The Dramatic Modern Novel: Mimesis and The Poetics of Tragedy in Mrs. Dalloway.
Woolf's experiments with narrative form long precede her reading of excerpts of Ulysses, of course, (4) and this close examination of the dramatic in Mrs. Dalloway zeroes in on one moment in a much longer time span in which she was thinking about the relationship between life and generic forms. Steven Putzel's Virginia Woolf and the Theater and a "Woolf and Literary Genre" special issue of Virginia Woolf Miscellany (Sullam and Kopley), both published in 2013, reflect recent scholarly interest in Woolf's relationship to genre. Her main subjects of study in the last years of the nineteenth-century were the classics and classical languages (Lee 141). In her notes for an early lecture, "The Dramatic in Life and Art" (1902), Woolf addresses the different relationship of thought and feeling to action in drama, fiction, and life more broadly. Her notes suggest a distinction between the drama genre and a "dramatic" quality: whereas in drama, emotion and thought are perceivable only through action or plot, "the 'dramatic' in a novel is closer to the experience of the 'liver,' Woolf claims, because 'the dramatic moments in life...come mostly from the emotions without definite action'" (qtd. in Putzel "VW and Distance," 440). S.P. Rosenbaum comments of this early writing, "Clearly she had notyet read her Aristotle" (166); indeed, Aristotle's Poetics does not appear explicitly in her reading notebooks until 1927, well after the publication of Mrs. Dalloway. Poetics is the primary point of reference, however, for Leonard Woolf's 1920 review in Athenaeum of T. S. Eliot's The Sacred Wood, so it is plausible that she would be aware of Aristotle's dramatic theories during this time, especially considering she composed Mrs. Dalloway during the span of years 1923-27 in which she was studying Greek and Elizabethan drama for essays in The Common Reader. (5) As Steven Putzel asserts, "Woolf continued to search for a way to incorporate the evocative power and the immediacy of drama in her own narratives" ("VW and Distance" 440).
One challenge for Woolf is that certain characteristics of modernity have changed the modern mind, and genre must respond accordingly. In "Poetry, Fiction and the Future" (1927), she argues that prose is the genre best suited to that mind, and she imagines in the future a new kind of novel that has "the exaltation of poetry,...the ordinariness of prose. It will be dramatic, and yet not a play. It will be read, not acted" (80), but will take advantage of "the explosive emotional effect of drama" (83-84). Here she draws a distinction between a play that is performed and a dramatic quality or effect, which can be achieved as well, or perhaps better, in the read dramatic text. Putzel explains that Woolf preferred reading a play to seeing it performed, in part because she "doubts the theater's ability to lead to full audience complicity or intellectual interaction" ("VW and Distance" 438). Moreover, the performed version necessarily departs from the solitary reader's imagination of the characters, setting, and other features, and instead imposes the authority of that staged interpretation. When "contrasting the theatrical text on stage with the dramatic text in her own mind" (438), Putzel says, Woolf prefers the reader's version to the performed one. Her trace through English literary history in "Anon" emphasizes that the unique modern moment is best served by the prose writer and the solitary reader: "That theatre must be replaced by the theatre of the brain. The playwright is replaced by the man who writes a book. The audience is replaced by the reader" (E6 599). The modern age lends itself to a shift from the communality of the theater audience to a work where the dramatic novel invites a collaboration with the reader. Mrs. Dalloway is a relatively early example of the kind of prose work that protects the autonomy of the reader's imagination--its freedom from the authority of either stage director or narrator--while still bringing life to the reader as a play can.
To suggest that Woolf reconstitutes narrative using a modified dramatic poetics is to suggest a new frame for readingMrs. Dalloway--a novel considered to be primarily interested in interiority--and to provide a broader context for the role that dramatic theory played in her changes to narrative form. The first section examines the changes that Woolf makes to narrative discourse itself, refraining what scholars already widely accept about her stream of consciousness style--that it shows rather than tells--in terms that address the degree of narrative mediation. Although, for Aristotle, direct character speech produced for the audience the greatest likeness to life, while the poet's voice had a more distancing, telling effect--tragedy is "performed by actors, not through narration" (10)--Woolf's narrative discourse navigates between the two: it offers a depth of character interiority not available in direct speech, while retaining the quality of directness, of mimetic showing, by presenting a minimally intrusive narrator. In this way, Woolf's work brings the reader into more direct relation with the experience at hand, a formal closeness that I call "narrative intimacy," which converts the isolated, passive reader of the didactic novel into a reader who privately but actively collaborates in the reading experience. (6) The emotional effect of that readerly intimacy echoes Aristotle's own investment in the emotional experience of the audience. The second section, then, builds on this echo of Aristotle by establishing that her adaptation of the classical unities of time, place and action reflects her belief in the value of formal constraints as an alternative to the often sprawling diegesis of the realist narrative. Though widely understood in expansive terms of streaming consciousness, plentiful flashbacks and readerly alienation, Mrs. Dalloway is oriented--even in its flashbacks--to the present moment (in time and place), which produces an immediacy that evokes Aristotle's unities without neatly reproducing them. Reading the novel through this lens suggests that the actions of Clarissa and the Smiths are linked with an internal logic and causality to this particular day, offering a distilled critique of dominant public narratives and celebrating the integrity of individual privacy in the story world. Woolf's mimetic economy--by which I refer to the constraints of time, place and action in Mrs. Dalloway--resists a fully satisfying closure to action; instead, the novel's end offers a paradoxical closing and reopening that reflects an interpretation of modernity in which strangers reach across lines of otherness to forge fleeting but surprisingly generative connections with one another. Thus, Woolf's engagement with the classical theory of the dramatic--in terms of narrative discourse and of constraints on time, place, and action--enables her to advance a philosophy about the integrity of the private individual that pushes against public normativity in the story world, and to imagine how the dramatic novel enables the reading audience to engage actively and intimately with the unmediated work of art.
A Narrative Intimacy
Woolf's evocation of the dramatic poetics reflects what for Aristotle are the primary distinctions between tragedy and epic: magnitude, length, and the relationship of verse-form to accessibility of action. According to Aristotle, "Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is admirable, complete and possesses magnitude; in language made pleasurable, each of its species separate in different parts; performed by actors, not through narration; effecting through pity and fear the purification of such emotions" (10). For him, this ideal drama offers a congruity of action with time, where the length of time corresponds to a unified whole plot, while an equivalent unity of place offers the most efficient presentation of action. Though Aristotle is not prescriptive about the unities of time and place--those constraints are developed and codified much later--he writes, "tragedy tries so far as possible to keep within a single day, or not to exceed it by much, whereas epic is unrestricted in time, and differs in this respect" (9). (7) The unities distill the drama's tragic content, where the audience experiences mimesis, or the closest likeness to life. For Aristotle, mimesis is a direct form that shows likeness to the audience through the dramatization of actions and direct speech of characters. By contrast, Aristotelian diegesis refers to the narrative form in which the poet's voice, by telling the story, distances the audience from the action and characters. (8) That distance lessens the emotional impact on the audience, whereas the direct presentation of mimesis--its closeness--is superior for its greater emotional effect. Unlike Plato, Aristotle valued emotion, but he also valued emotional balance, endorsing the Apollonian idea that tight form can create that balance in the audience. The most efficient and direct mimetic presentation (the dramatic immediacy) brings about the ideal emotional effect on the audience, a mix of terror and pity that leads to the pleasure evoked by the satisfying resolution. (9)
Like Aristotle, Woolf prefers a likeness to life over a distancing, telling narrative voice. Some modernist scholars refer to works like Woolf's as offering a new realism, (10) while the term "mimesis" remains a dirty word because it is equated with the diegesis that characterizes narrative realism. As an alternative, Woolf's use of dramatic theory to reframe narrative form produces mimesis of a different kind. Woolf imports the idea of likeness or closeness to life through formal efficiency, but modifies the Aristotelian relationship between form and emotion in light of modernity, effectively revising mimesis. Instead of using form to regain emotional equilibrium in service of release and closure, as Aristotle does, in Mrs. Dalloway Woolf's economy of form conveys the dynamic chaos of modern human relations, which is evident in both the action and the style of the novel. Woolf's economy of form brings the audience in close relation to the unreconciled emotions of life in the story world and beyond, and the lack of resolution troubles both the status quo and the very notion of a fixed reality that can be objectively described and upheld. In reimagining narrative as dramatic to achieve the desired impression, Woolf reclaims and revives Aristotle's concept of mimesis from its association with realist representation. (11) As opposed to a conception of the novel in which the name "mimetic realism" conceals what amounts to excessive diegesis, Woolf gravitates toward the showing effects of Aristotle's mimesis and the potential for immediacy offered by the conventions of tragedy.
