Eye of the Story

The Evergreen State College

Category: Week 3 Reading

Kassandra Williams- Week 3 Journal Entry

One of the biggest challenges I’ve been facing with this project is how to structure it. I did a lot of experimenting in my journal. Here’s a sample.

A lot of us cast our eyes back to prohibition only to view it romantically. Maybe that’s because it’s so hard to break the habit of thinking about our interactions in terms of television shows and Hollywood films. The Capitol Theater throws a “Repeal Day” party every year, where people dress as flappers (even though prohibition ended in 1933 and austerity had already come back into fashion with the stock market crash) and drinks gin cocktails to “honor the past”.  Film versions of The Great Gatsby and cheap Halloween costumes contribute to our perceptions of the past just as much as anything that actually happened.

It’s a weird appropriation of history, to drink cocktails from cheap plastic cups and pretend to dance the Lindy.

I suppose it’s romantic revisionism that leads us to believe that all the booze was taken away by boring religious fanatics. I mean, it was, but there’s more to it than that, I’m coming to find. There’s a bunch of factors at play- attitudes about sex (women hate it, but the men gotta release it somewhere!) So prostitution is legal in the West for way longer than a modern person would expect. But then the men are getting wasted and bringing home “V.D.” and beating their wives. So the wives and sympathetic men-folk suppose it’s about time to outlaw booze. If I was a booze-beaten wife in 1910 Olympia I’d probably call for it to be restricted, too.

Will I stick to this structure or try something else? What does prohibition have to do with this class? All these questions, and more, answered in my final project (hopefully!)

 

 

The Modern Turn (Away & Toward); Benjamin Boyce

The Modern Turn (Away & Toward)

Situating Woolf’s Aesthetics in the History of Literature

Benjamin Boyce

 In The Rise of the Novel[1], Ian Watts concentrates on the early British novel, and ascribes a variety of social, political, and religious factors as leading to the novels development. A quick summary of these forces would include, a rising middle class (literate and with some amount of free time), Puritanism (which put the onus of spiritual growth upon the individual, allowing for a profusion of personal interpretations of the public sacred text), and capitalism (which followed this spiritual accounting with a material accounting—an exactness that I think gave Britain the edge over other civilizations and propelled it into a world power).

After the novel caught on, it went through certain developments. In the early 18th century the novel was often introduced by an argument by the author as to the “authenticity” of the document—that it was taken from a real man’s or woman’s journals or letters. (Robinson Crusoe by Defoe, and Richardson’s Pamela). But these apologetics were abandoned as the reading public became used to thinking in the way that the novel was thinking—that is, the presentation of fictional events and persons that more or less matched up with common people’s common experience. This was in contradistinction to the Medieval Romance, which presented heroes and scrubs undergoing repetitive events that provided opportunities for triumph (for the heroes) and downfall (for the scrubs). In the novel, the sense of a real person undergoing some form of personal development was conveyed.

Soon enough the novel developed into a romantic period, where the efficacy of the events and the characters were not as realistic, or, rather, their dramatic, thematic, and cinematic qualities were “turned up” to render heightened states of experience. About midway through the romantic period, in France the idea of realism took root, where authors returned with a renewed gusto to describing as clearly as possible the real world, how people really thought and experienced things.

I believe that Woolf’s work is in part a response to realism, which, in her essay Modern Fiction[2] she calls “materialism”, about which she writes:

The writer seems constrained, not by his own free will but by some powerful and unscrupulous tyrant who has him in thrall, to provide a plot, to provide comedy, tragedy, love interest, and an air of probability embalming the whole so impeccable that if all this figures were to come to life they would find themselves dressed down to the last button of their coats in the fashion of the hour. They tyrant is obeyed; the novel is done to a turn. But sometimes, more and more often as time goes by, we suspect a momentary doubt, a spasm of rebellion, as the pages fill themselves in the customary way. Is life like this? Must novels be like this?

Now, if she is reacting against this materialism, this tyranny of the supposedly real, what is she aiming toward? Woolf argues that, if novels are about life, then the issue is if life is true to realism, if realism is true to life.

