People, like Arnold Bennett, say I can’t create […] characters that survive. (Virginia Woolf, Diary 2: 248)
- 1 Critics have considered the way characters are extracted from the text where they are born and expo (...)
1Since the publication of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway in 1925, many kinds of transpositions have been operated from Woolf’s novel to other writers’ novels. Mrs Dalloway is a non-contained text and an open reservoir for contemporary writers: it overflows the boundaries of the published novel, is amalgamated into new configurations, resonates in other texts, and opens up new fictitious spaces. Not only does this show that the character of Clarissa Dalloway has “survived”–posteriority having proved Arnold Bennett wrong‑, but has also become a migratory character, a node within a vast literary network. New versions of the character keep sprouting and implanting in newly created fictional worlds, thus making Clarissa Dalloway a timeless figure.1
- 2 Transfictionality is an old phenomenon but it has become particularly prominent in postmodern cultu (...)
- 3 Other critical terms used for “original score” are hypotext (Genette) and protoworld (Doležel). Bot (...)
- 4 Clarissa Dalloway migrates in numerous contemporary texts. The space of this article, however, does (...)
2Clarissa Dalloway travels across texts: she is thus a “transfictional”2 or “transtextual character” (Richardson 527) that migrates from her “original score” (Eco, Confessions 96),3 The Voyage Out, and inhabits other possible worlds. The itinerary I have selected here4 traces Clarissa Dalloway’s evolution from the very beginning of the twentieth century, when she is a rather conventional character, to the beginning of the twenty-first century, when she has become a character in a neo-modernist text. Clarissa’s itinerary reflects the writers’ evolving literary theories on character representation and construction of fictitious worlds.
- 5 The “diagnostic properties” are dominant characteristics, aggregates of “semes” or properties (phys (...)
- 6 While some texts openly declare their hypertextual links, Catherine Dousteyssier-Khoze contends tha (...)
3Following this itinerary from text to text will provide insights on how authors perpetuate or adapt the character’s “diagnostic properties” (Eco Confessions 105)5 from the original score to new diegetic environments. The question to consider when tracing this migratory itinerary is the character’s identity: when implanted in different texts, is Clarissa Dalloway the same character, is she a different version or a counterpart of the Woolfian character or is she a distinct, separate entity? Some authors borrow either the character enveloped in its contextual literary husk and transpose it to new situations, or just the character itself stripped from its stylistic, narrative, linguistic environment and recast it in a new, updated mould. When the character brings with it its legacy, that is to say the familiar Dalloway-esque stylistic signature (as is the case in Robin Lippincott’s Mr Dalloway ), it adjusts to the allographic text in a fluid, seamless way. Another case in point demonstrates how the character of Clarissa Dalloway has become a “nebula whose borders are variable and imprecise” (Eco Confessions 106), and continues to diffuse her aura in other texts. Indeed, while the character of Clarissa Dalloway is not intertextually signalled (neither explicitly mentioned nor implicitly alluded to) in certain texts–her identity having undergone a complete metamorphosis–her essence somehow remains in the roots of the modern characters and in the DNA of the prose that contains them and carries on the flavours of Woolf’s classic.6 In order to illustrate this case, I shall give the example of the character of Mr Phillips in John Lanchester’s eponymous novel Mr Phillips (2000).
4Virginia Woolf first conceived Clarissa Dalloway in The Voyage Out (1915). Subsequently, Woolf developed her character in a short story, “Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street” (1922), before making her a fully-fledged protagonist in the well-known eponymous novel. After the publication of Mrs Dalloway, Clarissa further migrated into other Woolfian short stories. In each Woolfian text, the character reflects a particularly significant stage of its author’s development as a writer and critic. By remodelling her character from text to text, Woolf does not only adjust its diagnostic characteristics: the process of migration is accompanied by a parallel expression of her evolving conceptions on the art of fiction in general.
- 8 Richardson mentions the fact that Woolfian critic Marc Hussey, in his reference work Virginia Woolf (...)