The questions of what constitutes "life" or reality and in which form to produce its likeness best are, of course, intimately linked. Woolf's novel troubles the implicit association in the realist project between a content that reflects existing conditions and norms, and the diegetic narrative style that upholds the status quo by privileging an authoritative voice and its claims to present authentic reality. As her essays "Modern Fiction" (1919) and "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown" (1923) attest, Woolf seeks a narrative discourse that departs from the informing voice of the Edwardian writer who merely conveys material details upon which the reader must rely to imagine the character that might match those facts. She refers to that materialism as "the alien and external" ("Modern" 288), arguing that their "wrong" tools "have laid an enormous stress upon the fabric of things" ("Mr. Bennett" 207) in trying to "prov[e] the solidity" ("Modern" 287) of that material. (12) The inherited subject matter and practices of social realism (re)present a what--a material world, an object, character, scene, or even a transcript of the mind--and rely on a narrator to tell, preach or persuade that the what shows reality. It follows from the logic of the relationship between content and its representation that, if realism bolsters the status quo by offering a fixed and knowable version of reality, then a formal alternative to realism, one that instead emphasizes the phenomenology of experiencing, offers the potential to upset the status quo. (13) In a diary entry in 1916, Lytton Strachey articulated that phenomenology succinctly by privileging an experiential authenticity of looking "as one does look at it" and an immediacy of looking "when it happens" over the disdained inherited conventions, the "beautifying arrangements" and "selected realisms," of "Poets and Novelists" (141). Woolf's alternative to realism's material what is a hard-to-define effect, that way of experiencing that she calls "life" or "spirit," which is best described in terms of a how to verb: how to convey, how to express, how to bring closer, how to read. (14) Instead of telling about a what, Woolf's novel offers an alternative modern reality--in which the world is not materially static, tragedy is neither sad nor public, and the private experience is honored--in an alternative narrative form that is informed by dramatic directness and therefore conveys the reality--the experience--of experiencing (a how, as both verb and noun) to the reader. Stephen Kern calls it "dramatiz[ing] the phenomenology of encounter" (Culture of Love 50).
The notion of how is therefore bound up with the effect of inherited genres and formal innovation on the reader, and, more specifically, how directly or closely the form brings the reader to experiencing the life of the work. Strachey cried out hopefully for the modern novel "To come close to life!" (141), but the novel form that Woolf has inherited is the easiest and least concentrated form to write--it can be taken up and put down more easily than a play or poetry, (15) she claims, and it benefits from assuming its audience to be a quiet, careful reader and re-reader ("On Not Knowing Greek" 31). It is therefore insufficiently rigorous, by formalist standards, compared to the tighter and more direct dramatic form where "every sentence had to explode on striking the ear" (31). The constraint of form produces that explosive, or dramatic, effect. Bowen's praise of Woolf's "dramatic Now" emphasized that the dramatic comes precisely from closeness, that is, from "things... happening close to each other." Woolf notes a praiseworthy negotiation of closeness and distance in Greek dramatist Aeschylus's work: "By the bold and running use of metaphor he will amplify and give us, not the thing itself, but the reverberation and reflection which, taken into his mind, the thing has made; close enough to the original to illustrate it, remote enough to heighten, enlarge, and make splendid" ("On Not Knowing Greek" 31). "[T]he thing itself'--a re-presentation of a what--is distinct from the impact (how) of its "reverberation and reflection" on the reader's mind, and Aeschylus's success lies in his ability to balance the closeness needed for illustration with the distance that enables dramatization, i.e., the spectacle of "mak[ing it] splendid." For Woolf, the closer the reader to the experience, the more affected, and she sought any form that would enable that closeness. "Any method is right," she writes in "Modern Fiction," "that brings us closer to the novelist's intention if we are readers. This method has the merit of bringing us closer to what we were prepared to call life itself (289). The closeness achieved in narrative through dramatic directness produces narrative intimacy.
Dramatic mimesis offers the audience the most direct, close access because, for Aristotle, it is "performed by actors, not through narration" (10); action conveyed directly, rather than mediated (and therefore distanced) by a narrator, offers the best likeness. As Aristotle said of dramatic verse-form of both tragedy and good epics, "[t]he poet in person should say as little as possible" (41). For Woolf to rely only on character speech, however, would achieve directness but would sacrifice the breadth of information about thoughts and emotions that come with interiority but are often narrated diegetically. Spare fiction like Ernest Hemingway's is arguably the least mediated kind of fiction--and therefore most like drama--because it privileges character speech and reduces the narrator's role to attributions and minimal story world details. Woolf's narrative discourse, by contrast, offers a more complex, multilayered and far more intimate experience that includes character interiority while still reducing the telling voice of the narrator. In this way, her style navigates between the formal choices of direct speech and direct poet statement. She develops the least intrusive and least mediated form of narration, such that the narrator recedes from the reader's consciousness. (16) The relation of the narrator's mediation to the reader's closeness to the story world is therefore an inverse one: that is, the more explicitly self-conscious or overt the narrator, the more mediated the experience, whereas the more covert the narrator, the closer or more immediate the reader is to the text. Instead of just passively receiving information, the reader is affected directly, unencumbered by any imposition of authority from the narrator, much as Woolf imagines the reader of the drama to be free from the authority imposed on the live audience of a staged production. Molly Hite describes this change to the narrator as arising from a "calculated refusing or perplexing of authoritative directions" that denies readers the ability "to assign what they perceive to be authorially sanctioned feelings and thus values to the main events and characters" (250).
On the page, Woolf's alternative form includes the direct "speech" of interiority (the spare style known to critics and readers as interior monologue, stream of consciousness, or free indirect discourse) but offers it as part of a blend of discourses--a variable focalization--that reduces the intrusiveness of narrative mediation. Such focalization can be seen on the page throughout Mrs. Dalloway, and it is characterized by the indistinct shifts between free indirect discourse, character focalization, and minimal external focalization (the latter of which conveys attribution, physical actions and movement in the story world). The following passage (from Clarissa and Peter's reunion in Mrs. Dalloway) exemplifies this intimate discourse throughout the novel, juxtaposing narrative tags (in regular font) with direct speech (in italics) and direct thought (quoted "speech" in thoughts, underlined and in italics), indirect speech (bold and in italics), and free indirect discourse (in bold, with speech patterns particular to certain characters also underlined) (17):
She flattered him; she fooled him, thought Clarissa; shaping the woman, the wife of the Major in the Indian Army, with three strokes of a knife. What a waste! What a folly! All his life long Peter had been fooled like that; first getting sent down from Oxford; next marrying the girl on the boat going out to India; now the wife of a Major in the Indian Army--thank Heaven she had refused to marry him! Still, he was in love; her old friend, her dear Peter, he was in love. "But what are you going to do?" she asked him. Oh the lawyers and solicitors, Messrs. Hooper and Grateley of Lincoln's Inn, they were going to do it, he said And he actually pared his nails with his pocket-knife. For Heaven's sake, leave your knife alone! she cried to herself in irrepressible irritation; it was his silly unconventionalitv. his weakness: his lack of the ghost of a notion what any one else was feeling that annoyed her, had always annoyed her: and now at his age, how silly! I know all that. Peter thought; I know what I'm up against, he thought, running his finger along the blade of his knife, Clarissa and Dalloway and all the rest of them: but I'll show Clarissa--and then to his utter surprise, suddenly thrown by those uncontrollable forces thrown through the air, he burst into tears; wept; wept without the least shame, sitting on the sofa, the tears running down his cheeks. (45)
The direct speech is dwarfed by the complex, multiple features that make up what might qualify as Aristotelian narration or poet's voice. The fluid and unmediated movement between direct speech, indirect speech, and free indirect discourse expands the levels of consciousness, the methods of communication, and the waves of emotion. The moderately-revealing snippets of speech and thought are augmented by the speech patterns, or expressivity markers, of particular focalizers--Clarissa and Peter--within free indirect discourse: Clarissa's markers include (a) exclamations about waste and folly, (b) the formulaic locution of "thank Heaven" and "lack of the ghost of a notion," and (c) the evaluative appraisals implicit in "silly," "weakness," and the shocked, "he actually pared his nails." (18) Likewise, Peter's expressivity markers appear in his "utter surprise," while his emotional state can be seen in the repetition of the word "thrown" amidst the "suddenness," "uncontrollable" and "burst." In episodes such as this one, the complexity conveys an intersubjective communication, where one character's indirect thoughts accurately respond to those indirect thoughts of another, as when Peter's thoughts respond to Clarissa's own as if part of a dialogue (19):
"But he never liked any one who--our friends," said Clarissa; and could have bitten her tongue for thus reminding Peter that he had wanted to marry her. Of course I did, thought Peter; it almost broke my heart too, he thought; and was overcome with his own grief... (41)
This style offers the greatest degree of access to both interior and exterior expression using the least explicitly diegetic form of narration. The variable form therefore conveys the characters' compatibility or connectivity at a psychic level despite their feeling disconnected and lonely at conscious and social levels. This example demonstrates how dramatizing immediate subjective experience (rather than narrating it diegetically) produces a close narrative intimacy, between the reader and the scene. The reader is not merely audience to the experience, but actually an active participant in his or her own understanding of the complex relations in the story world. (20)
Woolf's adaptation of a dramatic poetics--in its narrative discourse and, as we will see, its mimetic economy--converts the isolated novel reader, who passively receives information from the explicit, telling narrator, into an active participant in meaning-making. "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown" expresses the writer's obligation to produce a recognizable likeness as part of an intimately reciprocal contractual relationship with the reader: "The writer must get into touch with his reader by putting before him something which he recognizes, which therefore stimulates his imagination, and makes him willing to co-operate in the far more difficult business of intimacy" (206). Her modernist novel is neither a fixed object nor representing a fixed reality--nor idealizing formal or social stability--but rather offers a way of experiencing that comes from the difficulty of accessing or becoming familiar with the text and its world. That difficulty falls to the reader who must actively engage with Woolf's dynamic mimesis. (21) Vicki Mahaffey has argued that modernist literature challenges the implied contract between author and reader that presumes the author has the responsibility and authority for meaning-production, "forcing readers to face and make interpretive choices that narrators used to make for them, and it also helps readers to come to terms with the meaning of those choices. Modernist literature erodes the sharp distinction between writer and reader, and in so doing presents readers with interpretive ethical dilemmas" (7). In contrast to a narrative style in which excessive mediation distances the reader by telling, and thus forcing, what the understanding should be, in Mrs. Dalloway Woolf's modified dramatic narrative style livens form, conveying a strategy rather than a focus on content. Woolf's formal constraints generate an intimate exchange between reader and text: just as the narrator (or poet) does not hand meaning to a reader, neither does the reader actively wrest meaning from the text. The reader and text share a push/pull relationship, where familiarity comes from letting, or cooperating, rather than trying. Mrs. Dalloway offers a far more immediate, interactive conception of the way the written work conveys than that which relies on information from an intrusive narrator.
