Many current questions about connections between conceptions of time and notions of power and agency were also present within and central to the Modernist movement in literature. In particular, the challenge of presenting hero figures, who have traditionally depended on qualitative temporal concepts such as there being a “right” time for an action to occur, within a world dominated by a quantitative, clock-driven model of time led to many Modernist authors abandoning the possibility of heroism in their works. Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, however, offers a potential solution to this problem through the actions of its protagonist, and, in doing so, it provides a model for blending quantitative and qualitative aspects of time that remains useful today. Clarissa Dalloway’s unique heroism lies in her ability to effectively navigate the hours of her day and fulfill her goal of creating a moment that will capture and reflect the beauty of life. She is successful in her movement through time not because she is singularly focused on forcing the party to happen when she wants it to occur but instead because she blends an understanding of quantitative aspects of time (i.e., that, in order for the party to be successful, there are practical, logistical aspects that must take place “on time”) with other temporal elements that are qualitative in nature. Awareness of these latter, Kairic, opportunities, and the courage to act within a significant moment without any guarantee of success, are what separates Clarissa from the majority of her would-be-heroic literary peers. The tension that Woolf highlights between quantitative and qualitative aspects of time is still present today, but it has been magnified in the decades since the novel’s publication. By examining Clarissa’s path, however, we may gain a better understanding of how agency is impacted by one’s temporal model.
I am an Assistant Professor of English at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. I graduated in May of 2012 with a Ph.D. in literature from The University of Georgia, and my dissertation, “‘There Will Be Time’: Heroism, Temporality, and the Search for Opportunity in Modern Literature,” focuses on a convergence between concepts of heroism and temporal models in Modernist literature. My research interests include perceptions of time and agency and how they are applied in literature, particularly as they pertain to the presentation of hero figures.
from our workshop on Power, Time and Agency held in Manchester, January 2013