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The plot structure of Mrs Dalloway

The purpose of Virginia Woolf as a novelist is to render the psyche or the 'soul' of the characters with as little mixture of the external characters, and with the external world in only so far as it influences the inner world. Mrs. Dalloway actually represents a compromise between the need for formal clarity of presentation and the formlessness apparently inherent in the "stream of consciousness technique".
the plot structure of Mrs Dalloway

The unity and clarity of structure, fineness and brilliance of presentation, has been achieved by giving the novel a narrow frame work: the whole of the action takes place within a single day. It moves between Mrs.Dalloway's preparations for her party during the day and her presiding over it in the evening of the same day. Within this narrow frame, by means of the contracts she makes and the memories they evoke in her and in others, her life story from girlhood to her present age of fifty is gradually unfolded. The story of Septimus Warren Smith, who impinges upon her consciousness early in the day and whose death throws a shadow over her party in the evening, is the means of introducing another group of characters, the darker side of life, and a more profound sense of the historic background against which the whole is set.

The action is mainly presented through the minds of a few people and as the mind ranges without limitation of time or space. The book is actually concerned more with the past of its characters than with the present of its single day, as much with other scenes as with London. The novel begins with Clarissa Dalloway's stepping out into a London street to buy flowers for her party, but we have barely joined her before we are moving, in her mind back through time to her girlhood, away from London to her family home at Bourton, where we meet Peter Walsh, now away in India but he is due to come home. The next development is that an externally presented incident, the backfiring of a motor-car engine, draws our attention to the scene in Bond Street, and to Septimus Warren Smith and his wife, Lucrezia.

The novelist has also used other devices to impart formal clarity, order, and design. Firstly, the clock-time is constantly kept in mind. Big Ben chimes all though the book from beginning to the end. Secondly, the various events are inter-related emotionally, if not logically. Thirdly, the various characters in the novel think on the same problems and look at the same scenes and sights.

To sum up, the stream of consciousness novel is essentially formless, for it seeks to render the chaotic human psyche. However, Mrs.Dalloway is not formless. Virginia Woolf has been completely successful in imposing form and order on what is apparently formless and chaotic.


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