The irony of this familiarity is that its directness does not promise fixed or explicit meaning. On the contrary, the style can be off-putting because its scarcity of mediation makes it difficult to read; as Mahaffey argues, "such literature forces readers to face and make interpretive choices that narrators used to make for them" (7). Woolf's aim to make an impression or retain "the quality of a sketch in a finished and composed work" (D2 312) accounts for the dearth of orienting information in Mrs. Dalloway. Instead of describing London and its landscape for the passive reader to see, Woolf offers a place where the universal experience of living is nevertheless rooted, and to know it the reader must bring it into him or herself, as an audience member might emotionally experience the immediacy of action onstage. To name this or that encounter between two people is to evoke not a particular meeting in 1923 London but rather a sense of familiarity, the feeling of meeting or even knowing someone--anyone. In this way the novel privileges the reader's individual relationship to the work over a fixed meaning; as we will see in the analysis of the mimetic economy, the action of the novel celebrates a similar individual privacy for characters over normative public narratives. The encounter Woolf might have in mind, or any particular association in the reader's mind, is immaterial to the feeling of familiarity evoked, a feeling that is unconscious yet enabled by the immediacy of form. Bowen refers to this as a "general imaginative truth, about life, about experience, about human persons" which gives certain novels their durability over time: "A novel which survives, which withstands and outlives time, does do something more than merely survive. It does not stand still. It accumulates round itself the understanding of all these persons who bring to it something of their own. It acquires associations, it becomes a form of experience in itself' (141-42). Woolf's narrative intimacy assumes, creates, and relies on this "form of experience," privileging it over any question of the artist's message, the narrator's control, or the reader's comfort. This formal defamiliarization might seem, to critics or readers deterred by stylistic difficulty, like a cynical or elitist choice on Woolf's part. Paradoxically, however, that defamiliarization produces an intimate familiarity in the reader who is willing to let the unmediated narrative act on her or him. Thus Woolf's adaptation of the dramatic form produces for the private reader of the novel a sense of intimacy and emotional stakes historically experienced by the public, collective audience of the theater.
A Mimetic Economy: Time, Place and Action
In Mrs. Dalloway, the economies of time, place, and action serve as constraints whose effects compound each other, and have a causal relationship to Woolf's experiments with narrative discourse. Some scholars have addressed Mrs. Dalloway as a novel of one day, and the prevailing interpretation is that the day simply offers a slice of life. Laura Marcus, who argues that the one-day novel is characteristically modernist, draws her conclusion in part from Woolf's proposal in "Modern Fiction" to examine "an ordinary mind on an ordinary day" (287), while Joseph Frank considers Bloomsday of James Joyce's one-day novel to be "a typical Dublin day" (233). (22) The words "ordinary" and "typical" suggest the length of time is significant as a microview of the macrolife, implying any such day would do. When considered with place and action, however, the single day actually serves an essential constraining function that brings the audience closer to the experience by contributing to the impression of a play. Aristotle refers to the productive constraints of time and place as 'concentrations,' saying, "the end of imitation is attained in shorter length; what is more concentrated is more pleasant than what is watered down by being extended in time" (47). No one would argue that everything in Mrs. Dalloway could be contained in audience memory, but neither is it "watered down by being extended in time"--on the contrary, the concise limitation of time to one day is directly related to the economy of action that echoes Aristotle's mimetic ideal.
Moreover, in Mrs. Dalloway, time and place operate together to establish this dramatic mimesis; that is, the concentrating effect of compressed time is more significant when compounded with the unity of place--the confinement of the action to London's city center--just as the action legitimates the setting on one day. (23) Though Erich Auerbach argues persuasively that, in modernist novels, objective reality sometimes disappears--in a way that a stage never does--when characters mentally travel over years in time and distances in space not covered physically in the story world, Mrs. Dalloway maintains a sense of rootedness in physical space, even during flashbacks. (24) Inher diary entry forOctober 15, 1923, Woolf herself uses a spatial metaphor--"my tunneling process"--to describe her method of "tell[ing] the past by instalments, as I have need of it" (D2 272). The unity expressed by the confinement to London's city center is exemplified by the events experienced by multiple individuals, such as the exploding tire of the motor car (13-19) and the airplane overhead, as well as the shared impulses to glean the identity of the car's passenger, or the message in the airplane's smoke (19-28). (25) According to Aristotle, such simultaneities are features specifically of the narrative epic, enabled by its particular discourse, but in Woolf's poetics they also indicate spatial proximity, as the actions are confined to an immediate area. Bowen describes the exploding tire scene in Mrs. Dalloway as "an extraordinary drawing together in the moment, in the actuality of the Now, of the fortunes and the thoughts and the destinies of persons who gradually we are to follow as the day and the book goes on" (138). Though David Bradshaw rightly reads these instances of shared experience as examples of collectivity and communality in Mrs. Dalloway ("Introduction" xli), they also reveal the compact city space covered by the novel's action.
Woolf achieves such concision of space by the "staging" of characters' bodies, akin to actors in a play. Though for Aristotle the staging is literal--"the imitation is performed by actors" (10)--he notes that it does not have to be performed: tragedy's effect can come just from reading (47). Woolf preferred the solitary reading of a play over seeing it performed, not least because as an audience member at a live performance, she was subject to the authority of the performed interpretation (seen in the direction, casting, acting, costuming, setting, etc.) which supplanted whatever she, as a reader, might have imagined it to look like. In Mrs. Dalloway, the staging is less literal, enacted through the characters' consciousness of their own bodies and the narrative presentation of those bodies in space. The novel never loses sight of the physicality of its "actors" for very long; even during narrative forays into interiority, Clarissa retains a consciousness of her body, for example, when reflecting that "since her illness she had turned almost white" (36), and when going up to her room: "she knew, and felt it, as she paused by the open staircase window which let in blinds flapping, dogs barking, let in, she thought, feeling herself suddenly shriveled, aged, breastless, the grinding, blowing, flowering of the day, out of doors, out of the window, out of her body and brain which now failed" (30). (26) The novel stages the city's "body" by regularly reorienting the reader to physical space and consistently coordinating characters' physical location such that their movement enables verisimilar mapping; for example, during Clarissa's morning walk to the florist's, the narrative follows her from the "kerb" in Westminster (4), entering and passing through St. James's Park (5-8), to Piccadilly (8), "walking towards Bond Street" (9) and finally up Bond Street to "Mulberry's the florists" (12). A similar type of orientation could be claimed for the passage that follows Elizabeth, first on the omnibus and then walking, from Victoria Street to Chancery Lane, in the Temple, looking up Fleet Street (131-36). The intersections of characters' paths also attest to the compactness of the staged area of the city. When Peter receives a letter from Clarissa upon his return to the hotel (after having met her just seven hours before), his surprise at how quickly the letter has reached him--registered in exclamatory punctuation that conveys his discovery in real time: "Oh it was a letter from her! This blue envelope; that was her hand. And he would have to read it" (151)--demonstrates how much time has passed and how little space had to be covered for the letter to reach him by 6:00 pm. This mimetic treatment of London, where Woolf uses meticulous mapping to produce an accuracy of place in terms of walking time, (27) creates verisimilitude that equates more with dramatic staging than with the mimetic realism of a novel. The London that Woolf maps in the novel matches the London--the place itself--that she and her contemporaries would have known, lending credibility through the treatment of time and space to allow a reader to imagine those bodies moving.
