Virginia Woolf turns to confront one of the more morose and insidious aspects of modernity in her novel Mrs. Dalloway. She explores the tragedy that is otherwise overlooked in the discussions of modernity- the tragedy of the human psychology. Amidst all the galore of mankind’s inevitable march forwards, what often gets overlooked is the element of the human. In dealing with broad movements and rapid change, we lack a proper examination of the human condition. And this is precisely the aspect of modernity that Woolf zooms in on and enlarges, throwing fresh perspective on the modern era. Her novel delves deep into the mind of her characters to isolate the voices that are otherwise lost. And perhaps one of the more intriguing voices she finds in the mind of modern man is the voice of denial. This is the central issue that this essay will explore. On first glance, it may seem like Woolf is critiquing denial as an extension of modernity’s tragedy. It may seem like denial is endemic of her cast of characters- and is never too far behind the most tragic figures in the novel. Yet this would be a simplistic look, indeed it would miss the point Woolf was trying to evoke. This paper will argue that Woolf used denial as one a means of resisting tragedy. It is the spark that denies tragedy its full due and provides resilience to the hearts of those who embrace it. In doing so, it embodies a spirit of hope- hope that tragedy itself can be denied if one holds onto denial assiduously.
This paper will initially analyze the elements of psychological tragedy that Woolf evokes in her novel. It will go on to analyze the role denial plays in helping the characters deal with the sense of tragedy that is dealt to them. A closer examination would reveal how denial had lead to the characters given a sense of hope, and strength. The counterargument can be that the hope is false in its premise and apt to lead to more hurt. However, we see that this is not the case- in embracing denial the characters are not avoiding the truth of their lives, but rather fighting it. And finally, it shall look into stylistic elements Woolf employs throughout the play to use highlight the sense of denial in the characters mind, with a focus on spatial shifts that the novel weaves in so deftly.
Modernity lead to changing realities for the people living in that day and age. While other authors devote time and energy to evoke grand movements, world changing events and broad intellectual shifts, Woolf argues that the human element in the modern age has been left inadequately explored. She feels that literature has been neglecting the task of moving into a new epoch; in her approach to fiction, she feels that it is crucial to leave behind a more ‘materialist’ tradition of the past in favor of a new focus on the human experience. She feels that the moment of an average person’s life and otherwise trivial occurrences has a maelstrom of thoughts, feelings and emotions behind it; and it would be tragic to overlook this. This is what she describes as the ‘spirit’ or ‘life’, writing ‘perhaps without life, there is nothing worthwhile.’ In her book, she does just that, she explores the life and wealth of experiences that make the everyday extraordinary. And one of the aspects she focuses on is on how the everyday breeds the tragic. She analyzes the lives of her characters, showing brief glimpses into their psyche to allow us to feel their world. And in doing so, she opens a window into pain and shows us that hurt does not necessarily come from watershed moments-but rather, everyday occurrences and otherwise trivial details often provoke traumatic psychological experiences as a result of the demons we carry with us.
Let us look at three characters to understand this view of tragedy. First, a great candidate would be Peter Walsh. The character created is rich in irony- he flirts with the high society of Clarissa and Richard Dalloway but is a strange...