Summary – Bradley Oesch
Fifty two year old Clarissa Dalloway sets out on an early June morning in Westminster, England to buy flowers for the party she is to put on that night. She runs into an old childhood friend Hugh Whitbread. They talk briefly about his wife Evelyn’s sickness, and he mentions that he will, of course, be attending her party that night. Clarissa can’t help but feel self-conscious about her hat when next to the proper and manly Hugh.
After they part Clarissa thinks about Peter Walsh, an old friend who had asked her to marry him, but she had rejected. She thinks about how poorly he treated her dreams and aspirations, then reflects on how her life might be different had she accepted his proposal for marriage or if she could live her life over again. In any case, she feels that her one true gift is her innate ability to know people.
She reflects on her role in the family, worrying that people view her simply as her husband’s wife, and not her own person. Her daughter Elizabeth does not care for the same things Clarissa does, she prefers to play with the dog and learn from her teacher Miss Kilman, whom Clarissa greatly dislikes.
While Clarissa is in the flower shop, a car backfires and onlookers wonder if the passenger is someone important such as the queen or prime minister. World War I vet Septimus Warren Smith hears the backfire and lapses into the frightening images of the war. He believes he caused the traffic and begins to lose some of his connection to reality. He and his wife Rezia go to Regent’s Park and he shows signs of paranoia and fear, claiming things such as that his dead friend is outside of the park and the world might burst into flames. He sees a plane writing letters in the sky and believes someone is trying to communicate with him. Although his wife briefly gets up to separate herself from her crazy husband, feelings of loyalty and devotion overwhelm her and she returns to his side, despite his broken mental capacity.
Clarissa returns home upset that her husband Richard has been invited to lunch at Lady Bruton’s house without her, but relishes the moment alone in the house. She reflects on her friend Sally Seton, wondering if she loves Sally more than she does Richard. Sally was a rebellious girl who had great influence on Clarissa. The best moment of Clarissa’s life was when she and Sally kissed, but the moment was interrupted by Peter. She seems to have conflicting emotions toward Peter, but ultimately respects him and wants him to respect her as well.
Unexpectedly, Peter shows up at Clarissa’s house; he is back in town to file a divorce for his Indian fiancée (who is already married to an Indian Major in the Army). He confesses to Clarissa that he believes the Dalloways view him as a failure. Clarissa wavers multiple times in her view of Peter, wondering one minute why she ever rejected him, and thanking Heaven the next that she refused his proposal. Peter breaks down and begins crying under the weight of all the emotion of being back in town and with her, and Clarissa takes his hands and kisses him. He stands up and moves away, then begins to ask if she is happy with Richard, but is interrupted by Elizabeth entering the room. Peter says hello to Elizabeth then bids farewell without looking at Clarissa. He leaves with Clarissa calling after him to remember to come to her party.
Peter leaves her house filled with conflicting emotions. He criticizes her conformity to the standard middle-aged life then worries that he had upset her with his abrupt visit and weeping confession. He feels thrilled that he has found a new love in India, yet still feels heartbreak at Clarissa’s rejection of him so many years prior. Much like Clarissa earlier, he reflects on death and mortality and becomes upset at the thought of aging and dying.
Picturesque Writing Style -Matthew Alin
Virginia Woolf picturesque writing style helps to develop a sense of nonchalance and warmth into the story of Clarissa Dalloway’s day. Woolf focuses details and narration on recreating characters’ observations through imagery and vivid descriptions. This focus is an omniscient one that is a mix of direct and indirect thoughts to gain a worldly perspective about the events leading up to the party Mrs. Dalloway is preparing. The introduction of the story places readers in the midst of a dreamlike state as Mrs. Dalloway is nostalgically reminiscing about her more or less romantic past with Peter Walsh. From these brief and calm thoughts the narration transitions into reality as we find Mrs. Dalloway buying flowers for her party. Woolf’s picturesque style serves as a medium between the nonchalance of English society and the complex issues that are revealed between characters. It allows readers to perceive the problems that the upper class have despite their position in society while allowing readers to enjoy a glimpse into the calm nature of the setting. The gradual emotional distancing between Septimus and his wife, Rezia, cannot be ignored as the narrator keeps shifting back to this couple. Rezia complains on page 16 of the Septimus’s lack of interest in sex and Septimus is portrayed as very apathetic. Rezia mentions how Septimus’s arm belonged to her and he doesn’t reject to this attitude simply because he doesn’t care about his own well-being but is doing things mindlessly. Despite the fact that they are out in public and in the midst of the upper class these two are self-absorbed in their own world. As this ongoing struggle occurs the rest of the society around them tends to be also self-absorbed into the useless and unimportant events. On page 20 and 27 the aeroplane amazes and confuses the people as they attempt to make out what its smoke trail is spelling out. The ability of such a simple object in the sky to distract so many people is one factor that helps create this picturesque characteristic of the novel. The people are so carefree and calm that they are easily distracted by the most plain and simple things. It is almost as if they are all in a dreamlike state. The scene with the car that backs into the flower shop further displays the picturesque quality established by the novel as it is another example of an element that brings many people to bewilderment and confusion. The feeling of shifting between different characters’ thoughts and different events such as the aeroplane and the car create an interesting and charming mood in the novel. This semi dreamlike and picturesque style isn’t one that resembles what readers are supposed to be feeling but rather reflects the state of being of the characters. For example on page 27 Mrs. Bletchley murmurs as if she were a sleepwalker upon seeing the aeroplane. The multitude of events going on in the first third of the novel represent the idea that Woolf is painting different parts of a picture to finally create one grand mosaic. This is an idea that allows the readers to perceive the events and characters with a sense of warmth and serenity.