Moreover, when that verisimilitude offers the spatial distance covered by characters, it also conveys the experience of walking in London. The narrative expresses the focalizer's sense of his or her body moving through space--blocking--which also maps the city, as references to everyday landmarks of London trace the character's physical movement. (28) The link between movement through space and passage of time, combined with the plausible connection of embodied focal shifts through a physical property--such as the sound of a siren or the sight of a car, airplane, or person--lays out the blocking of the novel's actors and attests to the rootedness of the focalizers in space. When the focalization shifts in Regent's Park between the Smiths, Maisie, and Mrs. Dempster--all strangers to each other, as indicated by their use of pronouns and impersonal descriptors in their references--their physical proximity in space locates them within each other's line of sight: the focalization shifts from a conversation between Rezia and Septimus to "Both seemed queer, Maisie Johnson thought. Everything seemed very queer.... this couple on the chairs gave her quite a turn; the young woman seeming foreign, the man looking queer" (25). Then, on the next page, it shifts again from Maisie to the nearby Mrs. Dempster: "That girl, thought Mrs. Dempster...don't know a thing yet" (26). The line of sight that connects them, indicated by the definite articles "this" and "that" (as in "this couple" or "that girl"), legitimates the focal shift between them, as if there were a camera handed off from one character to the next. Like a line of sight, the sound of an ambulance connects the scene of Septimus's suicide to Peter nearby, attesting to their spatial closeness: "One of the triumphs of civilization, Peter Walsh thought. It is one of the triumphs of civilization, as the light high bell of the ambulance sounded. Swiftly, clearly the ambulance sped to the hospital,...the light high bell could be heard down the next street and still farther as it crossed the Tottenham Court Road" (147-48). That spatial closeness is also evident in the time-space congruity when Peter then walks from the Bloomsbury district to Clarissa's house for the party: "Bedford Place leading into Russell Square...and Whitehall...And here in Westminster...it was her street, this, Clarissa's" (159-60). That movement can be imaginatively mapped by a reader familiar with London, and because of the time-space congruity, that mapping does not require the readerly suspension of disbelief needed for a work covering long stretches of time or distances in space. While a realist novel might describe a character's experience at relatively great length (i.e. lots of page time), Woolf's mimetic tracing of Clarissa's, Peter's, Richard's, or Elizabeth's movements often observes a congruity between page time (in the text) and walking time (in the story world), (29) as if the timing and blocking are simply transferred onto the page of the novel. Certainly this congruity cannot be claimed for all parts of the novel; for example, during the scene in which Peter and Clarissa first reunite, the dilation of interior focalizations lengthens the page time of what would in real time be a much briefer interaction (39-47). In other parts, however, story world time equals page time (what narrative theorists call "story"), and space could be measured out in the time it takes to read. Words on the page create the space to imagine the body's movement through it. The constraints of time and place, and especially the congruity between them, produce a verisimilitude that allows the reader to envision the layout of the landscape (staging) and the characters' movements (blocking) without overt narrative mediation. In this way, the reader is freer in its experience of the work than a theater audience would be: a staged play must be confined to a space in which the audience can literally see the actors, and that audience is subject to the authority of a directorial interpretation. By contrast, the constraints on the world of the novel and its attendant verisimilitude lend it credibility--a body could move that distance in that amount of time--enabling the reader to experience a plausible likeness to life without what Woolf saw as potential drawbacks of live theater.
The congruity of time passage and movement through space establishes a dramatic mimesis that also operates in conjunction with an economy of action. For Aristotle, action was the most important and complex--if also the defining--component of tragedy: "Tragedy is not an imitation of person, but of actions and of life...So the events, i.e. the plot, are what tragedy is there for, and that is the most important thing of all" (11). Woolf's action is no less complex and, indeed, more subtle, given her expressed resistance to the "unscrupulous tyrant" who would insist she "provide a plot" ("Modern" 287). The Aristotelian unity of action (or plot) begins with the hero's error of ignorance (hamartia), which leads to a change of fortune from good to bad that is manifest in suffering (pathos) within the family (or philos) relation, where the suffering is arguably most pitiable because of the familial affinity (23). The plot is unified in that each of the actions proceeds in a necessary and probable order, leading--in a complex plot--to a reversal (peripeteia, where the hero expects one thing but circumstances prove otherwise) and a recognition (anagnorisis, a change from ignorance to knowledge) that, at the end, "effect through pity and fear the purification [katharsis] of such emotions" (Aristotle 10). In Woolf's version, not all events in the novel contribute to a classical unity of action, as interior digressions seem to make the novel endlessly inclusive. (30) Reading Woolf's novel through an Aristotelian lens, however, highlights particular events whose accumulated significance develops a complex action, which in turn establishes the significance of this day, the June day of Clarissa's party and of Septimus's suicide, as more than just a slice of everyday life. Aristotle wrote, "As for the art of imitation in narrative verse, it is clear that the plots ought (as in tragedy) to be constructed dramatically" (38); Woolf's use of restricted form, such as the constraint of the single day, constructs the narrative dramatically. (31) Moving away from the single hero, Mrs. Dalloway reflects a life that is particular to modernity and reframes Aristotle's cathartic resolution as a dualism, while adapting and complicating the classical emphasis on suffering in the philos relation by giving the acquaintance or stranger a fundamental role in bringing about recognition.
The crucial events occur in the storylines of Septimus and Clarissa who, like the classical tragic hero, balance virtue with weakness, and the events in both storylines develop the action in the following way: the choice to conform to a conventional Britishness (with attendant norms of social convention, gender performance, and nationalist feeling) leads to a change of fortune for each which can be seen in suffering within close relationships, while the reversals and recognitions take place, unusually, in relation to the stranger or other. This action advances a theory of the dignity of individual privacy and of death as a legitimate expression of that privacy, in contrast to a life based in public performance according to social convention. (32) Berman argues that this development in the private sphere has important implications for the politics of the public sphere: "Woolf's attention to the intricate significance of human relationships presents a model of ethics that is built upon intimacy rather than radical alterity, and that ultimately changes the way we view the politics of the public sphere" (" Woolf and Private Sphere" 467). Though Septimus and Clarissa navigate the story world separately, the convergence of their storylines contributes directly to Clarissa's recognition, which in turn echoes and revises Septimus's own recognition forty pages earlier: in light of an inauthentic life defined by social convention, death is not a disaster to fear or regret. (33) Woolf's economy of action thus frames the tragic, emotionally and philosophically, in modern terms.
The hamartia for both Septimus and Clarissa centers around the erroneous but common belief in implied narratives about the necessity of living according to conventional behaviors. As a result, they make personal choices--made before the day on which the novel is set but that reverberate through the day's events--based on a public sense of nationalism that is inextricably bound up with gender performance. That nationalism that leads Septimus to volunteer for the war and then marry impulsively during the panic of a postwar lack of feeling ("he became engaged one evening when the panic was on him-that he could not feel" 85) stems from a culturally English manhood that is fashioned from his aesthetic sensibility--particularly, his love of Shakespeare's work--and his connection with a woman, his teacher, Miss Isabel Pole: "Septimus was one of the first to volunteer. He went to France to save an England which consisted almost entirely of Shakespeare's plays and Miss Isabel Pole in a green dress walking in a square" (84). The personal, particular associations lead him to identify with a generalized public ideology and subsequently to make life-altering decisions based on that identification, with disastrous consequences. He later most acutely experiences suffering and, on this day, a reversal and recognition in a scene that combines his artistic sensibility with another woman: his wife, Rezia. Similarly, in marrying Richard, Clarissa effectively chooses the conventional path for the upper middle class British woman, which promises the security of the known over other, less certain paths (to "love" with Peter, or to experience the exquisite, though momentary, "turn[ing] upside down" of the whole world with Sally 35). Though that choice reflects her fear of pushing the boundaries of expectation, born of a narrative equating social convention with personal comfort, it also lays the groundwork for her burgeoning reverence for individual integrity and privacy in the face of death. On this day, the time spent in her room resting because of her illness from influenza (30-37) introduces her to the value of privacy--not just of one's room but also of one's routines and thoughts--and the right not to have to face conversion to love, to religion, or to any set of prescribed behaviors or narratives (123-24; see fuller treatment of the quotation on pages 124-25). Clarissa's private philosophy means accepting and appreciating others as they are, rather than forcing conformity. This honoring of the other's experience effectively prepares the reader for Septimus's suicide. Though Septimus errs because of his true ignorance in equating the personal with the national, while Clarissa errs by more consciously electing a conventional path she nevertheless genuinely believes that social convention is valuable for providing security, and therefore both of these heroes make a choice out of ignorance that begins the Aristotelian action.
