Memory in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway Essay

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Memory in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway

Clarissa Dalloway and Peter Walsh are defined by their memories. Virginia Woolf creates their characters through the memories they share, and indeed fabricates their very identities from these mutual experiences. Mrs. Dalloway creates a unique tapestry of time and memory, interweaving past and present, memory and dream. The past is the key to the future, and indeed for these two characters the past creates the future, shaping them into the people they are on the June day described by Woolf. Peter and Clarissa’s memories of the days spent at Bourton have a profound effect on them both and are still very much a part of them. These images of their younger selves are not broad, all-encompassing mental pictures, but rather the bits and pieces of life that create personality and identity. Peter remembers various idiosyncracies about Clarissa, and she does the same about him. They remember each other by “the colours, salts, tones of existence,” the very essence that makes human beings original and unique: the fabric of their true identities (30).

Clarissa Dalloway is content with her life with Richard, is content to give her party on a beautiful June evening, but she does regret at times that she can’t “have her life over again” (10). Clarissa’s memories of Bourton, of her youth, are brought back to her vividly by just the “squeak of the hinges. . . [and] she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air” (3). The very intensity of these memories are what make them so much a part of what she is– everything in life reminds her of Bourton, of Sally Seton, of Peter Walsh. Peter and Sally were her best friends as a girl, and “with the two of them. . . she s...

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... eternally knotted in the combined tapestry of their lives, never to be disentangled from each other and therefore entwining their lives together as well as their memories of idyllic summers and bitter storms. Memory can be triggered by anything, causing life to run in a continual loop between the past and the future, the truth and the dream. Peter and Clarissa will always be shaped by their memories; that is, the core of their being. As Clarissa descends the stairs at the end of her party Peter wonders “what is this terror? What is this ecstacy? . . . What is it that fills me with extraordinary excitement? It is Clarissa . . . For there she was” (194). And there she will always be, forever bound in his memory just as he is forever tied into hers, together creating their true identities.
Work Cited
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc., 2005.

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