5In The Voyage Out Richard Dalloway, a former Conservative MP, and his wife, Clarissa, travel to the continent “with a view to broadening Mr Dalloway’s mind” (The Voyage Out 31). They embark on the Euphrosyne in Lisbon and voyage for a while with other characters such as Willoughby Vinrace, the owner of the ship, and his daughter Rachel. Clarissa is here represented as a frivolous, pompous, loquacious, upper-class snob. She is “more verbally deft, well-read, and acerbic” (Richardson 528) than the Clarissa who migrates to other texts: she is “a different character who simply happens to share the name of another, nonidentical figure” (Richardson 528).8 Despite a different personality from the character in the eponymous 1925 novel, some “diagnostic properties” begin to emerge, mainly concerning her physical appearance: she has a bird-like quality about her (“looking uncommonly like a sea-gull” (VO 45)) and she is pale and thin (“her white tapering body and thin alert face” (VO 45)). While she loves life and shows great enthusiasm for living it (“I always thought it was living, not dying, that counts” (VO 50); “Isn’t it good to be alive”?; “How good life is” (VO 52), thoughts about death regularly surface. This essential and enduring diagnostic property is taken with the character in her subsequent migratory journey from this text to the next and becomes intrinsic in defining her.
6Besides these personality features, the Clarissa Dalloway from The Voyage Out embodies Woolf’s conception of character in fiction at that time, very much in keeping with the realistic literary tradition at the end of the nineteenth century and very beginning of the twentieth century. When Clarissa migrates to a different Woolfian text in 1922, she is portrayed in a way that reflects the author’s desire to innovate and experiment voiced in her critical essays. In her progress from The Voyage Out to the next textual stage, “Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street”, Clarissa Dalloway metamorphoses into a modernist character that is portrayed according to new narrative principles.
7By pointing at certain aspects of her contemporary fiction and drawing attention to different methods used by innovative young writers, Woolf indirectly defines the direction taken by her own fiction and the impulse she aims at giving her character, Clarissa Dalloway. Clarissa’s progression parallels Woolf’s arguments and theoretical preoccupations, ideas and ideals of the new “modern” fiction and mirrors the author’s concerns with the conventions of the novel and of character creation. The new Clarissa embodies Woolf’s changing and challenging conventions of writing expressed in some of her essays written during the specific period of her character’s migration: “Modern Novels” (1919), an essay rewritten as “Modern Fiction” (1925), and “Character in Fiction” (1924), later rewritten as “Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown” (1924).
- 9 “Let us not take it for granted that life exists more in what is commonly thought big than in what (...)
8Woolf intends to capture the new Mrs Dalloway mainly by diving deeper into her consciousness. “Modern Novels” includes recommendations to writers of her generation to fight their own battles, combat mediocrity, try new methods and discard the traditional conventions commonly observed by her contemporary writers. Following her own revolutionary principles, her character of Clarissa Dalloway is no longer “dressed down to the last button in the fashion of the hour” (“Modern Novels” 33). Indeed, Woolf sets out to design better-fitting vestments for Clarissa. While the author criticises the material “solidity” of Arnold Bennett’s fabric, she creates a sketchy, fragmentary character and weaves a loose fabric for her character with a much greater focus on the “dark regions of psychology” (35). Clarissa lives differently now: a series of small9 moments “reveal[s] the flickerings of that innermost flame which flashes its myriad messages through the brain” (34).
9In Woolf’s “Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street”‑written between April and August 1922 and published in July 1923 in Dial‑Woolf develops the limited role previously given to Clarissa in The Voyage Out. The character is extracted from the original score, is transposed to another place and context and acquires a more extended and deeper scope. Woolf creates a specific space for the new Mrs Dalloway to evolve and develop: London, and more specifically Bond Street. The city is intrinsically associated to Clarissa and becomes the spatial container of her contemplations and memories. Her itinerary, occasionally punctuated by outside events and Big Ben striking, is concomitant with an abundance of thoughts crossing her mind.
- 10 “I wrote the 100th page today. Of course, I've only been feeling my way into it—up till last August (...)
10Clarissa is portrayed as a less shallow character, as Woolf shifts the focus on Clarissa’s deeper, rich inner life. By plunging inside, she gives the reader direct access, through Clarissa’s thoughts, to her joys, pleasant memories, but also fears and terrors. Clarissa is also given temporal depth: numerous incursions in the past through her memories reveal notable events. Her past is brought to the fore in instalments through Woolf’s “tunnelling” technique.10 The Clarissa Dalloway portrayed in this short story is very much similar to the future Clarissa Dalloway from the 1925 novel. The reader perceives fragmentary glimpses of Clarissa walking in Bond Street from different points of view‑the narrator’s, other minor characters’, and Clarissa’s herself. The character is physically sketchy but the abundant incursions in her thoughts give her consistency and substance.
