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Discuss Woolf?s Evocation Of Time And Space In The Captured ?moments? Of Art And Consciousness. Essay, Research Paper
?A match burning in a crocus? (Mrs.
Dalloway) ?The white spaces that lie between hour and hour? (The Waves) Discuss Woolf?s evocation of time and space in the captured ?moments? of art and consciousness. Forged from the duality between solitude and communion, Woolf?s
novels are rich in struggles for, and reflections on self-identification. This
recurrent idea can take many forms. Social identification is one of the most
obvious: take Mrs. Dalloway?s party, or Jinny?s affirmative: ?This is my
calling. This is my world.?
A modification of that brings identification in regard to a tradition: Lady
Bruton?s Victorian past, or Mr. Ramsay?s desire to be among those thinkers who
reach the latter letters of the alphabet. Consider also familial
identification, particularly James? hatred, or Elizabeth Dalloway?s trip on the
omnibus. Sexual identification (the latent homosexuality in Mrs. Dalloway, or the reverberating
childhood kiss of The Waves) and
emotional identification have a more personal edge. Yet underpinning all of
these is a form of metaphysical self-identification, summed up in all its
ineffable futility by Lily Briscoe;?The old question which traversed the sky of the soul
perpetually, the vast, the general question, which was apt to particularise
itself at such moments as these, when she released faculties that had been on
the strain, stood over her, paused over her, darkened over her. What is the
meaning of life? That was all ? a simple question; one that tended to close in
on one with the years. The great revelation had never come. The great
revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles,
illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.? (To The Lighthouse, p.236)The image of the traversed sky and the instant of a lighted match is
telling: time and space are the crucial parameters which Woolf exploits. They
reach to the very root of our being ? our spatio-temporal identity ? and open a
disconcerting dialogue with time and space as perceived. The misalignment between the physical world and
consciousness runs to the very heart of her work. Woolf evokes time and space
as a flux: through narrative, through memory and vision, and through symbolism.One of the most effective and yet basic techniques she employs is to
simply remove the omniscient narrator. The narrative consciousness of the
realist impulse, which tabulated all perspectives down to a common horizon, was
suddenly absent. There is no authoritative voice with which to make sense of
the opening of To The Lighthouse ?
the reader is forced to share in the puzzlement of the boarders at the Ramsay?s
marriage ? for example. The narrative, although third person, is strongly
filtered through the perceptions of individuals, in Woolf?s own form of the
?stream-of-consciousness.? Instead of attempting to capture the raw spontaneity
and disjunction of thought (as Joyce does) Woolf?s ?stream-of-consciousness? is
like a reflective ?over-soul? which creates a poetic monologue from sense-data
and emotions, and which each individual character possesses. It is a unique
fusion of the literary and the psychological; and the line between narrator and
character often blurred: does the vision of Roman night (Mrs.Dalloway, p.28) belong to the Italian Lucrezia, Woolf, or both?
We also see ambiguities of tense, such as in the closing: ?It is Clarissa, he
said. For there she was.? Such ambiguity is even more apparent in To The Lighthouse, where the
third-person presence has even less to do (barring the Time Passes section.)Woolf?s? technique is taken
to its avant-garde conclusion in The
Waves, which is a series of intensely poetic first-person monologues,
interspersed with impressionistic italicized sections. It is dense with uniform
imagery ? water, light, sensation, the body ? whilst each individual has a
recurrent set of tropes (such as Louis? idea of ancestry, or Jinny?s heat/fire
imagery.) This gives the impression of circularity rather than linearity: it is
a novel with no real plot, and very little external action. It is not so much
an achronological novel as an anti-chronological novel, which dismisses
physical time and space entirely (with the exception of the symbol coastline,
narrated impersonally.) The form has become the content; the structure is the monologues.? Yet this fusion was the culmination of a
progression in experimental structuring. For example, Mrs. Dalloway is unusual in having very few breaks, and no chapter
headings. The action is set on a single day, ? la Ulysses. This enables Woolf to introduce ?clock time?, via the
bells motif, to contrast against the flux of psychological and subjective time.
