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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.?[1]

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[2],

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[3]

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[4],

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??[5] 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?[6]

whilst Neville notes ?we are all phrases in Bernard?s story.?[7]

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.?[8] 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.?[9] 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.?[10] 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.?[11]

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.?[12]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.?[13]

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??[14]

This foreshadows very clearly Rhoda?s ?I will bind flowers in one garland and

clasp them and present them ? oh, to whom??[15]

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.?[16]

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.?[17]

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?[18]

or Jinny?s ?life comes; life goes, we make life.?[19]

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.?[20]

The object becomes infinity: ?this room seems to me central, something scooped

out of the eternal night.?[21]

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) [1] The Waves, p.75 [2] Makiko Minow-Pinkey, Virginia

Woolf and the Problem of Subject (1987) [3] 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. [4] David Daiches, extract from Virginia

Woolf: The Novel and the Modern World (1960) collected in Clarissa Dalloway, ed. Harold Bloom

(1990) [5] To The Lighthouse, p.78 [6] The Waves, p.134 [7] Ibid. p.51 [8] Ibid. p.7 [9] Ibid. p.38 [10] Mrs. Dalloway, p.26 [11] To The Lighthouse, p.280 [12] The Waves, p.79 [13] Mrs. Dalloway, p.41 [14] Mrs. Dalloway, p.65 [15] The Waves, p.41 [16] To The Lighthouse, p.247 [17] To The Lighthouse, p.186 [18] The Waves, p.138 [19] Ibid. p.134 [20] To The Lighthouse, p.260 [21] The Waves, p.136


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