Life is not a series of gig lamps[3] symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end. Is it not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit, whatever aberration of complexity it may display, with as little mixture of the alien and external as possible? We are not pleading merely for courage and sincerity; we are suggesting that the proper stuff of fiction is a little other than custom would have us believe it.

She then speaks of Joyce, and about reading Ulysses:

In contrast with those whom we have called materialists, Mr. Joyce is spiritual; he is concerned at all costs to reveal the flickers of that innermost flame which flashes its messages through the brain, and in order to preserve it he disregards with complete courage whatever seems to him adventitious, whether it be probability, or coherence, or any other of these signposts which for generations have served to support the imagination of a reader when called upon to imagine what he can neither touch nor see.

Woolf then goes on to very indirectly criticize Joyce and his methods. Writing that while Ulysses is brilliant, it gives us the sense that we are constrained in the author’s head, to a sense of

…being in a bright yet narrow room, confined and shut in, rather than enlarged and set free, to some limitation imposed by the method as well as by the mind. Is it due to the method that we feel neither jovial nor magnanimous, but centered in a self which, in spite of its tremor of susceptibility, never embraces or creates what is outside itself and beyond? Does the emphasis laid, perhaps didactically, upon indecency, contribute to the effect of something angular and isolated?

 

In our reading of Mrs. Dalloway we might have seen how a multiple points in the novel, Woolf uses “angularity” in reference to men.

I would like to propose that what Woolf found lacking in Joyce was something that she might of thought of as a masculine preoccupation with form, whereas she was more concerned with the halo, the “frequency” of consciousness, which is not situated in forms or formality, but that drifts atop them, variates them, organizes them with a deftness and arbitrarity that is itself the form of consciousness—not formless but over, between, around—a movement, a “halo.” In Mrs. Dalloway, she uses the form of a single day-in-the-life (perhaps following Ulysses), but whereas Ulysses is filled with method, with symbols, and themes subdivided and subdivided into smaller and smaller symbolic units which Joyce then fills with consciousness, Mrs. Dalloway only uses as much form as is necessary for Woolf to enter into the profusion of consciousness, to convey that consciousness in a manner that the reader can follow and can reconstruct in their own imaginations.

In Modern Fiction she writes:

The problem before the novelist at present, as we suppose it to have been in the past, is to contrive means of being free to set down what he chooses. He has to have the courage to say that what interests him is no longer ‘this’ but ‘that’: out of ‘that’ alone must he construct his work. For the moderns ‘that’, the point of interest, lies very likely in the dark places of psychology.

 

I wonder if, at this point in the history of the arts, we can afford to be for ‘this’ as opposed to ‘that’ or that as opposed to ‘this.’ What we have to always account for is that there is already so much art out there, there are already so many artists out there. We might seek to build monuments, such as did Joyce, or seek to give the imaginal sea as minimal a form as possible, in order to study and to immerse ourselves and be swept along with its flow, as did Woolf—especially in The Waves, written after Mrs. Dalloway. We have to be concerned with getting attention and keeping attention, while at the same time trying to trick our readership into a deep and lasting experience of something profound—profound even in its pettiness, in its birdlike chatterliness or angular indecency.

[1] The Rise of the Novel; Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding. Berkeley: U of California, 1957. Print.

[2]http://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/fms/Colleges/College%20of%20Humanities%20and%20Social%20Sciences/EMS/Readings/139.105/Additional/Modern%20Fiction%20-%20Virginia%20Woolf.pdf

[3] A gig lamp is the headlamp of the horse-and-buggy generation.

Alana Cooper-Prince – Close Reading of Mrs. Dalloway

Alana Cooper-Prince

1/18/16

The Eye of the Story

Close Reading of Mrs. Dalloway

Although it might often be a cliche to say that time is of the essence, in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, it is particularly true. This paper examines her exploration of time in the novel, and the various techniques that she uses to convey different facets of how time is experienced.

