Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway

Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway

Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway

Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway

Synopsis

Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway recounts the events of a June day in the lives of Clarissa Dalloway, a woman preparing to give a party, and Septimus Smith, a shell-shocked World war I veteran who commits suicide. Although Clarissa and Septimus never meet in the novel, they are clearly understood to be doubles, and their stories run parallel, united by the perceptions of them by the other characters. Only in the culmination of the novel do their lives intersect- when new of Septimus's suicide intrudes upon Mrs. Dalloway's perfectly planned party. Woolf's narrative shows her control of theme and form, demonstrable in the way she structures the events in hourly chimes of Big Ben. Along with To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway represents Woolf's finest work in the modernist novel.

Excerpt

In May 1940, less than a year before she drowned herself, Virginia Woolf read a paper to the Worker’s Educational Association in Brighton. We know it as the essay entitled “The Leaning Tower,” in which the Shelleyan emblem of the lonely tower takes on more of a social than an imaginative meaning. It is no longer the point of survey from which the poet Athanase gazes down in pity at the dark estate of mankind, and so is not an image of contemplative wisdom isolated from the mundane. Instead, it is “the tower of middle-class birth and expensive education,” from which the poetic generation of W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice stare sidelong at society. Woolf does not say so, but we can surmise that she preferred Shelley to Auden, while realizing that she herself dwelt in the leaning tower, unlike Yeats, to whom the lonely tower remained an inevitable metaphor for poetic stance.

It is proper that “The Leaning Tower,” as a speculation upon the decline of a Romantic image into belatedness, should concern itself also with the peculiarities of poetic influence:

Theories then are dangerous things. All the same we must
risk making one this afternoon since we are going to discuss
modern tendencies. Directly we speak of tendencies or move
ments we commit ourselves to the belief that there is some
force, influence, outer pressure which is strong enough to
stamp itself upon a whole group of different writers so that
all their writing has a certain common likeness. We must
then have a theory as to what this influence is. But let us
always remember—influences are infinitely numerous; writ
ers are infinitely sensitive; each writer has a different sensi
bility. That is why literature is always changing, like the

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