A Narration and Point of View
From the very first sentence, Mrs. Dalloway shows the secure meshing of a third person (external) narrator’s point of view with a first person character’s point of view, such that it is not possible to separate or distinguish the two: “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” If the two had been clearly separated the sentence would read: “Mrs. Dalloway said, ‘I will buy the flowers myself’,” or would have included the word “that”: “Mrs. Dalloway said that she would buy the flowers herself.” In this second case, the reader would assume that the words following the word “that” were not necessarily faithful to Mrs. Dalloway’s thought or speech, but rather that they are a narrator’s interpretation or summary. Instead, what Woolf perfected in this novel is a style of narration that literary critics have called “represented thought and speech,” capturing the motions of a mind thinking in the past tense, third person. A narrator presents character thought and speech, but the narrator’s words are wholly and immediately imbued by the voice and style of the particular character in question; there is no way to separate narrator and character. Woolf invented an elegant and efficient way of moving between and representing multiple characters’ speech and thought; the clumsiness of excessive dialogue or of switching between sequences of different characters’ thoughts presented in the first person is avoided. Related terms in literary criticism are reported thought and speech, free indirect discourse, and stream-of-consciousness.
Mrs. Dalloway is striking for the way that its events occur within a single day. This unusual strategy announces the novel’s complication of time in general. For example, while most people tend to think of time in terms of the regular clicking away of the clock-of seconds, minutes, hours, and days-this book shows how people can relive, through the operations of memory, whole years within the space of minutes. Peter and Clarissa walk a few paces in London and remember major periods of their youth, how these years affected them, and how they shaped their lives.
On a related theme, the novel multiplies time by presenting the thoughts of myriad characters, each of whom remember and experience time, the present and the past, in different ways. In this novel, chronological time is only one sense of time, as the characters bring the past into the present, allow the meaning and remembrance of the present to be shaped by the past, and shape memories of and feelings about the past with experience in the present.
C Character Double
Septimus Warren Smith can be seen as Clarissa’s double in the novel. As a character double, he is a character whose attributes and story fill out the character and story of Clarissa. According to the literary critic Alex Page, in “A Dangerous Day: Mrs. Dalloway and Her Double,” “Septimus’s character is in all essentials Clarissa’s, but taken to a deadly extreme.” Where Clarissa is isolated, Septimus is disassociated from reality; where Clarissa manages the disappointments and strictures society imposes upon her, Septimus buckles under greater pressures. The close connections of these characters is made clear by Clarissa’s deep upset when Dr. Bradshaw informs her, at her party, that one of his patients committed suicide that day. She retreats from her guests in shock when Bradshaw mentions Septimus’s death, as if she herself were susceptible to the same degree of despair that destroys the young man.