Reading Virginia Woolf's novel

 
 

 
 

                                            Borrowed Skates: Proust Recomposed in Mrs Dalloway

                                                           “Make it new”  Chu Hsi (1130-1200 ce)

 

Virginia Woolf knew that sometimes the creative mind is known for cannibalizing other works of art, a practice which, as a matter of fact, she perpetrated very well herself (Richter 305). Woolf always remained above the fray yet the allusions to Joyce’s novel among others have been cited along with accusations of imitation and even plagiarism; her audacious usage of Joyce’s Ulysses is partially explicated in “The Pseudo-homeric World of Mrs Dalloway.” Her allusions to Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past in Mrs Dalloway, often regarded as the jewel in the Woolfian crown, are not frequently observed although several references to his prolix novel have appeared in connection with To The Lighthouse and Orlando.  Contrast lies in the volubility of the one and the almost mute act of the other. Since Shattuck comments about the effect of Proust’s “transcontinental sentences” and labyrinthine plot, a clever observation about the Proustian influence on Mrs Dalloway comes from Pericles Lewis who remarks how, in counter-balance with Joyce, Woolf’s sentences became longer (Shattuck Marcel 2; Lewis 77-79).

It may seem a misreading to compare such dissimilar works of literature, placing Proust’s 3000 pages next to Woolf’s 300 when Marcel illustrates conspicuous consumption and Clarissa’s frugality. It is clearly a fool’s errand to expect that one would find a critical exposition on Proust’s three-volume narrative that could fit neatly into Woolf’s monograph. Clarissa on the distaff side rightly feels “a little skimpy” (Woolf MD 8). Clive Bell may have had Proust in mind when he wrote that realistic detail is “the fatty degeneration of art” (Bell 222). Harold Bloom’s Map of Misreading considers how modern texts relate to previous texts as creative “misreadings” being more than a matter of influence of one author upon another. Woolf’s diary entries account for much of her sense of Proust’s potential influence on her then current work which is said to have nearly stifled her own inspiration. The contrary is nearer the truth.

Roger Fry was “at least partly responsible for introducing [Woolf] to the work of Proust” when he supplied a copy of Swann’s Way [Du Coté Chez Swann] in reply to her request of 1919 (Woolf Letters 2. 396; Leonard 239). Her subsequent letters to him mention her reading in “a state of amazement … One has to put the book down and gasp.” By May 1922 she had begun the second volume, Within A Budding Grove [Jeunes Filles en Fleurs] followed by another in January 1923 (Woolf Letters 2. 525, 566). Her reading notebooks concerning Mrs Dalloway total a mere 5 pages for The Guermantes Way and Swann’s Way (Silver 82, 87, and 89).

Woolf’s diary entry for February 19, 1923 considers the effects of Proust in her own writing, when “his command of every resource is so extravagant that one can hardly fail to profit… that he makes it seem easy to write well” (Woolf Diary 2. 234, 322). It is convincing that Proust exerts a clear influence upon Mrs Dalloway considering the numbers of allusions derived from his first two volumes, but Time Regained [Le Temps Retrouvé published in 1927] nevertheless maintains a substantial presence in her novel. When its translator solicited critical opinions from Woolf, she mentions that “Scott Moncrieff pesters me for a few words—any words from you Mrs Woolf—it don’t matter if you haven’t read—invent” (Woolf Letters III, February 1923: 11). Her written responses to Proust accordingly, perhaps not in consequence, appear in several of her essays written for publication.

Of Proust she says he as “the product of the civilization which he describes is so porous, so pliable, so perfectly receptive that we realize him only as an envelope, thin but elastic, which stretches wider and wider…to enclose a world. … The accumulation of objects which surround any central point is so vast and they are often so remote, so difficult of approach and of apprehension that this drawing-together process is gradual, tortuous, and the final relation difficult in the extreme” (Woolf “Phases of Fiction” 123-124). In Mrs Dalloway, equally elastic, the tremendous influence of Proust gradually becomes evident everywhere requiring serious attention to one’s peripheral vision. The number of comparable passages shared between Mrs Dalloway and Remembrance of Things Past is prodigious, permitting only a partial exposition.

