Skates: Proust Recomposed in Mrs Dalloway
it new” Chu Hsi (1130-1200 ce)
Virginia Woolf knew that sometimes the creative
mind is known for cannibalizing other works of art, a practice which, as a
matter of fact, she perpetrated very well herself (Richter 305). Woolf always
remained above the fray yet the allusions to Joyce’s novel among others have
been cited along with accusations of imitation and even plagiarism; her audacious
usage of Joyce’s Ulysses is partially
explicated in “The Pseudo-homeric World of Mrs
Dalloway.” Her allusions to Proust’s Remembrance
of Things Past in Mrs Dalloway, often
regarded as the jewel in the Woolfian crown, are not frequently observed
although several references to his prolix novel have appeared in connection
with To The Lighthouse and Orlando. Contrast lies in the volubility of the one and the almost
mute act of the other. Since Shattuck comments about the effect of Proust’s
“transcontinental sentences” and labyrinthine plot, a clever observation about
the Proustian influence on Mrs Dalloway
comes from Pericles Lewis who remarks how, in counter-balance with Joyce,
Woolf’s sentences became longer (Shattuck Marcel
2; Lewis 77-79).
It may seem
a misreading to compare such dissimilar works of literature, placing Proust’s
3000 pages next to Woolf’s 300 when Marcel illustrates conspicuous consumption
and Clarissa’s frugality. It is clearly a fool’s errand to expect that one
would find a critical exposition on Proust’s three-volume narrative that could
fit neatly into Woolf’s monograph. Clarissa on the distaff side rightly feels
“a little skimpy” (Woolf MD 8). Clive
Bell may have had Proust in mind when he wrote that realistic detail is “the
fatty degeneration of art” (Bell 222). Harold Bloom’s Map of Misreading considers how modern texts relate to previous
texts as creative “misreadings” being more than a matter of influence of one
author upon another. Woolf’s diary entries account for much of her sense of Proust’s
potential influence on her then current work which is said to have nearly stifled
her own inspiration. The contrary is nearer the truth.
was “at least partly responsible for introducing [Woolf] to the work of Proust”
when he supplied a copy of Swann’s Way
[Du Coté Chez Swann] in reply to her
request of 1919 (Woolf Letters 2.
396; Leonard 239). Her subsequent letters to him mention her reading in “a
state of amazement … One has to put the book down and gasp.” By May 1922 she
had begun the second volume, Within A
Budding Grove [Jeunes Filles en
Fleurs] followed by another in January 1923 (Woolf Letters 2. 525, 566). Her reading notebooks concerning Mrs Dalloway total a mere 5 pages for The Guermantes Way and Swann’s Way (Silver 82, 87, and 89).
diary entry for February 19, 1923 considers the effects of Proust in her own
writing, when “his command of every resource is so extravagant that one can
hardly fail to profit… that he makes it seem easy to write well” (Woolf Diary 2. 234, 322). It is convincing
that Proust exerts a clear influence upon Mrs
Dalloway considering the numbers of allusions derived from his first two
volumes, but Time Regained [Le Temps Retrouvé published in 1927] nevertheless
maintains a substantial presence in her novel. When its translator solicited
critical opinions from Woolf, she mentions that “Scott Moncrieff pesters me for
a few words—any words from you Mrs Woolf—it don’t matter if you haven’t
read—invent” (Woolf Letters III,
February 1923: 11). Her written responses to Proust accordingly, perhaps not in
consequence, appear in several of her essays written for publication.
she says he as “the product of the civilization which he describes is so
porous, so pliable, so perfectly receptive that we realize him only as an
envelope, thin but elastic, which stretches wider and wider…to enclose a world.
