Narrative Skepticism: Moral Agency and Representations of Consciousness in Fiction

By Linda S. Raphael | Go to book overview

4
Ordinary and Extraordinary in Mrs. Dalloway

“The books of Henry James are in truth the bridge upon which
we cross from the classic novel which is perfect of its kind to
that other form of literature which if names have any importance
should someday be christened anew—the modern novel, the
novel of the twentieth century.”

—Virginia Woolf
Unpublished manuscript of an essay on fiction


WOOLF AND MODERNISM

NOTWITHSTANDING ITS INNOVATIVE FORM, MRS. DALLOWAY EVOKES

more real-life situations, occurrences, and figures than does The Wings of the Dove. Specifically, Woolf’s novel depicts particular places in London, takes up the matter of certain political issues and personages, focuses on the aftermath of the Great War, and represents a number of specific social issues of a wide-ranging nature. Yet, no one can ignore the original form of Mrs. Dalloway, which makes the relationship of the inner life and the representations of Woolf’s real world almost endlessly dynamic. Although there is no absolute moral reality in Wings awaiting the characters’ discovery, the matters that impinge on moral decisions are not so obviously wide-ranging as are those in Mrs. Dalloway. Contemporary critics have of course brought to bear many issues that are embedded in Jamesian narratives; however, Woolf leaves no space for a reader to ignore particular facets of British life in the 1920s in this novel. No character in Wings wonders, for example, anything close to whether she ought to know the difference between Albania and Armenia, or ought to be worried about these distant places. They tend not to examine what it means to lead a good life in terms of how the hours of their daily life are spent—a constant theme in the novel whose first draft was titled “The Hours,” suggesting the concern with how time is spent.1

-126-

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