One of the most well-known English modernist novelists, Virginia Woolf made important theoretical and practical contributions to the evolution of the modern novel. She forsook standard fiction tropes in favour of her own innovative approaches. Woolf’s novels focus more on the protagonist’s internal life than on the outside world.
“To the Lighthouse,” Woolf’s magnum opus, is a great case study for examining her literary theory and experimental writing style. In this article, I shall be discussing two common forms of contemporary stream of consciousness techniques: indirect interior monologue and free association.
Stream of consciousness in “To the lighthouse”
It’s hard not to bring up Virginia Woolf’s use of stream-of-consciousness writing when discussing her novel “To the lighthouse.” There is a significant narrowing or dissolution of the scale and scope of objective events in the world outside the novel. Constant thought and a deluge of experiences are the building blocks. The novel focuses more on the characters’ internal growth in response to external events than on the events themselves.
The writer’s role as omniscient narrator has also largely disappeared, with most of the novel’s information appearing instead through the characters’ internal monologues. And rather than following a traditional “what happens next” structure, the novel develops through a series of scenes organised in accordance with a montage of the protagonist’s thoughts. Internal monologue and free association are two of Mrs. Woolf’s primary writing methods.
1. Interior Monologue
Interior monologue is often misunderstood as stream of consciousness. Since it is a term of rhetoric and properly refers to a literary technique, it is used more accurately than the latter. If this term is to serve as a useful critical term, however, it requires a more precise definition and much narrower application than it currently has.
Edouard Dujardin, who is credited with being the first author to use interior monologue in his novel Les Lauriers Sont Coupes (1887), once described the literary device for us and provided us with its definition.
According to him, interior monologue is the speech of a character in a scene that has for its purpose to bring us directly into the interior life of that character, without the author intervening through explanations or remarks. It is distinct from conventional monologue in two ways: the thoughts it expresses are those closest to the unconscious, and it is written in spare, straightforward language.
Robert Humphrey defines interior monologue as the method by which the inner life of a fictional character is represented, in part or in whole, without the use of words, in the same way that a person’s thoughts and feelings can exist at different stages of conscious control before being formulated into deliberate speech.
Interior monologue has two types which are discussed as follow:
1) Direct interior monologue
When referring to direct interior monologue, it is one in which the author has minimally intervened and no auditor is assumed. Examining its unique approaches reveals that it delivers awareness directly to the reader with minimal interference from the author. This means that the author, along with any guiding phrases like “he stated” or “he thought,” as well as any explanatory comments, mostly disappears from the page.
To be clear, the character is not addressing someone specific in the situation, nor is he or she directly addressing the reader. In a nutshell, the monologue is portrayed as wholly unfiltered, as though the reader did not exist.
2) Indirect interior monologue
The unspoken thoughts and feelings of a character are presented as if they came directly from the character’s mind in an indirect interior monologue, with the author providing commentary and guiding the reader through the experience.
Simply put, the author steps in between the character’s mind and the reader, making a difference in the tone and meaning of the speech. The writer acts as a virtual mentor to the readers. What is presented of consciousness is still direct, as in the idiom and with the characteristics of the character’s psychic processes, which is essentially the defining characteristic of interior monologue.
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According to their definition, these two strategies have significant differences in their manipulation and potential outcomes. Indirect monologue provides the reader a sense of the author’s constant presence, whereas direct monologue either fully or mostly avoids it. This is the fundamental distinction between the two styles.
Indirect monologue in “To the lighthouse”
Among the authors who use stream-of-consciousness, Virginia Woolf depends most on the indirect interior monologue and does it expertly. By employing this strategy, Virginia Woolf is able to create a much more subdued impact in “To the Lighthouse.” Although this book features a lot of straightforward, traditional narrative and description, interior monologue is utilised frequently enough to give the book its unique quality of appearing to be constantly in the heads of the main characters.
Let us look at the following passage:
For how would you like to be shut up for a whole month at a time, and possibly more in stormy weather, upon a rock the size of a tennis lawn? She would ask; and to have no letters and newspapers, and to see nobody; if you were married, not to see your wife, not to know how your children were, —if they were ill, if they had fallen down and broken their legs or arms; to see the same dreary waves breaking week after week, and then a dreadful storm coming, and the windows covered with spray, and birds dashed against the lamp, and the whole place rocking, and not be able to put your nose out of doors for fear of being swept into the sea? How would you like that? She asked,..(p.4)Virgina Woolf
Although the author presents the section above in the style of direct narration, the character’s feelings and thoughts are crystal obvious, and the text portrays the character’s consciousness and inner thought.
