The Intersection Of External Time And Internal Time In Mrs Dalloway By Virginia Woolf

3259 words - 13 pages

In Mrs Dalloway, the modernist writer Virginia Woolf undermines the
usual conventions of prior prose fiction by adopting an innovative
approach to time. She contrasts the objective external time and
subjective internal time that structure the plot of the one-day novel.
In fact, the story takes place on a single day in June and, by the use
of two important techniques, namely the stream of consciousness mode
of narration and the interior monologue, the reader is constantly
flowing from the present to the past or the future. Moreover, Woolf
blurs the distinctions between dream and reality but emphasizes the
importance of the present moment. Finally, both representations of
time have a great influence on characters' life and relations between
each other.

Firstly, time itself, which, in fact, measures and divides, becomes
fluid, elastic and mobile the interaction of memories and thoughts. As
Showalter points out in the introduction of Mrs Dalloway, "In Time and
Free Will (1888) … Bergson" speaks about "'psychological time, which
is internal, subjective, and measured by the relative intensity of the
moment'" (qtd. in Woolf xx). Internal time is one of the new
characteristics that Woolf introduces in her novel. In other words,
she describes a subjective reality through the stream of
consciousness. By this new mode of narration, Woolf gives to the
reader the impression of entering the consciousness of the characters.
It describes the unorganised flow of thoughts, sensations, and
memories that is the time in the mind (or internal time). Characters'
memories introduce the element of time. Furthermore, one of the
techniques for representing the stream of consciousness in the novel
is the indirect mode of interior monologue. To put the point another
way, this method provides the reader direct access to the characters'
thoughts, emotions and feelings by the use of words. It replaces the
images that must be used to represent such sensations. Moreover,
thoughts are reported into a third-person past tense narrative.
However, it seems that Woolf never tries to transcribe the stream of
consciousness of her characters directly. It is always reported, with
phrases such as "she thought", "she asked herself", "she wondered",
etc. introduced regularly. She therefore keeps reminding the reader
whose stream of thoughts it is that he is reading, for this reminder
is one of the unifying factors.

In the fluid nature of consciousness, temporal limits and definitions
lose their distinctiveness. Indeed, Woolf constantly blurs the
distinction between dream and reality. As David Daiches suggests,
Woolf "presents the individual stream of consciousness as compounded
of retrospect and anticipation . . ." (63). In other words, time is
free in the mind of the characters; it allows them to go back in their
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