Modernism in the XX century in Great
Britain brought us one of the best literature authors, James Joyce and Virginia
Woolf. They are considered two of the most important and influential authors to
date. Among their many writings, two of them stand out the most for both. For
Joyce, one short story called “The Dead” which is one of his 15 short stories
about the lives of the middle-class people from Dublin at the start of the XX
century and for Virginia Woolf, one of her best know novels Mrs. Dalloway,
which describes a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a high society woman
after the first world war. Between these 2 very important writings there are
some similarities as well as some differences.
Starting with the time they were written in, as previously mentioned
both works are written in the literature modernism which means the XX century.
There is though just one major difference, even though both are from the XX
century, they were written at different “times”.
What I do
mean by “time” is that James Joyce’s “The Dead” was published in 1914 which is
the year the first World War started while Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway was
written after the war.
The difference here can be found inside
the works, while Joyce concentrates to show the world how the middle class from
Dublin and Ireland lived at the beginning of the XX century, in Virginia
Woolf’s book, especially at the end we can see how the character is contemplating
about death and about himself. You can see how the war present in Mrs. Dalloway
is influencing the characters and how the people from the novel and maybe even
Virginia herself have no idea what is going to happen with the world after the
After reading the works, at a glance over
the title we notice a big difference between the two. In Mrs. Dalloway, the
title is the last name of the main character: Dalloway which we can say it is a
straight forward title, not giving much to think to the readers. But wait a
second, the title does not include the name of Clarissa, it is just plain
Dalloway, this might mean on one hand that this Mrs. Dalloway is married,
otherwise she would have been Miss and on the other hand, the title emphasizes
the fact that probably Clarissa loves Richard more than Peter and she is
devoted to him. In Joyce’s work, the title “The Dead” can be understood in
different ways. The title implies death, but we don’t really get much death
from the story, and actually nobody dies in the same day as the action, death
is only present in one of the flashbacks, mainly when Gretta tells Gabriel a
memory of her past, about her former lover Michael Furey who died from cold
waiting outside Gretta’s window.
If we don’t take into consideration when
both of the works were written and what the plot is focusing on, then we can
see one big main similarity between the two and one characteristic of the
modernism: the action from both of the stories happens in only one day and they
both have a party at the end. Though it is worth mentioned that again, both
works have also some flashbacks of the main characters even though the action
is only one day long. By making the action only one day long, the authors
wanted to get away from your usually novel which happens during at least a year
or two or maybe even a lifetime. Though maybe this is not a really good thing
as we kind of miss some important details about the characters, in a novel
based on one day only you cannot know very much about the lives of the
characters, how they got where they are right now, what childhood did they have
etc. I think though that both works managed to deliver their message and also
we have the flashbacks which are very welcomed as they inform us regarding the
past of some characters.
Also from the beginning we can notice
something which for some people may be important, we have 2 different character
regarding the gender. In Mrs. Dalloway, as the title suggest the main character
is a woman, more specifically Clarissa Dalloway while in “The Dead” the main
character is a man called Gabriel Conroy. Maybe this also has to do with the
fact that Joyce was a man and Virginia a woman, but in the end, who knows, it
is very hard to tell. It is worth mentioning that in Mrs. Dalloway we also see
a little of the action, or better said some flashbacks of a man called Septimus
Warren Smith who is, or better said was a veteran from the first World War. The
War left him dead inside and he is not capable to have feelings. Both of the
characters have different roles at each of the parties they attend. Clarissa
Dalloway is the one who hosts the party in Virginia Woolf’s book while Gabriel
Conroy is just a person invited to the party so already from here we have two
perspectives. Clarissa, besides the love for her husband and maybe for Peter
(it is still not sure if she does indeed love Peter or maybe it was a thing of the
past) while Gabriel does not think about much only towards the end when his
wife tells him something from her past which makes him contemplate to the
future. During the day, Gabriel is only going along with the party, meeting
people, like little Lily or his cousins.
Something that these two characters have
in common is love (what would be a story or a novel without love). More
specifically past love, or lovers. A little difference is that in Mrs. Dalloway
the past lover, Peter is alive and is still in contact with Clarissa even
though he does not really confesses for her, he just asks if Clarissa loves her
husband, and Peter does not have that big of an impact in the novel while in
Joyce’s story, Furey is what triggers Gretta to enter in a stat of numbness.
Furley is also what makes Gabriel think about life and death in the end of the
novel which is what the novel is about.
Talking about main characters is not
everything though as we have some interesting secondary characters there is one
for each story. On one hand we have Septimus from Mrs. Dalloway and on the
other hand Michael Furey in “The Dead”. What have these two characters in
common you may think? Death. Both characters are dead or die during the action.
It must be said that their death is not similar in the two works. It is
completely different actually. In Mrs. Dalloway, Septimus commits suicide
because he is left empty after the first World War and he feels like he has
nothing to live for anymore while in “The Dead”, Furey dies of cold waiting for
Gretta outside her window in cold.
Both the deaths have something in common though, they both have an impact in
the stories. In Mrs. Dalloway, towards the end of the party, the death of
Spetimus is announced by a man and most of the people from the party are now
concentrated on the death of Septimus talking about it which makes Clarissa a
little irritated as she and her party are no more the center of attention. In
“The Dead” the death of Furey has quite an impact because Gretta is remembering
his death which kind of stuns her for a moment in the middle of the party, and
again, Furey’s death makes Gabriel contemplate about life and death, and about
the future and the past.
One thing that the two works have also in
common is themes. One theme that is present both in “The Dead” and in “Mrs.
Dalloway” is memories or flashbacks. Both of them have, at some point
flashbacks of some characters even though they are more present in Mrs.
Dalloway. Other than that the themes are very different. Maybe less proficient
in “Mrs. Dalloway” is the theme death. Death as a theme is the main focus in
James’ short story but it is also present in Virginia’s novel and that is not
only by the death of Septimus but because of the presence of the War. The war
is only showed in the novel as death and suffering and nothing more, also, the
War is what lead Septimus to commit suicide.
In fact, the main symbols in “The Dead”
are mainly about death, in the end we have the snow as Gabriel is looking on
the window and he imagines the snow on Furey’s grave. Death’s presence in James’ novel is more
important because this is the focus of the story. Then we have the colour grey.
Grey is repeatedly used to describe some things like Julia’s hair and face
which both are or look grey.
Virginia Woolf’s novel though, besides death we also have other themes like
social class. The whole novel is mainly concentrated around the upper class.
Clarissa comes from a high class family and even the prime minister comes to
her party, this is to emphasize the importance of her and her family. All the
people form the upper class in