The events on this day establish the falseness and insufficiency of the public narratives that contribute to their choices to serve in public roles; the resulting change of fortune produces suffering--for Aristotle, "an action that involves destruction or pain" (19)--in the familial relations for both Septimus and Clarissa. For the Smiths, for example, the Regents Park scenes reveal that Septimus's aesthetic sensibility has been reduced to a publicly visible, and therefore shameful, expression of insanity: "It is I who am blocking the way, he thought. Was he not being looked at and pointed at; was he not weighted there, rooted to the pavement, for a purpose? But for what purpose?" (15). Those park scenes demonstrate the tension between the privacy of the individual mind and the social pressure of public visibility; Rezia worries, for example, that "People must notice; people must see" (15). That same tension surfaces with the doctors' conflicting treatment suggestions for Septimus's condition: Bradshaw prescribes isolated rest in one of "my homes" (95), while Holmes suggests he "take an interest in things outside himself' (21). The inability to reconcile public expectation with Septimus's private experience produces the greatest suffering between Septimus and Rezia.
As a result of her own conventional choices, Clarissa similarly suffers in several close relationships over the course of the day, during events that underscore the inauthenticity of a life based on a public role and that culminate significantly in her party. As we have seen, her encounter with Peter reveals the congruency between them of which neither is aware--shown in their focalized thoughts rather than told by an external focalizer--while at the same time it exposes their miscommunication, and thus implies a missed opportunity for connection between them, foreclosed upon initially by her marriage and, more immediately, by their emotional withholding from each other (39-47). Richard's judgments about gifts for Clarissa reveal a seemingly harmless gap in his knowledge of her: he decides not to buy jewelry because he "did not trust his taste in gold," i.e. she did not wear the bracelet that he chose for her last time (111-12). His choice to buy flowers instead, however, suggests a misunderstanding of her in a different way; after all, she said (to Lucy) "she would buy the flowers herself' (3), and therefore his gift is not only redundant but also misses that small but significant assertion of independence that begins the novel. Together with the fact that he does not follow through with his intention to tell her he loves her (the novel repeats a version of "he could not bring himself to say he loved her; not in so many words" three times 115, 116), the gift suggests that the marriage she chose is no more connected or symbiotic than her relationship with Peter is or likely would have been; Peter himself thinks their marriage would not have been successful (152). Since both Peter and Richard "criticised her very unfairly, laughed at her very unjustly, for her parties" (118), these two encounters reveal the degree to which her relationships even with men who love her are characterized by disconnection and criticism. Meanwhile her encounters with Miss Kilman and Elizabeth and, later at the party, with Sally, recall the other love--between women--also foreclosed upon by her conventional choice. Each of these events hints at the discontent and loneliness that can come from making decisions based on the projection of a public self.
As elements of Woolf's version of Aristotelian action, those events also anticipate the revelations that occur at the party: despite the expectation that a conventional version of life would bring a sense of success, thoughts and conversations during the party reveal that, in the time since Clarissa's decision to marry, Richard, Peter, and Sally have all made decisions that diverged from their earlier plans and even foreclosed on certain desired possibilities. Richard has never gained a position in the Cabinet (so note Lady Bruton 175, and Sally 182). Peter has, Clarissa thinks, "never done a thing they had talked of; his whole life had been a failure" (8); he has no wife, no children and never became a writer (175, 183, 185, 187). For her part, Sally has become wealthy by marrying, an action she likely would not, in her youth, have considered taking, and of which she suspects Clarissa subtly disapproves (183, 185). Clarissa's square look at her own fear of social failure--that is, that the party will be "a complete failure" (163)--introduces an important irony: the success of the party by social standards ultimately becomes a form of personal infidelity, because it is a public, rather than private, success. The suffering Septimus and Clarissa each experience in their relationships has its roots in the inauthenticity of adhering to a public standard, and in the discrepancy between public performance and both protagonists' private impulses.
The reversals and recognitions in both storylines, which for Aristotle make the plot complex, constitute the culmination of the economy of action and also reflect changes particular to the modern age. The peripeteia for Septimus and Clarissa, where they expect one thing but circumstances prove otherwise, demonstrates the inadequacy of public narratives and the value of death as a private experience that offers possibility. Indeed, in the discrepancy between public life and the individual private life lies the potential for resolution or a change of fortune back to the good. Against the backdrop of their suffering in the personal realm--the philos, particularly spousal, relationships--both Septimus's and Clarissa's realizations are brought about by acquaintances or strangers, achieved when they reach beyond the modern, atomized self to care about, acknowledge, and honor difference and otherness. In these encounters, they experience unexpected versions of identification and reciprocity that transform them. Septimus's transformative encounter is with his wife who is distanced from him both because of his mental illness and because of her outsider status as a foreigner. After several scenes in which the couple clearly experiences suffering (the word "suffer" even appears when Rezia is focalizer ) and they have been unable to bridge their differences--Septimus too engulfed in his irrational fantasies and paranoia, Rezia too rational to comprehend and too preoccupied by how they are perceived by others--their final scene together presents a brief return to pre-shellshock normalcy for them and, for him, to rationality. Therein lies the heart of the reversal in this storyline: Septimus and Rezia both imagine that the rational can save him, and in a way, it does, but not as they expect. While in their flat, Septimus applies his intact reason ("he could add up his bill; his brain was perfect" ) to think his way out of madness by perceiving objects and rooting himself in the sensory, real world: "he looked at the sideboard; the plate of bananas; the engraving of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort; at the mantelpiece, with the jar of roses. None of these things moved. All were still; all were real" (138-39). His lucidity restores his connection with Rezia, who has in the past consistently defended his creative work--his "diagrams, designs" (144), "Some things were very beautiful; others sheer nonsense" (137)--from his own impulse to destroy them. In this final scene, seeing a return to his rational self, she engages his artistic sensibility through hat-making (141), herfamily's creative vocation in Milan, which brings them together as a fortification against the doctors who might separate them: "Even if they took him, she said, she would go with him. They could not separate them against their wills, she said" (144). Though Septimus begins to see his connection to reality fade--"directly he saw nothing the sounds of the game became fainter and stranger and sounded like the cries of people seeking and not finding, and passing further and further away. They had lost him!...That was it: to be alone forever" (141-42)--he now knows he is not alone: "no one could separate them, she said" (145). His fleeting rationality thus dissolves their previous isolation from one another and their connection restores his prewar, feeling sense of self that first associated a guiding female figure (Isabel Pole) with literature (Shakespeare) and motivated the sense of nationalism that led him to volunteer. In these last minutes of his life, Rezia becomes that guiding figure and, by preserving his aesthetic sensibility and honoring his particular condition, she connects with him as his unique self rather than as a psychically damaged soldier, a husband, or an Englishman. As Septimus thinks, "She was a flowering tree; and through her branches looked out the face of a lawgiver, who had reached a sanctuary where she feared no one; not Holmes; not Bradshaw; a miracle, a triumph, the last and greatest....Over them she triumphed" (144-45). In this way, Rezia ushers in his movement from ignorance to knowledge, a form of Aristotelian anagnorisis, from the terrible feeling of being alone to having her on his side of beauty and truth.