On pages 10-12, the reader glimpses into Mrs. Dalloway’s mind, following her thoughts and her actions during this one seemingly mundane moment in her life, when she is walking through London to buy flowers for her party. In this moment, which probably takes up about fifteen minutes or a half an hour, on the one hand we are walking with Mrs. Dalloway up Bond Street to go to Mulberry’s, the florist shop, to buy flowers from Miss Pym, while we are also tracing her thoughts, from her displeasure at Elizabeth’s relationship to Miss Kilman, to how much she dislikes her tendency to not do things solely for herself, but to instead make a certain impression on others.

As she walks, her thoughts go to how much she dislikes her looks and would like to look more like Lady Bexborough, and from there she makes a commentary on the the ways in which women are seen in society merely as mothers and wives. She thinks about how “often now this body she wore…, this body, with all its capacities, seemed nothing-nothing at all. She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible, unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only… this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more, this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway,” (10).

By taking us through Clarissa’s thoughts and actions, Woolf is giving the reader a glimpse into how people work, how every day is filled with the ordinary and the mundane, but also the unexpected, the life-changing, and how we always exist simultaneously on the inside of our bodies and the outside.

Time is itself a character that is present and woven throughout the novel, always there, important to each of the characters, whether it is mentioned by them or not. The whole novel takes place in a day, from Mrs. Dalloway going to buy the flowers early in the morning to when her party is almost over that night, and it also goes through Septimus’ last day alive. Even though the novel is bracketed in the day of the party, the actual content of the novel takes place over decades, because practically every character, even the very minor ones, have some sort of flashback to the past, such as Clarissa and Peter constantly thinking back to their days at Bourton.

There is a huge contrast in the book, where Woolf is showing the fluidity of time while constantly reminding the reader about what time it is presently in the book– the ticking of clocks is often brought up, such as when Richard is finished meeting Lady Bruton and is walking home to see Clarissa, and Big Ben begins to strike to signify the passing of the hour, “first the warning, musical; then the hour; irrevocable,” (114).

Woolf also plays with the idea of time both as an objective quantity, as with the constant references to clocks, and of time as an experience. The narration is often similar to stream of consciousness. Sometimes it is used to reflect people’s typical experience of time in consciousness, as one thought following another, somewhat random but also corresponding to the normal flow of time. But the narration also expresses an expansion and compression of time. Time is expanded, for example, when one moment in writing contains an enormous amount of experience and consciousness, such as when, as Mrs. Dalloway is walking up the street to get to the florist, she experiences a flood of thoughts, about her life, her decisions, thoughts about her own soul and how she feels about Miss Kilman, her hatred, and how much she is angry that she hates Miss Kilman but can’t seem to stop, because it’s always present in herself, never allowing her to “be content quite, or quite secure, for at any moment the brute would be stirring, this hatred,” (12). We experience compression in the reading similarly to how we experience it in life, in that the characters, like us, go back in their mind years and years, compressing time into a single moment or thought, such as when Mrs. Dalloway is reflecting on Miss Kilman and how she, Miss Kilman, has worn the same coat all the years she’s known her, and in that one moment is reminded of all of the negative feelings that Mrs. Dalloway has felt towards her compressed into one memory.

Even the format and structure of Mrs. Dalloway is another way that Woolf deliberately plays with the idea of time as both fixed and fluid. There are no chapters– it is just one continuous narrative. There are small breaks to signify a shifting of the character focus, but nothing abrupt, final. The narration of the characters’ internal world shows how their consciousness does not exist in a single experience of time; rather, their thoughts are constantly shifting between the past, present, and future. The structure of the novel is also conveying this sense of time being very fluid: there isn’t really an introduction or conclusion in the usual sense of the word. The reader has a sense of just suddenly being thrown into this world of Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith for a day, no more and no less, just as their lives would be– their lives don’t merely exist in the pages of the novel. They had a life before the novel takes place and their lives, with the exception of Septimus, will continue after the novel’s last sentence.

rachel hatfield – She Must Assemble: The Inner Life in Mrs. Dalloway

(Close reading of the passage between pages 184-186, “What business had the Bradshaws to talk of death at her party? . . . She must assemble. She must find Sally and Peter. And she came in from the little room.”)

