Mrs. Dalloway (Woolf, 1925)


Mrs. Dalloway is an incredible work of literature. There is so much to unpack critically, but for my stylistic analysis I want to focus on one vital element. When I started reading the novel, I noticed its radical sense of continuity; the plot follows a single day without any breaks by moving from one character’s perspective to another. This continuity certainly helps to create a unified world. But what kind of world is this?

I think Virginia Woolf utilizes (or invents) a brilliant way to write a social world into being. Using omniscient narration, Woolf hops inside the heads of all of her characters, studying the ways they are related to each other. Sometimes, as in the stories of Rezia and Septimus, characters are related by how they are strangers (for instance Peter Walsh walks by them and thinks “such is youth”). In any event, Woolf establishes a perspective for the audience that follows the character’s social environment and even consciousness. The book is, despite being fiction, an anthropological study, a look a various humans in their natural habitats. Mrs. Dalloway is laced with setting and context; the social world which is her study never forgets that its foundations are in the physical environment. Similarly, characters’ represented consciousness is physicalized. Clarissa’s mind is often racing as she stresses over the details of her days but at other times it slows to the pace of her patient walking. In one scene, Clarissa falls asleep and her thoughts slow down to a halt.

In all these ways, Woolf creates a thoroughly believable world by establishing its physical underpinnings first and building social consciousness on those foundations. Her characters, no matter how wrapped up they are in their own affairs, never escape the trappings of their environment or their own physical stimulation or exhaustion. I found this model of storytelling rewarding and refreshing; Woolf’s stress of continuity can be confusing at points but always reinvigorates the narrative. In this way she is able to compellingly follow the meandering social exploits of a host of characters while allowing the reader to pinpoint them in time and space.

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