of the Artist
Fiction is not so much itself an interpretation … as
it is an object for future
interpretation. It is, God help us,
a text. Annie Dillard
circularity of Mrs Dalloway, its
heroine moving through a door at the end as at the beginning, may be unsettling
since we arrive at the finish only to find ourselves back at the beginning
again. This circularity, a paradox of infinity, questions what is assumed to be
the realistic world of Clarissa Dalloway when, like several of the characters
in the novel, she is only a minor trans-textual character from Virginia Woolf’s
early novel, The Voyage Out (Schlack 51). If the novel becomes a place in which models of
intelligibility can be deconstructed, what of this anti-novel framed in a
negative fashion which fragments and distorts the experience of the characters?
While Mrs Dalloway, narrating its own
creation, introduces the characters many of whom have existed originally as
fictions, the only frame of which we may be certain “is the front and back
covers of the book he [we] are holding“ (Waugh Metafiction 115). In this model of creativity, textuality is the
transcendent reality that responds to the kiss of a wave and the birth of a
novel. Mrs Dalloway bears all the
self-conscious characteristics of the literary sub-genre known as the
self-begetting novel, which has several singular characteristics, projects the
illusion of art creating itself as a record of its own genesis. Such
compositions are in the self-conscious, reflexive tradition of metafiction.
Typically they make frequent and prolonged allusion to other literary
works. Sexuality is a central
concern as the novel is conceived through the explicit trope of gestation, and
the paradigm of love pervades the novel. It begins with an urge toward
immortality and a circular form results while it lays bare all its working
parts. For these specific criteria I am indebted to Steven Kellman’s defining
work, The Self-Begetting Novel.
Under the influence of the long shadow
of Ulysses and Remembrance of Things Past, archetypal examples of the
self-begetting novel “which radically changed Virginia Woolf’s writing,” Mrs Dalloway lays bare its
self-conscious constructions through literary devices by which it is “testing the boundaries of genre” (Roe
166; Goldman 50). As Toril Moi has stated, to remain detached from “distracting
rhetorical devices” is “equivalent to not reading it at all” (Moi in Marcus
230). The protagonist/narrator, exposing all the contributing features and
commenting “on [her] composition during the very act of writing,” exploits
these typical devices (Christensen 11). Not only is writing in this narrative,
which contains references to other writers, self evident; but its content is
often concerned with giving concrete embodiment to the act of writing and
writing about itself as writing. There is value in examining this bookishness
self-avowed bookishness Peter Walsh mentions includes “a man writing quite openly about
water-closets” and offers a new reality in London; “there was art, design
everywhere” (MD 108). Women with
“curls of Indian ink” which Peter Walsh notices, having just returned from
India, deconstruct the apparent realism in terms of writing: A change had taken
place. There is something here other than the mere observation of London
cityscapes in a text which is being written and which we are expected to learn
to read. In addition to working through artistic and cultural conventions,
meeting the demands of such factoids rendered as self-conscious diction becomes
an important consideration. Clarissa Dalloway acknowledges, within her text,
that she is indebted to Peter for “words,” emphasizing its linguistic
components and calling attention to loan words from India such as bandanna,
cashmere, chintz, and coolie (MD
elsewhere, there is emphasis on the composition of the text itself, such as
“when the sentence was finished
something had happened” with the suggestion elsewhere that reading between the
lines is “as significant as the sounds” (Marcus 223; MD 25, 33 emphasis added). “The effect of this is to lull the
reader … into acceptance of its reality as a sentence in a book,” a line on a page (Waugh 95). Clearly the act
of writing is in the foreground. “Concerned with its own structure, its
methods, its very fictionality,” this text self-consciously introduces literary
components thematized, embodied and flaunted in the telling of the story
chapter narrated by Clarissa establishes the existence of most of the
characters who are then sent to their duties in the narrative. Among those
mentioned are Peter, Richard, Hugh, Elizabeth, Sally, and even Miss Kilman who
are clear forerunners to the action of the novel now commencing. Books
themselves establish a central point of interest as well. Clarissa’s attention
to Shakespeare’s Cymbeline in the
bookstore, Hatchards’s window, comes as a consequence of seeking a book as a
gift for Mrs. Hugh. Her subsequent discourse will bring all these characters to
The transtextuality of characters such
as the Dalloways of The Voyage Out includes
Mrs. Hilbery of Night and Day and Mr.