With her special abilities, Woolf uses this paragraph to facilitate the indirect interior monologue. First, she introduces this monologue with the conjunction “for,” which makes the transition from objective description to the character’s inner monologue simple and natural. She uses the guiding phrases “she would ask” and “she asked” to show Mrs. Ramsay’s consciousness in order to pique the reader’s curiosity about what goes on secretly inside Mrs. Ramsay’s mind. Thirdly, she uses semicolons in this sentence to denote the persistence of consciousness.
For indirect interior monologue, the author’s constant participation is necessary to help the reader understand the character’s thoughts. Virginia Woolf’s preferred literary device that serves a number of purposes in her novels is the frequent use of parenthesis. Parentheses can serve as indicators of simultaneity and digression. Parentheses can also serve as brief digressions, justifications, or indicators of what is happening.
Virginia Woolf’s use of unique devices like semicolons, guiding phrases, and parentheses embroidered to her interior monologue allows her to overcome the shortcomings of the stream-of-consciousness novel by achieving great coherence, explicitness, vividness, and surface unity in presenting the characters’ inner world.
On the other hand, her rendering of the characters’ internal monologue is not only consistent in terms of meaning, but also traditional in terms of style.
2. Free Association
Applying the principles of psychological free association has been the primary technique for regulating the flow of stream-of-consciousness in fiction because the fictional characters’ minds are disordered and lack a consistent pattern.
Free association is used in the stream-of-consciousness novel, and it has great aesthetic significance there.
First, the free association technique broadens the range and depth of the writing’s expression, allowing the authors to deal with as much of the characters’ subjective experience as they can within a relatively narrow objective time-space framework.
A second benefit of the free association method is that it disrupts the normal flow of a story. With the aid of this technique, one’s thoughts can freely move between the present, the past, and the future, or from one place to another, as well as between related things, familiar sights, and other things or people. Associative processes involve the mixing of objective and psychic time; the alternating existence of past memories, future anticipation, and present consciousness; and the resulting structure of chaos in space-time and disorder in sequence.
Finally, the free association method can be used to create contrast and satire by linking events that occurred in different times and places. Therefore, this method is crucial for writers to portray the actual world of the mind.
Free Association in “To the lighthouse”
Woolf uses free association to depict her characters’ inner lives and thoughts in “To the Lighthouse”, and she typically encloses it in indirect interior monologue. The first seven to ten chapters of To the Lighthouse could serve as an example.
Through an external event involving Mrs. Ramsay and James, the section is connected: Mrs. Ramsay tells James the story of the Fisherman’s Wife. Mrs. Ramsay comforted her distraught husband and then began reading aloud to their son, James.
After reading many more lines, she continued, “‘The man’s heart grew heavy,’ she read aloud, ‘and he would not go…'” at which point she entrusted her daughter to inquire of Mildred as to whether or not Andrew, Miss Doyle, and Mr. Rayley had returned. A short while later, she found the words “Next morning the wife awoke first…” “Ah, wife” she said a few lines later. After reading for another four pages, she concluded, the beam from the lighthouse suddenly entered her vision. That is when Mildred walked in to bring them in. Thus the tenth chapter concludes.
There are many distractions throughout the story’s telling that do not hinder the plot’s progression but do consume more time than the entire scene could have lasted. The vast majority of these factors are, in fact, mental processes, or changes occurring within the heads of specific individuals.
In the book’s final section, the twelfth chapter serves as yet another outstanding illustration. In this section, our artist protagonist, Lily Briscoe, watches the waves and experiences a similar shift in her state of mind. By the beach, her mind displays a plethora of vivid images and scenes: Mrs. Ramsay appears to her, and then she notices that someone in the drawing room has cast a friangular shadow over the step.
All of life’s shards are assembled and mirrored in her work, from the friangular shadow over the step to the shadow on her canvas to the meadow under the canvas to the faraway in the sea.
Woolf uses indirect interior monologue to express the character’s inner world in such coherence and surface unity, as demonstrated by an examination of these two typical stream-of-consciousness techniques.
The internal monologues she depicts in her characters are not only logically consistent but also conventionally presented. Through the use of indirect interior monologue, she brings the reader into the minds of the novel’s characters and reveals their train of thought.
And the use of free association allows the reader to enter the minds of her characters through their emotions, recollections, etc.
Therefore, it is undeniable that Virginia Woolf excels when writing the stream-of-consciousness novels that explore the minds of her characters at all levels of awareness.