Mrs. Dalloway Sparknotes
1. What is modernism? How is it reflection in the novel?
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf is the bright example of modernist literature. The post-war period world has changed in many ways. This led to the change in art, culture and, in general, how people perceived the world. Art and literature began to move away from the traditions of the nineteenth century. Modernism appeared and evolved into various genres like cubism or surrealism (Childs, 2007).
The novel contains a number of techniques used by modernist writers. The narration of the novel is complex and not linear; it includes flashbacks and is a fragmented story. There are also several narrators, and each of them has a unique manner of storytelling interrupted with stream-of-consciousness style.
The style of Mrs Dalloway is a combination of different ideas and tones. It changes throughout the story. As different characters conduct the narration, different ways of thinking and storytelling are used. Therefore, the novel sounds subjective and taken from diverse points of view. Everyday observations are mixed with the stream of consciousness and flashbacks from the past.
The reader meets with different types of speech. Virginia Woolf uses common direct and indirect speech, where the narrator lets the reader know that a character is thinking of something. In addition, she includes free indirect speech. In this style, characters' thoughts, feelings, and words are used in the form of the third-person narration (Briggs, 2006). For example, "But Lucrezia herself could not help looking at the motor car and the tree pattern on the blinds. Was it the Queen in there – the Queen going shopping?" (Woolf, 2012).
2. How does this novel contradict traditional forms of redemption, such as love, religion?
The concept of love in Mrs. Dalloway deviates from the traditional meaning. The author shows a very realistic image or romance that does not necessarily have a successful conclusion. Almost all the characters in the novel suffer from the undivided love. This idea has a great contrast with novels of the nineteenth century that typically have optimistic endings. Woolf depicts love as she sees it and rejects the unrealistic picture of romantic love.
Romantic connections tie different characters of the poem. The main character, Mrs. Dalloway is married to Mr. Richard Dalloway. They love and trust each other, but the passion between them not strong enough. Here lies a great distinction from regular romantic stories. Unlike Clarissa and Richard, couples in traditional stories have a strong passion and use beautiful words to express their love.
The doubts arise as Clarissa thinks about the possible happy life with Peter, whom she gave up favor of comfort with Richard. In a traditional love story, Clarissa and Peter would end up together. The result of their relationship does not meet the expectations of the reader. Virginia Woolf intended to show the fact of life: sometimes the happy endings are impossible despite how big the love is.
Religion is a delicate issue in the novel. For Clarissa, religion is confining and threatening to people’s independence:
"Love and religion! thought Clarissa, going back into the drawing room, tingling all over. How detestable, how detestable they are! For now that, the body of Miss Kilman was not before her, it overwhelmed her - the idea. The cruelest things in the world, she thought, seeing them clumsy, hot, domineering, hypocritical, eavesdropping, jealous, infinitely cruel and unscrupulous, dressed in a mackintosh coat, on the landing; love and religion. Had she ever tried to convert anyone herself? Did she not wish everybody merely to be themselves?" (Woolf, 2012).
Clarissa dislikes love and religion partially because of the antipathy to Miss Kilman, who has turned to Christianity and attempts to convert Elizabeth (Clarissa’s daughter), as well. Love is one of the most significant Christian dogmas. However, claiming to be a religious person, Miss Kilman does not live in love. This paradox makes Clarissa doubt both religion and love.
3. Does this novel offer an optimistic or pessimistic view of life? In other words, does the novel give the reader something to feel life does have a deeper meaning?
The novel leaves the reader confused and with mingled feelings. The end of the novel brings even more complexity. However, at the same it gives something to feel about life. Despite being so dark and depressing, the novel has the uplifting ending. The information of Septimus' death is shocking for all the characters, but, surprisingly, Clarissa accepts this fact with elation. She understands the motives behind Septimus’ suicide. Instead of being sorrowful, she cheers up: her haunting fear of death disappears.
The death of Septimus lets her take a new lease of life. She begins to appreciate life and sees it as a gift. Having changed her outlook on life, Clarissa comes back to the party. Peter feels delighted with her presence. He dismisses doubts about his true feelings to Clarissa. This final scene changes the outcome of the whole story.
4. How does stream-of-consciousness and plot contribute to the meaning of this novel?
Woolf created Clarissa Dalloway and other main characters of her novel by describing their inner thoughts with little or no interference of a third person narrator. This is a stream of consciousness technique. The story is a combination of thoughts of different people mixed up together in a continuous flow (Sellers, 2010).
Between these mixes of thoughts, the characters of Virginia Woolf sometimes experience a type of enlightenment, a moment of being, when they start to see reality, and his or her place in it.
Another feature of modernism is the development of the characters throughout the story. The author intended to make them dynamic. Stream of consciousness technique perfectly suited her goal to recreate the actual way people think while they interact with their surroundings.
Childs, P. (2007). Modernism. London: Routledge.
Briggs, J. (2006). Reading Virginia Wolf. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Sellers, S. (2010). The Cambridge companion to Virginia Woolf. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Woolf, V. (2012). Mrs. Dalloway. Eastford: Martino Fine Books.