Bowley and the Durants from Jacob’s Room,
Virginia Woolf’s earlier novels, parading their condition as fictions rather
than persons even as they occupy the same narrative level with the current Prime
Minister, Stanley Baldwin, at Clarissa’s party. The irony associated with
fictional creatures placed within a pseudo-realistic context implies “a sense
of complicity between [fictive] author and reader” (Hutchinson 34). Similarly,
Mr. Bowley tips his hat to the unknown personage in the car caught in traffic,
possibly the Prime Minister or the Queen, indicating the interplay between his
fictionality and contemporary “reality.” The presence of these characters
implies the fictional state of an alternate reality coming into being (MD 28).
The arbitrary effort to trope obstructed
readerly perceptions as a traffic jam, the “fictional world of an authorial
construct set up against a background of literary convention,” triggers the
paranoia of Septimus Smith: “It is I who am blocking the way” (Alter xi; MD 21). The incongruity is disquieting, “yet such playfulness
need not exclude seriousness” (Alter 222). The reader is forced to address what
the narrator has implied, unless her reading, too, is arrested like the
mysterious car and its unknown passengers in London traffic, all of which
maintains a sense of mystery as a motif when “everything had come to a
standstill” (MD 20). An aeroplane soon
demonstrates the approach of further such ostentatious artifice.
aeroplane writing letters of smoke over London is a playful instrument of
writing, “actually writing something,” which is self-consciously creating
letters composing an unreadable text; it implies the process of aleatory
composition, discourse exploring the process of its own making (Christensen
11). “Unguided it seemed, sped of its own free will” (MD 29, 42). “As well as constituting a metafictional moment of
textual self-consciousness where the reader joins the characters in spelling
out the letters on the page … [it] speaks to a … poetic pastoral tradition too”
(Goldman 58). The labored efforts leading to the “false pretences” of a
ghost-written letter which Lady Bruton supervises contrasts with the apparent
effortlessness demonstrated in the aerial display.
Lady Bruton, for whom writing is a
chore, is forced to suspend all attempts “in deference to the mysterious accord
in which [men] … knew how to put things”; Hugh Whitbread, possessed of this
knowledge, undertakes to compose the letter to the Times on her behalf, which is said to be a masterpiece (MD 165-167). The ghost-written letter is
a smaller version of the equally
“false pretences” of Clarissa’s allusive pilferings from Shakespeare and
many other authors. This is
only one installment in the epistolary motif, a literary exercise which resumes
with Clarissa’s letter to Peter Walsh (“Oh it was a letter from her!”) as a
further self-conscious component. Peter instantly recognizes Clarissa’s
apparently illegible writing. “That was her hand” (MD 234). Reading her letter “needed the devil of an effort,” his
own letters, by contrast, being merely “awfully dull” (MD 4). It seems the
facsimile of Clarissa’s writing is as indecipherable as the skywriter’s.
complains that Clarissa’s letter “was like a nudge in the ribs,” which points
to Percy Lubbock’s 1921 observations: “Thackeray, so far from trying to conceal
himself, comes forward and attracts attention and nudges the reader a great
deal more than he need.” (The Craft of
Fiction 114; see Woolf Letters
133). Here is the “playful,
self-conscious reformulation of an existing text,” the technique featured in
all the other literary allusions (Hutchinson 92). It is the “nudge” which
Clarissa, far from trying to conceal herself, introduces in the form of her
letter that bothers Peter (See Woolf Diary
272). He adds, “Why couldn’t she let him be?” (MD 234). This nudge insinuates itself transparently by way of
preformed language, a literary allusion, the discourse of an existing text used
as a characterizing device (Hutchinson 57). It effectively illustrates Peter as
a character who is annoyed with his narrator’s manipulation, as Lubbock has it,
as once before when Clarissa implied, “I’m only amusing myself with you” (MD 96). Similarly, encounters with
Kilman are introduced playfully on different diagetic levels.
