Tracing The Influence of Eastern Philosophy on Western Modernism In Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway

Student: Sawyer Henry

Mentor: Christopher Schedler

Abstract

The modernist period ushered forth numerous scientific discoveries and philosophical theories that had a notable influence on art, literature, psychology, and philosophy. Discoveries such as Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution inspired theologians, philosophers, and psychologists to focalize new concepts of self, identity, time, reality, and human experience. These shifts in contemporary human understanding happened in concurrence with increased global travel and intellectual exchange between Western and Eastern countries. As a result, writers, philosophers, and artists became more interested in Buddhism, Hinduism, and other Eastern philosophical beliefs. Virginia Woolf, while being a self-proclaimed atheist, was deeply influenced by Eastern religious philosophy and well versed in contemporary scientific theories. Drawing on literary and biographical criticism on Virginia Woolf, I trace the intersections of Eastern philosophical beliefs and Western scientific discoveries through the stream of consciousness narration of Mrs. Dalloway by analyzing both what and how things are experienced by individual characters. In the novel, the integration of each character’s stream of consciousness fabricates a dissonant medium in which singular moments in the present time are experienced through the minds of multiple characters, while they simultaneously navigate past spans of time within their individual narrative consciousness. Through the analysis of narrative form and narrative consciousness in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, it is possible to track the impact of distinct Eastern philosophies that were being merged with Western scientific theories in Britain’s academic and artistic communities during the early 1900s.

Presentation

2 thoughts on “Tracing The Influence of Eastern Philosophy on Western Modernism In Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway”

  1. Christopher Schedler

    You interpret the suicide of Septimus as an act of enlightenment and an attempt to communicate the oneness of identity, self, and no-self, but is it also an individual act of resistance against Dr. Holmes and his view of “brute human nature”? Can his suicide be an assertion of identity/self and also an acceptance of no-self?

    1. DR. SCHEDLER,

      I don’t think that his suicide is an individual act of resistance against Holmes only because Holmes is described as the literal embodiment of brute human nature. This, and the fact that he breaks through a window, a literal barrier, caused me to perceive it as a statement against an idea; an idea that inherently asserts itself in front of what Septimus believes to be the truth.

      To answer your second question, his suicide could be interpreted as a statement of self and it is arguable that every decision we make is an assertion of self. However, death is unique because it marks the end of one’s identity and self, both of which are tied to human nature. Septimus has a fixation on communicating his thoughts and discoveries about universal truths; his answers to the brute of human nature. While his suicide is a personal choice I feel it is less of an assertion of identity and more of an acceptance/communication of no-self. His last words before death are obviously up for interpretation, but I understood “I’ll give it to you!” as Septimus stating he is going to provide the answer to human nature; to communicate a truth about the oneness of things; of no-self, rather than make an assertion of identity.

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