How is Mrs Dalloway a Modernist novel?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There are several ways in which one can see Mrs. Dalloway as a Modernist novel.  The mose dominant is that the novel's premise marks a "shift" in both content and narrative style.  When Woolf defines Modernism, herself, she does so in a deliberate and pointed manner:  “All human relations shifted,and when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature.”   It is here in which her work can be seen as Modernist in scope. The stream of consciousness style of writing marked a shift in how literature could be constructed.  It was in this where the text become Modernist in scope and in understanding.  In terms of content, Mrs. Dalloway focuses on how the fundamental notion of consciousness- "a whole life in a day"- is part of our being in the world.  This is yet another "shift" in our thinking and in the way "human relations change."  Mrs. Dalloway is not a direct narrative type of protagonist because Woolf believes that this shift which has taken place in both society and intellectual consciousness makes this impossible.  

Clarissa's party features much that marks "an end" to the old and conceives of a new that is fundamentally different than what was in the past.  Clarissa is not a definite social creature.  She does not fully embrace the condition of what women were told to be.  True to this "shift," she articulates a different vision.  War is not seen as nationalistic or patriotic, but rather is "shifted" to be seen as psychologically horrific.    All of these ideas come to represent how the work, itself, is a Modernist one because of the emphasis on this "shift" as an inescapable part of being in the world.