In her novel "Orlando: a Biography" published in 1927, Virginia Woolf evokes 'the extraordinary discrepancy between time on the clock and time in the mind' (Orlando p.91) and the opposition she expresses between this two conceptions of time is to be found, more or less obviously, in most of her works. In this study, we will analyse the characteristics and meanings of each of these 'times', as well as the reasons why Woolf chose to use both of them in her novels. This argument will be based on two of her main works: Mrs Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927) because, although written at the same period, they both exemplify really different conceptions of time.
[...] Nevertheless this inner time is constantly present in Woolf's works as it is tightly linked to the device of stream of consciousness that she uses. Indeed, inner time is all about time as it is perceived and experienced by the characters, and thus it completely depends on their sensitivity. Given that it is only defined by subjectivity, inner time in opposition to clock time cannot be linear and thus, neither measured nor divided. In other words, 'time in the mind' is unlimited, just like thoughts are, because they both only belong to the individual. [...]
[...] Thanks to this piece of information, the reader can then calculate the approximate age of each remaining character and thus situate in time the plot of this last part of the novel. In Mrs Dalloway, the plot is contained in a single day but the precise date is never explicitly revealed. Only hints are given along the narrative, for instance 'For it was the middle of June. The war was over' (Mrs Dalloway p.6) or some references to social events can let the reader know that the action is probably taking place in late May. [...]
[...] To the Lighthouse. London: Wordsworth Woolf, Virginia. Orlando: a Biography. London: Hogarth Press, 1928; 1970. Woolf, Leonard. A Writer's Diary: being extracts from the diary of Virginia Woolf. London: Hogarth Press Guiguet, Jean. Virginia Woolf and her works. London: Hogarth Press Roe, Sue and Sellers Susan. The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press In A [...]
[...] This placement in time is necessary for the plot to be recognized as realistic, but only to a certain extent, as we noticed that Woolf does not give precise temporal details and this never really disrupted the general understanding of the plot or the coherence of it. As for inner time, its importance lies in the fact that it enables the plot to exist through the characters and through their point of view, which gives a new dimension to the story, as it is seen differently, through the characters' eyes but also through their stream of consciousness. [...]
[...] This explanation justifies the fact that, in Woolf's works, time is often either accelerated or extended, because even though they could be considered as part of clock time, they are first of all experienced by individuals and thus, they are related according to the subjectivity of each of them. For instance, in To the Lighthouse, the second part 'Time passes' is smallest of the novel but it relates ten years whereas the two others only relate more or less one day each. [...]
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