11“Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street” is the “workshop” in which Clarissa Dalloway’s diagnostic properties are refashioned. Not only has her personality changed, but the whole concept of character in fiction is re-formed. Mrs Dalloway appears to be, in Woolf’s words, a character that “imposed” (“Character in Fiction” 421, 425) itself on her. The author is not yet ready to “desert” this character just after writing “Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street”, and endeavours to “catch” her again during the whole process of composition of her novel, Mrs Dalloway (1922-1925). Clarissa Dalloway becomes Woolf’s “Mrs Brown” and “capturing” her becomes her creative mission.
- 11 Woolf criticises Arnold Bennett’s representation of his character Hilda Lessways in these words: “w (...)
12In “Character in Fiction” Woolf metaphorically theorises what she is actually putting into practice in her novel: while “Character in Fiction” is a reaction to Arnold Bennett’s criticism, Mrs Dalloway is a creative response demonstrating that her character is “real, true, and convincing” (“Character in Fiction” 427). Woolf justifies why character creation is different for the Edwardians and the Georgians, and why the formers’ “conventions are ruin”, why their “tools are death” (430). She thus precisely endeavours to depict her Clarissa with new tools and conventions, and deliberately avoid “oddities and mannerism; her buttons and wrinkles; her ribbons and warts” (426). Woolf “seep[s] [herself] in [Clarissa’s] atmosphere” (426), makes her inner voice audible,11 gives us fragmentary insights, and therefore crafts a character for a “new age and generation” (431). Clarissa Dalloway’s itinerary thus takes her to the “verge of one of the great ages of English literature” (436).
13In Mrs Dalloway, the next stage in Clarissa Dalloway’s itinerary, Woolf expands the world she created for her character in “Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street” and gives her a travelling companion, an alter ego, Septimus Smith, and enhances the essence of Clarissa by investing in her some of his diagnostic properties. Mrs Dalloway’s progress in Bond Street on an errand, which originally provides the external topographical frame of the scene, is dilated in the novel through the streets of London. The urban space as well as the temporal framework of the story is expanded: the short story develops into a circadian novel as the story unfolds during the whole day in June with ramifications in the past. On the background of the enlarged spatio-temporal framework, wider scope is also given to the exploration of characters.
- 12 Moments of Being is a collection of posthumously published autobiographical essays by Virginia Wool (...)
14In Woolf’s eponymous novel, Clarissa is a 52-year-old high-society woman living in Westminster, who represents the opulence of the upper class. She is a perfect hostess organising successful parties for her husband. Her chatter and trivial external activities make her appear superficial but she is also an introspective character with a rich internal life. She is made up of a mosaic of points of view (as she is seen by Peter Walsh, Scrope Purvis, Doris Kilman, Lucy, the maid, and so on), of glimpses from past and present, of fragments of conversations. Throughout the day she considers ageing and death and we follow her meandering thoughts while she is preparing for the party in the evening. While her physical portrait is fragmentary and minimalist, her lengthy, elastic thoughts define her and inform the reader about her. As in “Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street”, Clarissa loves life: she is exhilarated as she walks in the London streets towards the flower shop, she is thrilled to be plunged in London’s bustle, but also experiences quiet, meaningful moments of being12 throughout the day. While she reminisces about the past, she is also sensitive to the present moment.
- 13 Woolf was deeply concerned with the balance of her novel. While composing and revising “The Hours”, (...)
15Septimus is at the other end of the social scale: he is a working-class, shell-shocked war veteran who feels alienated from the physical world and lives in his inner world, wherein he experiences visual hallucinations and hears voices. According to Woolf’s “queer’ and “masterful” (Diary 2: 249) design, which consisted in presenting the reader with a study of “sanity and insanity, side by side” (Diary 2: 207), Clarissa is Septimus’s counterpart. For this, Woolf creates thin, symbolic, invisible threads to join them. For instance, both Septimus and Clarissa are pale, they both have beak-noses, love Shakespeare, and fear oppression. The water imagery, the rising and falling rhythm of the waves, which punctuated Mrs Dalloway’s morning walk and the journeys back and forth from her past to the present, is also employed by Woolf to render the movement of Septimus’s sight and auditory hallucinations. The Shakespearean intertextuality, which carries connotations of extremes of passion and unhappiness (“the heat o’ the sun” and the “furious winter’s rages” [Cymbeline IV: 2]) also links them throughout the day, as they are both alternately very happy, then very worried and fearful. All this unifying imagery is carefully synthesised and while Clarissa’s day converges towards the party, Septimus drifts towards suicide. Septimus brings “balance”13 to the Dalloway-esque design and reinforces Clarissa’s own diagnostic properties.
