Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

At one point in this story, the narrator remarks how “dull” fiction is which gives the reader only an external description of a given character; if “only that shell of a person . . . is seen by other people,” then the world will be made to seem “airless, shallow, [and] bald.” No, she says, people are more than one-dimensional shells, and “the novelists in the future will realize more and more the importance of . . . reflections [as those seen in mirrors], for of course there is not one reflection but almost infinite numbers; those are the depths they will explore . . . leaving the description of reality more and more out of their stories.” By “reality” here she means that which is external to a character’s inner self. “The Mark on the Wall” is itself a paradigm of such a narrative attempt to communicate numerous “reflections” of one character’s being, and this was an important accomplishment for Woolf.

The style of this story came as an artistic breakthrough for Woolf, as it proved to be a decisive break away from the relatively traditional fiction she had written prior to 1917. Indeed, in one of her journals she noted that this story showed her how she could embody her deposit of experience in a shape that fit it; this discovery, she believed, led to the creation of her novels Jacob’s Room (1922) and Mrs. Dalloway (1925). The narrative technique used in both of these novels, like that used in “The Mark on the Wall,” is essentially impressionistic and circuitous, as the narrative focus in all three reveals its subject as ultimately indefinable and only describable through concentric rings of associations. Whether these various associations belong to the narrator in relation to a given character or to a character in relation to others and life, they all express Woolf’s view that life and people are mercurially mutable.

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

At the time she wrote "The Mark on the Wall," Woolf was quite enthusiastic about the work of James Joyce (if somewhat uncertain about the...

(The entire section is 637 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Even with the passage of time and all of the imaginative experiments in form, style, language, and subject that have occurred through the...

(The entire section is 302 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In her superb biography Virginia Woolf (1996), Hermione Lee summarized the Edwardian years by saying that they "polarised...

(The entire section is 565 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Woolf was not entirely sure about James Joyce's goals as a writer, but she was convinced that his approach to his craft was worth studying....

(The entire section is 142 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

"I don't like writing for my half-brother George," Virginia Woolf wrote to her friend Bunny Garnett in July, 1917. It was actually her...

(The entire section is 337 words.)