Why do you think the author incorporates this picturesque style or do you see someone style that stands out more?
Character Relationships – Matthew Alin
Interestingly the novel does more than simply focus on creating mini stories that elaborate on details and vivid imagery. Rather Woolf incorporates complex character personalities and gives the characters complex interactions that display a deeper meaning which reveals a not so perfect society. By creating parallels between the characters one can better understand this deeper meaning. First one could ask what is the importance of the inclusion of the character of Septimus? Or more specifically why is Septimus plagued with shell shock and thoughts of suicide? Septimus is an odd part of the novel in which there is a party that is about to occur and the characters are busy socializing and enjoying life. The answer to this question can be discovered as the novel reveals more about Clarissa Dalloway. It can be observed quite quickly that Mrs. Dalloway is full of herself yet aware of her position in society as a mother and wife. She states on page 10 that she if fully aware that she is Mrs. Richard Dalloway and that is how her friends and others see her. Yet Mrs. Dalloway’s wandering mind displays her unique feminism. It is a subtle display of her belief in her own self-expression and the ability to live life fully as her natural right. The idea of setting up the party if her own and clearly symbolizes her need for self-expression. She makes the statement that she wants to “affect other’s opinions.” She cares about how others perceive her rather than how she is perceived by her husband. Her selfish desires and her judgmental outlook upon others which is evident from her display of confidence in her ability to know people by instinct display her repressed feminism. In a way she lives two lives. One in which she is the wife of Richard Dalloway and one in which she fantasizes about her future and reminisces about the past. The nomenclature employed by Woolf proves this as there is a switch between referring to Mrs. Dalloway as Clarissa, Mrs. Dalloway, and Clarissa Dalloway. Note the omission of Richard’s name. This is not only in reference to Mrs. Dalloway but throughout the first third of the novel Richard’s activities are kept for the most part out of the narration. The character of Septimus helps to complete our understanding of Mrs. Dalloway as Septimus parallels to Mrs. Dalloway in many ways. Both are repressed by the society around them. Septimus is seen as a mentally ill man who needs to be controlled and Mrs. Dalloway is seen as the wife of Richard Dalloway rather than simply Clarissa Dalloway. Also both characters have attractions to other characters like Septimus is strongly affected by Evans and Dalloway by Sally. And most obviously is that fact that both as disconnected from their lovers and the world around them. Mrs. Dalloway enters dreamlike states where she thinks about sublime topics such as death or God and Septimus has fictional visions of war due to shell shock. Just as Mrs. Dalloway finds her husband to be disconnected due to his political work Septimus finds himself disconnected from his wife Rezia.
What reason do you think Septimus is included in the novel? Is it a possible display of lack of happiness despite being upper class?
Perception in Terms of Characterization (Self-Perception vs Perception of Others) — Abishek Mukund
– Characterization: the way the author presents the character
– Indirect Characterization: character traits revealed by dialogue and action of characters
– Direct Characterization: character traits revealed by the author or narrator
A major theme in the novel, Mrs. Dalloway, is the idea of perception. Characters are constantly making judgments on other characters. In addition, the narration and self-reflective statements make perceptions on the character itself. When the narrator gives insight on the character, it is called direct characterization. When other characters or the characters themselves have actions, words or comments that contribute to characterization, this is called indirect characterization. As the book constantly switches views and from narrator to characters, we are able to see how characters see themselves while defining the characteristics of others. During the scene when Peter is at Regent Park, the narrator states that Peter had cried and was saddened by the thoughts of his past with Clarissa. From this, we as readers gain sympathy for Peter and this further characterizes Peter as innocent and deprived from happiness. In addition, we are left to believe Peter is still a bit unhappy on the fact that he has found love with another women in India. However, right before Peter leaves Clarissa’s home, he states to her that she is “the perfect hostess.” From this indirect characterization, we can see that Peter is infact aggressive and cunning with his remark. Peter intended to inflict some emotional distress upon Clarissa. While the narrator characterizes him as miserable and disheartened, Peter’s actions characterize him as somewhat of an antagonist. These conflicting characteristics support the idea that perception is based on subjective reasoning. Furthermore, we are able to get these alternative descriptions as the stream of consciousness writing switches from character to character to even narrator.