The Scott Moncrieff editions of Proust, according to Terence Kilmartin, are derived from the original editions and “pullulate with errors, misreadings, and omissions” which have earned themselves a great deal of negative comment; they feature his English versions of French expressions that Woolf read and must have enjoyed as such even considering her working knowledge of the French original (Proust RTP I. “Note on the Translation” x). Moncrieff’s “misreading,” such as his translation of the title, the line from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30, “conveys a poignant sense of emotion recollected in tranquility [but] it limits the implications of the work to that” (Kellman 16). Translations such as these, rather than the exquisite French, are more often the sources of some of Woolf’s most striking passages however. The invention of Proust conveyed in Moncrieff’s translations often acquires a particularly British form of expression and accounts for colloquial usages in Mrs Dalloway (which represents sometimes Moncrieff, sometimes Proust) that are nevertheless faithful to the French originals.

For example, an anomalous Moncrieff translation relates to Rezia Warren Smith’s claim that “Mrs. Peters was a big woman” (MD 214). Mrs. Peters, it seems, is seriously pregnant, a word not current in polite society. In The Remembrance of Things Past, as in Mrs Dalloway, “the ludicrous resides next door to the serious,” as” (Shattuck Binoculars 85). In the former, the duchess Oriane de Guermantes refers to a corpulent woman who is also pregnant (enceinte). The Moncrieff translation gives it instead as a matter of “superior” chest measurement which, oddly, is apparently more acceptable in England. Such comments are offered as examples of Oriane’s “wit,” the duchess whose nose is like a falcon’s beak and is known for her spiteful tongue (méchant) (RTP II, 503, 59,78). A type of moral survives the mistranslation nevertheless: “Elegant society is a sham and dupes no one so completely as its own initiates” (Shattuck  Binoculars 95).

Woolf’s inspirations drawn from Remembrance of Things Past, including those expressed in free indirect discourse with varying levels of mimesis, will be cited here with some explicity. Proust tells his story, according to Mervi Helkkula on the subject of discours indirect libre, as seen through the eyes of his former, younger self. This particular style of narration, in Proust, is one of the means of keeping separate the different perspectives, the narrating Marcel versus the acting or the remembering Marcel. In Mrs Dalloway, where “the signature stylistic practice …  is the text’s use of free indirect discourse,” the effect is similar, distinguishing between the acting and the narrating Clarissa (McManus 124).

Marcel, however, is not Proust; Clarissa is certainly not Woolf.  Yet the two works have suffered in several similar ways from the critics. There are inevitably some autobiographic tendencies in both cases as in any literary enterprise. Unfortunately, critics writing on Woolf and Proust are afflicted with the desire to approach their novels through the narrow focus of the authors’ lives. The “biographical fallacy” works to the disadvantage of scholarship. Respect for the autonomy of the texts, their uniqueness as artistic creations, does not permit speculation regarding autobiographical influences drawn from either Proust or from Virginia Woolf her self.

Furthermore, the two do not admit of summary. Passages expressed in the form of plot summaries commit the “heresy of paraphrase” because they cannot be properly understood outside of the mysterious laws of their significant form, that is, their style as much as their content. Thus, verbatim examples fully cited from parallel statements of fact and well-developed themes will reveal an anomalous quantity of discourse matching Proust’s as if she were “skating on borrowed skates” in Mrs Dalloway as Woolf herself playfully acknowledged (Woolf Diary 2, 322).

