The Light in A Sketch of the Past and Mrs. Dalloway

Powerful Essays
The Light in A Sketch of the Past and Mrs. Dalloway

Virginia Woolf's method to writing fiction was always to "dig out beautiful caves1" behind, within, and around her characters - to tunnel through their consciousness in order to tell their story as artfully as one tells his or her own. It is her "tunneling" process that makes her style so distinctive: her sentences layered with multiple meanings, her paragraphs rich with stream-of-consciousness internal monologue, and her dialogue sparse. Clearly, she had few qualms about taking the modern novel's all-too-common, linear form of storytelling and turning it upside down in order to dig through to its core - its very essence - and fill it in with her own art. The resultant caves are denser, more detailed and, consequently, often darker than the literary creations of other women writers of her time. To craft them, Woolf manipulates both the direction and span of time, includes literary allusions, and crafts her sentences so as to better develop her characters' relationships to her themes and each other.

In A Sketch of the Past, Virginia Woolf describes the circumstances under which memories evince themselves: "the past," she says, "comes back when the present runs so smoothly that it is like the sliding of a deep river." This view of time - of the past's reemergence during controlled moments in the present - resonates throughout Woolf's characters' stream-of-consciousness narrative. In Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf manipulates time in order to show her characters' relationships to each other as well as how their pasts govern their present lifestyles.

Indeed, the novel's central plot lines - Clarissa Dalloway's party preparations, Septimus Smi...

... middle of paper ...

...ruth" that she so often sought in other authors' works2 - that light her readers way to the end of her novel's dense, winding tunnels.

Works Cited

Abel, Elizabeth. Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989.

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One's Own. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981.

Woolf, Virginia. "A Sketch of the Past." Moments of Being. Ed. Jeanne Schulkind. 2nd ed. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985.

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. San Diego: Harcourt, Inc, 1925.


1. Elizabeth Abel ,"Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis," Women in Culture and Society, Catharine R. Stimpson, ed., (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1989), xvi.

2. Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own, (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981)
Get Access