03 February, 2011

Lucio Ruotolo's "The Interrupted Moment: A View of Virginia Woolf’s Novels"

Devoting a chapter to each of Woolf’s novels, Ruotolo incisively examines the phenomenon interruption as seen in the lives of Woof’s characters. The ability to accommodate interruption indicates an openness to undefined experience, he argues.  He contrasts the average citizen as he or she appears in Woolf’s non-fiction works, with the heroines of her novels; the former tend to rest in society’s formulaic explanations for the complexities of human life, while the latter habitually indulge “interruptions,” physical or intellectual, that allow them to conceive of the world more richly. The chapter on Mrs. Dalloway is particularly illuminating, as he makes use not only of Woolf’s non-fiction, but is able to highlight the way this patience with interruption grows into a primary characteristic of Clarissa Dalloway by contrasting the finished novel with the study “Mrs. Dalloway’s Party.”  In the finished novel she is tempted to “crystallize the present” (108),  as Ruotolo puts it, moving, for instance, from an intense enjoyment of the particularities of London during her flower-buying errand, to see the footmen and mysterious car as permanent signs of an unchanging, stable reality within her society. Yet the climactic party succeeds so well, Ruotolo argues convincingly, precisely because it is an image of Clarissa’s triumph over such impulse to reduce her experience to symbols: circulating among her guests to ensure the comfort of each, she allows the party to develop a life of its own and so “entertains a world of motion and change” (117).

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