Essays

Mrs. Dallaway

What is the significance of Bourton in relation to plot and character?

In Mrs. Dallaway, Bourton has an idealistic and mythic value. It represents a time of fluid sexual categories and flexible social roles, a time of idealism before the characters made their irrevocable choices. Although in the Bourton scenes some mention is made of historically specific topics, such as women’s rights, generally Bourton exists outside history, in sharp contrast to the contemporary scenes in London. Bourton acquires a mythic quality; however, the mythic qualities do not extend to there being a predestined fate for any of the characters. It does not shape or control contemporary history except where choices of individuals are concerned.

Virginia Woolf’s book Mrs. Dallaway concerns itself with time on two levels, first the hours and minutes of the day that are portioned out by the church bells, and secondly by the collective consciousness of those remembering the past. Time is central to the theme of this book and as Bourton is the common memory for several characters, it is important to consider this aspect of the novel.

In Michael Whitworth’s essay “Virginia Woolf and Modernism,” Whitworth discusses the writers and philosophers that influenced Woolf’s work including Einstein, Freud, Rutherford, Nietzsche and Bergson. Whitworth contends specifically we can attribute the philosophy of Henri Bergson for the distinction between “psychological time and real time.” Examination of prehistoric, primitive and mythic ideas of time can be attributed to Darwin, Einstein, and Freud.

“Whitworth also compares Woolf’s work to other contemporary writers including Joyce Pound and Elliot. Whitworhth takes the stand that Woolf was much more passive in her attitude towards “modernist metaphors, exaggerated masculinity and a politics of authoritarianism.” .” Comparing the opening scene of Mrs. Dallaway to the crowd scenes in Waste Land, Whitworth notes that, “while bourgeois and aesthetic modernity are distinct in Woolf’s work, they are not as irreducibly hostile as they are for other modernists”

I found Michael Whitworth’s comparisons of Woolf’s work with that of Eliot interesting, for example, Woolf associates the city with “life, love and rhythm.” T. S. Eliot dwells on the “sordid” details of the city. Whitworth uses quotes from Woolf’s diary to make the point that Woolf; although more hopeful in the technological age than Elliot, is still very much an elitist. Woolf’s elitism does not affect her work in the same way that elitism affected Eliot’s work. Elitism made Eliot’s work unattainable for the masses. Woolf’s work although profound is still accessible.

Whitworth’s essay also put in place the exact philosophies of the time. It explained how Nietzsche and Freud influenced the artists of the day. Nietzsche’s superman philosophy for example was a foundation for the elitism and individualism in the modernist works. Freud’s philosophy is seen in the relationship between Clarissa Dallaway and Sally Sutton at Bourton.

Works Cited

Whitworth, Michael.  “Virginia Woolf and modernism.”

The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf.  Eds.

Sue Roe and Susan Sellers.  Cambridge:  The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 2000.  146-163