Use of repetitions : a stylistic pattern from the modernist era

In Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, “he could not feel” (86), “he could not feel” (87), “he could not feel” (87), “but he could not taste, he could not feel” (88), “he could not feel” (88), “he felt nothing” (90).

In Gertrude Stein, Melanctha, “Rose Johnson was a real black (…) negress. She laughed when she was happy” (47), “Rose Johnson was a real black negress” (47), “Rose laughed when she was happy” (47).

In William Faulkner, As I lay dying, “It wont balance. If you want it to tote and ride on a balance, we will have” (96), “it wont tote and it wont ride on a balance unless” (96), “it wont balance. If they want it to tote and ride on a balance, they will have” (96).

In Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time, “the burned-over country” (133), “burned off the ground” (133), “at the burned-over stretch of hillside” (133), “watched the trout” (133), “he watched them” (133), “Nick watched them” (133), “He watched them” (133), “as he watched” (133).

In these four works Three Lives, (1909), In Our Time (1924), Mrs Dalloway (1925), As I lay dying (1930), the authors use a common pattern of repetition. The examples chosen above are representative of this stylistic use so typical of modernist writers. It seems to reflect obsessions that characters embody, whether it be the absence of feeling for Septimus Warren Smith in Mrs Dalloway, the negro race identity in Melanctha, the coffin and its technical features for Cash in As I lay dying or the sense of sight for Nick and the destroyed land after the war in In Our Time. We can notice that Gertrude Stein was using this repetitive device in 1909, that is to say before WWI and that Faulkner, in a very modernist perspective, kept using it in 1930, in the interwar period. This stylistic pattern allows the reader to enter the character’s mind and to share his/her obsessions and fears.

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