In Remembrance of Times Past the action is located in Paris and in Combray, Marcel’s childhood home; in Mrs Dalloway, for Clarissa, the sites are London and Bourton. A miscellany of comments with similar roots found in Proust’s and also in Woolf’s are distributed among the Dalloway characters, as when Swann says a certain gentleman’s “luncheon parties are not the least bit amusing,” Lady Bruton’s “extraordinarily amusing” luncheons should immediately come to mind (RTP I. 236; MD 44). Vinteul’s petite phrase recurs like the ringing of Big Ben and Shakespeare’s “Fear no more.” Both Miss Kilman and Albertine wear macintoshes. Marcel’s actress Berma in Racine’s Phèdre is reminiscent of Aunt Helena’s orchids in Burma; Odette’s cattleyas figure in the orchid category as well.  The subtle rebirth/resurrection motif, begun in Mrs Dalloway when Peter exclaims, “She (Clarissa) is not dead,” appears in Proust through Albertine’s death and through the death of Marcel’s grandmother who in death manifests “a face grown young again” (MD 75; RTP II, 357).  Marcel’s youthful experiences, for him, are highly significant.

The landmark kiss, Sally’s kiss so significant for Clarissa, is for Marcel his mother’s all-important bedtime kiss which launches his narrative, and the kisses of Gilberte and of Albertine as well. It must be noted that Marcel’s principal female characters, including Françoise and his aunt Léonie however, are women with masculine names. Françoise (“extinglish”) and Rezia (“little bit of stuff”) share a tendency for linguistic howlers (RTP II, 374; MD 132). Elizabeth Dalloway, as “a hyacinth which has had no sun,” shelters a reference to Proust’s volume Within A Budding Grove, originally entitled A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (MD 186). Finally, Proust’s famous opening drame de coucher, “For a long time I used to go to bed early,” which is the occasion of his mother’s goodnight kiss, is echoed by the woman going to bed that concludes Mrs Dalloway (RTP I, 3; MD 283).

Structural components are features of both novels, among which is the promenade motif, a kind of walking meditation carried out by the assorted urban strollers in Mrs Dalloway; there is more than one  parallel, among Marcel’s cheery British parlance, “Fine day what! Good to be out walking!” (and later, “how d’ye do”) (RTP I. 170; see Shattuck on the promenade motif in Marcel 136). The French is, “Beau temps, n’est pas, il fait bon marcher.” The distinctly British vernacular of the Moncrieff translation accords well with Clarissa’s subsequent “I love walking in London” and her epithet, “the admirable Hugh,” opening her encounter with Hugh Whitbread “with his little job at court” (RTP I .170, 552; MD 7).

In Mrs Dalloway it is Clarissa, however, who injects the scenario alluding to Plato’s Phaedrus 227a: “Really it’s better than walking in the country.” Her observations of the Park with its waddling ducks corresponds with Marcel’s strutting chicken in the corresponding passages; in the parallel paragraphs he is actually strolling in the country where he encounters a merely ill-tempered peasant. Clarissa meets Hugh Whitbread, said to be “adorable the walk with on a morning like this”; he is characterized through her typical tendency to exaggerate (“times without number”) and coupled with descriptives like the phrase “the admirable Hugh!” that indicates free indirect expression. Marcel’s extravagant flourishing with his hat matches that of Hugh (RTP 1.455, 582, 689; MD 8). For Proust, the promenade motif illustrates the street life in Paris just as Mrs Dalloway acknowledges Scrope Purvis as well as Edgar Watkiss, Sir John Buckhurst, and Moll Pratt in London. The promenade motif, structural in Mrs Dalloway, metaphoric in Remembrance, offers much in which the novels agree.

All the major characters in Mrs Dalloway are in for some walking. Septimus Smith, approaching a meeting with Sir William Bradshaw, has walked to the park with Rezia whom he, borrowing Swann’s words, has married  “without loving her” (MD 137; RTP I.508). Many aspects of the narrative concerning Septimus and others bear a likeness to incidents in Proust. Dr. Holmes, like the Baron Charlus also known for slapping his leg with a switch on one occasion, invades Septimus’s room (MD 138, Proust I, 821). Also, Marcel’s grandmother who is treated by blundering doctors, Dr. Cottard who with a specialist, Dr. Dieulafoy, advises “milk, nothing but milk,” suggesting Dr. Holmes and Sir William Bradshaw who prescribe this similar therapy for Septimus (MD 145; Proust I, 537). Marcel, reminiscent of the goddesses Proportion and Conversion in the narrative of Sir William Bradshaw, offers the departing Smiths a brief personification allegory which features, not some Wise Goddess, but substitutes an implacable Divinity (MD 151, RTP I.479).

