About Victorian Modernism

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When reading a writers works one can notice that they have their own writing style. One could say a signature stamp on the way that they write, whether it is a modernist approach or the way they piece together their stories. In this paper, I will discuss Virginia Woolf’s stream of consciousness in “Mrs. Dalloway” and both her and Katherine Mansfield’s “The Daughters of the Late Colonel” and her modernist approach to a short story. First, both authors have a very modernist approach to their styles of writing. With Virginia Woolf, her approach to “Mrs. Dalloway” was very modernist in the fact that the protagonist of the story is a woman and for the most part is told from a woman’s perspective. This was very different in that it was not seen often in writing during this time, let alone from a woman writer. The same can be said for Katherine Mansfield’s approach to The Daughters of the Late Colonel” there are two protagonists in the story and both are women. Both authors use women protagonists to show the flaws in Victorian society and the after-effects of World War I, the things that no one really wanted to acknowledge and that seemed taboo. They approached modernism in slightly different ways but still overlapped in certain areas.

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Virginia approached by bringing the attention to the effects of war on men. This can specifically be seen in the character Septimus. Septimus Smith was a war vet who suffered from PTSD. As discussed in Karen Demeester’s article Trauma and Recovery in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf’s characterization of Septimus Smith in Mrs. Dalloway illustrates not only the psychological injuries suffered by victims of severe trauma such as war but also the need for them to give meaning to their suffering in order to recover from the trauma. Incorporating this character into her story was a very modernistic move because it was showing us the ugly side that no one wanted to discuss. She was bringing an awareness that was taboo and is somewhat until this day. Karen further goes on to say, Septimus’s death is the result of his inability to communicate his experiences to others and thereby give those experiences meaning and purpose. Virginia Woolf modernistic views helped reveal the Victorian society ways of ignoring issues. Fictionally, Septimus’s death could have been prevented if there was better awareness of the psychological effects war vets goes through after war. Thus his death was symbolic of those who went to war and came back and were psychologically scarred. Septimus’s war trauma, however, is perpetuated and its psychological damage aggravated by a culturally prescribed process of postwar reintegration that silences and marginalizes war veterans. His thoughts provided the society at this time with an insight that had not been there before.

Keeping with the psychological theme, another character that showed some psychological issues was Mrs. Dalloway herself, Clarissa. Clarissa herself suffered from the everyday oppression of the Victorian society. At first glance, Clarissa seems very shallow and does not care much about anything outside of her Westminster neighborhood. She is very well known by everyone and considers herself a sympathetic woman, Clarissa is a complete snob. She is the wife of a high ranking government worker, and she frowns upon those who do not abide by the correct social standards put into play during the Victorian society. The latter of the statement plays a huge part in the oppression that she is feeling. This was the environment that she was raised in and because of this she is now depressed and has anxiety. She uses the partying lifestyle to deal with it. Clarissa, much like the society at this time was affected by World War I and she cannot help but see the changes in the society around her. Also, the narrator mentions that she witnessed her own sister being killed. Although Clarissa does not think about it all the time she was traumatized by it today. Overall with Clarissa, Virginia used this character to show the kind of self-awareness that was happening during this time, and by doing such made this a modernistic short story.

Continuing on, Katherine’s also had a psychological approach in her short story The Daughters of the Late Colonel. Here we have two women protagonist, who are sisters dealing with the death of their overly strict father. The psychological aspect comes into to work directly with Katherine’s writing style. Her fragmentation of the text and often accompanied by the frequent use of ellipse as stated in Speaking Silence in The Daughters of the Late Colonel”, is very prominent in this short story. Kathrine’s use of this particular writing style allowed her to show us how the characters feel with the lack of actions, and how conflicted the sisters are about their father’s death. In the story, she takes on the identity to show the judgment on them. Katherine, much like Virginia puts the reader in multiple characters heads. However, there was one way that differed and was very unique to her modernistic writing style.

In the seventh section of the story, she gives both protagonists the same imagination. Both Josephine and Constantia here the barrel organ being playing outside the house. Constantia and Josephine panic somewhat as they know their father did not like the sound of the barrel organ. However, they pause and reflect on their lives for a moment when they realize they do not need to stop the barrel organ from playing. This brief reflection and Constantia’s looking at the Buddha may be important as for a moment Mansfield may be offering both women the possibility to change their lives. However, the fact that both Constantia and Josephine forget what they want to say to one another suggests there will be no change in either woman’s life. If only one could imagine a future there could have been hope.