In the Smiths' storyline, Woolf brings the satisfying, righteous death of tragedy to bear on the particularly modern circumstances of shellshock and suicide. That the rational Septimus chooses death by suicide revises the expectation that a return to rationality signals a return to sanity and a rescue from his insane death wish. The end of the scene reveals, however, that rationality actually enables him to choose death. Rather than saving him from death then, rationality makes his death righteous, in the tragic sense. This scene and the Smiths' relationship offer, therefore, a rereading of public narratives about death and suicide that, as we will see, anticipates Clarissa's own reflections at the end of the novel. (34) Even in his rational consideration of his options for committing suicide, Septimus himself recognizes his actions as participating in the tragic genre: "There remained only the window, the large Bloomsbury-lodging house window, the tiresome, the troublesome, and rather melodramatic business of opening the window and throwing himself out. It was their idea of tragedy, not his or Rezia's (for she was with him)" (145-46). He identifies but does not buy into a melodramatic notion of tragedy, though--or perhaps because--"He did not want to die. Life was good" (146). Septimus's consideration defies rational thought about the opposition between life and death; even his exact reasons for throwing himself out of the window remain private (from the reader as from those around him), an assertion both of his individuality and his unconditional connection with Rezia, who "was with him." Rezia herself preserves the significance of his death as a personal choice; her response when standing by him, even after death, underscores her acceptance: '"He is dead,' she said, smiling at the poor old woman who guarded her" (147). His suicide, and her acceptance of it, are markers of their togetherness, signaling anagnorisis, the movement from ignorance toward the knowledge that their fundamental connection is cemented by, and ongoing after, his death. Furthermore, death is a private, rational choice and an assertion of individuality rather than, as public narratives and genre dictate, the sad, selfish, isolated and cowardly act of a madman (the latter judgment expressed so clearly by Dr. Holmes, who calls Septimus "The coward!" 146). In the context of Aristotelian tragedy, Septimus's death arguably constitutes an ending that is both pitiable and righteous, since it is the culmination of the causal development of action and, though a suicidal death, is framed as restorative and affirming. This event denies Aristotelian closure, however, because Septimus's personal end is not the novel's end, and the Smiths' storyline is also significant for Clarissa's storyline: the resolution of the Smiths' storyline--where normalizing public narratives give way to an appreciation of privacy that comes from the eradication of difference and distance between the couple--anticipates Clarissa's own reading of suicide and death.
The importance of the Smiths' storyline for Clarissa lies in honoring individual autonomy: just as the events of the day lead Septimus and Rezia to personal redemption when they turn away from public expectations, so do the events in Clarissa's plotline lead her to realize the inadequacy of the social conventions on which she has based her own decisions and expectations. In her own version of peripeteia, she expects to find meaning throughout the day in her existing relationships--with Hugh, Peter, Richard, Elizabeth--and in the public social setting of her party, but her moments of greatest identification and empathy occur when she connects as a private individual rather than a public figure with the unfamiliar other. The identification with strangers--as Clarissa thinks, the "Odd affinities she had with people she had never spoken to" (152-53)--departs from Aristotle's assertion that the most pitiable suffering occurs in close, usually familial, relations. He notes that, between enemies, "there is nothing pitiable either in the action itself or in its imminence, except in respect of the actual suffering itself. Likewise with neutrals" (23). Woolf offers a set of interactions where the parties are neither enemies nor family, but not neutral, either; their affinity stems from a mix of proximity and sympathy in the modern city. Thus, Mrs. Dalloway conveys an experience of modernity in which traditional bonds based on shared nationality, nationalism, religion, social status, and even domestic space no longer necessarily connect individuals, leaving them unmoored. Both storylines, together, address the problem of isolation in modernity, especially in the face of a normalizing public context. The alternative connection between strangers is enabled in the crowded modern metropolis by relative anonymity, manifest for Clarissa in a "privacy of the soul" (124). (35) Though the resulting atomization could be read as a sad paradox--that the only thing shared is a sense of isolation--Clarissa's experience especially at the end of the novel implies the opposite: it is precisely that shared sense of isolation and those common everyday experiences, routines, familiar objects and physical details of place that generate intimate identification. Clarissa even goes so far as to frame marriage in terms of honoring the separateness of two individuals: "And there is a dignity in people; a solitude; evenbetween husband and wife a gulf; and that one must respect, thought Clarissa, watching him open the door; for one would not part with it oneself, or take it, against his will, from one's husband, without losing one's independence, one's self-respect--something, after all, priceless" (117). The emotional effect of experiencing this kind of connection while retaining autonomy is distinct from that in Aristotle's poetics (which emphasizes the philos relation): for Clarissa, familiar identification with the unknown other produces an affinity between strangers, a more extreme version of the Smiths' overcoming differences. That connection calls attention to the value of individual privacy and thereby writes against public sameness, reaching across lines of otherness. (36)
This intimate identification, which leads for Clarissa to her anagnorisis about the privacy of death, becomes clearest in the passages in which she is, significantly, alone and away from the party, when she observes the unknown neighbor's exercise of individual privacy (123-24, 181-82) and unexpectedly learns of Septimus's suicide. During her initial observation, when the old lady is unconscious of being watched, Clarissa concludes,
Had she ever tried to convert any one herself? Did she not wish everybody merely to be themselves? And she watched out of the window the old lady opposite climbing upstairs. Let her climb upstairs if she wanted to; let her stop; then let her, as Clarissa had often seen her, gain her bedroom, part her curtains, and disappear again into the background. Somehow one respected that--that old woman looking out of the window, quite unconscious that she was being watched. There was something solemn in it--but love and religion would destroy that, whatever it was, the privacy of the soul. (123-24)
This passage fleshes out a cooperative and non-intrusive interchange, where the neighbor is solemn in her activities as she is merely "being herself," unconscious of being watched. For her part, Clarissa identifies herself with verbs such as "respect" and "let" as opposed to "convert," where as a watcher she does not try to control, possess, or judge the individual before her. This connection is reaffirmed by the significant fact that Clarissa's recognitions occur while she is in a private room separate from her party, even though, in a classical plot, the crucial event of the action would be the party itself. Instead, Mrs. Dalloway offers a form of closure through enclosure that is also, ironically, an opening up. Plagued as she has been all day by a fear of death and a nagging awareness of oppressive social conventions and public narratives about love and religion, the news of Septimus's death initiates her private reflection. In this way, his storyline contributes centrally to her recognition, while the inverse is also true: Clarissa's ultimate recognition frames Septimus's story as he would have seen it, articulating how to read his ending outside of conventional understandings of suicide, which would reduce Septimus to a sacrificial figure. Just as he reflected, "It was their idea of tragedy, not his or Rezia's" (146), so does Clarissa believe that Septimus's death is not sad:
A thing there was that mattered; a thing, wreathed about with chatter, defaced, obscured in her own life, let drop every day in corruption, lies, chatter. This he had preserved. Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death. (180)
Death is transformed in her consideration of Septimus's final act into something that preserves the thing that matters, that defies, tries to communicate, and offers an embrace. Though she does not know him, she understands him and grants him the dignity of honoring his private conception of death and what it offers. Instead of converting his narrative to something conventional, she takes from it an opportunity to exercise her theory about the soul's privacy. Just as she comes to this realization, she is prompted by a speculative exchange with the old lady to acknowledge her own position relative to that theory:
[Clarissa] parted the curtains; she looked. Oh, but how surprising!--in the room opposite the old lady stared straight at her! She was going to bed.... She was going to bed, in the room opposite. It was fascinating to watch her, moving about, that old lady, crossing the room, coming to the window. Could she see her? It was fascinating, with people still laughing and shouting in the drawing-room, to watch that old woman, quite quietly, going to bed. (181)
Though Clarissa has been the self-conscious subject holding the neighbor as the object of her gaze, this moment of visual exchange makes clear that Clarissa is equally object--a familiar but mostly unknown, ordinary woman--to the neighbor's subjective view. The privacy of her own moment is every bit as accessible to the neighbor as that neighbor's bedtime routine is to her. Berman reads this second encounter as a moment in which they "engage in a relationship of mutuality," as opposed to the first encounter, in which Clarissa has an option to maintain a "laissez-faire" attitude toward the neighbor (Modernist Commitments 61). This mirroring insinuates that the old lady might equally honor Clarissa's private self, reinforcing that Clarissa's value does not lie solely in the publically visible role of hostess, which leaves her punished and passively stuck in a performance: "Somehow it was her disaster--her disgrace. It was her punishment to see sink and disappear here a man, there a woman, in this profound darkness, and she forced to stand here in her evening dress" (181). Rather, she is valuable as a private, ordinary self. Significantly, in each of these encounters with the stranger--when she initially looks at the old lady, when she contemplates Septimus's death, and when the old lady looks back at her--Clarissa's language disparages the public, conventional sphere: the conversion mechanisms of love and religion destroy that something solemn (124), and "the thing that matters" is surrounded, damaged, hidden, and lost in "corruption, lies, chatter" (180). She most explicitly contrasts the old lady's private routine with the sounds of her party nearby and she metonymically references her own participation as she is "forced to stand here in her evening dress" (181). Clarissa's significant recognition takes place privately, during but outside of the party, a setup that makes explicit the contrast between the public social events and the private everyday actions. (37) The party proves to be not the climactic event but instead a mere background for the crucial, though private, climax of action, defying expectations about the setting of a classical plot resolution.