… The accumulation of objects which surround any central point is so vast and
they are often so remote, so difficult of approach and of apprehension that
this drawing-together process is gradual, tortuous, and the final relation
difficult in the extreme” (Woolf “Phases of Fiction” 123-124). In Mrs Dalloway, equally elastic, the
tremendous influence of Proust gradually becomes evident everywhere requiring serious
attention to one’s peripheral vision. The number of comparable passages shared
between Mrs Dalloway and Remembrance of Things Past is prodigious, permitting only a
Moncrieff editions of Proust, according to Terence Kilmartin, are derived from the
original editions and “pullulate with errors, misreadings, and omissions” which
have earned themselves a great deal of negative comment; they feature his
English versions of French expressions that Woolf read and must have enjoyed as
such even considering her working knowledge of the French original (Proust RTP I. “Note on the Translation” x). Moncrieff’s
“misreading,” such as his translation of the title, the line from Shakespeare’s
Sonnet 30, “conveys a poignant sense
of emotion recollected in tranquility [but] it limits the implications of the
work to that” (Kellman 16). Translations such as these, rather than the
exquisite French, are more often the sources of some of Woolf’s most striking
passages however. The invention of Proust conveyed in Moncrieff’s translations often
acquires a particularly British form of expression and accounts for colloquial
usages in Mrs Dalloway (which
represents sometimes Moncrieff, sometimes Proust) that are nevertheless faithful
to the French originals.
example, an anomalous Moncrieff translation relates to Rezia Warren Smith’s
claim that “Mrs. Peters was a big woman” (MD
214). Mrs. Peters, it seems, is seriously pregnant, a word not current in
polite society. In The Remembrance of
Things Past, as in Mrs Dalloway, “the
ludicrous resides next door to the serious,” as” (Shattuck Binoculars 85). In the former, the duchess Oriane de Guermantes refers
to a corpulent woman who is also pregnant (enceinte).
The Moncrieff translation gives it instead as a matter of “superior” chest measurement
which, oddly, is apparently more acceptable in England. Such comments are offered
as examples of Oriane’s “wit,” the duchess whose nose is like a falcon’s beak
and is known for her spiteful tongue (méchant)
(RTP II, 503, 59,78). A type of moral
survives the mistranslation nevertheless: “Elegant society is a sham and dupes
no one so completely as its own initiates” (Shattuck Binoculars 95).
inspirations drawn from Remembrance of
Things Past, including those expressed in free indirect discourse with
varying levels of mimesis, will be cited here with some explicity. Proust tells
his story, according to Mervi Helkkula on the subject of discours indirect libre, as seen through the eyes of his former,
younger self. This particular style of narration, in Proust, is one of the
means of keeping separate the different perspectives, the narrating Marcel
versus the acting or the remembering Marcel. In Mrs Dalloway, where “the signature stylistic practice … is the text’s use of free indirect
discourse,” the effect is similar, distinguishing between the acting and the
narrating Clarissa (McManus 124).
however, is not Proust; Clarissa is certainly not Woolf. Yet the two works have suffered in
several similar ways from the critics. There are inevitably some autobiographic
tendencies in both cases as in any literary enterprise. Unfortunately, critics
writing on Woolf and Proust are afflicted with the desire to approach their
novels through the narrow focus of the authors’ lives. The “biographical
fallacy” works to the disadvantage of scholarship. Respect for the autonomy of
the texts, their uniqueness as artistic creations, does not permit speculation
regarding autobiographical influences drawn from either Proust or from Virginia
Woolf her self.
the two do not admit of summary. Passages expressed in the form of plot
summaries commit the “heresy of paraphrase” because they cannot be properly understood
outside of the mysterious laws of their significant form, that is, their style
as much as their content. Thus, verbatim examples fully cited from parallel
statements of fact and well-developed themes will reveal an anomalous quantity
of discourse matching Proust’s as if she were “skating on borrowed skates” in Mrs Dalloway as Woolf herself playfully
acknowledged (Woolf Diary 2, 322).