In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf explores themes like mortality, repression, and the richness and importance of the inner life. The brilliance of the novel is not the rise and fall of the action in the story, but the way Woolf uses a modern, descriptive internal narrative structure as a way to build insight into the motivations of each character, rather than relying on purely on character interaction and exposition. Since the characters tell the story to us through their internal monologue, and since each character has their own agenda, the reader is allowed the time to slowly build and change their perception of each player in the story. Nothing is objectively stated. The narration follows a cast of interconnected characters, hour by hour, over the course of a single day in post-World War I Britain, centering on the titular Mrs. Dalloway, an aging society wife, as she makes last-minute preparations for a party.

The climax of the novel, as I see it, takes place as the party finally comes together. Sometime after midnight, Clarissa overhears some of her guests discussing the tragic suicide of a young veteran earlier that afternoon, and she is incensed to have the specter of death descend on her meticulously planned party. She retreats to another part of the apartment to think, away from her guests. The fear of mortality has been troubling Clarissa for a while, having recently recovered from a bout of ill health. During the course of the story, the constant tolling of Big Ben follows Clarissa and other characters as they go about their day, representing the constant flow of time and often inspiring reflection. Her daughter is nearly grown and the relics of her past at Bourton are just memories—Sally is now the picture of a wife and mother, Peter is in town purely to arrange his girlfriend’s divorce, and her relationship with Richard is seemingly successful but notably distant. Though she tries to deny it, Clarissa is a woman with regrets. Her internal monologues are extensive and she clearly has an active mind, a fact of which she is aware, and her self-consciousness about aging and the passing of time is amplified by it. She is a woman defined by her passions and her subsequent attempts to suppress them, and she finds it hard to believe all that activity will end at her death. Early in the novel, she allays her fear of death with the thought that a piece of her would go on living in her home, the streets she walked, in her relationships with her friends and family. But Clarissa is also aware that every day, something in her becomes more “obscured” in her efforts to conform to society life—she “lets drop” the thing that most matters, her own self.

Septimus Smith, however, sees death in another way. Very much a parallel character to Clarissa, his shell-shock and inability to communicate with those around him fuels his isolation. He sees death as the ultimate act of self-determination, especially when faced with Doctor Holmes’ and Bradshaw’s plans for his treatment. Clarissa also sees the autonomy in his suicide; she compares it to her own most defiant moment—throwing a shilling into a lake (184). While Clarissa is so scared of death that she would continue living in a society where her identity is stunted daily, Septimus chooses death rather than life in this “wicked” place. Clarissa feels ashamed; she sees much of the same corruption and wickedness as Septimus, but she chooses to continue her life of comfort rather than dying on principle.

As Clarissa leaves her party guests to think in solitude, the metaphor of the room comes to prominence. In Mrs. Dalloway, the “room” is representative of the inner self. Throughout the novel, Clarissa’s drive to properly socialize is often at odds with a desire for solitude and quiet, and the points when she is alone in a room are points at which her internal monologues become even more personal, like when she retreats to the attic room she stayed in during her sickness. Other characters, like Mrs. Kilman, also emphasize the “room” as a personal, introspective space. Sir Bradshaw invokes the room metaphor when confronted with Septimus’ madness; he is offended by Septimus’ disregard for order and distrust of doctors. Bradshaw twice mentions that action must be taken when someone “comes into your room” (99) and challenges your beliefs. Septimus, feeling trapped by the expectations of a society he doesn’t respect, throws himself from a window to escape the room, representing his freedom from the frustration he feels at his surroundings. He states he didn’t want to die; it was other humans, not life itself, which troubled him.

Clarissa looks out the window across the way and is startled to finally see her neighbor looking back at her. For a minute, Clarissa watches this other old woman in her own bedroom go about her nightly routine. There’s a loud party going on outside in Clarissa’s apartment, but this other individual is quietly going to sleep. Clarissa feels more at ease and she notes the beauty of the late sky, like she had always done at Bourton and Manchester. The clock strikes three and for the first time Clarissa is unconcerned with what time it is, instead refocusing on her earlier conclusion that she lives her life because she enjoys the act of living, regardless of her regrets. She refuses to pity Septimus as she still sees the merit in his act, but Clarissa makes a different choice. She leaves her little room to return to her party.

