Mrs. Dalloway is a novel by Virginia Woolf which, depicting one day of Clarissa Dalloway’s life, manages to tell the whole story about it. In Mrs. Dalloway Woolf manages to create tension between the past and the future using flashbacks to the past, which helps her to express the correlation between people’s behavior in the past and their future lives; these flashbacks also help to disclose certain features of Mrs. Dalloway’s character and understand the real value of the human life.
Firstly, the tension between past and present helps to trace the connection between the past decisions of the characters and their present outlook thus manifesting itself at different levels of the story’s plot. The part of the story which depicts the present describes Mrs. Dalloway as a great hostess, the one which Peter Walsh prophesied her to become someday, “the perfect hostess he called her, […] she had the makings of the perfect hostess, he said” (6). Back then these words seemed offensive to Clarissa, but later she realized that Mr. Walsh was right. The events at present, namely, her organizing a party, show that she has once married the right man and become what she had to become, a perfect hostess. Therefore, the flashbacks to the past emphasize the connection between the actions in the past and the lives of the characters at present.
In addition, Mrs. Dalloway pieces together the past and the present of one woman, Clarissa Dalloway, and the tension between these two parts of her life helps to understand the personality of this character. When Mrs. Dalloway is first presented to the readers, she seems to be a woman who is not pleased with her life: “Of if she would have had her life over again! She thought, stepping on to the pavement, could have looked even differently!” (8) She wishes she had lived her life differently, like Peter Walsh, who enjoyed his life to its fullest extent. Her returning to the past in her thoughts, however, shows that her life was not as boring as it seems (especially taking into account her affair with Sally Seton which seems so untypical for her). Thus, Clarissa’s returning to her past, though only in thoughts, reveals the whole complexity of her character.
Finally, the tensions between the past and the present help realize the value of human life. Clarissa seems to be hesitant about the way she chose to live her life. When dealing with her past, she tries to convince herself that if she married Peter, she would have lost her balance. When dealing with her present, she evaluates the benefits of her marrying Richard, namely, the safety and security which she has acquired. This creates an idea that in the modern dehumanized world it is better to live for one’s soul since otherwise, a person’s life will have too many drawbacks which would make him/her regret the past. Thus, eventually, Clarissa realizes that her life is just the way it should be for she values her soul too much to have given it to Peter once. In this way, Mrs. Dalloway criticizes the way Peter has chosen to live his life in “the heat of the sun” and “the furious winter’s rages” (7) which she feared so much. Therefore, through Clarissa’s example, Wolf shows that it is better to live a worthy life than to regret doing wrong when getting older.
In sum, Woolf’s creating certain tension between the past and the present helps her to express such themes as the connection between the past actions and their outcome in the present, as well as assists her in revealing some features of her main character’s personality and points at the fact that living a decent life is better than regretting certain things in future.
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. London: Wordsworth Editions, 1996.