In Remembrance of Times Past the action is
located in Paris and in Combray, Marcel’s childhood home; in Mrs Dalloway, for Clarissa, the sites
are London and Bourton. A miscellany of comments with similar roots found in
Proust’s and also in Woolf’s are distributed among the Dalloway characters, as
when Swann says a certain gentleman’s “luncheon parties are not the least bit
amusing,” Lady Bruton’s “extraordinarily amusing” luncheons should immediately
come to mind (RTP I. 236; MD 44). Vinteul’s petite phrase recurs like the ringing of Big Ben and Shakespeare’s
“Fear no more.” Both Miss Kilman and Albertine wear macintoshes. Marcel’s
actress Berma in Racine’s Phèdre is
reminiscent of Aunt Helena’s orchids in Burma; Odette’s cattleyas figure in the
orchid category as well. The subtle
rebirth/resurrection motif, begun in Mrs
Dalloway when Peter exclaims, “She (Clarissa) is not dead,” appears in
Proust through Albertine’s death and through the death of Marcel’s grandmother
who in death manifests “a face grown young again” (MD 75; RTP II, 357). Marcel’s youthful experiences, for him, are
landmark kiss, Sally’s kiss so significant for Clarissa, is for Marcel his
mother’s all-important bedtime kiss which launches his narrative, and the
kisses of Gilberte and of Albertine as well. It must be noted that Marcel’s
principal female characters, including Françoise and his aunt Léonie however,
are women with masculine names. Françoise (“extinglish”) and Rezia (“little bit
of stuff”) share a tendency for linguistic howlers (RTP II, 374; MD 132).
Elizabeth Dalloway, as “a hyacinth which has had no sun,” shelters a reference
to Proust’s volume Within A Budding Grove,
originally entitled A l’ombre des jeunes
filles en fleurs (MD 186).
Finally, Proust’s famous opening drame de
coucher, “For a long time I used to go to bed early,” which is the occasion
of his mother’s goodnight kiss, is echoed by the woman going to bed that
concludes Mrs Dalloway (RTP I, 3; MD 283).
components are features of both novels, among which is the promenade motif, a kind
of walking meditation carried out by the assorted urban strollers in Mrs Dalloway; there is more than one parallel, among Marcel’s cheery British
parlance, “Fine day what! Good to be out walking!” (and later, “how d’ye do”) (RTP I. 170; see Shattuck on the
promenade motif in Marcel 136). The
French is, “Beau temps, n’est pas, il
fait bon marcher.” The distinctly British vernacular of the Moncrieff
translation accords well with Clarissa’s subsequent “I love walking in London”
and her epithet, “the admirable Hugh,” opening her encounter with Hugh
Whitbread “with his little job at court” (RTP
I .170, 552; MD 7).
In Mrs Dalloway it is Clarissa, however,
who injects the scenario alluding to Plato’s Phaedrus 227a: “Really it’s better than walking in the country.”
Her observations of the Park with its waddling ducks corresponds with Marcel’s strutting
chicken in the corresponding passages; in the parallel paragraphs he is actually
strolling in the country where he encounters a merely ill-tempered peasant.
Clarissa meets Hugh Whitbread, said to be “adorable the walk with on a morning
like this”; he is characterized through her typical tendency to exaggerate (“times
without number”) and coupled with descriptives like the phrase “the admirable
Hugh!” that indicates free indirect expression. Marcel’s extravagant
flourishing with his hat matches that of Hugh (RTP 1.455, 582, 689; MD
8). For Proust, the promenade motif illustrates the street life in Paris just
as Mrs Dalloway acknowledges Scrope
Purvis as well as Edgar Watkiss, Sir John Buckhurst, and Moll Pratt in London. The
promenade motif, structural in Mrs
Dalloway, metaphoric in Remembrance,
offers much in which the novels agree.
major characters in Mrs Dalloway are
in for some walking. Septimus Smith, approaching a meeting with Sir William
Bradshaw, has walked to the park with Rezia whom he, borrowing Swann’s words, has
married “without loving her” (MD 137; RTP I.508). Many aspects of the narrative concerning Septimus and
others bear a likeness to incidents in Proust. Dr. Holmes, like the Baron
Charlus also known for slapping his leg with a switch on one occasion, invades
Septimus’s room (MD 138, Proust I, 821).