Kilman was not going to make herself agreeable,” railing against her author and the text in which she must
exist (MD 190). Her hubris risks inciting
Clarissa’s wrath. Miss Kilman, who has obtained the highly metafictional
assurance that “she was there for purpose,” provides an opportunity for an
exchange between tutor and mother, character and author, in separate
ontological levels of discourse (MD
196). Their conversation delays the projected shopping trip to be made with
Elizabeth Dalloway, interrupted by Kilman’s intervening inflated language
flagrantly upbraiding Clarissa; “you who have known neither sorrow nor
pleasure; who have trifled your life away! And there rose in her an
overmastering desire to overcome her; to unmask her.” These are comments which
insult Mrs. Dalloway, such that “Clarissa was really shocked” (MD 189).
effectively unmasked as her creator, is equally insulting, thinking the woman
“heavy, ugly, commonplace.” Kilman’s hauteur and Clarissa’s reaction, represent
an exchange that would have hardly taken place in reality between employee and
employer; it seems an authorial creation which is not on the same diegetic
level as the dialogue that follows. The narrative returns from this
intradiegetic skirmish, which is disquieting even to Clarissa, to the plane of
normal discourse between the characters who have not actually shared their
insults with each other: “You are taking Elizabeth to the Stores? Miss Kilman
said she was.” These words exist in different planes of reality.
appearance in the plane of self-conscious narrative as a creature who is becoming
its own creator is continuous throughout. Yet Peter is not the novel’s first
character to criticize his creator. Sally Seton, her childhood friend, claims
that Mrs Dalloway was “at heart a snob,” suggesting the “semi-elitist” form of
playful, self-conscious style (MD
289; Hutchinson 92). Scrope Purvis, a neighbor, thinks of her unflatteringly,
having “a touch of the bird about her” (MD
4). Lady Bruton cannot see the sense of cutting people up as Clarissa Dalloway
did (MD 157). The surprising opacity
of self-reference such as this is one feature in Mrs Dalloway. This novel is prone to constructing an illusion and
then revealing it to be merely an illusion.
recalls Peter in the garden “musing among the vegetables” (MD 4). She then suddenly comments on “a few sayings like this about
cabbages,” a subject which has only a colloquial antecedent. Although cabbages seem
not entirely irrelevant to a person in a vegetable garden as a textual self-reference,
the alert suggests the slang word for anything appropriated without
authorization, derived from fragments of fabric “cabbaged” from a tailor, which
alludes to the uses of preformed language to be paraded with impunity.
literary allusions places a serious burden on the reader’s knowledge of literature;
shared knowledge is a frequent requirement of this text. “To cabbage means to pilfer”; literary appropriations appear at
every turn (Evans 178). The intratextual existence of embedded fragments of
literature in Mrs Dalloway are
reminders of the presence of such “cabbages” as a common metafictional device
(Waugh 47). Such pilferings are never mere ornaments or learned ostentation,
but they constitute a significant part of the literary structure; much later, Clarissa
herself even confesses reflexively to having “pilfered” (MD 282). Mrs Dalloway
flaunts itself as a fiction made of stolen merchandise, theorizing about itself
while continuing the creation of fictions through over-systematized structural
devices, manifestations of the story within the story, along with obtrusive
proper names such as Holmes, Bradshaw and Whitbread to name a few (Waugh 22).
attempts at being unobtrusive actually reveal her presence like a stage director
peeking around the curtain and stepping out to comment covertly on the action;
we are reminded through her typical appearance in discourse tags such as “all
the rest of it” while her influence as narrator is manifest in the other
characters she cites, such as Mrs Dempster adding “and so on” which keeps the
story bounded as a narrative, breaking illusion (MD 15, 39). Peter Walsh and Hugh Whitbread are likewise partial to
the expression “and so on” under Clarissa’s narratorial influence; Doris Kilman
and Lady Bruton, too, give evidence of Clarissa’s creative presence with the
written peculiarities of her personal idiom, “and so on” (MD 94, 110, 114, 163, 159, 175, 187). Similarly, the self-conscious
narrator breaks off from the sights surrounding the broken fountain to certify
its dribbling: “For example, the
vivid green moss,” among the devices systematically flaunting the voice of the
narrator as artifice (MD 96 emphasis
added). Again, as Richard Dalloway walks home he comments on the social system,
to which the narrator adds “and so forth”
(MD 175 emphasis added). This is one
of the ways Clarissa points to herself, her intrusions echoed in the form of
such naïve narrative devices.
