Stream of Consciousness Novel

Stream of Consciousness Novel is a modern development and reflects recent interest in the psycho-analytical school of Jung, Freud and Adler. The Phrase “stream of consciousness” was taken over to denote the new method of rendering consciousness in itself as it flows from moment to moment. It is a method used with varying degrees of intensity by Dorothy Richardson, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. In “stream of consciousness novel” everything is presented through an apparently unorganized succession of images and ideas connected by association rather than by logical argument or narrative sequence. The ‘action’ takes place and the plot develops through the mind of the principal character and his “stream of consciousness” reflects all the forces of which he is aware. The stream of consciousness method is useful in breaking down the distinction between subject and object and in suggesting rather than describing states of mind.

A popular theory, put forth by many critics, presents the stream of consciousness method as an inevitable sequel to the disintegration of values in the first quarter of this century. There is also an attempt to compensate by excessive experimentation for the spiritual vacuum prevailing everywhere. The new novel is also described as a withdrawal from external phenomena. The flickering half-shades of the author’s private world. But a detailed analysis of the work of Dorothy Richardson, Virginia Woolf and James Joy will show that the new prose-fiction does not imply a “withdrawal” from objective reality. On the other hand, it constitutes a deliberate effort to render in a literary medium a new realization of experience as a process of dynamic renewal. The great advantage and consequently the best justification of stream of consciousness novel depends on its potentialities for delineating character more graphically, accurately and realistically. The stream of consciousness novelists reap a rich harvest of rhetorical devices, images and expressive symbols for presenting the flux and pre-speech level of human consciousness.

The first modern novelist who consciously employed the stream of consciousness technique was Dorothy Richardson. Her “Pointed Roofs” is first of the series of novels known as “Pilgrimage”. This series of novels present the mental history of Miriam Henderson, whose response to life, recorded from moment to moment, enable Dorothy Richardson to convey the very sense of life. “Pilgrimage” satisfies Virginia Woolf’s requirements in that it contains in the accepted sense no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe. There is only Miriam Henderson, living from day to day, experiencing, feeling, reacting to the stimuli of the outside world of people and things. Life for Miriam is precisely “an incessant shower of innumerable atoms”. While reading this novel, we live within her in an eternal present. “Pilgrimage” is a remarkable achievement. The first volumes, recounting Miriam’s life as a governess in a school in Germany, are remarkable in their freshness. The day-to-day flux of the very intelligent girl’s moods and sensibility to the world outside her and the people who dwell in it, I enchantingly caught while reading the novel, we experience Miriam’s own individual re-creation of her world from moment to moment. But when she returns to England, she falls in love and is disappointed Miriam’s momentary perceptions are often delightful. Her aspirations are not pleasant. They are dull even in their worthiness. While reading this novel, one feels that for Dorothy Richardson, the world exists only to provide fodder for the voracious sensibility of her character.

Virginia Woolf is the second important novelist who adopted the stream of consciousness technique in order to present “the atmosphere of the mind of her characters. She dispenses with plot and even characterisation. She prefers to analyze in the closest possible detail a mood or thought as presented at a given specific situation. Like Joyce, she uses interior monologue devices to depict “the stream of consciousness” of her characters. Her prose is careful and exquisitely light. It approaches poetry in its power to evoke mood and sensation. Her view of the novel was a comprehensive one. She did not wish to limit herself to the mere story-telling of men like Arnold Bennet and Hugh Walpole. She wanted to see the novel absorb as many literary devices as possible. She wanted to break away from prose and use verse instead. To many readers, her novels do not appear to be works of fiction at all. They seem too static, too lacking in action and human interest. Her novels appear to be a kind of literary form which is neither true poetry nor true prose, neither completely dramatic nor completely lyrical. Perhaps her best works are “Mrs. Dalloway”, “To The Lighthouse”, and “The Waves”.

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Mrs. Woolf’s characters are always in search of a pattern in the flux that shall give meaning to the whole, Mrs. Woolf herself is as it were seeking a pattern of meaning through them. Her attitude to experience is aesthetic. Transience is the very stuff of her material. In “Mrs. Dalloway” one sees life as in a state of constant creation, changing-endlessly from moment to moment, like a fountain. In this fountain, the moment is like the individual drop of water. In ”To The Lighthouse”, apart from the beautifully suggested relationship between Mrs. Ramsay and her husband and children, a powerful unifying factor is the lighthouse itself, which becomes a symbol carrying many meanings. Some of the devices of Mrs. Woolf making for unity seem to be much more successful than others and she seems to be successful almost in verse ratio. For Virginia Woolf, art alone can impose order on the flux of lives lived in time. Art is her substitute for religion, and the artist’s act of creation an equivalent of the mystic’s intuition. Virginia Woolf is a novelist of very narrow limits. It is absurd to say that she could not create character. Her characters are thoroughly convincing. But the range of those she creates is very small. They belong not only to the upper middle-class intelligentsia but also to a certain temperament. They tend to think and feel alike. They drink and feel and express their thoughts and feelings exactly as Virginia Woolf herself. Janes Joyce is a prodigious creative mind. He has carefully employed

The stream of consciousness technique in his multi-dimensional novel “Ulysses”. Ulysses is not only a guide book to the city. It is a criticism of the modern life with its “sick hurry and divided aims”. It is also a parody of Homer’s Odyssey”. Leopold Bloom is the Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus is the Telemachus and Marian Bloom is the Penelope. But the novel is “formless” and “arbitrary in design”. Everything in “Ulysses” has an almost stagnant stillness. Time remains stationary through each scene until Mr. Joyce is ready to go on to the text. The fact is that present time flies into the past and the future and this point can be illustrated from Molly Bloom’s long monologue. The present movement in “Ulysses” has the same fluid tendency of continuously fading into the past and future in complete defiance of any arbitrary divisions of time.

Joyce had previously published some charming but not outstanding verse. He had written a volume of short stories called “Dubliners”, and a striking auto-biographical novel-“Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man”. The hero of the novel Stephen Dedalus-appears again in “Ulysses”. This time, he is sub- ordinated to a secondary role. The hero is a Hungarian Jew, long-settled in Dublin. His name is Leopold Bloom. The novel has no real plot. Like the great hero, Bloom wanders from place to place, But he has very un-heroic adventures. Finally, he meets Stephen who takes on the role of a sort of spiritual son. After this the book ends. This book has been written in concise prose. We are allowed to enter the minds of the chief characters. We are presented with their thoughts and feelings in a continuous stream. In this novel, each chapter corresponds to an episode in Homer’s Odyssey and has a distinct style of its own.

“Finnegans Wake” is another important novel by Joyce. In this novel, Joyce tried to present the whole of human history as a dream in the mind of a Dublin inn-keeper called H.K. Earwickes. Here, the style is appropriate to dream, the language shifting and changing, words becoming glued together suggesting the merging of images in a dream, and enabling Joyce to present history and myth as a single image.



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