Connecting Caves

Connecting Caves

When I first began reading Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (and apart from being thrown off by her complex sentences and multiple characters), I found her diary statement in the Norton to be rather interesting and true: “I dig out beautiful caves behind my characters” (2155). Beautiful caves, the characters and minor characters in Woolf’s novel do not simply ‘exist’–their past, history, miniscule details are numerous in the “caves”, and at times I even found myself getting lost in all the vast perspectives and information she highlights.

But to answer the question: Why does Woolf add details like street names and full names for (even) minor characters? I believe it is as she purposely intended; Woolf adds these details to carve out an intricate world of description, but also to remind the reader of the various, random, and even indirect ways in which all people are silently connected.          unitedkingdom_bigben_2002_03_07

Starting out with Mrs. Dalloway’s grand adventure to the flower shop, one can’t help but notice the amount of traveling one tends to do. Being illiterate as I am in reading maps and directions of all kinds, I had a difficult time imagining ‘where’ exactly everything was located, and ‘where’ exactly all the characters were headed to; the eyes of each individual is constantly changing (and sometimes in fast progression), as Woolf goes about this normal day in June.

But people have names. People have stories. People have reasons for where they are going. Woolf gives everyone a name, and a story, and it’s almost impossible to imagine all the things she didn’t say in this single text alone. By passively, yet intentionally, attributing  names for all the different characters we see (and don’t see), by changing characters view-point to all perspectives low and high, Woolf creates a sense of realism and truth–that existence is not just one straight path, but people come and people go, “rising and falling” on the waves of life. Everyone is involved in different ways, and everyone has the potential for their ‘own’ story.

Streets are named throughout, and streets are naturally connected to each other. But why does Woolf even bother using so many locations again and again, or telling the reader where ‘exactly’ everyone/anyone is going? By creating these names and directions for (all) the characters to follow, by giving multiple characters a specific purpose, Woolf creates the suspense that anyone has the chance to pass by anyone. And just as all people have the possibility to know each other, all these characters have the possibility to ‘collide’: when Mrs. Dalloway first runs into Whitbread, or when Peter Walsh just barely misses Septimus Smith and his wife (yet both see the poor old lady singing), indirect connections are formed through the progression of a single day; the ringing of the bell, the motor car and airplane, characters of all kinds are shown to be brought together by these strange events, by the streets they walk through, and the interconnected lives they randomly see.

I noticed while reading, lots of ‘rumours’ float by the characters heads; they form ideas about each other yet hardly speak of them. They all seem to be intensely fascinated with others, yet never put their thoughts to action–connections are formed, but no one ever knows; they live in the same world and city yet all are preoccupied in their own little thoughts. Woolf adds these tiny details into her story for many purposes, many examples, and the novel is so overly complicated that it feels impossible to note it all down in one blog post. The world she creates, the characters lives and personalities, all the caves are connected, but whether anyone in the story realized it was another issue altogether.

As a final note, I wanted to add a random ‘map‘ I found of some of the routes (I thought it was sort of interesting): map

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.

Woolf, Virginia. “Mrs. Dalloway”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2012. 2155-2264. Print.

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4 Responses to Connecting Caves

  1. Stephanie Van Dewark says:

    You very accurately summed up all the jumbled thoughts I had in my head, and I completely agree with you. By naming the places, Woolf emphasizes possibilities and the immense interconnected elements of everyone’s lives. This sense of possibility is not only true for the characters of the novel, but for the readers too. Because the places are real and exact, readers who travel among these streets as well can imagine that the characters of the novel as people whom they pass during the course of their day. It makes the readers just as aware of the infinite possibilities in their own life.

  2. rwhittaker says:

    Great post Jennifer! I especially loved that you noted that each of the characters lives are connected, whether they know it or not. It’s interesting to think that although Mrs. Dalloway is an extremely complicated novel, that follows a very non-linear approach, it barely skims the surface of each of the characters. As we follow each character through an apparently average day in June, the reader gets snippets of information about other characters, but often all we get is the characters name – always in full – or the location they are in. I think that Woolf does this because everybody has a story. Everyone has memories and thoughts and feelings just as Clarissa, Peter, Septimus, Sally, and other characters do, but only so much of this can be written down. Imagine if Woolf wrote the thoughts, feelings, and memories, of every character Clarissa Dalloway passed on her way to and from the flower shop? Just because they aren’t written, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. I think by explicitly naming the characters – even the ‘minor’ ones – and naming locations, we can see that not only does “anyone has the chance to pass by anyone” as you mentioned, but also that everyone has their own story. I really enjoyed reading your post, thank you!

    – Reilly

  3. daynaaasen7 says:

    The whole subject of your post is something that has always really fascinated me in my own life. I love people watching. Sometimes I will just sit on a bench on a busy street or in a bustling shopping center and I just survey the people around me. It’s so crazy to think that every single person you see has a story, they have friends and family who have made them who they are today, and they have a reason for being right there in the mall or on the street just like you do. I loved when you wrote that “all people have the possibility to know each other, all these characters have the possibility to ‘collide’… indirect connections are formed through the progression of a single day; the ringing of the bell, the motor car and airplane, characters of all kinds are shown to be brought together by these strange events”. There are events of the world that connect us no matter who we are or where we’ve been in our lives, and it’s amazing that although there are 7 billion people on 7 billion different paths, there are ways for us to connect with each other. Things like 9/11, or the selection of a new Pope. Our lives as a human race are indirectly connected, and everything has the possibility of affecting the path of something else. I just find it really fascinating to think about and sometimes it makes my brain hurt, but I think it’s really incredible how Woolf managed to capture this concept so beautifully in her story of Mrs. Dalloway.

  4. mkennedy says:

    Often when I am walking and pass by others I wonder if I am connected to them in some way. Do we know some of the same people? Maybe we’re even very distantly related. Or perhaps we could be the best of friends and we’ll never know! We pass by and interact with so many people everyday. Our lives are so inter-related. Woolf uses names to identify things or people, so we can see how inter-woven the lives of everyone in her novels are. It seems strange to think of how often chance meetings occur due to such a specific series of events. Like when ‘Peter Walsh just barely misses Septimus Smith’, how often has this happened in our lives, where we just miss someone we know because we took a few extra minutes doing something else? Woolf manages to focus the reader on so many different aspects in her novel that they are able to see how any of the characters could ‘collide’ at anytime. It is captivating to think that she is merely showing us the reality of our daily lives, where we are all connected.

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