- 14 As Woolf finished Mrs Dalloway, she jotted down some “Notes for stories &c” dated March 6 and 14, 1 (...)
- 15 The short stories were finished by May 1925 but collected, edited and published together as a book (...)
16After the publication of Mrs Dalloway, Clarissa Dalloway’s fictional life is prolonged in several other Woolfian stories. Her itinerary takes her through the “corridor”14, that is to say six other short stories15 which form a sequel to Mrs Dalloway and contain incipient ideas for Woolf’s next novel, To the Lighthouse. Some of them are chronologically concurrent texts to Mrs Dalloway, written at the same time as the novel (started in 1922 and finished at the end of 1924), and others are conceived after, until mid-1925. These short stories perpetuate Clarissa’s aura and explore “the party consciousness, the frock consciousness” (Diary 3: 12). In each of the stories, guests from the party (that we do not meet there), such as Lily Everit (“The Introduction”), Mabel Waring (“The New Dress”), Bertram Pritchard and Sasha Latham (“A Summing Up”) and Prickett Ellis (“The Man Who Loved his Kind”) are introduced and brought to the fore. Woolf depicts the vivid interior lives of these characters and their moments of being.
- 16 “The Question is whether the inside of the mind is [sic] both Mrs. D & S.S. can be made luminous‑” (...)
17The figure of Clarissa Dalloway hovers over these short stories. As in Mrs Dalloway, she remains the central presence that permeates the atmosphere of the party, but becomes a peripheral character. The limelight is shed on other characters gravitating around her during the party whose interior lives are illuminated. All the characters in the short stories are portrayed with the same tools with which Clarissa herself is depicted in Mrs Dalloway: they prolong her aura insofar as they are all modelled after her, with a technique perfected in the novel. The characters’ minds are made “luminous”,16 exactly like Clarissa’s and Septimus’s in the novel. Just like Clarissa, they are all torn between social constraints, appearances and a rich, internal private life, between what they say and what they think. They are all divided selves longing to take refuge in their thoughts and mental preoccupations, to withdraw into their private selves where they live more fully satisfying moments. Thus, they all have a sense of isolation in the middle of the crowd, and are unable to really communicate despite the abounding surrounding conversations. They are both “together” and “apart” at the party, absorbed in their private worlds. All these characters perpetuate some of Clarissa’s and Septimus’s diagnostic properties, expressed with a now recognisable Woolfian narrative technique.
- 17 This is the title of a collection of short story written by Dubravka Ugresic. Margolin (“Characters (...)
- 18 For a thorough discussion of Lippincott’s imitation of the Dalloway-esque model, see Schiff, Girard (...)
- 19 Forgery, despite the negative or fraudulent connotation attached to the word in English, does not m (...)
- 20 The rewriting of a text from the perspective of a marginal character. See Genette 292.
18Clarissa Dalloway’s diagnostic properties are diffused and transferred to other characters as she migrates into Robin Lippincott’s Mr Dalloway, a sequel as well as a creative response to Mrs Dalloway. The novella follows one day in the life of Richard Dalloway, and relegates Clarissa to a supporting role, the main protagonist being her husband, as the title of the novella clearly indicates. In the process of migration, the Dalloways bring with them their own Dalloway-esque narrative universe.18 Indeed, Lippincott forges19 Woolf’s signature and offers the reader a remarkably “accomplished” “act of ventriloquy” (Schiff 372). He also transfocalises20 Woolf’s story, now told mainly from the point of view of Richard, but with numerous shifts in point of view to incorporate other perspectives.
19Previous stages of Clarissa’s itinerary are invoked and inscribed in Lippincott’s novella through the paratextual elements inserted before the beginning of the novella, that is to say the selection of several motto-like quotes from Woolf’s work which point to Clarissa and Richard’s prior textual identities. One of these quotes, which comes straight from the original score, The Voyage Out, (“No one understood until I met Richard. He gave me all I wanted. He’s man and woman”) reveals not only the complicity between Clarissa and Richard and their mutual affection, which permeate the pages of Mr Dalloway, but also Richard’s dual human and sexual nature (“man and woman”) as well as his feminine and masculine sensibility. Lippincott carefully selects several such quotes from previous Woolfian scores to act as foundation to support his own novella.