They are to remain disconnected from the world. Living as they have controlled by their father or at least his memory. There will be no freedom for either woman. With no immediate family of their own, life has passed both women by and the reader is left asking that both women may be fully aware of what they have lost or missed out on in life. Due to their devotion and dedication to the Colonel, neither Constantia nor Josephine have been able to let their father and his influence over them, go. All of this was portrayed with minimal written action, and all by Mansfield’s fragmented text and strong portrayal of emotions and character self-awareness. I believe that Mansfield created this story not only to give some commentary on the effects of World War I but to give some social commentary on Victorian ways. During this time patriarch was at a high, and not only did Katherine show how controlling a father can be but she showed the long last effects it can have on women.

Lastly, Virginia Woolf’s modernistic stream of consciousness in Mrs. Dalloway”, this short story was different because of this specific reason. The whole story of “Mrs. Dalloway takes place in only twenty-four hours. However, the way that Woolf went about writing it makes it out to seem longer. In a typical story it is written in chronological order, the came can somewhat be seen here as well. Virginia style is called stream of consciousness. Here the order of events comes as close to a person’s real thought process. On an average day to day thinking, how one thinks is very scattered. Seeing one thing can trigger the memory of something else causing a jump in time. In Virginia’s own words, “‘stream of consciousness’, is in which the imprint of experience and emotion on the inner lives of characters is as important as the stories they act out. T

he technique aims to give readers the impression of being inside the mind of the character – an internal view that illuminates plot and motivation in the novel. This happens a lot in Mrs. Dalloway considering that we are in the minds of multiple characters. This particular style of writing was completely new and unheard of until, Mrs. Dalloway. She wanted to show characters in flux, rather than static, characters who think and emote as they move through space, who react to their surroundings in ways that mirrored actual human experience. The point of view is constantly changing. She uses this process to show the reader that everyday life, as lived by normal people, can be pretty captivating. When Clarissa says, in the opening line, that she’ll go get the flowers herself, this seems like kind of a plain declaration. Why do we need to know what this woman is doing this very minute? But we find out as the story unfolds that this small detail has huge implications in terms of class, society, and individual identity. Woolf suggests the small things, like looking at a book in a shop window or running into a friend, are the very moments that make life meaningful. Which all ties into why Woolf chose to create this stream of consciousness, to reveal the beauty of how the mind thinks and processes memories while still giving social commentary on the post-World War I world they were living in.

In Mrs. Dalloway, the style works closely with both tone and genre. The style of Mrs. Dalloway is complex, psychological, intricate, and dense. Even in one sentence, we can encounter multiple ideas and multiple tones: this is all thanks to the style. And of course, the style changes throughout the story. We’re in the minds of several different characters, so the reader is hearing various styles of speaking and thinking. Woolf was very concerned with subjective reality, that is, what reality looks like from any one person’s point of view; what and how each character thinks is very different. Additionally, Woolf wanted to convey what people said and what they didn’t say. For this reason, she includes a few different types of speech for us. First, we have direct speech, in which people actually talk to each other, as in Clarissa’s exchange with Hugh, asking about Evelyn. This is also known as dialogue. Second, we get indirect speech, in which the narrator lets us know that a character is thinking of something.

Finally, and most notably, Woolf gives us a free indirect speech. In this style, the narrator doesn’t set up that the person is thinking something, but instead just puts it out there. For example: “But Lucrezia herself could not help looking at the motor car and the tree pattern on the blinds. Was it the Queen in there the Queen going shopping?” Instead of saying “She wondered if the queen was in there shopping,” Woolf just makes the announcement and shows that she has special access to the characters’ minds. In this one short story, Virginia Woolf exhibited multiple styles of writing and one very unique way of showing the readers a character everyday life, all while still giving the reader social commentary on what was going on at this time and how wrong it was. Not only was there self- awareness but it was a new way of writing, it was daring.

A writer’s works one can notice that they have their own writing style. A signature stamp on the way that they write, For Virginia Woolf it was her unique way of writing, creating her well know stream of consciousness and for Katherine Mansfield, it was her modernistic approach to a short story. In this paper, I discussed Virginia Woolf’s stream of consciousness in Mrs. Dalloway and both her and Katherine Mansfield’s The Daughters of the Late Colonel and her modernist approach to a short story.

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About Victorian Modernism. (2019, Jul 19). Retrieved August 11, 2022 , from
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