Group 8, DQ Response
Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
Discussion Question: Why does Virginia Woolf add details like street names and full names for (even) minor characters?
The initial answer that I could come up with was also the most obvious: that she wanted to achieve a sense of verisimilitude for the reader so that the reader would be immersed into the fictional world she has created.
This made sense to me. The most commonly cited reason why a writer would include such specificities is to portray a nuance of realism to draw the reader in. Full names grant the reader a kind of intimacy, a kind of knowledge into the characters’ lives. Similarly, names to locales, particularly real-world locales, give an aura of place and time that helps to orientate the reader. Both of these tools, coupled with Woolf’s elaborate and ornate descriptions (what the streets look like, what the character is wearing, etc.) further propels the visual aspect of the writing, allowing the reader to further comprehend the work. The streets, cities and towns which Woolf alludes to all refer to real places (or at least places that existed in the past), and the informed reader would be able to garner further understanding through insights of the location, the environment and the setting.
Indeed, specificity and detail both add depth into the writing.
Yet, as I read the short biography on Woolf, as well as the Norton’s passage on Mrs Dalloway, I began to realize that perhaps Virginia Woolf had other, ulterior reasons to include such minute and intricate details, and that her motive was not primarily for the reader, but instead, for herself.
As a writer, I am told by the Norton, Woolf did not agree with the method of depicting topics “through gritty realism” but rather she “sought to render more intricately those aspects of consciousness in which she felt the truth of human experience lay” (2143). In essence, she prefers “stream of consciousness narration” (2144). So Woolf desires to go further than to simply inject scenes of realism through including names of locations and people, but rather, those things function as the rudimentary base of which she launches from. As the Norton goes on to say, she “found inspiration and material in the physical realities of the body and in the heavily trafficked and populated streets of London” (2144). For Woolf, she did not want specifics and details to rule as the primary focus of her work, but as the bolstering which would couch her streams of consciousness and give it structure and depth. In her own words: “I dig out beautiful caves behind my characters” and “the caves shall connect” (2155). Therefore, Woolf added these details, not necessarily for the reader’s benefit, but for her own. She acquired and imagined these intricate characters in her mind to such a acute degree that when she sat down to write in her stream of consciousness manner, the specifics simply came. She had designed her characters so that they came alive in her mind and became, as it were, real to her. Similarly, for street and city names (especially the streets of London, where she resided), there were innate and intimate ideas that she has related to those places and this gives her the inspiration and authority to write about those locales with confidence.
In conclusion, once Woolf’s own personal understandings of her characters and places are solidified within her mind and her writing, the readers are also then able to benefit from the rich complexities and elaborate details of the world which she has created, not only to be experienced, but also inhabited.
Ramazani, Jahan and Jon Stallworthy, eds. “Virginia Woolf”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 2143-44. Print.
Ramazani, Jahan and Jon Stallworthy, eds. “Mrs. Dalloway”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 2155-56. Print.