20Moreover, the sketchy portrayal of the characters in Mrs Dalloway gave Lippincott free rein to imagine a rich, surprising new life for Richard. The continuity but also the new ramifications from the original text seem to make perfect sense to the reader, as the author adds a new layer of fiction to a pre-existent familiar setting. By infiltrating the minute chinks and allusions left deliberately unexplored by Woolf and prying them wide open, Lippincott opens up a parallel world to the Woolfian storyworld. He has also created a sequel: the continuity in tone and story makes Mr Dalloway seem a new chapter or an augmentation to Woolf’s classic novel.
21On 28th June 1927, three years after the events in Mrs Dalloway, Richard has arranged a surprise party for his wife to celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary. Richard thus assumes Clarissa’s own role (“the role she loved most and was best known for, that of hostess” 137) during this “personally significant and historically important June” (129) day. In the morning, while he goes to town to buy flowers, his thoughts turn to Duncan, his brother who committed suicide forty years ago and Robbie, the young editor at Faber’s with whom he has had an affair. Robbie has exposed his affair in a letter to Clarissa, who had told her husband that she “understood”, a phrasing which echoes in Richard’s mind throughout the day.
22Richard is portrayed with the same tools as Clarissa and Septimus in Mrs Dalloway. Some of their diagnostic properties are transferred to him and become deeply ingrained in Lippincott’s character. For instance, he has a deeply introspective nature, and while retracing his wife’s itinerary through London on his mission to buy flowers, he muses on his past and present life; also, like Septimus Smith, he has been advised to focus on the city and the outside reality surrounding him in order to avoid inner torments. For both characters, the city is a token for their mental stability and symbolises an anchor to the real world.
- 21 Richard buys a copy of Virginia Woolf’s new novel, To the Lighthouse, as a gift for Clarissa, impar (...)
- 22 Examples of characters borrowed from Mrs Dalloway: Elizabeth Dalloway, Sally Seton or Lady Rosseter (...)
- 23 Examples of new characters: the Sapphic couple Katherine Truelock and Eleanor Gibson, Sasha Richard (...)
- 24 Woolf describes this event and her experience in her diary. See Diary 3: 142-44.
- 25 See Barthes’ notion of “biographeme” in La Chambre claire (54) as kernels of truth or biographical (...)
23Lippincott’s prose is infused with “Dallowayisms” (Chatman 274) and Clarissa retains her original diagnostic properties and imparts some to Richard, too. She is seen from different characters’ perspectives: for instance, Robbie sees her as “a handsome, white-haired, middle-aged woman” (204). Richard contemplates his wife’s bird-like figure: “[Richard] saw something of Clarissa in [the ducks in the pond]” (9); Hugh Whitbread sees her dressed “all in yellow like a parakeet” (14). Richard pays homage to his wife, thinking about how she reacted to the news of his affair; he sums up his wife’s positive features, which outweigh all her flaws: “[…] for all Clarissa’s delicacy, for all her fragility, her frivolity, her what‑snobbery, perhaps? there was a strength, a resilience, and even something expansive, a largesse about his wife” (102). Clarissa, a mosaic of selves in Mrs Dalloway, serves as a model for Richard, himself a man of many selves in Mr Dalloway: “[…] that was but one, a fraction of the many selves contained inside of him, of Richard Dalloway. […] one had forty selves!” (37). Like Clarissa in Mrs Dalloway, Richard also contemplates ageing and death, and like her counterpart, Septimus, who experiences hallucinations about Evans, his friend who died in the war, Richard hears the voice of his dead brother and sees his ghost several times during the day. Lippincott’s postmodernist re-writing of Mrs Dalloway implies a re-invention of the “real”. In his novella, the author offers us an ingenious mixture of real people who become characters,21 fictitious Woolfian characters from different sources who seem familiar22 and new.23 The author brings into contact different layers of characters, who migrate from different diegetic worlds, blurring the distinction between reality and fiction and playing with it. The characters acquire a “transworld identity” (Eco Lector 229): if there is a one-to-one correspondence between the real prototype and its variant in another world, the fictitious replica, then the two entities can be considered identical even though they exist in distinct worlds. In a typical postmodernist playful manner, Lippincott mixes different ontological levels, bringing together fiction and historical fact (for example, the 1927 total eclipse of the sun and the Woolfs’ trip to see the eclipse at Bardon Fell, North Yorkshire24 and Virginia’s release of the novel To the Lighthouse). Splinters of biographical details from Woolf’s personal life (“biographemes”25) also penetrate and melt into Lippincott’s fictitious world.