strategies such as narratorial intrusion expose the ontological distinctness of
this form of stylistics. Free indirect discourse, elsewhere called erlebte rede or discours libre, the intermingling of the characters’ and narrator’s
speech and thought, is frequently indicated by the idiom that often contains
it. This device, according to Monika Fludernik, is used ironically for purposes
of textual self-consciousness. Thus the opening statement, “Mrs. Dalloway said
she would buy the flowers herself” differs from “Mrs. Dalloway said, ‘I will buy the flowers myself.’” Typified
as “discourse that is ‘more or less deeply colored’ by ‘virtual quotation’ from
character’s idioms,” it demonstrates a blending of the narrator’s and the
character’s language (McHale 261; Fludernik 12). For instance, Clarissa speaks
of “Papa,” while Peter refers to him more formally as “Mr. Parry.”
ventriloquial narrator’s voice in free indirect discourse is that of the
protagonist telling her tale by means of the linguistic style of the concerned
character and speaking for them both; subtle manipulations of verb tense which
is back-shifted (“will” becomes “would”; “say” becomes “had said”) and pronoun
adjustments (“myself” becomes “herself”) are required. Other features are
demonstrative of free indirect discourse in which Clarissa and others manifest
themselves such as epistemic models (presumably, certainly), expressives
(Heavens! Jove!), evaluative designations (“damnable humbugs”), and emphasis by
italics (“like that”); these are a
few indications of FID.
exaggerations are typical of her duties as narrator; among these are “times
without number,” “hundreds of years,” are such that mingle with the narrator’s
style throughout the discourse. She objects to inviting “all the dull women” to
her party. Peter’s self-accounts, inspired by Clarissa, exaggerate at times, as
when he “had told her everything,” had books “sent out to a peak in the
Himalayas”; “he was an adventurer, reckless … swift, daring” (MD 73, 76, 80). Sally Seton, too, inclines to
exaggerate, e.g. in reference to inviting Peter to visit, “time after time they
had asked him”; concerning her bed of flowers, “positively beds!” and “living
in the wilds,” she claims “her heart was like a girl’s of twenty,” (MD 289, 290, 293, 294). Such a characteristic initiated by
Clarissa prevails in the speech of various personalities as her narrative
continues unless we are to believe they all hyperbolize. Such techniques
typical of the narrator tend to cause the discourse to assume a uniform tone
without regard to the character who is presumed to be the source of the
discourse, a characteristic which has already received critical notice.
The introduction of the signature
stylistic device, free indirect discourse,
is a technique which “one,” like the caretaker, must admit is all very
strange, “how wonderful, but at the same time … how strange” (McManus 124; MD 126). In a parody of scholarship, the
frequent use of the impersonal pronoun “one” indicates that like Tristram
Shandy Clarissa is speaking as an author (MD
4-5; Sterne Tristram Shandy 7.19).
Waugh similarly asserts, “one” is an author (Waugh 130). Clarissa immediately
engages the complicity and sentiments of her reader through her technique that
fictionalizes the role: She creates a flattering role for the reader as well, one who, presumably, has lived in
Westminster and shares her feelings, one
who loves it as she does (MD 4-5);
Ong 13). The reader silently assents to the knowledge, things that “we” know,
that inspires a willing participation.
account of art creating art is expressed when she further admits to “making it
up, building it round one … creating
it every moment afresh” (MD 5,
emphasis added). Furthermore, Clarissa in her god-like role names herself and
the book simultaneously, suggesting the identity between herself as a fully dimensional
yet multidimensional woman, Mrs Dalloway, and the book of the same name. “This
being Mrs Dalloway; not even Clarissa anymore” reflexively alludes to an
earlier “text” that exists at a different ontological level (MD 14). Her name implies “a complete
nexus of shifting states of being,” invisible until through the metaphor of
sewing she reveals herself or hears “the click of the typewriter” creating the
novel in which she appears –“it was her life” (Marshall 270; MD 42; Waugh 121). As Lilienfeld has it,
“the effect is rather like that of waving the pen in front of the reader’s
face” (Lilienfeld 125).