Also, Marcel’s grandmother who is treated by blundering doctors, Dr. Cottard who
with a specialist, Dr. Dieulafoy, advises “milk, nothing but milk,” suggesting
Dr. Holmes and Sir William Bradshaw who prescribe this similar therapy for
Septimus (MD 145; Proust I, 537).
Marcel, reminiscent of the goddesses Proportion and Conversion in the narrative
of Sir William Bradshaw, offers the departing Smiths a brief personification
allegory which features, not some Wise Goddess, but substitutes an implacable
Divinity (MD 151, RTP I.479).
The significance of the promenade motif
supports Marcel’s discovery that
the famous walking episodes in his youth, which function as a central metaphor,
compose a figure that reconciles many dualities, among them the “intermittences,” the often conflicting
aspects of reality. The way to the Guermantes’s chateau and the way to Méséglise
(Swann’s home in the subplot) lead to the same place, unbeknownst to the boy
who finally learns that “it is possible to arrive at the Guermantes chateau by
taking the Méséglise road,” the two ways under which everything is subsumed (Kellman
13). The two ways, further, “polarize the child’s world of Combray” and the
man’s world of Paris as well (Shattuck Marcel
11). “The aesthetic and erotic paths, although seemingly opposed, lead into one
another” (Parker 81). Thus Marcel reconciles the circular structure of the two
paths of knowledge, “an outward act representing an inward state of mind”
(Shattuck Binoculars 126). Swann’s
way represents the way of desire as much as an actual route.
For Marcel the contiguity of the two paths
represents the integration of an aristocratic with a bourgeois society, being the
final union of the Guermantes and the Verdurins in the flesh of Mlle Saint-Loup
(Gilberte’s daughter by St-Loup) who, through marriage, ‘”fuses in her flesh
the two ways in Marcel’s childhood” (Shattuck Marcel 52). Mme Verdurin, too, has become the Princesse de
Guermantes through marriage. Metaphorically, walking includes false leads, by-ways,
and wandering. Woolf’s ambulating characters, particularly Peter Walsh, seem
idle walkers indulging in flights of irrelevant thought while revealing reports
on the past as the narrative unfolds.
Dalloway features Peter Walsh’s byzantine promenades through London, his
monologue encompassing Clarissa’s past in Bourton , her current situation, and the way people change. He claims
to have made “the great renunciation” which Marcel specifies in his Aunt Léonie
as “the great renunciation of old age” (MD
77; RTP I, 156). His pursuit of the
girl in Trafalgar Square, however, is anticipated by Swann: “He must search for
her, then, in every restaurant along the boulevards” (MD 77- 81, RTP I. 250,
767). “Waving at the wrong window”
is also featured in Swann’s pursuit of Odette (MD 78, Proust I.300). Peter’s demand, “Tell me the truth,” is anticipated
by Marcel’s desire to know the truth about Albertine’s sexual proclivities (MD 96, RTP I. 299). Peter’s mention of writing about water closets is a
component not limited to Joyce (MD
108; RTP I. 530, 715).
often appear in widely separated passages, a fact which poses a task for the
reader’s memory in this extensive narrative. Shattuck cites two closely related
passages as a type of double experience in Remembrance
of Things Past. The first concerns Odette’s playing the piano; the second,
a “counterpart scene” concerns Albertine playing the pianola. These closely
related passages, “one toward the beginning and the other toward the end of the
novel,” serve as a double experience (Shattuck Marcel 117-118). Related passages in Mrs Dalloway involve double experiences for different characters as
when Clarissa recalls a party when she first sees Sally and asking the man she
was with: “Who is that?” Peter,
however, gives an account of seeing Clarissa for the first time as she was
talking to a young man on her right” (MD
48, 92). These are closely related passages, one reported by Clarissa, the
other by Peter. In Mrs Dalloway
important components, including parties, often come in pairs.
of the day, a Wednesday in June, Peter assumes that he is not invited to
Clarissa’s party; Swann who believes he has not been invited to Mme Verdurin’s
dinner, which, like Clarissa’s party as the cena
motif pertains to dinner, is almost a banquet of the gods that parallels a
similar affront that pervades Marcel’s pursuit of social life (MD 61; RTP 1.310, 327, 733; Frye 310, 312). The cena motif is given a slight notice in Mrs Dalloway in the form of Lady Bruton’s luncheon, the tea and
cakes that Elizabeth and Miss Kilman share, and the dinner prepared by Mrs.