The spectacular emotional climax of the end of action, then, is neither spectacular nor the end. Whatever release Clarissa (and the reader) feels is fleeting and not part of the final scene or episode of the novel. Rather, the understated joy of Clarissa's realization is bracketed at physical, emotional, and narrative levels. In the private room she is physically separate from the party, and her brief emotional connection to the neighbor and Septimus is bracketed by her obligatory return to it:
"She felt somehow very like him--the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away. The clock was striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun. But she must go back" (181-82). She applauds his liberated surrender, a fearless pushing away of life (implied by the phrase "thrown it away") and gives credit, ironically, to he (who could not feel) for "ma[king] her feel the beauty...the fun." Clarissa's realizations are, after all, juxtaposed with the defeated surrender that she "must go back to them," registered in the word "but." Her private moment is closed off in a room she must leave because of a social obligation she must meet. The moment is also bracketed at the level of narrative discourse, as the shift to focalizers Sally and Peter, who are back in the main room, effectively return the reader to the party before Clarissa herself returns. J. Hillis Miller remarks, when "she returns from her recognition of her kinship with Septimus to bring 'terror' and 'ecstacy' to Peter" she also comes back "into the language of the narration" (183). Woolf's design early in her composition of the novel was to "knit...together everything" by allowing Peter, Richard and Sally "to sum up Clarissa" (D2 312), producing a paradoxical circumstance in which Clarissa is at the center of the novel while also decentered and complicated by the multiple views and narratives about her. This explains why the novel ends not with Clarissa's interior voice or her private realization, but rather with others' speech and thoughts about her. Such a move emphasizes the fleeting and unresolved nature of her recognition by showing that the party goes on without her, and notably not showing how or whether she is changed in the long run. Though Clarissa experiences a form of recognition that satisfies the arc of the action, hers is not the last word. (38)
The shift in Mrs. Dalloway from the Aristotelian theory--in terms of what the recognition is, who brings it about, and where it takes place in both the story world and the narrative itself--produces an ambivalent emotional conclusion. The ending incorporates a paradoxical condition like the terror and pity of katharsis, but tempers the "characteristic pleasure" (Aristotle 38) of classical resolution and release. Instead, the recognition that Clarissa achieves through her connection to strangers--from both seeing and being seen, and sharing the embrace of death with Septimus--actually amounts to a loving close without full closure. Thus, in the endings of both Clarissa's and the Smiths' storylines, Woolf's novel offers an awakening or opening, and the seemingly closed end as more of an arrival at a place of pause or a concentration of possibilities. Some might read the resistance to narrative or emotional closure in the ending as typically modernist, but so often such endings connote indifference at best, and hopelessness at worst. By contrast, the emotional tension of the narrative action in Mrs. Dalloway produces a condition that is best characterized as a "dualism," where contrasting concepts and emotions--success and failure, familiar and stranger, alienation and connection, conclusion and continuation--coexist without order or reconciliation, and without the domination of one over the other. Peter expresses that dualism at the end of the novel: "What is this terror? what is this ecstasy? he thought to himself. What is it that fills me with extraordinary excitement?" (190). It is Clarissa, of course, who has finally reappeared at the party, and so her last appearance in the novel is as the object of another's gaze, producing a yin and yang of feeling in Peter. She is still central, but no longer the focalizer. At the level of action there is implicitly more to come--she has privately resolved her philosophy, but then returns to the party, and the challenges and conflicts in her public life remain unresolved because they are unwritten. Even the return itself carries a double connotation: it constitutes a going or coming back, a reversion to before, and yet also holds the promise implicit in entering a room, of new space, new interactions, new moment, new scene. The positing of unwritten possibilities leaves that active reader suspended, neither trapped in an implausible and static conclusiveness nor abandoned to a formless open-endedness. Instead, this reader is empowered to experience the likeness to life, to the reality at least in modern times, of living with and through the chaos of irreconcilable opposites. (39) The dramatic quality that Woolf adopts--in her narrative discourse and in the constraints of her mimetic economy--makes this possible. The private reader, free from the authority of the narrator, of the performance and of the communal live audience, can experience the recognition that comes from intimate closeness to a life with which she can truly identify.
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(1) Bowen made this declaration in a broadcast given on the B.B.C. Home service in 1956 called "Truth and Fiction," subsequently published in Afterthought: Pieces About Writing (1962).
(2) Other of Woolf's friends value formal constraints when addressing the relation between artist and art. Clive Bell argues that appropriate form concentrates the "heat of artistic emotion" in such a way that it preserves the aesthetic energies in the artistic product, and the challenge lies in trying to find that form: "For the artistic problem, which limits the artist's freedom, fixes his attention on a point, and drives his emotion through narrow tubes, is what imports the conventional element into art" (104-5, my italics). In the same year, T. S. Eliot likens the artistic process to a chemical reaction, distinguishing the artist's emotion from that of the art: "it is not the 'greatness,' the intensity, of the emotions, the components, but the intensity of the artistic process, the pressure, so to speak, under which the fusion takes place, that counts" ("Tradition" 8, my italics). Bell's narrow tubes and Eliot's pressure describe productive formal constraints.
(3) No scholar has offered a sustained reading of the intersections of the modern novel with Aristotelian poetics of tragedy and the three unities, though David Higdon cites letters by authors Mervyn Jones and Brian Moore who each express interest in the challenge of writing a novel within the constraints of the unities (59). In addition, scholars have noted that Aristotle's poetics does not have much influence on modern drama. Martin Puchner asserts that modern drama is widely considered to have turned away from Aristotle, arguing that Plato's dramatic dialogues are a more apt classical source for comparison (73). For the influence of tragedy on modern literature, and the distinction between Aristotle's poetics of tragedy and the philosophy of tragedy developed by the German Idealists, see K. M. Newton. Franco Moretti sees a fundamental incongruity between the tragedy (with its focus on truth) and the novel (with its focus on ordinary life), arguing that Chekov's attempts at writing modern tragedy demonstrate that "the impossibility of modern tragedy is the greatest modern tragedy" (120). See also Moretti on the differences in dialogue and the event between the tragedy and the novel.
(4) Critics are divided about how to account for the similarities between the novels; some see Mrs. Dalloway as derivative of Ulysses (see Wyndham Lewis and Robert Weninger), while it's easy to conclude from Woolf's diaries and non-fiction essays that she hated Joyce and tried to distinguish her work out of disdain for his shortcomings (see William Jenkins). The interpretation that falls between these extremes and considers their common regard for the dramatic form argues that Ulysses was an inspiration to Woolf and she considered him, as Suzette Henke writes, "a fellow genius and an innovative modernist" ("Woolf, Joyce, Prime Minister" 4). See also Bonnie Kime Scott "Introduction" (l-lv) and "A Joyce of One's Own," as well as Johanna Garvey, James Heffernan, Molly Hoff, Hilary Newman, and Harvena Richter. See White for my related article on dramatic poetics in Ulysses.
(5) See diary entries from August 28, 1922 (and n. 21); September 3, 1922; October 4, 1922; January 7, 1923 (D2). See also her letter to Barbara Bagenal dated September 21, 1922 (L2 558).
(6) Molly Abel Travis understands this transition from passive to active reader in the context of a shift toward modernism (2). My argument about the effect on the reader joins a substantial body of scholarship about Woolf's readers, which includes considerations of the kind of reader Woolf imagined engaging in her non-fiction essays (see Kate Flint, Melba Cuddy-Keane, and Mark Goldman), the invitations to engagement expressed narratologically in Woolf's work (see Alessandro Giovanelli, Molly Hite, and Jim Phelan), and the pleasures and difficulties of reading Woolf's work (and modernism more broadly): Vicki Mahaffey, for example, argues for the intellectual and ethical value of reading challenging modernist fiction, and Jessica Berman addresses the ethical implications of the characters' interactions in Modernist Commitments and "Woolf and the Private Sphere."
(7) Unities of time and place were concretized in Italy and France in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. See Andrew Bongiorno and Bernard Weinberg on those developments.
(8) Malcolm Heath suggests that Aristotle's mimetic likeness is neither reducible to a set of conventions nor synonymous with "representation"--both of which are linked to a particular form--but rather is more like mimicry, denoting similarity or evocation rather than a strict copy (xiii). In narrative theory the term "diegetic" refers to the world described in the primary narrative storyline; information from outside that narrative world is therefore considered extradiegetic. This usage connects to Aristotle's "diegesis" in its relation to the narrator--in both cases diegesis refers to that which is told by a narrator.