24Lippincott also creates metafictional twists. For instance, both Clarissa and Richard contemplate Woolf’s novel, Mrs Dalloway, which here remains unnamed, and which produces an accomplished effect of semi-dramatic irony, as, strangely enough, the characters seem both acutely aware of and oblivious to the fact that this novel contained them as characters. Richard assumes the role of a “common reader” and criticises Woolf’s novel in which his wife and he are represented. Being both inside the book (as a character portrayed in it) and outside it (as a reader and critic of it), Richard personally knows that Woolf, “despite her keenly perceptive mind” and “considerable descriptive powers”, “had not captured it all, not all of it, in her novel of two years past [Mrs Dalloway]: for she did not know; could not have known‑only Clarissa knew) […]” (16-17). The character of Richard here implies that Woolf could not capture his homosexuality and love affair that only his wife, the character of Clarissa, knows about. Richard’s portrait and personality remain incomplete in Mrs Dalloway, according to the character-cum-critic himself: Woolf failed to penetrate his essence. In a typical postmodernist ironic comment, the character, who migrates outside the diegesis of the Woolfian novel, is discussing the failures of his own representation in it.
- 26 Lippincott deftly combines typical Woolfian structures of interruption and omission. For a detailed (...)
25Clarissa also considers in a fleeting, vague thought Woolf’s eponymous novel, but because of a distinctive Woolfian aposiopesis, followed by an ellipsis, the reader will never have access to what Clarissa really thinks about a novel in which she evolved as a character: “Clarissa thanked [Richard]; she had seen [To the Lighthouse] announced, she said, and had, of course, wanted it; for after Mrs. Woolf’s previous book…(but hearing Elizabeth’s voice interrupted that thought)” (Mr Dalloway 86). The interrupted and unfinished thought is expressed in a sentence combining a series of Dallowayisms26: asyndeton (sentences juxtaposed by semicolon), ellipses, parenthesis, subordinate explanatory clause starting with “for”, free indirect speech combining the narrative voice and Clarissa’s inflexions, and the conjunction “but”, which opposes the main flow of thought and initiates an intrusive new one contained in brackets. Lippincott’s Clarissa seems eager to read Woolf’s latest novel (To the Lighthouse) that she receives as a gift from Richard on their thirtieth wedding anniversary, as the previous book (Mrs Dalloway) created certain expectations. This postmodernist playfulness of mise en abyme of character postures and metafictional comments (a character in a novel discussing another novel in which she is a character) creates a sort of “Chinese-box world” (McHale 112).
26Later in the novella, Clarissa Dalloway notices from a distance the famous author, Mrs Woolf, in the company of Vita Sackville-West at Bardon Fell, where they all converge to observe the sun’s total eclipse. Both Robbie (“He had been introduced to her once at a party in London for one of Faber’s authors” ) and Lady Valance (“Oh my, yes; I’ve known her since she was a child; my parents knew her parents, you see, when we lived in Hyde Park‑what? some forty years ago now” ) know Virginia Woolf and Clarissa confesses she would very much like to meet her personally (“And Clarissa Dalloway said that she should like to meet Mrs. Woolf; would Lady Valance introduce her?” ). Like the characters she portrays in her own novels, Woolf is perceived from a plurality of points of view: Robbie sees her as a “tall, thin woman” (204), Lady Valance as a “tall, elegant figure” (204), and Clarissa as “beautiful” (205). In Lippincott’s diegetic space, the character of Clarissa Dalloway contemplates the character of Virginia Woolf, an author who, on another ontological level, conceived her in a different fictional world. Both the creator and her creature-character are transposed from their original environments and evolve together in a parallel narrative universe. The entangling of diegetic levels, trompe-l’oeil effects and playing with world boundaries sometimes prevents the reader from deciding who, between Clarissa and Virginia (Mrs Dalloway and Mrs Woolf) is “really real”. The hierarchy of ontological and authorial levels collapses: an author (Lippincott) invented another author (based on the real Woolf) who had authored some of his characters (Mr and Mrs Dalloway, for example, who thus become “common property”).