Walker. For Marcel the soirées and matinées and the snobbery of the society
hostesses such as the Guermantes’s tedious dinners and the pretentious salons
of Mme Verdurin (who knows how to bring people together), configure his pursuits.
has passed an evening with Mme Stermaria, Marcel hesitates to read her letter,
suddenly delivered, which says she is unable to dine with him when he had been
living for that dinner alone; the letter “will determine the fate of his relationship
with her” (RTP II. 406, Parker 74). Similarly,
Peter Walsh, having walked through London arrives at his hotel, only to feel
himself like Charlus, “a joint of meat to be served on a perfectly clean
platter (MD 235; RTP ii, 635). He finds a letter from Clarissa, perhaps an
invitation to her party: “That was her hand” (MD 234). He is nonplussed: “He would have to read it… nothing would
induce him to read it again” (MD
234-5). Again, Marcel receives a letter from a hotel porter that he had
supposed to be from Albertine but which actually is from Gilberte: “I had
recognized Gilberte’s handwriting” (RTP
The fin-de-siècle youths like the young
Clarissa and Peter introduced into the Victorian/Edwardian world of Mrs Dalloway approximate those like
Gilberte and Albertine of Proust’s belle
époque. Society hostesses, and
their entertainments prevail as a motif, such as Mme Verdurin’s famous “Wednesdays,”
social events in parallel with Clarissa’s party on a Wednesday in June (RTP I. 645-649; II, 886). In both
novels, the function of the hostess is prominent with a peculiar twist. Indeed
the hostess in Proust, a role regarding which Marcel, a name generally
suppressed, states that “the good offices of the procuress (entremetteuse) are part of the duties of
the perfect hostess” that render the “perfect hostess” in Mrs Dalloway problematic (RTP
II.388; MD 10). Peter’s term for
Clarissa, “the perfect hostess,” offends her for some unstated reason beyond
his low expectations; “she had cried over it in her bedroom” (MD 10). Recollections such as this begin
to appear when Clarissa comes through the door to buy flowers.
hears the squeaky hinges on the French
windows in her entry at the opening of the novel they evoke involuntary
memories of similar sounds that elicits her entire life at Bourton years before;
the mysterious memories of her youth accompany the contemporary, the worldly ways
of maturity. Clarissa’s entry through the French windows in the beginning is
echoed at the conclusion as she finally comes through the door from the little
room (MD 284). Marcel, both character and narrator,
comments on the succession of selves and “that we recapture for a moment the
self that we were long ago when we enter some house or garden in which we used
to live in our youth” (RTP II,
89). These are not merely
recollected but are summoned back by a related experience to Clarissa’s
thoughts much like the compelling involuntary surge of memory Marcel often experiences.
These are among the various feelings that he refers to as his moments bienheureux, when the famous madeleine
is dipped into a cup of tea, “the most famous cookie in literature” (Shattuck Binoculars 69 ff; Parker 70). The whole of Combray springs into
being; it “rose up like a stage” as when “little pieces of paper…, the moment
they become wet… become flowers or houses or people” (MD 3; RTP I, 51). A
comparable scene in Mrs Dalloway,
like Marcel’s moments bienheureux, appears
to Peter Walsh “as if he had set light to a grey pellet on a plate and there
had risen up a lovely tree” (MD 68). And
what was Clarissa trying to recover but her own temps perdu ? (MD 12). Both
novels which move forward while facing the past include love and sexuality.
