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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Repeat that please, I didn't hear you the first time...

The Sir Cowasjee Jehangir Fountain

Mrs. Dalloway stands at the pinnacle of Virginia Woolf’s writing style as declared by her manifesto as stated in “Modern Fiction.”  After reading Jacob’s Room and Mrs. Dalloway almost back to back, one can see that she perfected her art with Clarissa Dalloway’s story.  Having been my second time reading this novel, I feel I understood it more deeply this time (but not as deep as deep can be).  Although, I don’t think this is a book that one should read in a couple of sittings.  In the introduction by Bonnie Kime Scott, Scott reveals that Woolf could only write about 50 words per day of the Septimus Smith’s portion of the story because of the painful history of her own suicide attempts (MD xlviii).  If I had the time, I would like to read it as she wrote it to better absorb, investigate, and untangle the paths, threads, and tunnels that Woolf created. 

If I had the time, one of the tools Woolf used that I would like to investigate is the use of the repetitive phrases or words.  Kayla mentioned the practice in class last week, and Scott mentions it in the introduction.  Some of the phrases were used in just sections, one I can think of was used throughout the book, and some were repeated only once.  Richard Dalloway repeated this line (in various forms) over three times:  “He would tell Clarissa that he loved her, in so many words” (MD 102).  But he couldn’t bring himself to say the words; however, he brought her flowers and was sure that she knew.  In the end of the story, Richard is proud of his daughter Elizabeth; he hadn’t meant to tell her, but couldn’t help but doing so.  He cannot get the words out to tell his wife that he loves her, but the loving words come out easily for his daughter.  I wonder why.  Is he a bit intimidated by Clarissa?
The time theme weaves throughout the story; however, it pops up as a short repetition in Peter’s personal conversation after visiting Clarissa.  On page 48 in a parenthetical thought within his thoughts, he thinks, “(… the half-hour; still early; only half-past eleven still.)”  At this point he is ranting on about how Clarissa introduced Elizabeth, her daughter, as “my Elizabeth” (MD 48).  Just after he finishes following (stalking) a young, brown woman, he thinks, “…for it was early, still very early” (MD 53), (not the exact same words, but similar enough to catch my attention).   This instance of repetition was employed to demonstrate Peter’s idea that he hasn’t grown older; he still has plenty of time.

The one phrase that I saw used repeatedly was, “Fear no more.”  Clarissa first reads it in a book shop:  “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun / Nor the furious winter’s rages” (MD 9).  It appears to signify to not fear death; you’ll never have to worry about life’s hardships.  She repeats it partially when she discovers that she’s not invited to the luncheon at Lady Bruton’s:  “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun” (MD 29).  Clarissa shivers as she thinks this.  I’m not sure that this is still significant of death.  After investigating the next time she uses it on page 39, it appears that she’s using the phrase as a calming device.  She thinks, “Fear no more, says the heart, committing its burden to some sea, which sighs collectively for all sorrows, and renews, begins, collects, lets fall.”  It is as if she’s saying, “It’s okay; I don’t really need to worry about x,y, or z.  It's a burden I can be rid of and start anew.”  Septimus also uses the line just before his short bout of sanity before his death:  “Fear no more, says the heart in the body; fear no more” (MD 137).  Was this just a brief respite, or had he conquered his fear of seeing the dead Evans?  No, it was just a break.  Bringing its use full circle, Clarissa uses it last in her conversation to herself after learning of Septimus’s suicide.  With the last use, she has convinced herself not to fear death, but to live life. 
There were also words that were repeated, pink, for instance.  At the last of the book was perhaps the most pointed.  The reader is repeatedly told that Elizabeth is wearing a pink dress to the party, but when Sally Seton Rosseter notices Elizabeth, she describes the dress as being red; she also refers to Elizabeth as a young woman.  I would have to compare all the other times it was used to get an overall idea of why the word was used so much, but for this instance we can safely assume that pink signifies a little girl, and red signifies womanhood.

There are more repeated phrases and reused words; what I gave you were were but a few, but I don't have any time.  Time skitters out of view, and I have a hard time finding it.  Of course, there are the trees too, but I will leave the trees for another day.  If only I had the time...

Woolf, Virginia.  Mrs. Dalloway.  Ed. Mark Hussey and Bonnie Kime Scott.  Orlando, FL:  Harcourt, Inc.  2005.  Print.

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