reference to “this body she wore” suggests the text as a garment, like the
dress she mends, drawing attention to itself, and she must get things in order
“for she must also write” (MD 14, 56, 58, emphasis added). Similarly,
Septimus Smith and his wife Lucrezia are seen on the Embankment “wrapped in the
same cloak” like characters between the covers of the same book (MD 22). The cargo of textiles and
needlework metaphors for writing, if we “consider the woman sewing as the woman
writing,” is present from the outset (Czarnecki 223). Lucy whose work is cut
out for her, with the image of fabric already prepared for stitchery, offers to
assist Clarissa in mending the dress (MD
3, 57). There is a hint of “intertextual” fabric in this cluster of meaning
when Clarissa catches her scarf in some other woman’s dress (MD 264). Sally Parker the dressmaker, a
minor personage, and the grey nurse knitting in Regent’s Park, share the “Woman
Sewing” motif made as physically real as possible which appears in Clarissa’s
sewing scenario, interrupted by Peter’s visit (MD 58, 85, 88).
instinct is to hide her dress, “like a virgin protecting chastity,” like Jane
Austen hiding her manuscripts when the creaking door reveals that there are
people about (MD 59; Woolf CR 137). She is unwilling to display the
virginity sacrificed by the frontal nudity of books spread open wide in
Hatchard’s window, exposed to public view and vulnerable to penetration by even
the casual observer (MD 12). Such
exposure is only to be expected in the Hereafter when, according to John Donne
(Meditations 17), “every book shall
lie open to one another”; on that day also “the face in the motor car will then
be known” but this is not to be that day (MD
Her dress epitomizes a yet unrealized
text, a veritable sleeping beauty “whose guards have fallen asleep … with the
brambles curving over her” (MD 65). The
dress is associated with composition, “for she must also write” (MD 56). At this early stage of
composition her textual body seems “nothing, nothing at all,” even with “all
its capacities” (MD 14). She is
clearly “a little skimpy” (quantitatively) and “schoolgirlish” (qualitatively);
she displays “a narrow pea-stick figure,” a physique which requires only a
“narrow bed” (MD 8, 45-46). At the
same time she is like an antiquarian’s volume with squeaking hinges and other
signs of wear, “scraped in her spine” and “sunned” – her dress that lost its
color in the sun (MD 17, 55).
paradoxes do not end there. Clarissa claims to be very young yet unspeakably
aged (MD 11). She aspires to be
“rather large” and dark like Lady Bexborough “with a skin of crumpled leather,”
a comment which seems odd for a woman’s skin but which as an allusion has value
and begins to deconstruct (MD 14).
Clarissa suggests, self-consciously, that the good woman is herself a book
bound in half-Morocco, a book valorized by its exotic cover. Clarissa, too,
fancies herself a personified book. With narrative reflexivity she envisions
her life in the process of being created and held in her arms (like John Donne
who says we “carrie (sic) our life in our hands” – Biothanatos 192) “until it became a whole life, a complete life,
which she put down by [her parents]”: “This is what I have made of it! This!” (MD 63-64). Malcolm Bradbury claims that
“like Joyce’s novel or Proust’s, [Mrs
Dalloway] is the story of its own act of creation” (Bradbury 242).
creativity includes assembling a novel in which she is both begetter and
begotten, turning her life into literature and living it at the same time,
slicing through everything while outside looking on (MD 11). Mrs Dalloway
exploits quotations as well as structural devices prominent in Proust’s The Remembrance of Things Past such as
the promenade motif, elegant circular components like ring composition, and
reflexivity as well. As in the case of Proust, a monumental novel of
self-begetting according to Kellman, she somehow succeeds in “giving birth to
twins – self and novel”; it is not always clear which is which, just as The Tatler may refer to the 18th
century publication or its contemporary avatar (MD 26). Giving birth to a novel and a self remains the objective.