The phasing of the lighthouse in To The
Lighthouse and the wave segments in The
Waves serve a similar function in marking ordered time. Feminist critics,
such as Minow-Pinkey,
have been particularly keen to point out that both the lighthouse and Big Ben
are phallic, and thus complicit in the masculine side of the order/flux,
intellect/intuition, subjugation/freedom polarities.Meanwhile, the twin narratives of Mrs. Dalloway are unusual in having no linkage. Naturally, motifs
become the hidden linkage, and this is symptomatic of a deeper tendency
throughout Woolf?s work. Making a-temporal connections in the purely Idealistic
realm of metaphor and image furthers Woolf?s intention to evoke flux. For
example, take the images of pools and tables
in To The Lighthouse or the idea of
phrases and phrasing in The Waves.
The spatio-temporal web of connection is undermined by an impressionistic and
fleeting one.?David Daiches,
in a penetrating technical analysis of Mrs.
Dalloway?s narrative, reveals how
Woolf engages with time and space. In the monologues, space is stilled, and
time becomes fluid: memories and present sense-data coalesce.? In descriptive sequences, time is pushed to
the background, and Woolf ranges across the spatial axis of her characters;
particularly easy since the novel is set in London, with its clearly definable
street-names, parks and other location. This technique is also at work to a
more limited extent in To The Lighthouse
(particularly the final section, which switches between Lily and the boat), and
The Waves, where Woolf commonly
circling all six characters around a single event, such as the gathering before
Percival leaves.Closely related to this technique is Woolf?s use of a two-tier
narrative. Some innocuous everyday activity functions as a superficial
narrative, underneath which a deeper narrative will be layered ? the substrate
of interior consciousness. It is particularly effective in conversations, where
the reader is afforded a glimpse at the psychological communication (or lack
of) between characters. The Waves?
entire structure is in fact a vivid example of two-tier narrative, but the
technique is also used extensively throughout her other novels. Consider the
dinner-scene and on the boat in To The
Lighthouse, the encounter between Miss. Kilman and Clarissa in Mrs. Dalloway.? A particularly striking example of such a thought-narrative
overlaid by inconsequential, often tense, pleasantries, is the first meeting of
Peter Walsh and Mrs. Dalloway:?How heavenly it is to see you again!? she exclaimed. He
had his knife out. That?s so like him, she thought. He had only reached town last night, he said; would have
to go down into the country at once; and how was everything, how was everybody
? Richard? Elizabeth? ?And what?s all this?? he said, tilting his pen-knife
towards her green dress. He?s very well dressed, thought Clarissa; yet he always
criticises me. Here she is mending her dress; mending her dress as
usual, he thought; here?s she been sitting all the time I?ve been in India.? (Mrs. Dalloway,
p.46)The two-tier narrative is approached from a wider angle through
Woolf?s treatment of memory. Not restricted to single encounters, memory forms
a deep achronological narrative that runs alongside the ?clock-time? plot.? Mrs.
Dalloway sees virtually characters apart from Elizabeth drawing from a
common fund of memories. Peter?s entire function is to gradually unfold the
history of himself and Clarissa as he wanders around London in-between meeting
Clarissa and attending her party in the evening. This narrative is given an
ironic twist when the radical feminist firebrand Sally Seton ? non-conformist
and openly sexual ? arrives as the middle-aged mother Lady Rosseter. Septimus
is bound up by memories in an altogether more sinister way, as he is haunted by
the death of his friend Evans. Memories in To
The Lighthouse seem altogether more ambiguous until Part III ? ?The
Lighthouse? ? when Part I provides the source of memory, ten years later.
Woolf?s point is that the characters have still not escaped their past any more
than Clarissa, Peter Walsh and Septimus have. The chimes of the London bells,
and the even sweep of the lighthouse may drag on, but subjective time is still
in a flux. As Lily points out: ?was it?that all one?s perceptions, half way to
the truth, where tangled in a golden mesh?? The Waves, too, as a profoundly
anti-temporal novel, manages to juxtapose memories with ?clock-time?, the
latter being very inexact in the impressionistic flux of the narrative. Jinny
remarks: ?the common fund of experience is very deep?
whilst Neville notes ?we are all phrases in Bernard?s story.?