27Lippincott continues in the same direction as the source material but also opens new paths, reconfigurations and ramifications. He takes Richard, a minor character who evolves in the background of Mrs Dalloway, and gives him more substance, a life of his own, his own memories, sensitivity, moments of being, his own “luminous halo”; he also infuses it with the substance of the Clarissa Dalloway character created by his predecessor. Her diagnostic properties are thus reproduced, enhanced and transferred to other characters. The continuity in character, tone and story of the primary narrative as well as filling in the gaps of Mrs Dalloway with new imaginative material make Mr Dalloway a new chapter of or an augmentation to Woolf’s classic novel. By prolonging the lives and times of the Woolfian characters, Lippincott has created both a parallel version and a sequel of Mrs Dalloway. In the process of migration to this allographic text, Clarissa Dalloway becomes a postmodernist character.
- 27 For a definition of neo-modernism and a discussion of Woolf’s neo-modernist followers, see Latham, (...)
- 28 The proof that Clarissa Dalloway has entered the collective consciousness is that John Lanchester, (...)
- 29 Umberto Eco argues that some characters escape the limits of her original role, migrate from text t (...)
28The last leg of the itinerary I have chosen for Clarissa Dalloway concerns her neo-modernist postures.27 Neo-modernist texts imply renegotiating and enhancing the Woolfian modernist literary heritage in general, continuing the “aura”, that is to say the recognisable narrative tools and stylistic devices, of modernist literature. This implies a twenty-first century form of modernism, or in other words, new and modern practices of engaging with formal modernist techniques. While migrating and adapting to new times and environments, the Woolfian character disseminates her Dalloway-esque aura to numerous characters. She inhabits them in different ways and to different extents. With this last example I would like to show that some contemporary authors do not explicitly borrow Clarissa Dalloway’s precise diagnostic properties, but have in mind, and trace the contours of, a nebulous “fluctuating entity” which is part of our collective cultural knowledge28 of such canonical, iconic characters.29 By creating characters who are immersed in a typical Dalloway-esque prose, Woolf’s character and signature endure in other characters and fictional worlds created by other authors.
- 30 Though the title and location (London) of Mr Phillips derive from Woolf, the wanderings, musings, a (...)
29John Lanchester’s day-in-the-life novel Mr Phillips is indebted to Woolf for its structure and place30: it follows the eponymous character as he wanders aimlessly around London on the first Monday after being fired from his long-time job as an accountant. From his first semi-conscious moments before getting out of bed until dinner time when he comes back home, the reader discovers the character’s innermost longings, reveries and concerns. In the city, he crosses paths with a variety of other minor characters with whom he interacts or whom he simply observes: a pornography publisher, tennis players, museum goers, tourists, a TV presenter, his eldest son, neighbours, and some bank robbers (his bank is robbed while he is standing in line). On that Monday, July 31st 1995, he embarks on a bizarre odyssey around London, doing various sad, strange or aimless things. Following the last encounter (his neighbour, an old lady, just like Clarissa Dalloway’s neighbour across the street), a feeling of peace invades him by the time he comes back home. He finally goes back home as “Victor” (a victor) as opposed to having been referred to as Mr Phillips throughout the day.
30Mr Phillips is the examination of a rather ordinary day of an ordinary man whose mind is a “semi-transparent envelope” (Woolf, “Modern Novels”: 33), which allows the reader to see through the quirky thoughts and fantasies of the 50-year-old male character. Lanchester’s skill, just like Woolf’s, resides in capturing Mr Phillips’ inner voice as he wanders around town. Physical movement while roaming around the city (be it on the train, on the bus, or on foot) is favourable to the production of thoughts. For example, on the bus he is assailed by a multitude of memories, either compressed (fleeting thoughts) or expanded (lengthy digressions). As in Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, there is a correlation between the external movement and the ambulatory mental meanderings: a tour of London is at the same time a tour in his daydreams. Like Mrs Dalloway, Mr Phillips is a London novel in which the author establishes interconnections between the external and the internal. He maps the urban space and at the same time explores the movements of his character’s consciousness, combining the surface of the city and the depth of consciousness.
