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Modern Fiction

By mdziqx87 Sep 04, 2013 1745 Words
Modernist literature is noticeably different as it is a movement away from the apparent objectivity provided by the fixed narrative points of view, omniscient third-person narration and obvious moral positions. Virginia Woolf, a modernist writer, wrote Modern Fiction in which she claims that the traditionalist novelists like H. G. Wells, Arnold Bennett and Galsworthy are ‘materialists’. Materialist are writers who believed that the great force that impacts an individual is the environment. On the other hand, a modernist writer emphasises on impressionism and subjectivity in writing and how opinions are formed, rather than on what is perceived. She also wrote in Modern Fiction her famous quote “Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day.” This quote can be defined as; one should examine how the imagination is the result of the everyday events, and how we use our imagination to bring meaning, colour, passion and drama to the ordinary occurrences of life. In this essay, I will examine three of Woolf’s short stories taken from “Monday or Tuesday”, to show her style of narration in “Kew Gardens”, the use of the stream of consciousness technique in “The mark on the wall” and her impressionistic writing style in “A haunted house”, are all successful in showing ordinary occurrences are relatable and makes the readers understand the story on their own. Successful in this sense would mean that Woolf would not have forced on the readers her ideas, but rather allow them to explore their mind while they read the story to gain an experience of understanding. Woolf’s style of narration allows readers to relate to the characters’ lives to gain deeper understanding of her story. At first glance, Kew Gardens may seem like a short story about the events that happen in a park, couples going by the flowerbed and the snail moving forward in it. However in actuality, Woolf was creating the juxtapositions between the moments of human interaction and the scenes of nature, showing that they co-exist with each other though they seem to not notice it. Woolf identifies nature with movement, however her characters are seemingly stuck in their episodes of the situation, her story progresses with the break from human interaction to again the movement of nature, showing that life goes on. By taking on the third person omniscient narrative style, Woolf is able to show and relations of the humans in the park, how the walk in park with his wife makes Simon wonder about his failed marriage proposal to Lily, and he likens his feelings to the movement of a dragonfly. She allows the readers to feel the eagerness of the dragonfly as it moves, similar to how William felt. Woolf presents the structured view of existence within the everyday activity of the natural world and human interactions. She captures the simple experiences of life like joys and disappointments, and creates a structure for her story out of this. She also makes it a point to show that everything co-exist with everything else, and interestingly she presents that limited view of one’s perception is of the things that her character imposes. She shows this very well in Kew Gardens as the characters in her story do not seem to notice the nature around them, but she also showed that it is not a wonder as to how Simon can relate his experience to the dragonfly, as it co-exists with him. She brings the readers a step closer to human emotions by showing how the inner workings of the minds are stimulated by certain events of daily activities. What may seem simple and routine actually holds a deeper meaning, such as Simon taking a walk in the park with his family. Woolf makes narration of her story structured on the psychological impressions of her characters and she presents their experiences as it is, fragmented. It can be conveyed in a third person perspective and then she jumps into the interior monologue and then to a first person perspective. She seemingly shows that the trigger for these moments of the characters is the external world, which stimulates the internal mind. The internal mind then is made aware to the readers as she narrates their thoughts and thinking process. This in turn also allows her readers to take a step back and appreciate the beauty of the thinking mind, how it functions in her characters, and readers can relate to them as the characters are going through their ordinary lives. The stream of consciousness engages the readers to see how the mind works. The Mark on the Wall is a satire of intellectual pretensions as seen in the character as she makes guesses of what the mark is. The character’s overexcited thoughts over this mark on the wall bring the reader from the past to the present as imagined in her mind, over the period of the story. The thoughts that take place in the character’s head fixated on knowing and thinking about the mark on the wall, are explored as she develops stories out of guesses. The mark, while important to the theme of the story, is small as compared to the thoughts that occupy one’s mind. Woolf uses stream of consciousness in “The Mark on the Wall.” This is a method of narration which is defined as “a person’s thoughts and conscious reactions to events, perceived as a continuous flow” (Oxford English Dictionary, “stream of consciousness”). It is an interior monologue of thought and Woolf uses her character’s obsession of discovering the mark as a launching point and anchor of her narrator’s thoughts of life. She does not want to get up to investigate, but rather let her mind wander. Here Woolf explores how something so simple, like a mark on the wall sparks of her character’s train of thoughts and imagination. “How readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object, lifting it a little way, as ants carry a blade of straw so feverishly, and then leave it.... If that mark was made by a nail, it can't have been for a picture…” Woolf shows the thoughts of her character and how the mind wanders off. She uses this technique to propel her story forward, showing jumps from one thought to another mostly at the beginning of the paragraph. Though the topics that are mentioned are loosely connected, it is how the mind develops these thoughts is how the readers are able to connect to the story. The reason why the readers would be able to connect to the story is that the stream of consciousness shows how the mind works producing thoughts, and how it moves from one thought to another. Woolf shows in The mark on the wall how the mind’s thoughts and imaginations were simply sparked off from something in an ordinary day. Finally in A Haunted House, she creates impressions in the story to allow the readers to think while reading. Woolf makes the ghosts in her story seem like they are the antagonists in search of something or seemingly scaring the living couple in the house. She also does not make the theme the main plot however the readers will eventually come to realise what was being referred to. This impressionistic style of writing uses a lot of symbolism and imagery. By doing so, Woolf is able to give the reader a sense of experience and accentuates the theme even more. “Whatever hour you woke, there was a door shutting” the imagery let the readers feel the importance of locating what the ghosts were searching for. Throughout the story, Woolf repeatedly uses the words “here” and “it”. By repeating the words, she is showing the emphasis on the significance of both words. The ghosts said if “it’s” upstairs or if they left “it” in the drawing room. This makes the reader question what the ghosts are looking for and where was “it” left? Woolf also makes the reader wonder if “it” is “here” and if not “here” then where is “it”? When Woolf finally explains that “it” is a “treasure”, and the reader is led to wonder what kind of treasure the ghosts are looking for. Her use of symbolism is a style that is intentionally ambiguous, as places the responsibility on the reader to form his or her own conclusions about the on-going events in the story, rather than depending on the narrator. By creating impressions, she is successful in making the readers connect to the story as they start to examine it to understand the underlying theme. In conclusion, Woolf’s success in this term would mean that she has managed to break away from the common style of writers of her time and promote modernism in her stories, which touches the human consciousness to relate readers to her stories. Her style of narration, the use of stream of consciousness and the impressionistic style of writing are the techniques that are shown in the stories that have been discussed in this essay, which have successfully allowed readers to develop an understanding of the story not because it was blatantly written out, but it makes them reflect on the very idea of ‘ordinary’ experience. Through this act of reflection, Woolf is able to alert her reader to the possibility of how the mind is able to work and wonder and create stories that are relatable and understandable as the readers not only read what is written but indulges themselves in the stories as they reflect upon it. (1580 words)

Readings & References:
1) The Essays of Virginia Woolf. (1984). Modern Fiction. Retrieved from: 2) Great Books Online. (1999). Monday or Tuesday by Virginia Woolf. Retrieved from: 3) Great Books Online. (1999). Kew Gardens by Virginia Woolf. Retrieved from: 4) Great Books Online. (1999). The Mark on the Wall by Virginia Woolf. Retrieved from: 5) Great Books Online. (1999). A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf. Retrieved from: 6) Brown, Alistair. ELT379e: Topics in Modernism: Study Guide. Singapore: SIM University, 2013. Print. 7) Oxford English Dictionary. (2010). Stream of Consciousness. Retrieved from:

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