  The significance of the promenade motif supports Marcel’s  discovery that the famous walking episodes in his youth, which function as a central metaphor, compose a figure that reconciles many dualities,  among them the “intermittences,” the often conflicting aspects of reality. The way to the Guermantes’s chateau and the way to Méséglise (Swann’s home in the subplot) lead to the same place, unbeknownst to the boy who finally learns that “it is possible to arrive at the Guermantes chateau by taking the Méséglise road,” the two ways under which everything is subsumed (Kellman 13). The two ways, further, “polarize the child’s world of Combray” and the man’s world of Paris as well (Shattuck Marcel 11). “The aesthetic and erotic paths, although seemingly opposed, lead into one another” (Parker 81). Thus Marcel reconciles the circular structure of the two paths of knowledge, “an outward act representing an inward state of mind” (Shattuck Binoculars 126). Swann’s way represents the way of desire as much as an actual route.

  For Marcel the contiguity of the two paths represents the integration of an aristocratic with a bourgeois society, being the final union of the Guermantes and the Verdurins in the flesh of Mlle Saint-Loup (Gilberte’s daughter by St-Loup) who, through marriage, ‘”fuses in her flesh the two ways in Marcel’s childhood” (Shattuck Marcel 52). Mme Verdurin, too, has become the Princesse de Guermantes through marriage. Metaphorically, walking includes false leads, by-ways, and wandering. Woolf’s ambulating characters, particularly Peter Walsh, seem idle walkers indulging in flights of irrelevant thought while revealing reports on the past as the narrative unfolds.

  Mrs Dalloway features Peter Walsh’s byzantine promenades through London, his monologue encompassing Clarissa’s past in Bourton ,  her current situation, and the way people change. He claims to have made “the great renunciation” which Marcel specifies in his Aunt Léonie as “the great renunciation of old age” (MD 77; RTP I, 156). His pursuit of the girl in Trafalgar Square, however, is anticipated by Swann: “He must search for her, then, in every restaurant along the boulevards” (MD 77- 81, RTP I. 250, 767).  “Waving at the wrong window” is also featured in Swann’s pursuit of Odette (MD 78, Proust I.300). Peter’s demand, “Tell me the truth,” is anticipated by Marcel’s desire to know the truth about Albertine’s sexual proclivities (MD 96, RTP I. 299). Peter’s mention of writing about water closets is a component not limited to Joyce (MD 108; RTP I. 530, 715).

Parallels often appear in widely separated passages, a fact which poses a task for the reader’s memory in this extensive narrative. Shattuck cites two closely related passages as a type of double experience in Remembrance of Things Past. The first concerns Odette’s playing the piano; the second, a “counterpart scene” concerns Albertine playing the pianola. These closely related passages, “one toward the beginning and the other toward the end of the novel,” serve as a double experience (Shattuck Marcel 117-118). Related passages in Mrs Dalloway involve double experiences for different characters as when Clarissa recalls a party when she first sees Sally and asking the man she was with: “Who is that?” Peter, however, gives an account of seeing Clarissa for the first time as she was talking to a young man on her right” (MD 48, 92). These are closely related passages, one reported by Clarissa, the other by Peter. In Mrs Dalloway important components, including parties, often come in pairs.

