Mme Dalloway, une femme en costume, naviguant dans le temps avec une horloge et des fleurs.

The fictive experience of time through Mrs. Dalloway

  1. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: A Modernist Novel
  2. Time on the surface level of Mrs. Dalloway
  3. Time and Virginia Woolf’s novel technique
  4. The fictive experience of time through Mrs. Dalloway

Now the reader’s experience must be studied because, when all is said and done, it is the way in which the complexity of time is felt that constitutes part of the interest (part of the pleasure) we derive from reading “Mrs. Dalloway”.

‘Monumental’ time versus private time

Virginia Woolf suggests that time is not uniform, time is not the same for everyone at the same moment. The experience of time is filtered through the characters’ consciousness.

We may distinguish between two forms of time: ‘monumental time’ and ‘private time’. Monumental time is the time of the clocks: Big Ben striking the ‘irrevocable hour’, but it is also the time of the power, of the authorities, of the institutions that fix working hours and regulate the lives of ‘well-balanced people’. Private time is subjective; it is torn apart (asunder) between memory (the past) and expectation: looking forward to future events.

What Virginia Woolf subtly shows is that ‘monumental time’, for example, the chiming of Big Ben, arouses different responses and touches off different echoes according to the characters. Of course, the chiming of Big Ben is objectively the same for everyone at the same instant, however, Virginia Woolf sets out to show that they affect characters differently according to the state of mind and disposition they find themselves in, on the spur of the moment.

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Une pile de papiers, de livres et de puzzles sur une table présentant la nouvelle technique de Virginia Woolf à travers le concept de temps.

Time and Virginia Woolf’s novel technique

  1. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: A Modernist Novel
  2. Time on the surface level of Mrs. Dalloway
  3. Time and Virginia Woolf’s novel technique
  4. The fictive experience of time through Mrs. Dalloway

Showing the various strata of time by taking one single day is a starting point. It is a paradox since at the end, Woolf suggests that taking one single day is an illusion: huge portions of the past are to be found behind every moment in the present. each moment of the present contains within itself different temporal layers.

Time and story-telling

How can a novelist investigate and analyse the depths of different individual minds while keeping a sense of unity? Or, put differently, how can a novelist create a coherent, well-structured novel from various disconnected subjectivities?

Woolf chose a peculiar narrative voice that could dwell and stay successively in the minds of the different protagonists, and that could register/record what goes on in the character’s consciousness. The narrative presence keeps moving from one character to the next and remembers everything. It has the power to resurrect the past in the narration, i.e. the power of bringing back the past into the present or the fiction.

This narrative voice is like a state of mind outside the characters and of which the characters themselves are not conscious. The state of mind surrounds/encloses the characters and glides/insinuates into the recesses of their minds. This narrative presence violates their inner thoughts and steals their most intimate secrets.

Thus, the form of narration of “Mrs. Dalloway” is the indirect discourse, that we will analyse.

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Mme Dalloway de Virginia Woolf explore la dynamique superficielle du temps dans la vie de Mme Dalloway.

Time on the surface level of Mrs. Dalloway

  1. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: A Modernist Novel
  2. Time on the surface level of Mrs. Dalloway
  3. Time and Virginia Woolf’s novel technique
  4. The fictive experience of time through Mrs. Dalloway

Time and space are tightly knit as structural elements. The story spans one day and London is constantly called up through allusions to well-known places: Westminster, Bond Street, Regent’s Park, and Picadilly Circus. Space and time are closely linked.

A day in Mrs Dalloway’s life

Mrs. Dalloway is not old: she is 51. She is from the British ruling class. On the surface level, the day’s events are chronologically organised. At night, the party takes place. The guests are important people of the kingdom.

The story starts in the morning when Mrs. Dalloway prepares to buy flowers. The story closes when the guests are leaving, at 3 AM. It therefore consists of two episodes, the starting and the closing of the perfect hostess.

A series of events and incidents occur between the opening and the closing. Some of these events are commonplace whereas others will have repercussions in the main protagonists’ consciousness: in Mrs Dalloway’s and Walsh’s.

The events are chronologically organised. The passing of the day is marked by the bells and chimes of Big Ben. The most important events take place in threes or multiple of threes. At 12, Warrensmith has an appointment at Bradshaw’s. Bradshaw decides to have Septimus sent to a mental institution. At 3 PM, Richard Dalloway comes into Clarissa’s room with a bunch of flowers. Richard is not able to express his feelings with words. 3 PM (in the past) is also an important moment in Clarissa’s mind for the break with Peter became definitive 30 years ago. At 6 PM, Septimus jumps out of the window.

