In Virginia Woolfs Mrs Dalloway, the representation of time and attitudes towards history, are one of the central experiences within her novel. Originally called The Hours, Woolf explores the existence of different time frameworks. The four main frameworks explored in the novel are clocktime, subjective time, historical and evolutionary time. Woolf deals with the transience of time in human existence. Life is portrayed in a state of constant creation, changing endlessly from moment to moment. The characters are pre-occupied with the essence of time. They are acutely aware of the moment as it passes, compounding their thoughts, feelings and apprehensions of the physical world in which the character moves. Others who live simultaneously yet individually also correlate the intimate connection of the moment to their own existence. At the same time, these experiences capitulate moments of similar experiences of the past through links of association. Through analysing the connection between the time frameworks, Woolf attempt to make a statement of human existence, and their ability to value the acts of war and patriotism, rather than acknowledge their true identity.
The first and perhaps most noticeable, is the existence of an objective or clocktime framework. As we follow the lives of the characters, particularly the world of Clarissa Dalloway, we are constantly reminded of the regular passage of time, signaled by the striking of the clocks. Apart from the obvious usefulness it has in the daily lives of the characters, namely in the planning of Clarissas party, there is a second more prominent reason for its inclusion in the novel. The narrators function by announcing the chiming of the bells acts as a reminder of the ungoverned nature of time, and its inability to be restrained regardless of human desires.
..First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air(pg6)
The clear distinctions in time are highlighted by the momentary lapses back into reality bought about by the symbolic striking of the clock, emphasizing the hour in real terms. The constant chiming serves as an impersonal reminder of the present.
In contrast to clocktime, is the framework of subjective time. Subjective moments are those in memory that can be recalled, but never relived. Such a timeframe is unlike clocktime, as it does not flow evenly yet at the same time is not momentary, and can be orchestrated by the individuals conscious recall. Its ability to not die away rapidly allows for it to exist in the individual’s mind, and by such existence, is generally memorable or of some importance to the person. In Mrs Dalloway, we see the characters recall the summer at Bourton, and their belief of how it has been crucial in determining their lives. This time in their lives, whether in the past or future, is of significance, and therefore they have vivid memories of it. For Septimus, it is the death of his friend Evans that invades his subjective mind. His inability to control his memories results in his subjective time becoming frozen at that moment so that he lives it over and over again in various guises.
For Peter Walsh, it is when ..He had found life like an unknown garden, full of turns and corners, surprisingly, yes; really it took ones breath away, these momentslike this moment, in which things came together;
this ambulance; and life and death.. (pg136). Clarissa encounters also Only for a moment, she had a illumination; a match burning in a crocus; an inner meaning almost expressed (pg30). These fleeting experiences of revelation, their submerging into the subjective world, is short lived as they are brought back to the present by the switching to clock time, and again resumes their practical, social life. Although their individual revelations differ from one another, they are brought into a relationship by shared experiences, of watching the motor-car in which the Queen may be sitting, of gazing at the aeroplane sky-writing, or even the vague awareness of the chimes of Big Ben striking throughout the day. As Woolf illustrates in Mrs Dalloway, there is a close relationship between the two frameworks of clocktime- the practical time to engage with the world, and the subjective time where a deeper, more enduring meaning to existence holds prominence. Virginia Woolf does not attempt to explain these meaning of these timeframes, but merely illustrate their existence. These moments can be unclear and interchangeable, but upon their reflection there is a essence that there is more to existence that patriotic pride of warfare. It is this point that Woolf establishes.