The Medical Institution (Mrs. Dalloway), Jan 19th, Cooper Rickards

The institution that is the medical industry is a prevalent theme throughout Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Septimus is a veteran of World War One, and suffers from extreme post traumatic stress disorder. He claims that he cannot escape ‘human nature’, which he experienced at it’s full capacity during the war. The phrase ‘human nature’ is repeated over and over. To Septimus, human nature represents malice. During the war he was exposed to violent, physical expressions of human nature. Now at home, he battles it again through the institution of medical doctors.

The doctors Septimus encounters in Mrs. Dalloway embody everything Septimus cannot stand in the world. His general practitioner, Dr. Holmes gives the reader a glimpse into his second fight with human nature. Dr. Holmes comes to call on Septimus every day of the week, and his coming is seen as a crisis. “You brute! You brute! Cried Septimus, seeing human nature, that is Dr. Holmes, enter the room.” (91) Dr. Holmes views Septimus as a lost cause. He does not see any true medical issue with his patient, and makes his opinion clear. He approaches Septimus’s treatment in a cavalier manor, and expresses that if Septimus and his wife were richer, they could afford superior medical treatment. “Now what’s all this about” said Dr. Holmes in the most amiable way in the world. “Talking non-sense to frighten your wife?” But he would give him something to make him sleep. And if they were rich people, said Dr. Holmes, looking ironically round the room, by all means let them go to Harley Street; if they had no confidence in him, said Dr. Holmes, looking not quite so kind.” (91)

The malice implied through this exchange is in Holme’s impersonality. He brushes aside Septimus’s complaints as ‘non-sense’, and gives him ‘something to make him sleep’. He exploits the medical situation he is exposed to. Septimus can see through the facade of this medical professional and it sickens him. This writing is set at a time when the medical industry began to make massive bounds into established society. Doctors climb the ranks of society and their patients follow their advice without second thought. There is even an allusion to the medical institution surpassing the church in terms of public prowess on page 92. Sir William Bradshaw is a noted mental health professional among the higher rungs of English society. His wife photographs decaying and dilapidated churches and frames them in gold.

Sir Bradshaw is clearly wealthy, and his material possessions are referenced prior to meeting his character. “Probably, Rezia thought, that was Sir Wlliam Bradshaw’s house with the grey motor car in front of it. Indeed it was – Sir William Bradshaw’s motor car; low, powerful, grey with plain initials interlocked on the pannel, as if the pomps of heraldry were incongruous, this man being the ghostly helper, the priest of science.” (92) Septimus’s wife recognized Bradshaw’s house by the elegant car out front. It is described as powerful, giving Bradshaw a mirage. The fact that his house is identified by his car is a signal that medical doctors are a part of the elite.

Bradshaw deals with Septimus in a very similar manner as Dr. Holmes. “It was a case of complete breakdown, with every symptom in an advanced stage, he ascertained in two or three minutes (writing answers to questions, murmured discreetly, on a pink card.)” (93) Sir Bradshaw is an extension of Holmes. He is what Holmes aspires to be. He has been knighted, the highest honor a person could be given in their society, do dictate his treatments upon his patients. “For often Sir William would travel sixty miles or more down into the country to visit the rich, the afflicted, who could afford the very large fee which Sir William very properly charged for his advice.” (92) The diction in this sentence reveals much. The pairing of ‘rich’ and ‘afflicted’ is ironic in intention. Implying the good doctors services are not truly required. In that vein, the phrase ‘properly charged’ implies that it is very reasonable the good doctor makes an increadible amount of money for his advice. This embodies the malice that is Septimus’s struggle with human nature.

Septimus recognizes his doctors for what they were, an extension of human nature. He cannot escape them, and despairs. Even his wife thinks that Dr. Holmes is a nice man, a good man. “Dr. Holmes was such a kind man. He was so interested in Septimus. He only wanted to help them, he said. So he was deserted.” (90) Septimus will eventually commit suicide rather than suffer any more exposure to human nature.

