Archive for January 14th, 2010

Editor’s Note: William Patrick Wend is an adjunct faculty member in the Liberal Arts Department at Burlington County College. His essay is just in time for the Woolf in Winter online discussion of Mrs. Dalloway.

When I first read Mrs. Dalloway in 2004, it quickly became one of my favorite novels. In fact, if asked now, I would probably list it as my favorite novel.

In graduate school, while taking Intermodernist scholar Kristin Bluemel’s course on “The Novel,” I had the chance to reread Mrs. Dalloway. I ended up going in a different direction for my final paper, which I hope to discuss in a future post on Blogging Woolf, but for a mid-semester presentation I focused on the role of intertextuality, specifically in regards to the Epic Cycle, in Mrs. Dalloway.

Woolf begins with one simple scheme: a woman’s “ordinary day…full of poetry and pathos, tragedy and comedy.” Woolf uses intertextual citation to enrich her novel with Homer’s Odyssey, but also the Iliad, Aristotle’s Poetics, and other classic Greek writing.

Originally, and borrowed recently by Michael Cunningham for his own novel of the same name, Mrs. Dalloway was going to be called The Hours. As Molly Hoff has noted, this working title suggests Homer’s Odyssey. The Latin word for hour is “hora,” which comes from the Greek and can also mean very finite concepts like “spring” or a complete day.

Odysseus’ journey home takes 10 years; Clarissa’s return to “life” takes a bit over 10 hours. One could argue that her rebirth is analogous to the Persephone/Demeter myth in the Homeric Hymns as well.

Mrs. Dalloway and The Odyssey also have in the common how they interact with time. Both narratives begin in the present, in medias res, but use flashbacks to engage with past.

Other characters also share traits with the Epic Cycle. Like the opening lines of the Odyssey where Athena notes that Odysseus is currently tangled up with Calypso, the return of Peter Walsh from India comes with the announcement via Lady Burton, who Hoff refers to as an “androgynous Athena” that he “is in trouble with some woman.”

Back in India is Peter’s Penelope, Daisy, who is courted by two men while he is gone and tricks both her suitors to stand aside. Septimus, the broken solider in mourning, simulates Achilles when he has no taste for food. Achilles also denies himself sustenance to mourn his friend who has died in battle.


[1] Alison Booth, Greatness Engendered: George Eliot & Virginia Woolf

[2] Molly Hoff, The Pseudo-Homeric World of Mrs. Dalloway

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