During most of the day, a Wednesday in June, Peter assumes that he is not invited to Clarissa’s party; Swann who believes he has not been invited to Mme Verdurin’s dinner, which, like Clarissa’s party as the cena motif pertains to dinner, is almost a banquet of the gods that parallels a similar affront that pervades Marcel’s pursuit of social life (MD 61; RTP 1.310, 327, 733; Frye 310, 312). The cena motif is given a slight notice in Mrs Dalloway in the form of Lady Bruton’s luncheon, the tea and cakes that Elizabeth and Miss Kilman share, and the dinner prepared by Mrs. Walker. For Marcel the soirées and matinées and the snobbery of the society hostesses such as the Guermantes’s tedious dinners and the pretentious salons of Mme Verdurin (who knows how to bring people together), configure his pursuits.

After he has passed an evening with Mme Stermaria, Marcel hesitates to read her letter, suddenly delivered, which says she is unable to dine with him when he had been living for that dinner alone; the letter “will determine the fate of his relationship with her” (RTP II. 406, Parker 74). Similarly, Peter Walsh, having walked through London arrives at his hotel, only to feel himself like Charlus, “a joint of meat to be served on a perfectly clean platter (MD 235; RTP ii, 635). He finds a letter from Clarissa, perhaps an invitation to her party: “That was her hand” (MD 234). He is nonplussed: “He would have to read it… nothing would induce him to read it again” (MD 234-5). Again, Marcel receives a letter from a hotel porter that he had supposed to be from Albertine but which actually is from Gilberte: “I had recognized Gilberte’s handwriting” (RTP III, 670).

The fin-de-siècle youths like the young Clarissa and Peter introduced into the Victorian/Edwardian world of Mrs Dalloway approximate those like Gilberte and Albertine of Proust’s belle époque.  Society hostesses, and their entertainments prevail as a motif, such as Mme Verdurin’s famous “Wednesdays,” social events in parallel with Clarissa’s party on a Wednesday in June (RTP I. 645-649; II, 886). In both novels, the function of the hostess is prominent with a peculiar twist. Indeed the hostess in Proust, a role regarding which Marcel, a name generally suppressed, states that “the good offices of the procuress (entremetteuse) are part of the duties of the perfect hostess” that render the “perfect hostess” in Mrs Dalloway problematic (RTP II.388; MD 10). Peter’s term for Clarissa, “the perfect hostess,” offends her for some unstated reason beyond his low expectations; “she had cried over it in her bedroom” (MD 10). Recollections such as this begin to appear when Clarissa comes through the door to buy flowers.

When Clarissa hears the squeaky hinges on the French windows in her entry at the opening of the novel they evoke involuntary memories of similar sounds that elicits her entire life at Bourton years before; the mysterious memories of her youth accompany the contemporary, the worldly ways of maturity. Clarissa’s entry through the French windows in the beginning is echoed at the conclusion as she finally comes through the door from the little room (MD 284).  Marcel, both character and narrator, comments on the succession of selves and “that we recapture for a moment the self that we were long ago when we enter some house or garden in which we used to live in our youth” (RTP II, 89).  These are not merely recollected but are summoned back by a related experience to Clarissa’s thoughts much like the compelling involuntary surge of memory Marcel often experiences. These are among the various feelings that he refers to as his moments bienheureux, when the famous madeleine is dipped into a cup of tea, “the most famous cookie in literature”  (Shattuck Binoculars 69 ff; Parker 70). The whole of Combray springs into being; it “rose up like a stage” as when “little pieces of paper…, the moment they become wet… become flowers or houses or people” (MD 3; RTP I, 51). A comparable scene in Mrs Dalloway, like Marcel’s moments bienheureux, appears to Peter Walsh “as if he had set light to a grey pellet on a plate and there had risen up a lovely tree” (MD 68). And what was Clarissa trying to recover but her own temps perdu ? (MD 12). Both novels which move forward while facing the past include love and sexuality.

Homosexuality occupies a significant space in both novels. Clarissa’s relationship with Sally Seton has been viewed as a lesbian one; likewise, the affection shared by Septimus Smith and his officer Evans is considered as homosexual. Miss Kilman appears to nourish lesbian feelings for Elizabeth Dalloway. In Remembrance of Things Past the theme of homosexuality involves most of the principal characters. “It motivates Charlus, Sainte-Loup, Mlle Vinteuil, Albertine (probably), Gilberte (possibly), the Prince de Guermantes, Morel (who is bisexual), and a large number of people in all strata of society” (Shattuck Marcel 54).