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Le livre Mme Dalloway de Virginia Woolf est sur une table.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: A Modernist Novel

  1. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: A Modernist Novel
  2. Time on the surface level of Mrs. Dalloway
  3. Time and Virginia Woolf’s novel technique
  4. The fictive experience of time through Mrs. Dalloway

Virginia Woolf, a pioneer in the literary world, was deeply engrossed in the exploration of innovative narrative techniques. Her novels, celebrated as groundbreaking masterpieces, introduced avant-garde forms of fiction, charting new territories previously untraversed.

These works boldly shattered the conventional moulds of storytelling, distancing themselves from the well-trodden paths of the Victorian (1837-1901) and Edwardian (1901-1910) eras. Woolf’s narrative experimentation was a declaration of independence from the narrative norms of these ancient ages, heralding a new era in the art of novel writing.

The First World War was a trauma and brought out a crisis. A break is always prepared, the main innovators were Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad.

Woolf belongs to an aesthetic movement called the Modernist Novel. “Mrs Dalloway” was published in 1925, which was the year hinging the middle of her career: at the beginning of her career, she was rather traditional (Edwardian) but at the end, “The Waves” is a lyrical fiction, a long and unconventional narrative poem.

“Mrs Dalloway” is still in its shape and structure a novel but at the same time, few clues can be found that point out what Woolf will carry further afterwards.

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Un dessin animé parodique mettant en scène deux hommes jouant au croquet dans le style de Tristram Shandy.

To what extent is Tristram Shandy a parody?

At the beginning of a novel, a writer has to call up a world of his. It’s the “willing suspension of disbelief’ (Samuel Coleridge), which only happens if the situation is credible. It means that the reader accepts the story without always questioning the facts related, but he’s expected to take things seriously.

The opening chapter is likely to puzzle the reader who has some good reasons to feel disoriented. He suspects Sterne of playing a trick on him.

The novelist presents this text as a fictitious autobiography. “Opinions” means a documented essay, and “gent” (a short for gentlemen) specifies that the character occupies a high level in society. The quotation in Greek is erudite, it’s an epigraph (part of the paratext).

Playing with the rules of the realist novel

The story is presented as a jest.

A lack of chronological progression

The first-person narrator does not follow the linear, chronological progression of an autobiography. The story is “ab ovo” as Tristram is not born yet. He tells a story he cannot have witnessed: “My Tristram’s misfortunes began 9 months before he came to this world”.

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Un dessin animé inspiré du roman Tristram Shandy mettant en scène un homme chevauchant un cheval et un chien, créant un visuel anti roman amusant.

Is Tristram Shandy a novel or an anti-novel?

A general presentation of Tristram Shandy

The title shows that novelists played with the rules of the New Novel genre. Tristram Shandy is a unique literary experience. It is a long and intricate text that does not even tell a story, or at least in an unusual way. It cannot be read from cover to cover: there is no unique plot but digressions, essays, and experiments with typography.

We can find blank pages, drawings, dashes, italics and chapters which have gone missing. It is much more complicated than a joke, it is a book that is highly interesting in its artistic form. It is a reflexive text, which is also commenting on the meaning of fiction writing.

The influences of other writings

Sterne was a cultivated vicar and a well-read man, influenced by Shakespeare, Rabelais, and Cervantes but also by philosophers such as Descartes or Locke.

Tristram Shandy was published in several instalments. Volumes 1-6 were published in 1760-1761, and volumes 7-9 were published between 1765 and 1767. Tristram Shandy was immediately successful and made Laurence Stern rich. However, Sterne contracted tuberculosis and had to go to France (the description of Paris is in vol. 7). Several authors influenced Laurence Sterne.

Don Quijote

Sterne likes Cervantes’ comic method which consists of telling simple insignificant events by using epic style. There’s a distortion, a gap between the event or action and how the event is described. This gap is what is called “mock-heroic”: it is not serious enough to be epic, and it creates a comic effect.

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The Great Gatsby: an American novel photo

The Great Gatsby: an American novel

  1. Introduction to The Great Gatsby by Francis Scott Fitzgerald: from the Lost Prairies to the Realist Jungle
  2. The Great Gatsby: characters and characterization
  3. The Great Gatsby: the Romantic Quest
  4. Structure and Narration in The Great Gatsby
  5. The ordering of events in The Great Gatsby
  6. The Great Gatsby: an American novel

A refracted vision of America

The Great Gatsby is like a mirror of the America of the 1920s. America in the Great Gatsby is a fundamental notion and the novel cannot be studied without the historical context of the time.

The novel reflects the Jazz Age or the Roaring Twenties and the opposition between East and West.