In a fragmented symphony of lines marking Percival?s departure to India, the characters
manage to reprise the entire plot thus far. A similar exercise is mounted by
Bernard in his final, sustained monologue. Their childhood, which Woolf
recounts in the first two segments, continues to have a lasting effect, whether
it is the kiss between Jinny and Louis, Neville?s ?death among the apple trees?
or Louis? vision of an ancestral memory: ?down there my eyes are the lidless
eyes of a stone figure in a desert by the Nile.? This ancestral vision traverses both memory and dream, which is less
than surprising, since the two are often entwined in Woolf?s fiction. If her
narratives throws time and space into flux, and memories flow along the time
axis, then visions, dreams and revelations play across both spatial and
temporal; concentrating perception into the mind alone. It is Neville who says:
?when darkness comes I put off this unenviable body?and inhabit space.? Septimus is the first of three major characters who receive visions:
deluded and mentally unbalanced due to his shellshock, he sees Evans (who is
probably lying in an Italian grave) through the railings of a London park. He
believes he is receiving secret and profound messages, and writes them down in
a frenzy. Naturally, his perception of space becomes distorted: ?leaves were alive;
trees were alive. And the leaves being connected by millions of fibres with his
own body.? Lily
Briscoe is the second major figure. She too, has a vision of a dead person:
Mrs. Ramsay, as she is finishing her painting a decade after she first started
it. It also Lily who has the vision of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay watching their
children playing catch suddenly leap into a transcendental symbolic realm. She
too experiences a distorted perception of space, both in the earlier and later
visions: ?so much depends, she thought, upon distance?her feeling for Mr.
Ramsay changed as he sailed further and further across the bay. It seemed to be
elongated, stretched out.?
Finally, there is Rhoda. Throughout The
Waves, her monologues are surreally lyrical, and she thinks and feels in
images: the empress fantasy, the leaping tiger, falling into water, visualising
Percival in India, and so forth. As a result, her temporal perception becomes a
series of violent moments, she experiences the same elongation that Lily speaks
of, and her very self loses physical solidity: ?I am broken into separate
pieces; I am no longer one.?Septimus, Lily and Rhoda, as madman, artist and dreamer, are
marginalised figures, but Woolf does not restrict the visionary capacity solely
to them. For example, Peter Walsh has two very vivid hallucinations in Mrs. Dalloway ? the solitary traveller
vision, and that of the old woman begging outside the tube station. Both throw
time and space into chaos. Even Mrs. Dalloway, the very mark of respectable bourgeoisie
womanhood, is chained to her subjective perception, and the passage where she
looks in the mirror has some characteristics of a vision: ?all this she saw as
one sees a landscape in a flash of lightening.?
This is an intelligent tactic from Woolf, since it is little more than a
sophisticated result of the removal of omniscient narration. By revealing both
Septimus, Walsh and Clarissa are essentially bounded by their consciousness,
the assumption that one subjective vision is truer than another becomes
destabilized. Woolf exploits this further by using Septimus as something of a
social critic, particularly against the medical establishment. Septimus reveals
that madness is not a separate ?other? but a part of a continuum that
everyone?s mind is somewhere along.Into this flux, where time and space are liable to become fluid, and
where everyone?s mind is potentially implicated in madness, Woolf lets her
characters strive for self-identification. Most of them realise their
predicament in some way or another. The culmination of Walsh?s visions ends:
?to whom does the solitary traveller make reply??
This foreshadows very clearly Rhoda?s ?I will bind flowers in one garland and
clasp them and present them ? oh, to whom??
This sentiment runs strong throughout Woolf?s novels ? that of solitude, of the
inability to communicate, and the fear that existence is disordered and
incomprehensible; nothing more than an ?infinite series of impressions which
time had laid down, leaf by leaf.?
It is palpable in Clarissa?s pangs of loneliness and terror throughout her
single day, and in Lily?s fear that someone will see her half-finished canvas.
