‘Stream of Consciousness’ and ‘Mrs.Dalloway’

Posted on September 8, 2007


I have always been fascinated by the term ‘Stream of Consciousness’. It sounds so poetic, may be because it compares the thinking process or our consciousness to a stream. The psychologist and the writer of ‘Principles of Psychology’, James Joyce, coined the phrase ‘stream of consciousness’ in 1890, although the technique had already been used by Edouard Dujardin (French novelist) in a short novel. By this term James Joyce meant that human consciousness is something fluid. With this technique what we have before us is the outer observations as they
impinge on the flow of thoughts, memory and feelings.
A novel written in this technique, that stands out in my memory is Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs. Dalloway’, which has been called “the first wholly successful novel that Virginia Woolf produced” by. The action or description of events in the novel has not been narrated in the chronological order – a typical characteristic of stream of consciousness. All the characters have been portrayed by the ‘flow of the stream of consciousness’. The action is confined to just a single day. The novel begins with Clarissa going out of her house for buying flowers in the morning and ends with Clarissa’s party in the evening. But although the clock time is restricted, yet the psychological time is of much longer duration.Virgina Woolf herself says: “In a novel of subjectivity there is no plot, no character, no tragedy, no comedy and no love-interest as in
traditional novel.”