Tag Archives: society

Historical Line: Urban Society

  • Henry James, The Jolly Corner (1909)
  • James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1918)
  • Dorothy Sayers, Whose Body? (1923)
  • Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925)

These works, to a greater or lesser degree, represent urban life, whether in New York City, Dublin, or London. Two trends, specifically, seem to stand out:

First, the idea of communal social interaction. Only explicitly seen in Mrs. Dalloway, there is a sense of shared consciousness among the denizens of the modern city, who experience the same locations and events, as well as the same sorts of social interactions.

Second, and more applicably to all four texts, is a sort of “urban mystery.” The Jolly Corner and Whose Body? are mysteries, peripherally in the case of the first and primarily in the case of the second – but Portrait and Dalloway also explore the mystery of the human consciousness, particularly Portrait’s first half, where the reader is meant to feel “lost” within the sea of human history and culture.

The Hyperawareness of Caste

“Bakha picked up the packet and moved away. Then he opened it and took out a cigarette. He recalled that he had forgotten to buy a box of matches. He was too modest to go back, as though some deep instinct told him that as a sweeper-lad, he should show himself in people’s presences as little as possible. For a sweeper, a menial to be seen smoking constituted an offense before the Lord” (42).

Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. London, England: Penguin Books, 1940. Print.

This moment, among many others, features Anand’s use of excessive clarifications of caste distinctions, representing Bakha’s hyperawareness of his own class and his subordinate relation to other characters in the novel, something he perceives through aesthetics and standards created by his society and forces him to understand himself solely in terms of his relationship to others.

One Sentence Impact

“Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself”

Woolf, Virginia.  Mrs. Dalloway. San Diego: Harcourt, 1925.

This one sentence does not appear to be very important. However, it is important to note that Clarissa is going by herself instead of sending someone else, like a servant, to complete the task. I also noted that she is “Mrs. Dalloway” here. Her proper name.

Feeling Old

“She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible; unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only this astonishing and rather solemn progress with the rest of them, up Bond Street, this being Mrs Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more; this being Mrs Richard Dalloway”.

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, 1925. Print.

Throughout Mrs. Dalloway, there is sense of society and class. Clarissa holds herself with high morals from the start of the book and you can feel the high classiness coming off her. In this quote you see Clarissa doubting herself, wishing to be young again. Her youth is behind her and she is no longer known as a beautiful maiden; she is known as Mrs. Richard Dalloway. She may be upper class but she can never regain her youth.

Free The Writers

“The writer seems constrained, not by his own free will but by some powerful and unscrupulous tyrant who has him in thrall, to provide a plot, to provide comedy, tragedy, love interest … The tyrant is obeyed; the novel is done to a turn. But sometimes, more and more often as time goes by, we suspect a momentary doubt, a spasm of rebellion, as the pages fill themselves in the customary way. Is life like this? Must novels be like this?”

Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 149. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925.

A writer should be able to write based on their own inspirations, experiences, and feelings’ however, instead the readers, the society, and the publishing company are restraining writers from the freedom of their own works. Instead writers are being constrained to write what will entertain the readers and to write what the society allows in literature. Why does writers have to follow a certain standard? Why does society determine what the writer’s can write in their novels? Aren’t writer’s supposed to be the ones with freedom in determining how they want their novel to turn out?