occupies a significant space in both novels. Clarissa’s relationship with Sally
Seton has been viewed as a lesbian one; likewise, the affection shared by
Septimus Smith and his officer Evans is considered as homosexual. Miss Kilman
appears to nourish lesbian feelings for Elizabeth Dalloway. In Remembrance of Things Past the theme of
homosexuality involves most of the principal characters. “It motivates Charlus,
Sainte-Loup, Mlle Vinteuil, Albertine (probably), Gilberte (possibly), the
Prince de Guermantes, Morel (who is bisexual), and a large number of people in
all strata of society” (Shattuck Marcel
similarities, to name only a few, are easily discerned. In others, for instance, Proust alludes
to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii for associations with eroticism and
destruction by fire. For him, Paris threatens to become another Pompeii (Carter
116; RTP III, 834-835, 864). Mrs Dalloway’s subtle exploitation of
the stunning Pompeiian frescos characterizing the room in the Villa of the
Mysteries is suggested by the nurse, “old Moody,” who lives in a little room
with lots of photographs (MD 91; Hoff
“Coming of Age” passim). In this
case, the paradox of relative disproportion is reversed, the motif of Pompeii
composing such a large presence in Mrs
Dalloway fits into Remembrance bearing
a relatively minor position.
novel, furthermore, is preoccupied with the motif of writing as is Mrs Dalloway. For most of the novel
Marcel labors under the conviction that he would never be able to write (RTP III, 709). Yet, for Marcel, “Writing
is a continuation of life by other means”; his vocation is to be a literary
calling (Shattuck Marcel 4; MD 25). For him, writing is emblematic
of cognition, “the means of discovering and expressing the relationship between
self and world” (Kellman 15). By delayed revelation, after years of despairing
that he will become a writer, he finds, in the Temps Retrouvé, that he will be able to write the book we have just
In Mrs Dalloway, the emphasis is on the
written nature of the text with an occasional parabasis, the narrator stepping
out to address the reader directly (“when the sentence was finished something
had happened”). Clarissa hears the click of the typewriter creating the novel
in which she appears. “It was her life” (MD
42). Textuality, with discourse tags like “and so on,” “for example,” and “all
the rest” in Mrs Dalloway, is the
transcendent reality that responds to an allusion to Aphrodite, born from the
sea by the kiss of a wave, and the birth of the novel. An incomprehensible text
characterized as a metaphoric traffic jam, ultimately resolved, leads to the
episode of the skywriting aeroplane which serves as a trope-in-common (RTP I, 249; MD 24). According to William C. Carter, for Proust the frequently
appearing airplane is the dominant symbol of the artist, “the creative person
who is able to free himself from habits and observations, realize himself
fully, and transcend his ordinary being” (Carter 182). The aeroplane in Mrs Dalloway remains the cynosure, the illegible
point of interest in “a metafictional moment of textual self-consciousness
where the reader joins the characters in spelling out the letters on the page”;
according to Mr. Bentley it is “a symbol of man’s soul” (Goldman 58; MD 41). The aeroplane, reflexively, was “actually writing something” (MD 29).
when the novels refer to themselves as literature, as art, is a common allusive
feature in regard to references to other works of literature. “The reflexiveness,
the monumental circular subjectivity of The
Remembrance of Things Past, as a
whole … forms a subject unto itself, beginning with the first sentence”
(Shattuck Binoculars 82). The novel in which Marcel is the
subject opens with his account of his dream of reading a book in which it
seems, to his younger self, “that
I myself was the immediate subject of my book.” Reflexivity materializes in these works
that are conscious of themselves as literature, for example, as when Mrs Dalloway, a novel containing multiple
references to other novels, refers also to a bag containing pamphlets, and a
satchel containing books [MD 41, 197).