Michelle Grinstead Mrs. Dalloway: Love as Life and Death

Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, is a unique look into the complex world surrounding the title character and the several other characters entangled in the many facets of her life. These characters go from minor interactions, loves from the past, acquaintances, and acquaintances of acquaintances. The stream of consciousness Woolf uses in Mrs. Dalloway, can feel incredibly disconcerting when reading, because as soon as you catch up with one of the streams it branches off again, and then will eventually rejoin the river of thoughts swirling about Clarissa. One of the more constant streams outside of the thoughts of life and death, are Peter and Richard. One of Clarissa’s first loves and her husband.Of the two men, Peter is opinionated and selfish as well as compassionate and strong willed, he would have stifled Clarissa in life leading to her metaphorical death. Richard is seen as dependable and traditional, as well as boring and trapped by the facet of masculinity that won’t let him fully open up his heart or mind to Clarissa. Richard lets Clarissa have a freedom that Peter would have been unable to provide even if that freedom comes to Clarissa devoid of a passion that she feels. Richard does truly love Clarissa, Peter as he often says in the book does as well. Of all of the relationships that she thinks about in the narrative of Mrs. Dalloway the most freeing and passionate love is between Clarissa and Sally. Though, once again fear leads her away from both Sally and Peter, into the arms of Richard.

These loves in Clarissa’s life are all examples of what Clarissa’s life could have been like, and that is what it seems she is contemplating on this day documented by Woolf. Clarissa is not  only contemplating the love she has felt, but what they each symbolize; a passionate and quickly snuffed life, a safe but boring life, and a whisper of passion and a constant question of what could be or happen next life. Clarissa is contemplating life for most of the novel, but Septimus’s death and own contemplation of death has brought on Clarissa’s introspection of death. Clarissa has this fear of death which is not only symbolized by her choice to not be with Peter who would have eventually smothered her, but also her distaste when she thinks of death. Towards the end of the novel, when Sir William comes to the party she starts to panic and let herself suffocate in her fear when Sir William mentions the suicide of Septimus.

“Then (she had felt it only this morning) there was the terror; the overwhelming incapacity, one’s parents giving it into one’s hands, this life, to be lived to the end, to be walked with serenely; there was in the depths of her heart an awful fear.” (Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Pg. 180) Clarissa’s swirling of thoughts is brought to a peak upon the discovery of the suicide of a young man she did not know. Clarissa comes to this realization that her fear of death led to a fascination, and almost a want of it. Upon this realization she also realizes how overwhelming life is and how the choices she makes are what make life bearable or unbearable. Immediately after this quote Clarissa thinks to herself that if it were not for the constantness of Richard, she would have surely perished. (Woolf. Pg. 180) She thinks on the happiness of life she has had due to Richard, as well as her pull to a window, much the way Septimus was pulled to the window, in her youth and now. Clarissa now at the window, in the way that Septimus was, looks up and sees the sky while Septimus had looked down and seen relief. His death helped Clarissa realize the beauty in her own life, and she was grateful for it.

Clarissa chose life, a long life that she knew would help her to be safe. She chose life as a young woman when choosing to marry Richard, and chose life again when she went to the window and looked to the sky. In her youth, Richard is the long life she chose, and Richard is also what helps realize why she chose it.Several times Richard comes through the novel as a comfort, towards the end of the book when thinking about her dislike for Sir William, Clarissa notes that Richard is the only one who agrees with her. For me, this agreeance shows that he thinks of her feelings and tries incredibly hard to show it. Even in his own stifled world. When Clarissa is thinking about Richard there is not much mention of fear, his flaw is that he is reserved and unable to open up to Clarissa about love. Richard really truly loves her in a more honest way than Peter, in that he respects Clarissa’s decisions and is selfless in a way Peter never could be. Clarissa spends a lot of time wondering what life could have been like with Peter, but comes to a place of recognition that her life has been good, and without Richard she would have succumbed to her fears. Sally also loves Clarissa, and always will, but because of society neither believed that their love could have been more than a whisper. Richard’s unspoken love is what empowers Clarissa to love and live, for Sally and Peter had a selfish love of Clarissa, towards the end of the book all they do is judge her decisions that she had made for her life, and her choices. Clarissa’s choices are what have allowed her to live, not the people who have chosen to love her, but the person she has chosen to let herself love.

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