Write an Essay on the Stream of Consciousness Novel
“Stream of consciousness” refers to a narrative technique in non-dramatic fiction, intended to render the flow of myriad impressions – visual, auditory, tactile, associative, and subliminal that impinge on an individual’s consciousness Stream of consciousness technique as such may not always appear to have a coherent structure or cohesion. The plotline may weave in and out of time, carrying the reader through the lifespan of a character or further along the timeline to incorporate the lives of characters from other time periods The term was first coined by William James in The Principles of Psychology (1890).
By calling consciousness a stream, James meant that human consciousness is something fluid; it is an unbroken current of feelings, impressions, fantasies, half-formed thoughts, and awareness in general. Consciousness is continuity like time, but it is independent of time. At any given instance of time, an individual’s consciousness may not be entirely concerned with the present. He may be living through an experience of the past or fantasizing about the future. The clock of subjective consciousness is independent of the mechanical clock time. The stream of consciousness novelist tries to render the consciousness of his character in its fullness without the least authorial intervention and without ordering it into logical, lucid, and even grammatical. narrative.
Although William James coined the term, the stream of consciousness novelists in the 20th century is much indebted to Freud, Jung, and Bergson. Freud’s theories of sexuality, unconscious, repression, and dreams, Jung’s of collective unconsciousness, and Bergson’s of the subjectivity and relativity of time created the right environment of ideas which matured the stream of consciousness novelists like James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Richardson, etc. Dorothy Richardson, an important figure in the development of the genre, made use of the technique in her series of twelve novels, Pilgrimage. Indeed, the stream of consciousness is a revolutionary technique because of the fact that it is based on a revolutionary concept of reality For the stream of consciousness novelists, the reality is not something superficial, mechanical, rational, and purely scientific, but something deeper, mythic, or even irrational in the famous essay “The Modern Novel”, Virginia Woolf says, “Life is not a series of gig lamps, symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope, surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.
The stream of consciousness is, according to David Daiches, “a means of escape from the tyranny of the time dimension.” As A.C Ward observes, Traditionalists keep their eyes upon the calendar and the clock. But because human consciousness is not subservient to time, and the job of the stream of consciousness novelists is to render this, time loses its tyrannical rigidity. The stream of consciousness differs from a stream of water in so far as it can flow both up and down at various speeds, subverting all chronological barriers. Thus, one specialty of the stream of consciousness novelists is their daring experiments with time. Joyce in Ulysses has confined the outward action to a single day. Whatever is experienced by the consciousness of the three central characters on that day is rendered by Joyce in one thousand pages or so. In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf too confines the outer plot to one day. However, her handling of time is so subtle that reminiscence, reverie, and even hallucination form a suggestive pattern that offers the reader not only an insight into the recesses of Mrs. Dalloway’s mind but also into the mystery and meaning of life itself. To the Lighthouse follows the same pattern, bearing the signature of her genius.
As Beach puts it, “The progress of 20th-century novel is marked by the disappearance of the author. In other words, narrative approached the condition of drama.” The stream of consciousness novelist tries to render the flow of the consciousness of a character as directly and as objectively as possible – without any comment. He tries to remain out of the picture. A true literary artist is, in Joyce’s words, “as the God of creation within behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, indifferent, airing his fingernails.”.
In short, by shifting interest from the external reality to the experiencing self, the stream of consciousness novelists can achieve an inwardness that is difficult to achieve by conventional means. It is not only the depth and breadth of characterization which distinguishes the works of stream of consciousness novelists but also their penetrating insights into the dilemmas of existence.