(9) On emotion and characteristic pleasure see Aristotle (21, 38, 48). See Heath on Aristotle's concept of catharsis and its relation to the pleasure specified (xxxviii-xliii).
(10) Henke calls the new Georgian style "psychological realism," "psychological verisimilitude," and "psychological fiction" ("Virginia Woolf 623 & 626, 625). Similarly, Susan Sontag argues that Woolf's (and Joyce's) novels are simply mimetic of a different kind of content. This very "form of mimeticism" constitutes part of Rita Felski's critique of the dominant narrative about masculine modernism (25-26).
(11) See Brian Richardson on narration in drama (151). The association of mimesis with social or material realism in the novel is a corruption of Aristotle's original conception. In presenting a likeness by trying to recreate physical reality through narrative detail, that mimetic realism looks more like extended diegesis, losing its "showing" quality because excessive narrating time dilates reading time indefinitely. In effect realism delinks likeness from showing because that which appears before the reader is familiar but presented through telling--diegesis--rather than mimetic showing.
(12) In light of developments in narrative theory that describe the narrative situation in more complex and nuanced terms than Woolf's author/reader and Aristotle's poet/audience binaries, I use the term "narrator" to describe that "telling" device that Woolf equates with a preaching or persuading authorial voice. See her discussion of Arnold Bennett "telling us facts" in "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown" (205). See also Henke's synthesis of these two essays in "Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)" (622-28).
(13) Christopher Reed argues persuasively that Woolf's feminism and Bloomsbury formalism align in their rejection of the realist mimetic project, though Reed notably does not use the term "realism" to describe the literary modes against which Woolf develops her most formalist works (25-28). Rachel Bowlby defends realism against the dominant tendency in literary studies to dismiss it on the grounds that its reality is static (395). See also Linden Peach on Woolf's realist aesthetics.
(14) Woolf gives other descriptors of "life or spirit, truth or reality, this, the essential thing" ("Modern" 287), "a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us," also called "this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit" (287-88) that makes a "vivid,... overmastering impression" ("Mr. Bennett" 207) on the artist--and, ideally, if conveyed well, on the reader.
(15) "Women and Fiction" 46. On the novel as a passe, inferior, or insufficiently strict form, see also A Room of One s Own (66-69), Bell (105), and Eliot's "Ulysses, Order and Myth" (372). Reed notes that the first phase of Bloomsbury formalism "explicitly opposed itself to literature" (22).
(16) Hite argues of several of Woolf's novels that the narrators "provide insufficient or contradictory tonal cues" (250), measuring the effect of that narration in terms of impact on "us," i.e., the reader (254).
(17) I use the term "external focalization" not in the sense proposed by Genette--an outside view "reporting what would be visible and audible to a virtual camera" (Jahn 98)--but rather in the sense developed by Mieke Bal, which combines and subsumes Genette's ideas of external and non-focalization. For discussions of experimental forms including Free Indirect Style in Mrs. Dalloway, see Diane Blakemore, Gloria Jones, and Herman's "1880-1945: Re-Minding Modernism." On the difference between direct and indirect speech and thoughts, see Herman "Cognition" 248-49.
(18) The italicized narrative terms come from Herman "Cognition" 248.
(19) On intersubjectivity in Mrs. Dalloway, see Miller, Annalee Edmondson, and Berman's Modernist Commitments.
(20) Cuddy-Keane articulates especially effectively the relationship between reader and narrative mediation (in discussing Woolf's nonfiction) 137.
(21) Other scholars have described this kind of active reader in the context of Woolf and modernism: see Flint 198 and Travis 19.
(22) The fact that Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway and Joyce's Ulysses share these same constraints has attracted scholars of the novel of one day, also sometimes called the "circadian novel." Higdon argues that the circadian novel has a particular appeal in the "time-obsessed twentieth century" (57), while Bryony Randall, Chiara Briganti, and Elizabeth Covington each associate it particularly with the quotidian and the rhythms of one day. See also James Schiff.
(23) That "Dalloway Day" (as Julia Briggs calls it in An Inner Life 144) is punctuated at certain hour markers by the chiming of London's Big Ben and the bells at St. Margaret's church makes explicit the importance not just of this place, London, but also of time measurements even within the finite constraint of the single day (Briggs, Reading 117'-24). On time and Mrs. Dalloway see also Adam Barrows, James Miracky, and Kern's Culture of Time and Space.
(24) Auerbach describes in some writers of this period "a method which dissolves reality into multiple and multivalent reflections of consciousness" (551), using Woolf's To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway as two examples. Frank asserts that certain modern works demand to be read spatially, not sequentially (225, 233).
(25) On the phenomena of simultaneity or parallax in Mrs. Dalloway, see Kern's Culture of Love, Miracky and Benjamin Hagen.
(26) See Richardson on intersections between drama and narrative in terms of bodies in space, and Briggs on Clarissa's consciousness of her body (An Inner Life 138).
(27) See the map "Mrs. Dalloway's London" (front matter, Harcourt edition, 2005) and Bradshaw, "Woolf's London, London's Woolf."
(28) The term "focalizer" (instead of the "narrator" that merely tells and "point of view" that merely sees) refers to the perspectival filter of narrative information that expresses the opinions, attitudes, experiences, and even voice of the focalized character; see Gerard Genette (161-211) and Manfred Jahn (94-108). See also ongoing developments of the terms "narrator" and "focalization" online in The Living Handbook of Narratology.
(29) Brian McHale also addresses "a transition from one perceiving mind to another by way of mutually-perceived sound" (101). Teresa Bridgeman theorizes the relationship between space and page time; see also Genette's "duration," which refers to relations between time span, story tempo, and textual space. See David Herman's Story Logic on cognitive mapping of fictional worlds.
(30) Moreover, it is widely asserted that modernist novels do not have a plot; Auerbach argues, "in Virginia Woolf's case the exterior events have actually lost their hegemony, they serve to release and interpret inner events" (538). See also Mahaffey (5).
(31) Woolf constructs her plot in terms of this crucial day, using flashbacks to convey the significance of beginning and intervening events rather than starting the discourse with Clarissa's decision to marry and offering every event since. Aristotle praises Homer for his verse-form (a high proportion of direct speech) and for similarly constructing the plot in terms of a single action, Odysseus' homecoming, rather than the whole war (38-39).
(34) Christopher Ames reads Septimus's suicide as the tragic result of living according to conventions (104). By contrast, J. Hillis Miller sees in suicide the possibility for communion in contrast to the failure of the party.
(35) Hana Wirth-Nesher argues that anonymity actually enables this connection ("Impartial Maps" 58), negotiating intimacy and distance in the urban setting (City Codes 206). See also Berman's Modernist Commitments, which considers the political and ethical implications of the private moment facing the other, framing the old lady as a neighbor rather than intimate or stranger.
(36) Miller sees alienation as a shared condition (171), as opposed to Cristina Delgado Garcia, for whom alienation denies connection (19-22). Olson addresses the emphasis on modernism on the value of the ordinary (as an experience, activities, things, and a style). For Woolf on characters' ordinary rituals in the Odyssey, see "On Not Knowing Greek" (38). This valuing of the private individual and even the connection between strangers arguably reflects the intimacy among members of the Bloomsbury Group, as well as their ethical stance toward the autonomy of the individual, expressed in their political views, critical and artistic works, and intimate, personal lives. See Christine Froula and Jesse Wolfe.
(37) See also Briggs An Inner Life 137 for an alternative reading of the scene.
(38) Critics disagree about whether this constitutes a happy or a bleak ending. Miller sees Clarissa as rejuvenated and returning to life, while Thomas Beattie asserts that Clarissa overcomes the failure to which Septimus has succumbed, though against the backdrop of an "unfathomable cosmos" (529). Others, by contrast, read the ending as not rejuvenating (Laurence Scott) and offering no clear future (Delgado Garcia). What these readings have in common is a sense of a resolved ending, while I am interested in how the narrative discourse denies full closure by juxtaposing brief resolution with uncertain continuation. See also Hite on this ending as dynamic and continuing (267).
(39) This dualism of happiness with sadness, joy with terror, echoes Friedrich Nietzsche's early philosophy of the ideal tragedy from The Birth of Tragedy, where the Apollonian impulse to order is tempered by the more chaotic, dynamic impulse of the Dionysian. Although Newton argues that most high modernists do not embrace Nietzsche's idea of tragedy and are only influenced by his assertion that art is not about reality or mimesis (121-22), Woolf's novel seems to adapt the formal constraints of Aristotle's poetics to a Nietzschean philosophy of life.
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|Publication:||Woolf Studies Annual|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2018|
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