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Essay on Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway - A Modern Tragedy

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Mrs. Dalloway - A Modern Tragedy      


    The narrative of Mrs. Dalloway may be viewed by some as random congealing of various character experience. Although it appears to be a fragmented assortment of images and thought, there is a psychological coherence to the deeply layered novel. Part of this coherence can be found in Mrs. Dalloway's psychological tone which is tragic in nature. In her forward to Mrs. Dalloway, Maureen Howard informs us that Woolf was reading both Sophocles and Euripides for her essays in The Common Reader while writing Mrs. Dalloway (viii). According to Pamela Transue, "Woolf appears to have envisioned Mrs. Dalloway as a kind of modern tragedy based on the classic Greek model" (92). Mrs. Dalloway can be conceived of as a modern transformation of Aristotelian tragedy when one examines the following: 1) structural unity; 2) catharsis; 3) recognition, reversal, and catastrophe; 4) handling of time and overall sense of desperation.

Structural Unity

Woolf read the Poetics in Greek and was cognizant of the Aristotelian criteria for tragedy. One necessary element, from Aristotle's definition, is structural unity. It consists of an interrelationship of events within the plot. Each event must follow, causally, preceding action to form a coherent whole. According to Aristotle, "a whole is that which has beginning, middle, and end" (233). The Poetics further states: "Again to be beautiful, a living creature, and every whole made up of parts, must not only present a certain order in its arrangement of parts, must also be of a certain magnitude" (233). The ideal Aristotelian plot should be well constructed, without any extraneous parts, and consists of memorable length.

Although upon first reading, ...


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...rior and exterior nuances. Although it seems contradictory, Woolf's use of fragmented imagery and thought colliding together almost randomly yet linked beneath the surface by fine threads of coherency represents an attempt synthesize the novel with life.
 
 

Works Cited

Aristotle. "The Poetics." The Rhetoric and the Poetics of Aristotle. Ed. Ingram Bywater. New York: McGraw Hill, 1984. 223-66.

Bazin, Nancy Topping. Virginia Woolf and the Androgynous Vision. New Burnswick: Rutgers UP, 1973.

Curd, Patricia Kenig. "Aristotelian Visions of Moral Character in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway." English Language Notes 33.1 (1995): 40-57.

Howard, Maureen. Foreward. Mrs. Dalloway. By Virginal Woolf. New York: Harcourt and Brace, 1981, vii-xiv.

Transue, Pamela J. Virginia Woolf and the Politics of Style. Albany: State U of New York P, 1986.

 


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