The Great Gatsby emphasizes the strange association between materialism and spiritualism, which is crucial to the Puritan ethic. Gatsby is seeking wealth because he is pursuing an idealistic vision.

A corrupted vision

The Crack-Up (1937) is a collection of short stories by F.S. Fitzgerald where he tried to catch the mood prevailing in the 1920s.

The mood was characterised by hedonism, the search for pleasure: “America was going on the greatest gaudiest spree in history”. Spending money to be part of the show means society is more based on appearance than substance.

The time of the action is the summer of 1922. America, after World War 1, has become the most prosperous and thriving nation in the world. It is the period of the Golden Boom (America has sold weapons and has become rich) and widespread corruption is at its apogee.

Bribery was a frequent practice. It has been shown by historians that after the Civil War, corruption was nothing compared to the Roaring Twenties. Even if the 1850s carpetbaggers took advantage of the situation of that time, it was far less important than in the 1920’s.

Corruption also marks the weakening of spiritual and moral values. After the butchery of World War I, disillusion had set in and therefore isolationism was striking rich.

In the 1920s, political circles were also corrupted. Warren Harding, president from 1921 to 1923, was marked by a series of scandals. In the summer of 1923, the president died in mysterious circumstances.

The 18th Amendment of the Constitution voted in January 1920, laid down that producing and selling alcohol would be forbidden. The Prohibition, also known as “the noble experiment”, triggered an increase in delinquency.

Al Capone belonged to that context. In people’s collective mind, the image of the bootlegger was worshipped and admired because the bootlegger was the man who dared to resist, to rise against the law.

The historical background

The Great Gatsby is based on a series of events published in the newspapers. F.S. Fitzgerald did not invent all the facts: he shaped and created a character who was emblematic of his time.

In The Great Gatsby, apart from Gatsby, we find characters based on real figures such as Meyer Wolfshiem, who is actually Arnold Rothstein, a master of the New York underworld.

In Chapter 4, at the metropole, the guy shot down was based on reality, it happened before the novel was written: he was gunned down because he had ratted on Becker, the corrupt NYPD chief.

The results of the 1919 baseball championships were fixed. In the text, Meyer Wolfshiem is responsible for tampering with the results while in reality, it is all Arnold Rothstein.

In Chapter 4, we learn that Wolfshiem lives above the laws: “They can’t get him old sport. He’s a smart man”. Arnold Rothstein was nicknamed “the brain”, “the bankroll”, and “the Morgan of the Underworld”. A Morgan is a magnate, a nabob, a tycoon in the capitalist 19th century.

Gatsby’s models in real life

One of Fitzgerald’s models for Gatsby came from a trial that took place in New York: the Fuller-McGee case. Edward M. Fuller, one of the two men, had been a neighbour of Fitzgerald’s in Long Island.

The Fuller-McGee case concerned illegal speculation. They both had been partners in a brokerage firm. Yet, it was soon discovered that they had cheated people. Later on, it was proved that Fuller and McGee were acting for Rothstein, the head of the New York underworld.

We can suspect Fitzgerald is to Fuller what Nick Carraway is to Gatsby.

Gatsby has earned a lot of money very quickly, more or less illicitly. He also polished his manners: “It took me three years”.

Gatsby is said to have had a hand in “the drug business” and in “the oil business”: there is no precision and his business remains quite vague.

The clue to the truth is that Gatsby must have earned a lot of money through shady dealings and illegal transactions. This is spelt out at the end of the book, after Gatsby’s death, when Nick answers the phone call: “Young… in trouble. They picked him up when he handed the bonds over the counter”.

We can therefore conclude that Gatsby has been involved in the trafficking of bonds.

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Introduction to The Great Gatsby by Francis Scott Fitzgerald : from the Lost Prairies to the Realist Jungle photo

Introduction to The Great Gatsby by Francis Scott Fitzgerald: from the Lost Prairies to the Realist Jungle

  1. Introduction to The Great Gatsby by Francis Scott Fitzgerald: from the Lost Prairies to the Realist Jungle
  2. The Great Gatsby: characters and characterization
  3. The Great Gatsby: the Romantic Quest
  4. Structure and Narration in The Great Gatsby
  5. The ordering of events in The Great Gatsby
  6. The Great Gatsby: an American novel

Both the novel and the American society correspond to the beginning of a modern era. America is a direct consequence of the Age of Reason (18th century).

Indeed, the first settlers intended to escape the tyrannical power of absolute monarchs.

