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.
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):
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.