Sex and the
trope of gestation as aspects of the creative motif here are metaphors for
everything -- reading, reproduction, regeneration, and personal rebirth
(Kellman 8) -- including the fruits of sexuality. “The poets who invented Eros
[made] him a divinity and a literary obsession” (Carson Eros 41). The erotics of the narrativity in Mrs Dalloway occupies center stage – as “a means of gratifying the
desire it incites and renewing the desire it gratifies” (Halperin 106).
creation is foregrounded; among the feats of reproduction is Sally Rosseter née
Seton who has five sons as the Mother Superior. Her metafictional complaint,
however, is her being trapped in the narrator’s script, the prison-house of
language (Waugh 119): “Are we not all prisoners?” Like an incarcerated
character she adds, “One scratched on the wall” (MD 293). Pregnancy, too, is prominent, including the woman who had
a baby before she was married, and Mrs. Filmer’s married daughter, Mrs. Peters
who is big with child; she contains a smaller version of herself, a reflexive
figure which Mrs Dalloway, in turn,
contains (MD 89, 214). The image,
too, represents a smaller version of the work from which it is drawn. Meanwhile
the woman singing in Regent’s Park, whose burbling song is a stream of amniotic
water issuing ambiguously from an orifice at once vagina and mouth, signals an
impending birth of an author and a novel. These are among the signs of the
fecund world Clarissa creates at every moment, “a world of her own wherever she
happened to be,” writing and existing in her novel, the illusion of art
creating itself (MD 114). “Writing is
autogenesis” (Abbott 399).
example of autogenesis and forgery into the bargain, is Septimus Smith, a
“smith” laboring at the “forge” corresponds to the motif of fraudulent
appropriation of preformed literature. His wife, a milliner from Milan makes
hats from buckram, using a coarse cloth which is also construed as anything
imaginary, anything fictional (Shakespeare 1
Henry 1V 2.4). A writer among
the assorted writers who populate the novel, Shakespeare, Darwin, and Bernard
Shaw, he is floundering in amniotic waters, serving as his own midwife, giving
birth to himself. “He strained; he pushed” (MD
129, 104). The young Septimus
furthers the image of self-begetting in Mrs
Dalloway, here presenting a smaller version of Clarissa’s self-begotten novel
in which she creates herself, and his miniature narrative, like an infant, is
contained within her.
writer personifies the “drowned sailor,” Lucretius’s infant “tossed ashore by
cruel waves, when nature first cast him forth by travail from his mother’s
womb,” with “woeful wailings” that anticipate a life of ills (Lucretius On The Nature of Things 5.222-227,
trans. Charles Bennett). His state as a newborn poet emphatically illustrates
autogeny in a self-begetting novel. He exists on a narrative level, however,
different from Peter’s who is perceived as “a man in a grey suit” whom he sees
as the revenant of his deceased officer, Evans; currently, veterans may have
flashbacks, but in World War I they “saw” ghosts. Similarly, Septimus’s
hallucinations which are so disquieting to his wife compose a scene which Peter
perceives merely as “lovers
squabbling under a tree” (MD 105,
commenting on amorous texts, insists that women “don’t know what passion is,”
and “no woman possibly understood it” (MD
121, 184). His words are reminiscent of Samuel Butler’s claim that a young
woman was most probably the authoress of the Odyssey, a sleeping beauty hidden behind a hedge of scholarship
since “the writer who can tell such a story with a grave face cannot have even
the faintest conception of the way a man feels towards a woman he is in love
with” (Butler The Authoress of the
Odyssey 266). Clarissa’s parabasis, as a narrator stepping out to address
the reader directly, crosses swords with Butler, demonstrating textually that
“she did undoubtedly then feel what men felt” (MD 47). Expressed as a verbal ejaculation she demonstrates that “it
was a sudden revelation, a tinge like a blush which one tried to check … which split its thin skin and gushed and
poured with an extraordinary alleviation over the cracks and sores” (emphasis
added). Peter’s charming parabasis, too, problematizes the possibility of
someone reading over his shoulder: “(pray God that one might say these things
without being overheard!”) (MD 120).
attention to her narrative problems, Clarissa ponders what Peter might think of
her when he came back. “That she had grown older?” Of course he would; betrayed
by Clarissa’s writerly anticipation, Peter, suddenly quickened appears on cue
and immediately thinks, “She’s grown older” (MD 60). Her expectation is an inauthentic imitation of an outworn
convention on the level of style which lays bare its constructedness on the
level of illusion. What had been a matter of discourse becomes merely a matter
of course imitating the automatization of fictional convention, a critique more
playful than ironic (after Stewart
in Waugh 68). He cannot have expected her to have grown younger.