The novel is also the result of a revolution :

  • social revolution: when the middle class asserted its cultural autonomy
  • ideological change that puts the single individual at the centre of the world

Yet, there are profound contradictions:

  • America did not offer favourable conditions for the birth of the novel. The notions of class, love, and marriage are central to the novel.
  • the 18th-century and 19th-century novels are about chasing a husband.
  • the European novel favours a plot with a domestic story and marriage E.g.: Pride and Prejudice, Madame Bovary.
  • the American novel avoids treating passionate relationships, focuses on male characters, and turns away from Society to Nature. E.g. Moby Dick, The Last of the Mohicans.

American novels dream of the innocence of the first settlers but Puritanism and the notion of guilt proved to be fundamental in American literature. This feeling of guilt included the rape of nature and the exploitation of the Natives.

The Lost Prairie

The early 19th century can be described as an American Epic. James Fenimore Cooper’s The Leatherstocking Tales gave America legend and myth.

The two main themes are:

  • the settlement: how pioneers got used to a new life in the American wilderness;
  • the frontier, which can be described as an ideal boundary between two cultures: the “civilized and cultivated” society, and “wild and lawless” tribes. The frontier is also a limit pushed further westward.

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The 18th Century : the Age of Enlightenment photo

The 18th Century: the Age of Enlightenment

  1. The 18th Century: the Age of Enlightenment
  2. The Gothic and the Fantastic
  3. The 19th Century : Romanticism in Art and Literature
  4. English Romanticism (1798-1832)
  5. 19th Century Literary Movements : Realism and Naturalism
  6. British Civilisation and Literature: 19th and 20th centuries


The 18th Century can be dubbed “the Age of Enlightenment” as it was marked by French philosophers such as Voltaire, Rousseau or Diderot (the Encyclopédie was published in 1761).

The Enlightenment is characterized by the belief of the natural goodness of man: man is perfectible, it is the idea of progress obtained through the use of reason.

Since man is naturally good, all bad things come from society: if we could fight prejudices and oppressive social institutions, man would be better. It’s a question of education: political and social reforms would bring man happiness. These are the principles of the French Revolution.

The situation is different in the United Kingdom. The revolution had already been made: the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 established a parliamentary monarchy but it was not a democracy since you needed to be rich to go to Parliament.

John Locke, a famous British philosopher, influenced the notion of parliamentary democracy. He was a predecessor of the Enlightenment but his ideas were only applied in America after the War of Independence (1776-1782).

The American Constitution was applied in 1789. In the USA, there is a republican government with a president and a principle of equality in front of the law: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. There is a truly optimistic belief in man and happiness, and progress and reason.

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Utopia saison 2

Voici la seconde saison d’Utopia, diffusée sur Channel 4.

La série nous ramène dans les années 1970, quand Philip Carvel commence à travailler sur Janus avec Milner.

Alors qu’il teste le virus sur son fils réticent, Pietre, il conduit une expérience macabre sur un lapin avec l’espoir de susciter une réaction de la part de son enfant.

Il pense avoir échoué jusqu’à ce que sa femme achète un lapin à Pietre qui le tue juste après. Sa femme le jette dehors et quelques mois plus tard, elle meurt en donnant naissance à Jessica, que Carvel élève seul.

Cinq ans plus tard, sans rien dire à Milner, Carvel ajuste la formule du virus…

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Utopia : résumé de la première saison en 3 minutes photo

Utopia : résumé de la première saison en 3 minutes

Après presque un an et demi, Utopia s’apprête à faire son retour sur Channel 4 pour sa seconde saison.

Thriller énigmatique, Utopia se centre sur un groupe de personnes que rien ne connecte au départ, mais qui vont se rencontrer grâce à leur intérêt pour un étrange graphic novel.

Leur existence va alors être bouleversée quand ils vont se retrouver pris au cœur d’une conspiration et être poursuivis par une mystérieuse organisation.

Vous pouvez trouver la première saison ici :

Amazon Prime Video

ou le résumé de la première saison, pour se rafraîchir la mémoire (attention, contient des spoilers de la saison 1, bien évidemment) :

Retour sur nos écrans ce mois-ci.


Utopia saison 1

Je vous invite à regarder la nouvelle série de la chaine Channel 4 – Utopia – scénarisée par Dennis Kelly.

Passionnés par l’étrange roman graphique The Utopia Experiment, un groupe de personnes se retrouve pris au cœur d’une conspiration menée par des personnes sans scrupules qui tuent avec une facilité déconcertante et avec beaucoup d’imagination.

Ils ne savent pas ce qu’on leur veut, mais celui qui trouvera la suite jamais publiée de l’histoire aura toutes les réponses.

Utopia est indéniablement atypique dans son style, que ce soit narrativement parlant ou visuellement, avec une approche cinématographique très poussée et accentuée par une stylisation qui favorise les couleurs vives et les contrastes.

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