Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf (1925)
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner (1930)
Untouchable, Mulk Raj Anand (1935)
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
Each of these novels deal with the common connection between the expression of some sort of self, whether it be their individual self or the self of some group they identify with, and the other, which is a group that they are facing that is different from themselves; it could be a cultural, social, class, or another difference that varies from their own. In these modernism works, there is continuity of how the readers are given the story from different perspectives that in some way have or form a relationship or purpose between the characters. In Mrs. Dalloway there is constantly the jump from one perspective to another, sometimes without there every being a clear distinction who’s perspective you are getting, but forming a blurred connection between characters and events, such as between Mrs. Dalloway and Septimus. In As I Lay Dying, it is made clear whose perspective you are getting with each section titled with their name, but with this clarity comes a different way the characters connect with each other, and in this case almost suggests and defines the separation of experiences of each character as their own, yet all brought on by a specific event, Addie’s death. In Untouchable there is the distinct separation between the Indians and the Europeans they come into contact with; particularly with Bakha, who knows the Indian world, yet supports the ideas and concepts of the European world there is the constant cross of concepts and ideals between each group for him as he tries to make sense of who he is and what he should follow. Finally, in Their Eyes Were Watching God the reader is given the story from mainly Janie’s perspective, yet we see her struggles through life dealing with how she is learning to define herself amongst different ranks of blacks in society; we see her mind and thoughts as she navigates through one relationship to the next.
In Virginia Woolf’s article, “The Common Reader,” one passage stood out to me in particular:
“The mind receives a myriad impressions–trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from the old; the moment of importance came not here but there; so that, if a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style, and perhaps not a single button sewn on as the Bond Street tailors would have it” (150).
I am struggling to understand the connection between impressions on the mind, atoms, and the writer as a slave. Do the conventions of writing force a writer to only write about impressional events, and not his/her own feelings? Are the “Bond Street tailors” referring to tailors in Brooklyn, NY, whom would sew a button with perfection to satisfy customers?
Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 150. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925.
“Life escapes; and perhaps without life nothing else is worth while. It is a confession of vagueness to have to make use of such a figure as this, but we scarcely better the matter by speaking, as critics are prone to do, of reality. Admitting the vagueness which afflicts all criticism of novels, let us hazard the opinion that for us at this moment the form of fiction most in vogue more often misses than secures the thing we seek. Whether we call it life or spirit, truth or reality, this, the essential thing, has moved off, or on, and refuses to be contained any longer in such ill-fitting vestments as we provide. Nevertheless, we go on perseveringly, conscientiously, constructing our two and thirty chapters after a design which more and more ceases to resemble the vision of our minds.”
Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 149. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925.
At first, I did not know what Woolf was stating and I thought it was pretty dumb for her to state to obvious, but as I repeatedly read this passage, I found that what Woolf is stating is quite powerful. Despite the way we want life to turn out, life does not. What we control in life is limited, but writers persevere to write in ways that the vision they have in their minds cannot be portrayed within their books. They cannot bring their vision to words because they are so constrained to a form of writing. What can writers do to express the visions of their minds? How can writers step away from the trending way of writing fiction? Isn’t that why modernism is a new way of approaching writing? They challenge to step away from the traditional and write in a way they can express their visions.