These similarities, to name only a few, are easily discerned.  In others, for instance, Proust alludes to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii for associations with eroticism and destruction by fire. For him, Paris threatens to become another Pompeii (Carter 116; RTP III, 834-835, 864). Mrs Dalloway’s subtle exploitation of the stunning Pompeiian frescos characterizing the room in the Villa of the Mysteries is suggested by the nurse, “old Moody,” who lives in a little room with lots of photographs (MD 91; Hoff “Coming of Age” passim). In this case, the paradox of relative disproportion is reversed, the motif of Pompeii composing such a large presence in Mrs Dalloway fits into Remembrance bearing a relatively minor position.

Proust’s novel, furthermore, is preoccupied with the motif of writing as is Mrs Dalloway. For most of the novel Marcel labors under the conviction that he would never be able to write (RTP III, 709). Yet, for Marcel, “Writing is a continuation of life by other means”; his vocation is to be a literary calling (Shattuck Marcel 4; MD 25). For him, writing is emblematic of cognition, “the means of discovering and expressing the relationship between self and world” (Kellman 15). By delayed revelation, after years of despairing that he will become a writer, he finds, in the Temps Retrouvé, that he will be able to write the book we have just finished reading.

In Mrs Dalloway, the emphasis is on the written nature of the text with an occasional parabasis, the narrator stepping out to address the reader directly (“when the sentence was finished something had happened”). Clarissa hears the click of the typewriter creating the novel in which she appears. “It was her life” (MD 42). Textuality, with discourse tags like “and so on,” “for example,” and “all the rest” in Mrs Dalloway, is the transcendent reality that responds to an allusion to Aphrodite, born from the sea by the kiss of a wave, and the birth of the novel. An incomprehensible text characterized as a metaphoric traffic jam, ultimately resolved, leads to the episode of the skywriting aeroplane which serves as a trope-in-common (RTP I, 249; MD 24). According to William C. Carter, for Proust the frequently appearing airplane is the dominant symbol of the artist, “the creative person who is able to free himself from habits and observations, realize himself fully, and transcend his ordinary being” (Carter 182). The aeroplane in Mrs Dalloway remains the cynosure, the illegible point of interest in “a metafictional moment of textual self-consciousness where the reader joins the characters in spelling out the letters on the page”; according to Mr. Bentley it is “a symbol of man’s soul” (Goldman 58; MD 41).  The aeroplane, reflexively, was  “actually writing something” (MD 29).

Reflexivity, when the novels refer to themselves as literature, as art, is a common allusive feature in regard to references to other works of literature. “The reflexiveness, the monumental circular subjectivity of The Remembrance of Things Past, as a whole … forms a subject unto itself, beginning with the first sentence” (Shattuck Binoculars 82). The novel in which Marcel is the subject opens with his account of his dream of reading a book in which it seems, to his younger self,  “that I myself was the immediate subject of my book.”   Reflexivity materializes in these works that are conscious of themselves as literature, for example, as when Mrs Dalloway, a novel containing multiple references to other novels, refers also to a bag containing pamphlets, and a satchel containing books [MD 41, 197). Local components become global. Likewise, Clarissa fantasizes “holding her life in her arms … until it became a whole life, a complete life” which she herself had made, in a novel about her life (MD 63-64). Marcel’s work of art is preoccupied with artist figures, the musician Vinteul, the painter Elstir, and particularly the writer Bergotte. At Clarissa’s party she is concerned with the pianist Hutton, who plays divinely, and the Academy painter Sir Harry. Mrs Dalloway’s preoccupation, however, lies in allusions to many works of literature; Proust’s, far too many to enumerate, span examples from antiquity to the present moment.