Local components become global. Likewise, Clarissa fantasizes “holding her life
in her arms … until it became a whole life, a complete life” which she herself
had made, in a novel about her life (MD
63-64). Marcel’s work of art is preoccupied with artist figures, the musician
Vinteul, the painter Elstir, and particularly the writer Bergotte. At Clarissa’s
party she is concerned with the pianist Hutton, who plays divinely, and the Academy
painter Sir Harry. Mrs Dalloway’s
preoccupation, however, lies in allusions to many works of literature; Proust’s,
far too many to enumerate, span examples from antiquity to the present moment.
device in antiquity known as “ring composition” is common to both novels and
reflects the circular structure, as literature in-the-round, which
distinguishes both novels. Fleishman’s description of it found elsewhere is
perceptive: “An initially given word, phrase, or represented object, thereafter
absent or only occasionally presented, is made at the end the summative term
for all that has gone before. In this case, a circular course is traced, finding its way back to where meaning
was latent all along” (Fleishman 51). Ring composition, common to works of
ancient literature, describes a pattern of verbal repetitions, often resembling
stanzas, in which the end recapitulates the beginning. See Stephen Reese and
William Thalman for discussions of its manifestations in antiquity. Minimally, it is shaped as an ABBA
structure although it also may take the form of an elegant sequence of
interrelated components with two related passages, one at the beginning and one
at the end. The importance of this figure to Marcel is that it constitutes the
shape of his narrative like “the last page of the novel coming back exactly to
the first,” in reverse order, to its point of departure (Shattuck Marcel 130). Continuous exposition in ring
composition serves as the structure of Mrs Dalloway as
One of the
many occasions in which Proust deploys this structure concerns his first
encounter with the courtesan Odette wearing a pink dress and a pearl necklace.
He comments on the pink dress and the
necklace, not the immorality associated with her. His uncle is embarrassed by his youthful presence.
She, however, comments on his being exquisitely charming and what she found to be charming was, on the other hand, embarrassing for him. He concludes with a disquisition on her pink dress and necklace and deportment as a work of art; the structure
is ABCCBA. (RTP “Swann’s Way,
Combray” 82-84). Mrs Dalloway,
however, is a continuous warren of interconnecting rings from beginning to end.
The major component
shared between both novels, the most paradoxical aspect of fitting a very large
book into a rather small volume, concerns the final party, the conclusion in
which the last page of the two narratives returns to the first, in “a
demonstration of the convergence or circular form of the novel” (Shattuck Marcel 128). For Marcel the party forms
“the heart of the labyrinth and the only egress from it” (Shattuck Binoculars 27). Marcel’s party consists
of the reassembling of “assorted figures out of his past, all of whom he fails
to recognize at first” as they are seemingly fitted with powdered hair and
white wigs (Shattuck Binoculars 27). At
first he passes some time “in quiet retreat” meditating in his host’s library. Similarly,
the circular shape of Mrs Dalloway is
manifested at her party which is the site of the final reassembling of all the characters
from her past: Peter, Hugh, Richard, Aunt Helena, and most of all Sally Seton.
Peter and Sally engage in discussing events from the past while Clarissa is
alone meditating on the death of Septimus in the little room.
who puzzle Marcel on this occasion are all unrecognizable strangers with white
hair as if in a charade or masked ball; at last he realizes these are his
friends who have all grown old, changed beyond recognition. In Mrs Dalloway, Sally Seton, Clarissa’s
friend from youth, has not only married and acquired a strange name but is
almost unrecognizable in her full-figured condition; “she hadn’t looked like that” (MD 260). With Peter she indulges in critical comments on Clarissa’s
character, which is not to her credit. Everything hangs on the conclusion,
however, with Clarissa’s return to her party and Peter’s curtain line, “For
there she was” (MD 296). Once again,
two closely related passages unite to signify Mrs Dalloway as a circular novel. Previously, Peter has recalled
Clarissa’s characteristic, coming through doors, when “she came into a room;
she stood, as he had often seen her, in a doorway with lots of people round her
(MD 114-115). At that time, when she entered
the room he thinks, “there she was; however there she was” (MD 115).
repetition of Clarissa’s existential appearance at the conclusion, “For there
she was,” is a type of Proustian event which “suddenly turns the action of the
story back on itself, as when a passenger is startled to see the other end of
his train while going around a curve” (Shattuck Marcel 88). Clarissa is caught in the revolving door of narrative. As
for Marcel, the last page of the novel comes back exactly to the first. Mrs Dalloway, like Remembrance of Things Past, begins again where it ends.
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