David Lodge CBE is an English author and literary critic. A professor of English Literature at the University of Birmingham until 1987, he is known for novels satirising academic life. His novel Author, Author was published in 2004. The *publisher describes it:
“Henry James takes center stage in this brilliant story about literary ambition, creativity, and rivalry as revealed in the public career and private life of this most singular writer. Framed by a moving and dramatic account of his last illness, Author opens in the early 1880s, describing James’s close friendship with an illustrator named George du Maurier and his intimate but problematic relationship with fellow American novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson.”
Interviewed about his book for the *Penguin Random House website, David Lodge reflected:
“James himself disliked the historical novel as a form and maintained that a novelist could never recover the “old consciousness” of human beings in the past. But James’s age is not really very remote from ours. It is so well documented and so unchanged in many respects (most of the buildings that HJ lived in, for instance, are still standing, and some may be visited) that it is possible, after a certain amount of research, to re-create the world he knew with reasonable confidence. When I first thought of writing this novel I expected to invent a lot of events and characters, but as I got into it I decided that the known facts were quite interesting and dramatic enough, and the challenge was to do justice to them and organize them in a satisfying narrative structure.
Essentially he regarded the novel as a form of art, not of entertainment. In the late nineteenth century these two functions, which a writer like Dickens managed to combine, became incompatible. James was a pioneer of the modern, or “modernist,” novel-as-work-of-art, which is often obscure, ambiguous, light on plot, and heavy on symbolism and psychological analysis. The longer James went on writing, the more complex and innovative his work became, and the more difficult for ordinary readers—so they shunned him. What gained James a following after his death was the spread of higher education that trained people how to read and appreciate him and his successors in the same aesthetic tradition, like Joyce, Lawrence, Conrad, and Virginia Woolf.”
In THE ART OF FICTION: STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS, published in The Washington Post of April 26, 1992, Lodge wrote:
“THE STREAM of consciousness” was a phrase coined by William James, psychologist brother of the novelist Henry, to characterize the continuous flow of thought and sensation in the human mind. Later it was borrowed by literary critics to describe a kind of modern fiction exemplified by James Joyce, Dorothy Richardson and Virginia Woolf.
The novel has always, of course, given an interiorized rendering of experience. Defoe’s autobiographers and Richardson’s letter-writers were obsessively introspective. The classic 19th-century novel combined the presentation of its characters as social beings with an analysis of their inner lives. Towards the turn of the century, however (you can see it happening in Henry James), reality was increasingly located in the private, subjective consciousness, which is unable to communicate the fullness of its experience to others.
In the stream of consciousness novel, the moralizing narrator of traditional fiction retreats, and the narrative (such as it is) consists of the verbalization of the minute-to-minute awareness of the focal character. “Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day,” said Virginia Woolf in her manifesto essay, “Modern Fiction.” “The mind receives a myriad impressions — trival, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms.” She set herself to trace the impact of these atoms, inspired by the example of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), little as she liked its content. (Joyce’s stream of consciousness was, like the Liffey, smelly in places and full of unseemly flotsam.)
There are two staple techniques for representing consciousness in prose fiction. One is interior monologue, in which we overhear the character (“I”) verbalizing his/her thoughts as they occur. The other method, free indirect style, goes back at least as far as Jane Austen, but was employed with ever-increasing virtuosity by modern novelists like Woolf. It renders thought as reported speech (in the third person) but keeps to the kind of vocabulary that belongs to the character, and deletes the tags like “she thought” or “she wondered” which a more formal style would require. This gives the illusion of intimate access to a character’s mind, but without totally surrendering authorial participation.
The first sentence of this novel by Virginia Woolf, “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself,” is the statement of an authorial narrator, but an impersonal and inscrutable one, who does not explain who Mrs. Dalloway is or why she needed to buy flowers. This abrupt plunging of the reader into the middle of an ongoing life (we gradually infer that Mrs D. is a London hostess, and wife of a member of Parliament, giving a party that evening) typifies the presentation of consciousness as a “stream.” The next sentence moves the focus into the character’s mind by omitting an intrusive authorial tag, such as “Mrs. Dalloway reflected”; by referring to the maid familiarly by her first name, not by her function; and by using a colloquial expression, “had her work cut out for her,” that belongs to Mrs. Dalloway’s casual speech. The third sentence has the same form. The fourth moves back slightly towards the authorial manner to inform us of the heroine’s first name: “And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning — fresh as if issued to children on a beach.”
The ejaculations that follow — “What a lark! What a plunge!” — look superficially like interior monologue, but they are not direct responses to the morning in Westminster when the mature heroine goes to buy flowers. She is remembering herself at the age of 18 remembering herself as a child. Or, to put it another way, the image “fresh as if issued to children on a beach,” evoked by the Westminster morning, reminds her of how similar metaphors would come to mind as she “plunged” into the calm air of a summer morning, “like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave” at Bourton (some country house, we presume), where she would meet someone called Peter Walsh (the first hint of anything like a story). The actual and the metaphorical, time present and time past interweave and interact in the long, meandering sentences, each thought or memory triggering the next.
Virginia Woolf has smuggled some of her own lyrical eloquence into Mrs. Dalloway’s stream of consciousness. Transpose these sentences into the first person, and they would be intolerably precious — as I’m afraid I find the interior monologues of The Waves. Joyce was a better exponent of that technique.”
David Lodge 1991