The structural device in antiquity known as “ring composition” is common to both novels and reflects the circular structure, as literature in-the-round, which distinguishes both novels. Fleishman’s description of it found elsewhere is perceptive: “An initially given word, phrase, or represented object, thereafter absent or only occasionally presented, is made at the end the summative term for all that has gone before. In this case, a circular course is traced, finding its way back to where meaning was latent all along” (Fleishman 51). Ring composition, common to works of ancient literature, describes a pattern of verbal repetitions, often resembling stanzas, in which the end recapitulates the beginning. See Stephen Reese and William Thalman for discussions of its manifestations in antiquity.  Minimally, it is shaped as an ABBA structure although it also may take the form of an elegant sequence of interrelated components with two related passages, one at the beginning and one at the end. The importance of this figure to Marcel is that it constitutes the shape of his narrative like “the last page of the novel coming back exactly to the first,” in reverse order, to its point of departure (Shattuck Marcel 130). Continuous exposition in ring composition serves as the structure of  Mrs Dalloway as well.

One of the many occasions in which Proust deploys this structure concerns his first encounter with the courtesan Odette wearing a pink dress and a pearl necklace. He comments on the pink dress and the necklace, not the immorality associated with her. His uncle is embarrassed by his youthful presence. She, however, comments on his being exquisitely charming and what she found to be charming was, on the other hand, embarrassing for him.  He concludes with a disquisition on her pink dress and necklace and deportment as a work of art; the structure is ABCCBA. (RTP “Swann’s Way, Combray” 82-84). Mrs Dalloway, however, is a continuous warren of interconnecting rings from beginning to end.

The major component shared between both novels, the most paradoxical aspect of fitting a very large book into a rather small volume, concerns the final party, the conclusion in which the last page of the two narratives returns to the first, in “a demonstration of the convergence or circular form of the novel” (Shattuck Marcel 128). For Marcel the party forms “the heart of the labyrinth and the only egress from it” (Shattuck Binoculars 27). Marcel’s party consists of the reassembling of “assorted figures out of his past, all of whom he fails to recognize at first” as they are seemingly fitted with powdered hair and white wigs (Shattuck Binoculars 27). At first he passes some time “in quiet retreat” meditating in his host’s library. Similarly, the circular shape of Mrs Dalloway is manifested at her party which is the site of the final reassembling of all the characters from her past: Peter, Hugh, Richard, Aunt Helena, and most of all Sally Seton. Peter and Sally engage in discussing events from the past while Clarissa is alone meditating on the death of Septimus in the little room.

The guests who puzzle Marcel on this occasion are all unrecognizable strangers with white hair as if in a charade or masked ball; at last he realizes these are his friends who have all grown old, changed beyond recognition. In Mrs Dalloway, Sally Seton, Clarissa’s friend from youth, has not only married and acquired a strange name but is almost unrecognizable in her full-figured condition; “she hadn’t looked like that” (MD 260). With Peter she indulges in critical comments on Clarissa’s character, which is not to her credit. Everything hangs on the conclusion, however, with Clarissa’s return to her party and Peter’s curtain line, “For there she was” (MD 296). Once again, two closely related passages unite to signify Mrs Dalloway as a circular novel. Previously, Peter has recalled Clarissa’s characteristic, coming through doors, when “she came into a room; she stood, as he had often seen her, in a doorway with lots of people round her (MD 114-115). At that time, when she entered the room he thinks, “there she was; however there she was” (MD 115).

Peter’s repetition of Clarissa’s existential appearance at the conclusion, “For there she was,” is a type of Proustian event which “suddenly turns the action of the story back on itself, as when a passenger is startled to see the other end of his train while going around a curve” (Shattuck Marcel 88). Clarissa is caught in the revolving door of narrative. As for Marcel, the last page of the novel comes back exactly to the first. Mrs Dalloway, like Remembrance of Things Past, begins again where it ends.

                                                                                      Molly Hoff

 

 

 

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Nicolson and Trautman. NY: Harcourt, 1976.

-  -  -  -  Mrs Dalloway. NY: Harcourt, 1925.

 

 

 

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