recalls a feature of the intimacy he shares with Clarissa; “They went in and
out of each other’s minds” which suggests a form of intellectual intercourse,
illustrated when Clarissa silently realizes she has reminded Peter “that he had
wanted to marry her” (MD 94). In
response to Clarissa’s unvoiced chagrin Peter’s grief surfaces: “Of course I
did, thought Peter; it almost broke my heart too, he thought” (MD 62), He is a character responding to
his authoress. As in the tirade between Clarissa and Miss Kilman, no words have
been actually spoken in this dialogue.
conversation between Clarissa and Peter becomes what has been called “horse
play” when ostensibly realistic characters behave in fantastic ways as “the
horses paw the ground, toss their heads” (MD
66). The discourse acquires a “’semiotic’ rather than a ‘mimetic’ construction
of meaning” (Waugh 35). The shift in context requires a modification of
interpretive procedure as a “meta” level requiring a change of context, troping
conversation as an epic battle, as one of play. The serious possibility of play
occurs when the Smiths, dangling in literary space for several pages,
eventually walk down Harley Street before arriving at their appointment (MD 126, 142). It is reminiscent of
Walter Shandy’s hovering foot, for example, in Tristram Shandy, famous for its display of structural devices and
which is said to be “the most typical novel in world literature” (Waugh 69,
Christensen 15, Jameson 76).
alone in Whitehall, Peter, like Clarissa’s puppet, is aware of the metaliterary
artifice involved in his experiences, “as if inside his brain by another hand
strings were pulled, shutters moved, and he, [like a marionette], having
nothing to do with it” (MD 78). Later
he comments on Clarissa’s ability “to take some raw youth … wake him up, set
him going” like an automatic mechanical toy (MD 116). She exhibits control, too, over her neighbor opposite:
“Let her climb upstairs if she wanted to; let her stop; then let her gain her
bedroom,” a woman still moving about her bedroom during Clarissa’s party hours
after Clarissa had set her going (MD
Peter manages to leave Clarissa and
arrive at Trafalgar Square, miraculously, at the same time (11:30). Mythic
structure, an idée fixe, including
the mythos of death and resurrection, permits transcending the temporal within
a paradoxical Modernist climate including its focus on time with the approach
of the Solstice, Big Ben notwithstanding. In his flamboyant Homeric odyssey he
has visited the Trojan chambers of Helen in her drawing room, erotically
pursued a Circe in Trafalgar Square, and bought off a Siren in Regent’s Park
with a gratuity, a sequence concluding with Nausicaa and her family at dinner.
He reflexively parallels Clarissa’s state as both a book and a person, when he
frets about having to cadge for a job “teaching little boys Latin” (MD 112). Exploiting the ridiculous image
of babbling old age he characterizes himself as a personified book feeding
illiterate moths, such as Horace’s battered volume which sadly and
prophetically ends its career “teaching little boys Latin” (Horace Epistles 1.20.17-18). His identity as a
personified book resembles Clarissa’s similar image and is contained within it
as a smaller version.
bawdiness of his sexual aptronym, Peter, draws attention to the absurdity of
reference to a man who is unable to come up to the scratch, as if Clarissa had
sapped something in him permanently, his name flaunting impotence at “the
arbitrary control of the writer” (MD
240-241; Waugh 94). The reader is constantly reminded that she is in the
presence of language being created in a new and often incongruous context.
visit in the afternoon, a purposeful duplicate of Clarissa’s narrative of Peter’s visit that morning through
the summary she now provides, leaves Clarissa still writing, searching for a
solution for her difficulties as a writer, “like a person who has dropped some
grain of pearl or diamond into the grass” until (eureka), “That was it,” she finds a conflict to exploit: “Both of
them [Peter and Richard] criticized her very unfairly, laughed at her unjustly,
for her parties.” “Now that she knew what it was, she felt perfectly happy” (MD 183).
technique emerges with a highly artificial construction when Clarissa “breaks
frame”: “Well, thought Clarissa about three o’clock in the morning, reading
Baron Marbot for she could not sleep” (MD
205). Her utterance is made at some temporal remove outside the context, the
timeline established by the action which takes place near three in the
afternoon. Clarissa, en chemise, is
commenting on the narrative she has just written “like a painter who includes
in his picture a mirror in which he shows himself standing outside the picture
painting it” (Brigid Brophy Flesh). “The
‘author’ is situated in the text at the very point where [she] asserts [her]
identity outside it” (Waugh 133).
