Tag Archives: woolf

Woolf’s Writing Style

“She sat on the floor – that was her first impression of Sally – she sat on the floor with her arms round her knees, smoking a cigarette. Where could it have been? The Mannings? The Kinloch-Jones’s? At some party (where, she could not be certain), for she had a distinct recollection of saying to the man she was with, “Who is that?“” (32-33)

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

The free indirect discourse that Woolf uses so frequently is evident in the passage above. Even if written in third person, the rhetorical questions asked, imitate the style of Clarissa’s voice. It is interesting to see the text go back and forth with absolute third person and that of free indirect discourse.

Meta-Aeroplane

“Away and away the aeroplane shot, till it was nothing but a bright spark; an aspiration; a concentration; a symbol […] of man’s soul; of his determination, […] sweeping round the cedar tree, to get outside his body, beyond his house, by means of thought, Einstein, speculation, mathematics, the Mendelian theory – away the aeroplane shot.” (28)

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

The widening of subject as the aeroplane goes further and further away is a clue to the way we ought to view the novel – the seemingly mundane widening out to encompass the human condition.

Homesickness and Loneliness

“Far was Italy and the white houses and the room where her sisters sat making hats, and the streets crowded every evening with people walking, laughing out loud, not half alive like people here, huddled up in Bath chairs, looking at a few ugly flowers stuck in pots!

‘For you should see the Milan gardens,’ she said aloud.  But to whom?

There was nobody.  Her words faded” (23).

I think that this passage conveys the feelings of homesickness and isolation really well.  It is terrible to feel like there is nobody who you can talk to, who would want to listen to you, and that your words mean nothing to anyone and disappear.

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

shifting in and out of Focus

“Gently the yellow curtain with all the birds of Paradise blew out and it seemed as if there were a flight of wings into the room, right out and then sucked back. (For the windows were open.)”

Woolf, V. (1925). Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co. p.164

The narration fades in and out of consciousness to focus on different aspects of what is gong on. A detail so minute as flowers flying in the wind is enhanced into focus to show the everyday lives of people in a time where much larger events are going on around the world.This relates to Woolf’s unit of analysis of the individual as being modern.

Time and youth

“But she feared time itself and read on Lady Bruton’s face, as if it had been a dial cut in impassive stone, the dwindling life; how year by year her share was sliced; how little the margin that remained was capable any longer stretching of absorbing, as in  the youthful years, the colors, salts, tone of existence, so that she filled the room as she entered and felt often as she stood hesitating one moment on the threshold of her drawing-room, an exquisite suspense…”(30).

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, 1925. Print. p.30

We see time become a key important theme within the novel and it is interesting to see that she referring to Clarissa who fears time itself, but yet time goes slow throughout the novel which makes it quite ironic. She sees her life dwindling down and she does not want it to end since she wants to feel the youthful years once again. Woolf uses strong diction to describe youth like tone of existence and colors since young people are usually filled with life while older women feel the color fades and grows quite hesitant.

Peter’s thoughts

“Oh it was a letter from her! This blue envelope; that was her hand. And he would have to read it. Here was another of those meetings, bound to be painful! To read her letter needed the devil of an effort…But it upset him. It annoyed him. He wished she hadn’t written it. Coming on top of his thoughts, it was like a nudge in the ribs.” (151)

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Harcourt, 1925.

This insight into Peter’s thoughts allows the reader to understand and connect to how he feels about Mrs. Dalloway; the reader sees that he even knows her handwriting. Peter is somewhat happy about receiving a letter, but quickly retracts those thoughts because he knows that nothing will come of it, and it adds to his pain.

The Relative Nature of Criticism

“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.”

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

The problem with categorizing fiction into forms is the same problem of criticism in general, being that the opinion stated is strongly affected by the setting in which it is being stated in. These classifications are best done in retrospect, as you cannot affect a literary movement if it has already happened.

Atoms

“Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall, let us trace the pattern, however disconnected and incoherent in appearance, which each sight or incident scores upon the consciousness.”

Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 150. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925.

 

Alluding to her description of life as “an incessant shower of innumerable atoms” earlier on the page, Woolf seems to be giving advice here not only for writing fiction, but also for reading it, while she conscripts the reader to her literary camp with her use of the word “us.”

 

Woolf and the Freedom of the Writer

Look within and life, it seems, is very far from being ‘like this’. Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. 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 of 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…

Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 150. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925.

 

Woolf: Freedom in Modern Fiction

“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 sewed on as the Bond Street tailors would have it. 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.”

Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 150. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925.

Life is an organic thing, as is fiction. How a writer or novelist creates their work of fiction should not be as constrained as it apparently is. There are expectations that writers feel obliged to abide by in order to entertain his or her readers – expectations of comedy, tragedy, love interests, catastrophes or precise characters. If a writer were to write as they see fit, it would be a direct portrayal of what the author intended, without the elements so finely executed in other works that came before. I find a connection here with poetry – there are guidelines, there are measures, patterns, rhythms to be followed, but there is also an opportunity to freely abandon such rules, a freedom Woolf believes should be available to fiction writers – let novelists write freely, modern fiction is just as crucial to literary culture as works that are more rigorously/strictly designed.