31The character is endowed with a minute, Woolfian sense of observation, but the narrator records these details in an original way, as humorous touches are added. Mr Phillips is a popular, socially and linguistically updated Mrs Dalloway: the life of the upper-class hostess Clarissa Dalloway becomes the life of an accountant with a mortgage and no job, and his story and situation are expressed in a common, everyday language peppered with slang and jokes. Mr. Phillips ruminates about trivial, domestic details or metaphysical experiences with the same observant and insightful force. He spends a great deal of his time observing and musing about sex, death, love, and life, these thoughts sometimes being a source of epiphanies. Revelations come from various rants in which he gauges possibilities and probabilities. He ruminates on practically everything (most of the time in mathematical terms) and comes to conclusions. These conclusions have the role of private illuminations in which the moment is arrested, dissected and magnified.
32Like Mrs Dalloway, the novel’s one-day structure opens to incorporate myriad journeys into the past. Memories and past incursions defy and slow down the relentless procession of chronological time: hour after hour exhausts the day little by little, with narrative reminders of the clock time. Mr Phillips fritters away his time (like Clarissa who, in Peter Walsh’s view, “frittered her time away, lunching, dining, giving these incessant parties of hers” [Mrs Dalloway 67]) until he can safely return home again. This specific day ends brusquely, as in Mrs Dalloway (the final line of the novel being “He has no idea what will happen next” ), and the reader is left with no sense of closure.
33No umbilical cord or specific explicit intertextual references link Mr Phillips to the hypotext. Unlike Lippincott, Lanchester does not engage a direct dialogue with Woolf and his novel does not urgently depend on Mrs Dalloway. And yet, all the thin, loose and tangential links outlined above that a “zealous and intuitive” reader can detect between the two novels and the two main characters, evince that in many ways Clarissa Dalloway’s aura envelops another character who resembles her in many ways, and the Dalloway-esque ingredients are updated and transferred to a new time and context. Clarissa Dalloway migrates into the twenty-first century and is undeniably reincarnated as Victor Philips who borrows from and capitalises on her aura.
34From The Voyage Out to the “corridor” of short stories, during successive waves of migration, Woolf continuously refashions Clarissa Dalloway while in parallel she reflects on her writing practices. Other authors, by perpetuating the character’s precise, recognisable diagnostic properties in their sequels, parallel or updated worlds, turn its Woolfian status into a universal iconic literary figure. As the character of Clarissa Dalloway has entered our collective knowledge, she continues to migrate and engender other versions of herself, characters who more or less resemble her. In the process of migration across texts, the character acquires new identities anchored in new narrative environments and literary trends.
- 31 Ryan talks about “a core of identity that authorizes readers to regard them as counterparts of the (...)
35This article has followed Clarissa Dalloway migrating, mutating across texts and adjusting to new socio-cultural and aesthetic contexts. The essential issues are not necessarily “what” and “how much” remains constant in the character’s migratory process (how much is preserved from the original properties), but what kind of changes across texts still allow us to consider Lippincott’s Clarissa Dalloway and Lanchester’s Victor Phillip as counterparts of Woolf’s Clarissa Dalloway31 or else, entirely new entities, with ever thinner, ever looser invisible intertextual threads connecting them with the original character. Besides, even when there is not a remote onomastic relationship left between the characters and when the Woolfian fabric wears thin, there are still perceptible, inherent characteristics that endure in order to perpetuate the Dalloway-esque legacy.
- 32 For other postmodernist and neo-modernist reincarnations of Clarissa Dalloway in The Hours (Michael (...)
- 33 “the sense of the pastness that pervades postmodern culture” (Ryan 386).
36The different stages of the itinerary I have chosen32 witness Clarissa Dalloway’s metamorphoses from a character at the rise of modernism, through a fully modernist, then postmodernist and neo-modernist character. Indeed, beyond this itinerary, one could perceive different trends in the evolution of fiction and define the authors’ concerns through time. While modernist writers like Virginia Woolf were concerned with inventing story worlds with original tools, postmodernists and neo-modernist writers in the wake of Woolf focus on the unmaking and remaking of these worlds, building parallel or possible fictional worlds to contain her old characters or creating new ones in their image, while borrowing and extending her innovative technique. In our current cultural and aesthetic environment, in which nostalgia for the past33 is perceptible in the proliferation of retro fashion, tribute albums and film remakes, fiction is also naturally oriented towards such issues of recycling. Creating new works from old ones implies re-reading past works created with specific formal devices and inhabited by memorable characters, re-writing and re-contextualising them. Contemporary authors’ works are deeply anchored in the pioneering findings of their predecessors whom they follow “like leaping dolphins in the wake of an ice-breaking vessel” (Woolf, Between the Acts 41).