The Different Ways Virginia Woolf and Michael Cunningham Use the Concept of “Stream of Consciousness” in Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Apr 11th, 2019

The stream of consciousness is a very complicated process which involves expressing all the thoughts, events and ideas which take place in the world. Considering the “stream of consciousness” as the direction in literature, it may be concluded that this is a very difficult trend which deserves much attention and gift.

Virginia Woolf and Michael Cunningham are two authors which are believed to be the most successful in writing the novels in the sphere of the “stream of consciousness”. Even though these authors worked in one and the same direction, their novels are different as the “stream of conscious” these authors applied to in their novels differed.

Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Michael Cunningham’s The Hours are two best examples of the “stream of consciousness”, however, being focused on the similar plot with the interlacement of some aspects, these two novels offer different ways of the implementation of this specific direction.

The writing of a Michael Cunningham in The Hours is peculiar by his opportunity to write not only all the thoughts and ideas of the character, but also the leaps of associations which are aimed at connecting those thoughts.

Of course, the unvoiced thought of the characters are presented, however, the main value of the Cunningham’s novel is his opportunity to present the memories. They seem to burst not just presented as a simple narration of what a character thinks.

There are a lot of such glimpses of memories from the past and the thoughts a character has in relation to the things which are noticed in the present. It should be added that the novel is not completed, however, it seems that the abandonment of writing by Cunningham is one of the best decisions as he could not complete it better.

Taking Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway as the basis for the first part of the writing (the Woolf wrote this novel is discussed), the author stars writing in the manner the book is written, therefore, the final paragraphs are to be written in such a way. However, the imitation of Woolf’s skipping between the thoughts of different characters as if she moved around the room among thoughts and ideas.

“Here on this corner (in front of what had been a head shop and is now a delicatessen) they had kissed or not kissed, they had certainly argued, and here or somewhere soon after, they had canceled their little experiment, for Clarissa wanted her freedom and Richard wanted, well, too much, didn’t he always?” (Cunningham 62) is the sentence from the Cunningham’s The Hours which perfectly depicts his way of “stream of consciousness”.

This is the sentence which shows the memories of Clarissa Vaughan in Greenwich Village about an affair with Richard. We, the readers, see this corner for the first time and it should be “a corner” for us, however, this is “the corner” as we see the things from the side of Clarissa Vaughan who has already seen those in the past.

Some of the parts in this sentence are in the present tense as even though they remind her about the past actions, they catch her attention now, in the present.

The way how Cunningham presented the memories was an innovation, an absolutely strange technique. Still, many authors have managed to copy it and now this is an ordinary, however, it does not reduce the importance of Cunningham as the follower of the “stream of consciousness” as the direction in literature.

The peculiarity of Virginia Woolf’s writing in Mrs. Dalloway is the way how she presents the flashbacks. The reader seems to consider the thoughts of the present Mrs. Dalloway who wants to organize a party, how it appears that she has returned to the past and tells the thoughts which the main character had. A moment later the stream of thoughts is returned to the present time.

The whole book is the discussion of one day from the life of Mrs. Dalloway who is planning the party. However, this is not just one day, it is the description of absolutely different what the main character thinks about, what she remembers, etc. the flashbacks Virginia Woolf uses in her writing help the reader to understand the main character better.

However, it is possible to predict that discussing one day from the life of one woman focusing on the party planning the author is going to apply to the description of the thought of this one person, however, the whole text is the spider web of different thoughts which sometimes connect and interconnect.

Sometimes it seems that the cross of the thoughts will distract you from the main idea of the discussion, however, the talent of the writer is to maker sure that the final idea is still devoted to the main idea of the novel.

Besides, the discussion presented by Virginia Woolf has nothing to do with a direct monologue. The author applies to the direct and indirect monologues, inserts the direct and indirect speech of other characters and implements the glimpses of the description.

“What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. … standing and looking until Peter Walsh said, “Musing among the vegetables?”—was that it?—“I prefer men to cauliflowers”—was that it?

He must have said it at breakfast one morning when she had gone out on to the terrace—Peter Walsh. He would be back from India one of these days, June or July, she forgot which….—how strange it was!—a few sayings like this about cabbages” (Woolf 3). Dwelling upon her feelings the main character remembers about one person and then the discussion is devoted to his thoughts.

Therefore, the main difference between Woolf’s and Cunningham’s writing is the inability of the later to duplicate the way how Woolf managed to skip from one consciousness to another, from the thoughts of one character to the thoughts of another.

It may be even said that Woolf offered many streams of consciousness, while Cunningham provided one stream of consciousness but in rather innovative manner. This is, to the point, one more difference, Cunningham’s way of writing was copied and can be duplicated, while Woolf’s way to present the “stream of consciousness” remains difficult for imitation.

Being the representatives of one direction, the “stream of consciousness”, they still created in absolutely different manners, however, each of those particular techniques deserved attention as the masterpiece of the writing profession.

Works Cited

Cunningham, Michael. The Hours. Vancouver: HarperCollins Canada, 2011. Print.

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

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