The disrupted sense of continuous reality is now revealed to be in a
transcendent reality distinct from the one we have supposed. Similarly we find
Clarissa in the little room when suddenly the problematic presence of Richard
on some metatemporal plane is indicated; if he “had not been there reading the Times … she must have perished.”
implying that, since he is not there,
the time of the narration is not simultaneous with the events being narrated (MD 283-284). These thoughts come at some
other place with Richard present, which is outside the frame of the party.
“Such junctures signal a temporality other than that of the discursive chain”
temptingly permeated with realistic features, Mrs Dalloway is a reflexive container of preformed textuality, as
“wooden” as the woodenness of the Trojan Horse containing the invading Greek
heroes, an unobtrusive yet mystifying instance of the game of literary
allusions, “so well concealed … that the vast majority of readers is likely to
overlook them or to remain ignorant of their full ramifications” (MD 91, 264; Hutchinson 38).
Self-reference plays with images of literary containers such as the Trojan Horse,
Miss Kilman’s bag of books, her “satchel,” and the man with a leather bag
stuffed with pamphlets; all are containers of texts just as Mrs Dalloway is a container of the
preformed language of other works of literature like cabbages (MD 41, 197).
presence at the party, a failed writer who was expected to write, “Have you
written? … Not a word!” earns him the silent admonishment of his author: “He
made her see herself; exaggerate … But why did he come, then, merely to
criticize? Why always take, never give? Why not risk one’s one little point of
view? (MD 283-284, 255). They are
going in and out of each other’s minds, presumably.
shock at the death of Septimus Smith announced at the party jars Clarissa out
of her complacency, and she withdraws to the little room as when she had
settled down to mend her dress; “Writing normally calls for some kind of
withdrawal” (Ong 10). This leads to
her confession but validates a renewed vigor: “She had schemed; she had pilfered” (MD 282). Yet she is refreshed in her admission for having
incorporated “cabbages” into her own text. The ostentatious pilfering of
preformed language, one of the many games authors play, merely magnifies
fictionality. She lays bare her inability to escape from the anxiety of
influence, although recognizing that “not only can literature never be free
either in terms of literary tradition; it also cannot be free either in its
relation to the historical world or in its relation to readerly desire” (Waugh
67). The self-consciousness of Mrs
Dalloway in relation to language, to convention, and to its status as a
work of literature coming into being demands a following of discriminating
readers. Clarissa, as narrator, bears in her hands the future of all the
characters and her own future as well.
had exclaimed, while walking through Westminster, “Oh if she could have had her
life over again” seemingly as a wish to amend her failures, to perpetuate her
successes; the image is similar to the stone of Sisyphus pushed up the hill, as
Peter observes, repeatedly rolling down again (MD 75). Her words are actually those of the eponymous heroine, a
world-class Madam from George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession (MD
14). Such a literary allusion as this, like others, is not to flaunt erudition
primarily but to disguise obscene propositions with high-sounding and innocent
connotations. Whereupon, this apparently idle wish inspires all the subsequent
circular architectonics and illustrative of the exploitation of other works of
literature with which Mrs Dalloway promiscuously
fuses both form and content.
the aspiration of Mrs. Warren, having her life over again, rising from the dead
like Persephone, or Alcestis, or even Imogen in Cymbeline, indicates the self-begetting expectations of its
protagonist which begins with an urge toward immortality (Kellman 11). She
projects the “illusion of art creating itself,” said to be autogonous, among
similar works such as those of Proust, Durrell, and Lessing (Kellman 3). Thus,
paradoxically haunted by death, Mrs Dalloway is the narrator/protagonist personifying
a novel that begins where it ends. Its circular structure self-consciously
insures its eternal life as a book that will be immortal.
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