Mrs. Dalloway as a stream-of-consciousness novel
Modernism saw the deconstruction of ideologies and a lot of changes owing to the fragmentation caused by industrialization and World War. Writers like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce were not satisfied with the fiction of their times. Virginia Woolf who was deeply influenced by Freud and Bergson wanted to dwell more on the mind owing to its complexity. William James in his Principles of Psychology (1890) compared consciousness to a stream or a river that carries submerged and floating memories and receives. constantly changing impressions of the external world. He coined a single term for this – The Stream of Consciousness. Virginia Woolf uses this narrative mode in many of her novels to show the working of a mind. Woolf says that the interest for modern authors “lies very likely in the dark places of psychology.” In Modern Fiction, Woolf says “Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad of impressions… From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms.”
Virginia Woolf’s MRS. DALLOWAY (1925) has a unique narrative style, salient for its shifts in a point of view to occur within one same paragraph, accentuating the psychological and analytical nature of the narrative. To achieve the quick transition, Woolf uses a literary technique called free indirect speech. MRS.DALLOWAY refers to a story that captures a character’s thoughts and uses them to tell a story. The novel addresses Clarissa Dalloway’s preparations for a party she will host that evening. The nice day reminds her of her youth spent in Bourton and makes her wonder about the choice of her husband-Richard over Peter or Sally Seton (a female friend). It also talks about Septimus Smith (an alter ego of Mrs. Dalloway), a World War I veteran suffering from traumatic stress, who commits suicide. Clarissa’s party is a slow success and she hears about the death of this veteran who is in fact stranger to her. But this death affects her and she considers his suicide an act to preserve the purity of his happiness.
The novel follows no conventional plot or tragedy or loves interest or catastrophe. For example, Septimus’ death is casually reported at the party. The emphasis is laid on the manipulation of words and not on the organization of the story. According to the mechanical time of the Big Ben, the action of the novel is limited to a single day. But, going by the psychological time, the characters’ disorganized experience of the past which has an impression on their mind makes them be in the present through the past and contemplate about the future. We move in Mrs. Dalloway’s mind from London to her girlhood days in Bourton through the air enveloping her in a fine London morning. This helps us to be very close to Mrs. Dalloway’s mind as she is thinking about the myriad things around her. As David Daiches points out – This technique of the stream of consciousness helps a person in the novel to move back and forth in time again and again.
MRS. DALLOWAY is thus one of the best examples of the novel form of writing that uses the technique of Stream of Consciousness to explore the inner life of the characters, expose their follies, frustrations, and complexity.