Septimus is a character of conflicting characterization. From the narration and Septimus’s own words and thoughts, we are left to believe he is essentially delusional and crazy. Septimus makes various references to a dead friend, proclaiming he saw his friend when Peter arrived. When Septimus and Rezi go to Sir Williams to diagnose Septimus, Sir William characterizes Septimus as “normal,” suggesting that he relax by going to listen to some music and eat a good meal. However, Rezi goes on to question the practice of Sir Williams and furthermore, goes on to characterize Septimus as derange and irregular. While the narrator, through direct characterization, places Septimus is a place of abnormality, characters like Sir Williams try to redefine Septimus position in the novel. These conflicting perceptions and characterization keep the reader in a changing state: the stream of consciousness.
The characterization of Clarissa is always conflicting. Clarissa herself reflects upon the fact that she has taken a conservative life. She feels that she has lost her independence, in that her husband essentially defines her. This also brings meaning in the title as, “Mrs. Dalloway” as Clarissa is defined by her husband’s last name. While Clarissa tries to define herself through importance by organizing the get together, Peter comes to throw her back done when he calls her the “perfect hostess,” thus placing her back into a position subordinate to that of her husband. Understanding Clarissa’s position as the wife of her husband or an independent woman is constantly described by both the narrator and within the thoughts of Clarissa. I found this characterization conflict particularly interesting, as it was a constant struggle of the mind through the stream of consciousness. As the narrator contributes to the direct characterization of Clarissa, Clarissa herself makes judgments on her character through her thoughts. Furthermore, Clarissa tries to present the judgments other characters place on her by herself, making it a secondary level of indirect characterization. She tries to perceive how others see her. In doing so, Clarissa raises the complexity that the stream of consciousness tends to go through. It is even a bit of metacognitive understanding for define the characteristics of Clarissa.
1. How does the stream of consciousness writing style add to the greater understanding of characters?
2. Evaluate how you as an individual make conclusions on someone that seem to contradict?
Punctuations: the Linguistic Element of a Modernistic Writing — Irene Euisun Pyo
Stream of consciousness is one of most well-known literary significance that this novel embraces. The narrative style illustrates a loose sequence of the thought process of the characters as they encounter the exterior settings. Woolf uses specific patterns of the punctuations as its fundamental element in order to”graphically reflect […] the various tonemes or information curves of expressions of surprise, joy, consternation, etc.” (Alacaraz). In other words, the use of punctuation allow the readers to intuitively imagine the tone and emotions of the characters. This sensual and nonconventional style of writing hence shows the modernistic tendency of Woolf as a writer.
In the novel, the sentences are fragmented into short phrases and clauses by punctuations such as commas, dashes, brackets, and semicolons. By varying the length of the phrases and alignmenting many of them in a single sentence, Woolf successfully demonstrate somewhat a quideline for the readers to experience how the thoughts flow. For example, the pace of the character’s flow of thoughts can be determined. In the description of the flowers at Mulberry’s, the narration has a faster pace by having lists of short descriptions linked by commas and semicolons (“There were flowers~the exquisite coolness”). Due to the fast display of the descriptions, the olfactory sensation is immediately delivered to the reader, hence allowing concurrency as the story unfolds.
The pace of the narration based on the fragmentation of the sentence also contributes to the perspective of the main character. Its use of multiple sets of descriptive adjectives and phrases, divided by commas, illustrates how the character analyzes her observation. “Septimus Warren Smith, aged about thirty, pale-faced, beak-nosed, wearing brown shoes and a shabby overcoat, with hazel eyes which had that look of apprehension in them which makes complete strangers apprehensive too.” This layout of short descriptions enhances the characters, merging the reader’s stance with the narrator’s stream of thoughts.
What are other stylistic elements that Woolf use to support the stream of consciousness?
Woolf uses quotation marks irregularly; what are the effects from this writing style?
Alacaraz, Enrique. An Approach to th,e Language of Mrs. Dalloway. Cauce. 6: 211-224. n.d.