A third framework of time in the novel is that of historical time. This specifically lies in the grouping of time periods in history based in significant historical events. Although the event of the Great War is of such historical magnitude, the novels ruling classes are portrayed to be living in a state of disguised decadence, and are clearly not aware on the importance of the War. Lady Bruton is a striking representation of this class. Although from a military family, she displays an incredible ignorance in failing to respond to what is happening in the world. Her traditions, mainly of archaic military and imperial origin, are in themselves representatives of historical views shared by the classes of the time. It is through the commemorative monuments scattered throughout London, and their reminders of the past, that we see Virginia Woolfs most obvious representation of history in the novel. By such military ties, Woolf illustrates the ability that traditional culture has to deny the reality of war by covering it with images of glamour and heroism. It also links the sentimental patriotic pride and attachment society has with warfare and its associations with royalty. By mention of the poor woman, nice children, orphans, widows, waiting to see the Queen go past in her car (pg18), the reader is given an insight into English culture, and their love of royalty, despite their solemn existence. In the character of Mr Bowley, we are given perhaps the most noticeable example of this. Described as sealed with wax over deeper sources of life (pg18), we see an individual who has suppressed the real world to the extent that he is unable to feel authentic emotions, yet is brought to tears over the visual presence of the royal car is seen passing through the streets of London.
A breeze flaunting ever so warmly past the bronze heroes, lifted some flag
flying in theBritish breast of Mr Bowley.. (pg18)
It is through the character of Mr Bowley, that Woolf makes comment on the human trend of upholding warfare, placing importance on the actions of past heroes, rather than living life for the moment. If we interrupt the extent of Mr Bowleys suppression for the sake of his sentimental pride to his nation, than it is clear that Woolfs attitudes towards history in the novel serve as a means on reassessing the importance of warfare in the very real world of human emotions. Its most simple purpose however is to clearly allowing the reader to compare the old London to that of today. In doing so we not only see its attitudes towards warfare, but towards women, as hostess verses independent women free of the perfect gentlemen who would stifle their soul, and hence experience Clarissas journey in a very real fashion.
Beyond historical time is yet another time framework, that of evolutionary time. This refers to the time of the universe and its evolution far greater than those expansions of time in human history. In Mrs Dalloway we see an example of such cosmic time on the figure of the old beggar-woman who sings in the street outside Regents Park. She sings a song about the time before human life began, when the earth was covered with swamps and mammoths roamed, of how millions of years of human history pass so swiftly, and of the time when human history will come to an end. In such a framework, Death is victorious. Deaths enormous sickle has swept those tremendous hills and the passing generationsvanished, like leaves, to be trodden under, to be soaked and steeped and made mould of by that eternal spring (pg 72-74). Although the fact that a poor and wretched woman is singing of such a theme, as the passage of infinite ages and the eventual death of the earth, we the reader are not meant to see this as a comic vision. It is merely to acts as a reminder that the cycle of life is ungoverned to the desires of power in human beings, and the worlds fate is decided despite humans intentions. By this, Woolf attempts to put into perspective the nature of human existence. That is mans valuing of power and warfare, and belief we are immortal, believing to have the ability to defy the natural cycle of life and death. By mention of the evolution of the world, the reader is reminder of its uncontrollable nature, despite whatever belief man has in his own existence. In essence, the correlation between the actions of prehistoric man, and his patriotic attachment to acts of violence as a means of problem solving, is little different to that of modern day man. The song sung by the woman is an attempt to show that despite the evolution of the earth has occurred, and will continue to evolve, sadly the nature of man, and what we value has not.
Overall, the use of time in Mrs Dalloway is more than to give the novel a certain rhythm; it is to illustrate Woolf’s concerns of the nature of man, and the society we have inhabited. To fully understand the objective nature of clocktime, its momentary importance, an appreciation of subjective time, and its implications on our lives is required. In Mrs Dalloway, Woolf attempts to illustrate the importance of these revelations subjective time has to offer. For each of the characters, their moment came as experience out of the ordinary, and hence was crucial in affecting their lifes choices. Although we see the novel through the eyes of Clarissa, we are still given an objective view of the world in which she lives in. By mention of the historical attitudes in London, Woolf attempt to comment on the values of warfare and patriotism that overpowers any real reason for our existence. The ultimate death of the soul is when Mr Bowley is unable to feel emotions because of a society, which has taught the individual to suppress feelings, opting for bravery as valuable commodities. The inter-relation of all time frameworks gives a holistic view of human existence. Woolf uses the transience of time and focuses through this element to show the prominence it plays in the lives of the various characters, in doing so makes a statement about the nature of man.
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