Time passes. This is inevitable. If you’re writing a story, time is most likely going to elapse within it, though some writers aren’t very good at showing this in a realistic manner. Virginia Woolf is one of those writers that is really good at it.
Mrs. Dalloway follows the elderly Clarissa Dalloway, but we are given glimpses of how the passing of time has affected her through her memories. The story only follows Mrs. Dalloway for one day, but during that day she remembers many things about her past. The story also speaks to the workings of memory, the ways in which the most random of things can trigger a memory. In the very beginning of the story, the fresh air of morning takes Clarissa back to her childhood home, which leads into the first memory about Peter Walsh. That such a simple thing – morning air – can lead into vivid memories, and that those memories then lead into memories about a specific person, is interesting to say the least. It is also entirely accurate to the real-world workings of memory.
We see through the character of Septimus the ways in which both the passing of time and the triggering of memories can negatively effect someone. Septimus was a solider in World War I, and is very obviously struggling with shell shock, or PTSD as we now call it, though his doctor says there is nothing wrong with him. The passing of time has meant little for him, as he cannot seem to escape the war. Random things trigger dark memories for Septimus. Time and memory can turn against someone, can haunt them, as we see with Septimus and as seen by countless soldiers. Septimus does not want to live anymore, and the memories that keep coming back to him do not help.
Virginia Woolf was also quite the Modernist, and this is seen through the use of time and memory in the story as well. There’s a sense of dullness to the events happening in real time, while the memories seem vivid and almost more real in a sense. As this blog says:
“Time is used to give the reader a feeling of length and boredom so that they can better understand the hopelessness that modernists found in existence as a whole.”
Clarissa Dalloway does give off a feeling of hopelessness. It seems as if she would rather dwell in memories than live her life. She seems to constantly be wondering how her life would have turned out if she had done something differently. This shows the dangers of memories, as if we live inside of them we can forget to live the lives we currently have.