter Walsh, is looked into as well, focusing on his infatuation with Clarissa. From his annoyance at her referring to her daughter as "Here is my Elizabeth!" rather than "Here's Elizabeth", to his constant bickering with himself regarding the idea that he was still in love with her, and his irritation at the way she greeted him like any other guest, it is clearly seen that he still has not gotten over the fact that she chose Richard Dalloway over him, thus, wounding his ego.

Finally, in connection to what was mentioned earlier regarding the portrayal of realities, apart from focusing on the thoughts of the elite and not so elite of London, Woolf delves into the psyche or reality of Septimus Smith. From how he constantly saw his dead friend, Evans, to seeing how dogs will become men in the future, and to how he viewed others trying to help him be cured of his madness, his view of reality certainly differed from the others that Woolf, in shedding light on this, made it clear to the readers that there exists realities that are different, an idea that is not fully accepted then and now because of its being different.

In the end, this reaction delves into three concepts that readers might consider reflecting on when reading Mrs. Dalloway with modernity attached to it. True, the story carries with it the resonance of early 20th century London, but the focus on time, the psyche and the realities of the characters gives the one-day story more depth and meaning. In keeping the story within the limit of a day is, as Polonius says, "...the soul of wit."


That Woolf managed to give the same amount of depth and flesh to not only these two characters but to countless more, making the readers conscious that the mind of every being holds the same amount and the same heaviness of thoughts, memories and realities, and that Woolf portrays these in such a fixed way despite the somewhat disorganized manner - what with her writing in the same way the thoughts of any certain person jumps from one idea to the next - is what makes this story rational despite the irrationality. "Never judge a book by its cover" so to speak, for, as shown previously, the mind holds so much the exterior does not emit.

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