What in your view is distinctive about Woolf's use of prose narrative to represent the relationship between knowledge and intimacy in Mrs Dalloway?

Essay by StaceyMcDermott November 2007

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Mrs Dalloway is widely regarded as one of Virginia Woolf's crowning artistic achievements; it stands like a colossus at the centre of her success as arguably the grandest endeavour in modernist fiction. She delineates human experience with genuine insight and compassion, not merely describing the action but crafting it in a way that allows the reader to truly access the mental conflict in character's minds. The Oxford English Dictionary defines intimacy as 'close familiarity' and knowledge as 'awareness or familiarity gained by experience.' Both of these concepts are relevant to the experience of the reader as the exhilaration of Woolf's prose lies in the force of our identification with the characters. What's more, the idea of knowledge and intimacy can readily be applied to the nature of the relationships between the characters themselves. Woolf's use of free-associative narrative, parallels and the relaying of the past and present intermittently provide us with a closer representation of the truth surrounding the central figures in Mrs Dalloway.

The narrative structure of the novel is inextricably bound by the nature of what the author is trying to communicate - Woolf's employment of free indirect discourse or 'stream of consciousness narrative' from an authorial perspective awards greater verisimilitude to the reflections of the central characters. 'The characters can be shown to have a unity […] through […] a consistent prose style,' In order to achieve this intimacy and knowledge between reader and character, it is important for the author to separate her own voice from their thought processes so as to facilitate the reader's own impressions of the text. Although these thoughts are rendered by a traditional omniscient presence, this does not detract from the confidence and immediacy of the interior monologues. This is often noticeable when conventional narrative comments, on the character's actions...