The Intersection of External Time and Internal Time in Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

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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 represen...

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...clusion, I would say that Woolf also found her own voice in Mrs

Dalloway. Indeed, in this novel, she has radically broken with the

traditional way of representing time. The intersection between

external and internal time structures very well the novel despite his

disordered and discontinued nature. In fact, Woolf has succeeded in

keeping unity throughout the story despite the constant moves between

the consciousnesses of every character. Moreover, by the use of the

new modern techniques, i.e. the stream of consciousness and the

interior monologues, she makes the novel seem more truthful.

Therefore, through this subjective approach to reality, the reader is

closer to the characters and s/he is easier absorbed in the new world

of fiction.


Woolf, Virginia. Mrs Dalloway. London: Penguin Classics, 2000.
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