The Virginia Woolf Reading Group discussion

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Mrs. Dalloway > Discussion on Mrs.Dalloway!!! Your comments, thoughts and anything else

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

How does everyone like the idea that Mrs.Dalloway is considered a novel without a plot. Any thought...or objections!


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

While the idea that Mrs Dalloway is a novel lacking a plot, the very concept of plot itself is being experimented with within the text, and is attempting to subvert the traditional Aristotelian view of what a plot actually is; is it a series of actions that result from cause and effect, or are they merely events that are relevant to the character and are closely tied (but perhaps not directly) to one another? I think in order to fully grasp what Woolf is attempting with her usage of plot in the book, one would need to question the very essence of "plot" itself.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

what an intelligent response. :)


message 4: by Phillip (last edited Jul 27, 2008 04:47PM) (new)

Phillip I don't agree that MD is a novel without a plot!

There are several...and Jessica's comment is right on about Woolf wanting to challenge literary form on this outing. She was admittedly influenced by Ulysses, another novel whose action takes place over the course of a single day, and her "experiment" produced a beautiful novel. A lot of scholars enjoy arguing the differences between Woolf and Joyce, but I see them as perfectly balanced male and female counterparts of the same coin.

But what of plots?

Woolf and Joyce wanted to explore the idea of the expanse of the personal into the collective - as well as how time could be explored in the same way: a single day can represent an entire lifetime. Both writers were interested in how a city (London or Dublin) could represent universal concerns.

But that reads more of subject and not "plot".... sorry!

Again, I think there are multiple plots - there's a love story simmering - the love of Clarissa for her husband, and the "lost love" she had with Peter. In this regard it is the story of how love evolves over time, how it changes and remains.

There's the plot aspect of Septimus, which allows Woolf to discuss broader social issues (war) through the lens of an individual. It's as if everything is condensed in both of these novels (Ulysses and Mrs Dalloway), despite the expansive appearance of so many minor and major characters.

There's the plot aspect of Peter Warren, who is still under the spell of his adolescent (young adult) love for Clarissa. He's returned from India (an aspect that allows Woolf to discuss colonialism) and his visits to Clarissa on this day create lots of interesting echoes from the past.

Elizabeth, I've never explored the idea of Proust being the influence on Mrs. Dalloway, in fact, I think they were published at roughly the same time, where Mrs. Dalloway was published a few years after Ulysses (1922). I'll do some investigating and get back to you on that.

Nonetheless, I read A La Rechercherche du Temps Perdu...an extraordinary book(s)! It's vastly different than Mrs. Dalloway, and has very different thematic concerns, not to mention structural. It's much easier to compare Woolf with Joyce in this case.

On the other hand, Proust was also telescoping time in his massive tomb. The book starts as the narrator's memory is triggered by the image of a crumbling madeline in a cup of tea, and out of that image expands an enormous symphony of characters and plotlines. So in that case, there is a similarity. But thematically, the narratives are quite different. And the negotiation with "time" in fiction was a principal concern of the modernists, not merely Woolf, Proust and Joyce.

Again, I would tend to compare Mrs. D with Ulysses (which has been done over and over again by individuals much smarter and more eloquent than myself!).

Both novels have a central character who is looking back over their lives over the course of a day in search of coming terms with the usual existential issues: Am I happily married? Am I fulfilled by my work/passions? Have I let my true love slip away? Is my partner fulfilled? Is my daughter under the influence of positive role models?....the list goes on and on. Both characters end the day with a kind of celebration (Mrs Dalloway throws her party, Mr Bloom visits a brothel, and meets a young man who serves as a kind of surrogate son - his own son died in childbirth years before...).


message 5: by Phillip (last edited Jul 28, 2008 04:46PM) (new)

Phillip From the letters and diaries I've read, Woolf starts out not liking Joyce for all his "fireworks", but it seems that over time, she began to appreciate him more and more.

Do let me know when you find more on her ideas on Proust (and where she states them). I'd enjoy reading her thoughts on him. It's easy to see how she is more like Proust in her construction of prose and poetics than she is like Joyce, who I feel she has more in common with on a structural and at times, a thematic level (in some cases).


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