The current paper deals with the use of stream of consciousness and narrative technique by Virginia Wolf. The author has discussed how Woolf comes and goes in time and space to reveal her inside feelings, and why she used them especially in time of war and domestic violence.
Much has been written about Woolf's use of the stream-of-consciousness technique used widely by other Modernist writers of her time such as DH Lawrance and James Joyce. Stream of Consciousness is the technique use by Woolf and she is considered the pioneer of this technique. The stream of thought was first proposed by William James, Harvard Professor of Psychology in 1890.
In a diary entry that Woolf wrote on the 23 of February in 1926, she compares the writing process she went through while writing Mrs. Dalloway with the process she experienced while writing To the Lighthouse:
"I am blown like an old flag by my novel. This one is To the Lighthouse. I think it is worth saying for my own interest that at last, after that battle Jacob's Room, that agony, all agony but the end, Mrs. Dalloway, I am writing as fast and freely as I have written in the whole of my life; more so, than any novel yet. I think this is the proof that I was on the right path; and that what fruit hangs in my soul is to be reached there. Amusingly, I now invent theories that fertility and fluency are the things: I used to plead for a kind of devils own work not to be flogging my brain all the afternoon. I live entirely in it, and come to the surface rather obscurely and am often unable to think what to say when we walk round the Square which is bad I know." (59)
This passage reveals Woolf's genius and also demonstrated how immersed Woolf would become during her process of writing a novel. She uses wave imagery to describe the journey she would taken in her own mind while writing by saying, "I live entirely in it, and come to the surface rather obscurely" (Woolf, The Diary 59). Woolf's use of the word "surface" stirs up an image of an individual immerging from the depths of an ocean in order to come up for air. Woolf also uses the word "surface" in Peter Walsh's description of the human in Mrs. Dalloway in a similar fashion:
"For this is the truth about our soul, he thought, our self, who fish-like inhabits deep seas and plies among obscurities threading her way between the boles of giant weeds, over sun-flickered spaces and on into gloom, cold, deep, inscrutable; suddenly she shoots to the surface and sports on the wind-wrinkled waves; that is, has a positive need to brush, scrape, kindle herself, gossiping." (161)
Woolf weaves in each of her novels to represent a character's fully formed or fleeting thoughts and thoughts that rise to the surface of a character's mind unexpectedly. Here I present examples of how Woolf pairs the psychological with the natural in Mrs. Dalloway. By suggesting that Woolf compares the psychological with the natural, I am denoting the "psychological" as Woolf's use of the stream-of-consciousness technique which allows reader to get into the minds of the characters along with the "natural" which are the sounds of ocean waves and the waves of sounds of Big Ben chiming that correlate with characters' thoughts in intricate ways. Woolf published Mrs. Dalloway in 1925, two years before she published To the Lighthouse. It is interesting to see how Woolf refines her stream-of-consciousness writing over the course of the two novels.
Woolf's imagery marks time with descriptive words such as "tides" and it complements the movement of characters' thoughts, which at times may be inspiring and at other times may be detrimental. Woolf's use of wave imagery most likely stems from her fond memories of spending time as a child at the family beach house in St. Ive's. In addition I found that Woolf chose to impart some significance in the novel on the great bell tower located near the Place of Westminster in London. As illustrated in Figure 1, Big Ben is a prominent symbol in London, and Woolf fills the pages of Mrs. Dalloway with its sounds not only to illustrate the passage of time, but to turn the attentions of her characters at times from the present moment to the future. For example, in one instance, the sound of the clock reminds Clarissa that it is almost time for her party. On other occasions, thoughts of the past are stirred up in a character's mind when the clock sounds, as is the case with Rezia right after the death of her husband, Septimus; her thoughts turn to the War that Septimus has served in as well as man killed in battle. Woolf draws on the artistic movement of symbolism, through her use of wave imagery and the sounds of Big Ben.
In Mrs. Dalloway, the wave imagery as well as the resonating sounds of Big Ben symbolize the passage of time to both readers and characters:
And the sound of the bell flooded the room with its melancholy wave; which receded, and gathered itself together to fall once more, when she heard, distractingly, something fumbling, something scratching at the door. Who at this hour? Three, good Heavens! Three already! For with overpowering directness and dignity the clock struck three; and she heard nothing else; but the door handle slipped round and in came Richard! (118)
In this case, Woolf pairs the sound of the clock with another sonic wave, the sounds of the sea, to illustrate the magnitude of the moment Clarissa experiences when she is alone in the room. Not only is the room filled with the sound of Big Ben, but it is filled with the sound and strength of ocean waves. The wave described as "melancholy" envelopes Clarissa Dalloway and she is afloat in it at that time and throughout most of the novel. Clarissa's thoughts, actions, and relations with other characters are enacted from within and beneath an ocean of feeling.
In his article, "The lady in the looking Glass: Reflections on the Self in Virginia Woolf," Stephen Howard employs a psychoanalytic approach by incorporating Jacques Lacan's concept of the "mirror stage" in order to understand how Woolf explores "the concept of the self" in two short stories called "The Lady in the Looking Glass" and "An Unwritten Novel" as well as in her later novel, The Waves. Howard also draws upon Woolf's own thoughts about "life-writing" as manifested in her partially completed memoir. A Sketch of the Past. Howard refers to question in Mrs. Dalloway when Clarissa thinks, "she would not say of Peter, she would not say of herself, I am this, I am that" (46). In other words, Howard believes that Woolf is suggesting that Clarissa, like all individuals, has a fragmented understanding of her being. Howard also says, "As Woolf sees it, events become whole, connected, and manageable once they have been formulated in the terms of language" (49).
Septimus Warren Smith, the shell-shocked World War 1 veteran, sees the world differently because of his mental state. The world that Woolf creates in the mind of Septimus is pervaded by watery images. However, Woolf demonstrates how Septimus makes more connections with objects found in nature than Clarissa does as illustrated in this passage:
"K…R…" said the nursemaid, and Septimus heard her say "Kay Arr" close to his ear, deeply, softly, like a mellow organ, but with a roughness in her voice like a grasshopper's, which rasped his spine deliciously and sent running up into his brain, which concussing, broke. A marvelous condition can quicken trees into life! Happily Rezia put her hand with a tremendous weight on his knees so that he was weighted down, transfixed, or the excitement of the elm tress rising and falling, rising and falling with all there leaves alight and the colour thinning and thickening from blue to the green, like plumes on horses' heads, feather on ladies', so proudly they rose and fell, so superbly, would have sent him mad. But he would not go mad. He would shut his eyes; he would see no more. (22)
An aero plane is advertising a brand of toffee in the sky, but Septimus is so transfixed by the movement of trees around him and the sound of the nursemaid's voice that he does not seem to care about the advertisement. Due to Septimus's mental illness, he is the one character in the novel that is not able to return to memories from his past as readily or focus on what is going on in the present moment with the same type of clarity or understanding. But, James's theory about how "the knowledge of some other part of the stream, past or future, near or remote, is always mixed in with our knowledge…