Posts Tagged ‘William Patrick Wend’

I was really excited when my dean allowed me to reactivate our old Literature & Film course. This class had not been taught in a number of years, the professor who had taught it left before I got here, and my dean was very happy to see someone interested in teaching it again.

My introduction to Mrs. Dalloway came in the course that inspired me to want to teach this class. I was first introduced to Mrs. Dalloway in Dr. Scott Rettberg’s From Books To Movies back at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in 2004. I knew Woolf previously from reading Orlando, but I fell in love with her after reading about Clarissa Dalloway’s day. I knew I had to have Mrs. Dalloway on the book list for my course.

The way the course ended up running, we watched each film and discussed it as we watched. This ended up as something between serious literary/cinematic discussion and a lot of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Watching the film took about one and a half class sessions, and then we spent two full class sessions discussing the novel. We even had one of my colleagues, Erika Baldt, sit in on one of the sessions (which is something I want to do more of in the future).

My students came up with some interesting topics for papers and we had a great time discussing one of my favorite, if not favorite, novels. Our discussions of the move from the novel to film offered students a chance to discuss their excellent reactions to the film.

Some of these included:

  • The lack of connection between Clarissa and Septimus
  • A general sense of relief at Sally and Clarissa’s relationship (especially the kiss) not being overplayed
  • An acknowledgement that this is a very hard novel to adapt, which led to one of our best discussions of what should be in a good adaptation. This eventually became the theme for our final panel presentations at the end of the term.
  • Most students liked the way some of Clarissa’s monologue was brought into the film via dialogue.
  • A lot of criticism of the underplaying of class issues

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While doing research on Mrs. Dalloway a few years ago, one of the aspects of the novel I became interested in was the role of time construction in the narrative.

As we know, Mrs. Dalloway takes place in a few different times and places. However, a more curious question became how many hours, from Clarissa going to buy the flowers by herself, to the end of the narrative, “for there she was,” does the novel take place in?

Mrs. Dalloway can be broken down into three sections: the beginning, when Clarissa goes out to buy flowers at ten; the ending, her “rebirth” after a long, nearly fatal, illness, followed by the central part of the novel, including flashbacks and the preparation for the dinner party in the evening; finally, the third section of the novel, the 30 “dead,” years in between.

Anna Benjamin’s 1965 essay “Towards An Understanding Of The Meaning Of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway includes a chart detailing the times in which corresponding events take place in the text, according to textual evidence. While Benjamin admits the beginning and ending times for the novel “are not preciously stated” she, using textual evidence, concludes that the novel begins at ten in the morning and ends approximately around midnight.

At the time in which Benjamin is writing there is some contention as to how long the novel takes. Melvin Friedman argues for ten to ten. Dean Doner argues rather unreasonably for 17 hours, from ten to three in the morning. Molly Hoff has also written about this in more contemporary times. Nowhere in my research did I find a more conclusive chart than Benjamin’s:

10 a.m.

“First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air.

11 a.m.

Peter calls on Clarissa a little after eleven.

11:30 a.m.

“…struck out between them with extrordinary vigour, as if a young man, strong, indifferent, inconsiderate, were swinging dumb-bells this way and that.”

11:32 a.m.

“like a hostess who comes in her drawing room…”

11:45 a.m.

“…the quarter struck-the quarter to twelve…”


“…whose stroke was wafted over the nothern part of London; blent with that of other clocks, mixed in a thin…etheral way with the clouds and wisps of smoke…twelve o’clock struck as Clarissa….laid her green dress…

1:30 p.m.

…a sense of proportion, until the mound of time was so far diminished that a commericial clock…announced genially…

1:30-2 p.m.

Lunchtime in Mayfair.

3 p.m.

…for with overpowering directness and dignity the clock struck three…

3:30 p.m.

…that solemn stroke which lay flat like a bar of gold on the sea…

3:32 p.m.

“…came shuffling in with its lap full of odds and ends, which it dumped down as if Big Ben were all very well with his majesty…”

6 p.m.

Mrs. Dalloway’s letter reaches Peter.

8 p.m.

Peter sees young people heading to the pictures.

8 p.m.

Dinner is also over at the Dalloways. The first guests arrive for the party.


“…with the clock striking the hour…one, two, three…There!”

This chart makes the most sense to me. I have found it quite useful for both my own research on the novel and for discussion and understanding the text in general. I wonder if there is a more useful, or recent, chart out there amongst Woolf scholars?

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 As a supplement to my previous post about intertextuality and geographical citation in Mrs. Dalloway, how intertextuality is used to portray heroism and the rippling aftereffects of war in Mrs. Dalloway needs to be briefly given further examination. In particular, the relationship between Clarissa and Septimus shall be looked at further.

In Greatness Engendered: George Eliot & Virginia Woolf, Alison Booth argues that Woolf believed women have access to a “secret form of heroism” related to epic life.  Clarissa is, Booth continues, a: “living poem (who) influences moments of deeper communion because (she) is not a great man but many women to many people.  (She) may even extend (her) spirit to the suffering common man, as Woolf speculates in linking Mrs. Dalloway and Septimus Smith (163). 

Suzette Henke argues that Clarissa “embodies the feminine capacity to create, preserve, and sanctify life” (128). Molly Hoff also compares Clarissa to Helen of Troy, noting that Sally Seton at one point commands Peter to take Clarissa away (196). 

Septimus also has some connection to heroes of the epics.  The broken soldier simulates Achilles in the Iliad when he has no taste for food.  In book nine, Achilles also denies himself sustenance to mourn his friends who have died in battle.  In her book Virginia Woolf & The Androgynous Vision, Nancy Topping Bazin also argues that Clarissa and Septimus are linked by Aristotle’s unities of time, place, and action by outside influences like the motor car, airplane, and striking of Big Ben.  Anne Fernald recently pointed out that Septimus’ doctor, arriving at the party late, is the one who breaks the news that Septimus has died.

According to Bazin, Woolf is modifying a technique she got from Joseph Conrad of “representing in different characters the selves of which a total self might be composed” (27).  Woolf discusses this further in Mr. Conrad: A Conversation.

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Today is the day for the Woolf in Winter online discussion of Mrs. Dalloway. To join it, subscribe to the comment feed for the original invitation post: “Woolf in Winter: An Invitation.”

  • To find out more about the upcoming discussions on three other novels, go here. The discussions will be led by the four bloggers, SarahEmilyFrances and Claire, who came up with the plan.
  • Read thoughts on Mrs. Dalloway at “Nonsuch Books.”
  • “Lakeside Musing” has already posted her wintertime thoughts about reading MD. She says it is a novel that improves with age — the age of the reader.
  • Another blogger–and an English professor to boot–shares her experience of falling under the spell of Woolf’s words after struggling with “how to read” MD. Rohan Maitzen blogs about her reading experiences on Novel Readings.
  • To find out what some first-time readers of Woolf have already had to say about Mrs. D, go to this post at “another cookie crumbles,” the blog of a 23-year-old book lover living in London.
  • To read William Patrick Wend’s thoughts about the novel in an intertextual context, read his essay, “The Intertextual World of Mrs. Dalloway” on Blogging Woolf.

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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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