In what ways, and to what extent, does Mrs Dalloway illustrate Woolfs intention to use her novel to criticise the social system, and to show it at work, at its most intense ? (Woolf, A Writers Diary, 1923)

Authors Avatar

Mrs Dalloway.

          In what ways, and to what extent, does Mrs Dalloway illustrate Woolf’s intention to use her novel to “criticise the social system, and to show it at work, at its most intense” ? (Woolf, A Writer’s Diary, 1923)

This essay will be investigating to what extent Woolf used her novel Mrs Dalloway to criticise the social system. To do this I will be taking into account the year the novel was written, and examining the social situations which the reader could have perceived to be critical. Also, it will be important to acknowledge that some of the socially critical situations Woolf uses had not been encountered before, and to reason that perhaps Woolf wrote  Mrs Dalloway to try and draw public attentions to the reaction to events that the general public, politicians and all the social classes had no idea how to deal with. At the same time the essay will use these points to connect the novel and Woolf to its modernist roots.

Woolf began writing what would become Mrs Dalloway in the summer of 1922 shortly after World War 1 had ended. Public suffering from the war was still inflicting its massive after effects, and Woolf wanted to write an expression of what she felt was happening. On my initial forays into researching Virginia Woolf my opinion was very closed, I felt she was very insular. Commenting on the outside world from the safety of her own well educated and wealthy life. But now I feel I passed judgment too quickly. Woolf came from a challenging background, loosing her mother at a young age and coping with depression at different stages of her life. She was an imperative aspect of a groundbreaking generation of people who were trying to shake off their Victorian roots and reach for something new, something different. Which is what we now know as the modernist era, where all absolute truths were questioned and life was about asking the where, why and who, of what they were. It must have been a very unsettling time, and society itself was still trying to come to terms with new learning curves concerning religion, science and Darwinism. But with the events of The War merely surviving had taken immediate precedence. Many young men had gone to fight, and the women had stepped into multi-functioning roles of being care giver, provider, and both mother and father. Despite the difficulty put upon those left behind, it also brought a feminine freedom and individuality. Soldiers returning from battle were firstly faced with the fact that their wives, mothers and sisters had evolved into far more independent creatures in their absence, but they were also facing the tasks of re-socialisation, battle fatigue and post war stress, these are words which we commonly know and understand today. But this was not the case in 1922. The Victorian pre-war years were about solid truths; religion, royalty, family and the eventuality that everything would ‘come good’ in the end, and for Woolf shaking off these preconceived notions that were widely taught and understood during her childhood must have been very confusing. But to concentrate on Woolf from a literary angle she was one of the new style of writers of the modernist era, where the ‘old fashioned’ bildungsroman was cast aside. The bildungsroman novels with their epic tales that spanned the life of their hero and reached a satisfying end of ‘doing the right thing’ no longer fit into society. Food rationing, war, death and struggling against all odds, had somehow lifted the veil of innocence that novels such as ‘Great expectations’ and ‘Jane Eyre’ wrote about. Woolf was a part of a society that wandered why? Why did so many young men go to die, and why was society not willing to admit that there was something desperately wrong with the war torn young men returning home from the field? Being part of the modernist generation meant to strive for change, and to question everything, even the existence of an all powerful and righteous God. But if there is no God, then what to believe? For all the generations before Woolf had believed in the divine right of the monarchy to rule, and that living a just life before God allowed entry to heaven. These solid truths were suddenly ripped away, and the belief in government and political structure were to be thrown out with them. Woolf and her fellows were creating a whole new way of life, of education, art and science. With thanks to authors like Woolf and the Bloomsbury group of which she was a part, literary works were written in many narratives, and timelines were fluid. Woolf wanted fiction to get at something abstract, to use the mundane events of life to somehow create the bigger picture, there were no massive and life changing events in Mrs Dalloway, Woolf didn’t use conventional methods to build tension and drama, even Septimus’s eventual suicide was played down, the plot was purposely based around a party. Something that would be perceived as frivolous and unimportant. Woolf searched for her writing form, moving her narrative and stopping the plot from becoming chronological. ‘Her design involves moving the characters through the streets of London while also timing their movements in a way that will create the impression of disparate events occurring simultaneously.’ Novels were not expected or even preferred in an orderly or familiar style anymore. It was not until 1934 when Ezra Pound murmured what would be the long-lasting ‘Make it new’, but it would seem that this was the sentiment long before he announced it.

Join now!

Woolf perfected her now famous ‘tunneling technique’ where she built her characters personalities and backgrounds (and then interlinked them where required) in Mrs Dalloway. The reader could be forgiven for thinking that Woolf wrote the book as a winding tale allowing the characters to be her guide, but Woolf agonized over every little aspect. Despite the timeline being fluid, Woolf had it planned out meticulously (as her diary shows) and each character played their part. One of the most important social aspects of the tale is how Woolf handles the character of Septimus. His story runs parallel with Mrs Dalloway, ...

This is a preview of the whole essay