Supremely, it runs through every page of The
Waves, in which time, space and identity are considered obsessively. Each
character has his or her own construction of the flux, whether it is Bernard?s
narratives, Neville?s reflective mindfulness, Jinny?s beauty, or Rhoda?s
anguished disintegration. The juxtaposition not only creates a sense of
community among the six, but reveals the empty spaces of solitude and
difference.Throughout, the imagery of decay and renewal recurs. The evocative
?Time Passes? section of To The
Lighthouse uses the empty house motif to represent this. The italicized
sections in The Waves work in a
similar way, and water imagery is also heavily used in To The Lighthouse and even Mrs.
Dalloway (when Elizabeth envisages the omnibus as a fast-sailing ship.)
Another figure that Woolf re-uses, both within and between novels, is that of
sewing torn cloth.? Loneliness and an
inability to communicate are the keynotes: consider the skywriting motif in Mrs. Dalloway, or Rhoda?s unfinished and
contradicted phrases.Yet most of Woolf?s novels, despite this solitude amongst the ebb
and flow of time and space, carry a redemptive message. Mrs. Ramsay?s essence
is concentrated into a sonnet. The first section of To The Lighthouse concludes: ?She had not said it, yet he knew.?
Lily has her vision, finishes her painting; and James finally reaches the
lighthouse. The Waves is
fundamentally a series of revelations, such as Neville?s ?let us abolish the
ticking of time?s clock with one blow?
or Jinny?s ?life comes; life goes, we make life.?
Although the disillusion of age sets in, their last meeting proves a moment of
communion in Bernard?s image of the six-sided red carnation. In Mrs. Dalloway, Walsh sees Clarissa at
the doorway (recalling the solitary traveller vision) and has an instant of
metaphysical identification. Clarissa herself experiences a similar epiphany on
hearing of Septimus? suicide, concretised by Shakespearian intertextuality
functioning as motif.? The revelations all subscribe to the Romantic concept best expressed
by Blake in ?Auguries of Innocence?, intensified by the Modernist crisis of
time. The moment becomes eternity: ?beauty had this penalty ? it came too
readily, came too completely. It stilled life ? froze it.?
The object becomes infinity: ?this room seems to me central, something scooped
out of the eternal night.?
These paradoxes are the matches that Lily speaks of, the far edges of the flux
wrapped round on each other into some kind of unity. This is how Woolf?s
characters transcend, in art or consciousness, the threatening fluidity of time
and space. As Bernard narrates: ?Against the gateway, against some cedar tree I saw
blaze bright, Neville, Jinny, Rhoda, Susan and myself, our life, our
identity?we ? against the brick, against the branches, we six, out of how many
million millions, for one moment out of what measureless abundance of past time
and time to come, burnt there triumphant. The moment was all, the moment was
enough.? (The Waves, p.214) Bibliography Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
(1925) Virginia Woolf, To The
Lighthouse (1927) Virginia Woolf, The Waves
(1931) Hermione Lee, The Novels of
Virginia Woolf (1977) Makiko Minow-Pinkey, Virginia
Woolf and the Problem of Subject (1987) Virginia Woolf: New
Critical Essays, ed.Patricia Clements and Isobel
Grundy (1983) Clarissa Dalloway, ed. Harold Bloom (1990)  The Waves, p.75  Makiko Minow-Pinkey, Virginia
Woolf and the Problem of Subject (1987)  The pool generally represents a circular whole, a non-contingent
perfection ? ?solitary like a pool at evening, far distant, seen from a train
window? (To The Lighthouse, p.193)
and the table represents the hardness of philosophical discourse.  David Daiches, extract from Virginia
Woolf: The Novel and the Modern World (1960) collected in Clarissa Dalloway, ed. Harold Bloom
(1990)  To The Lighthouse, p.78  The Waves, p.134  Ibid. p.51  Ibid. p.7  Ibid. p.38  Mrs. Dalloway, p.26  To The Lighthouse, p.280  The Waves, p.79  Mrs. Dalloway, p.41  Mrs. Dalloway, p.65  The Waves, p.41  To The Lighthouse, p.247  To The Lighthouse, p.186  The Waves, p.138  Ibid. p.134  To The Lighthouse, p.260  The Waves, p.136
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