stream of consciousness

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stream of consciousness,

in literature, technique that records the multifarious thoughts and feelings of a character without regard to logical argument or narrative sequence. The writer attempts by the stream of consciousness to reflect all the forces, external and internal, influencing the psychology of a character at a single moment. The technique was first employed by Édouard Dujardin (1861–1949) in his novel Les Lauriers sont coupés (1888) and was subsequently used by such notable writers as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and William Faulkner. The phrase "stream of consciousness" to indicate the flow of inner experience was first used by William James in Principles of Psychology (1890).

Stream of Consciousness


in literature, a primarily modernistic 20th-century trend that reproduces spiritual life, experiences, and associations.

The term “stream of consciousness” was originated by the American idealist philospher W. James, who viewed consciousness as a stream or river in which thoughts, sensations, and sudden associations were constantly colliding and were won-drously and “illogically” interwoven (Principles of Psychology, 1890). The “stream of consciousness” is the ultimate or extreme form of the interior monologue, in which it is often difficult to establish objective links with the real environment.

Among the writers whose creative work anticipated the stream-of-consciousness method were L. Sterne (The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, vols. 1–9, 1760–67) and L. N. Tolstoy, who opened a new phase in developing means of psychological analysis. At the beginning of the 20th century the stream-of-consciousness technique developed from the works of J. Huysmans and E. Dujardin, as well as from English literature of the turn of the century (the works of H. James, G. Meredith, J. Conrad, and R. L. Stevenson).

A number of social factors, especially the crisis of bourgeois consciousness in the epoch of imperialism, were responsible for the transformation of the “stream of consciousness” from a realistic artistic technique into a method of description with claims to universality.

In classic stream-of-consciousness works (novels by M. Proust, V. Woolf, and J. Joyce) attention is drawn with the utmost acuteness to the subjective, to the secret in the human psyche. The traditional narrative structure is violated, and the displacement of temporal levels becomes a formal experiment. The central work in stream-of-consciousness literature is Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), which simultaneously revealed the peak and the exhaustion of the potential of the stream-of-consciousness method. In Ulysses, the study of man’s inner life is combined with an erosion of the borders of the individual character, and psychological analysis often becomes a goal in itself. As a result of Joyce’s substantial influence on European and American literature, most major writers were attracted to the method of stream of consciousness, primarily in their early works. Subsequently, they turned to the method for realistic, cognitive purposes, using it as a device for the depiction of certain mental states. (E. Hemingway, W. Faulkner, A. Huxley, G. Greene, G. Grass, and M. Duras are among the most outstanding representatives of this group of writers.)

After World War II (1939–45) there was a wide variety of attitudes toward the method of stream of consciousness in literature. Stream-of-consciousness techniques were assimilated to varying degrees by representatives of the French “new novel” (M. Butor, N. Sarraute) and the British novel of the “small theme” (A. Powell, P. H. Johnson). Moreover, stream-of-consciousness techniques were used by U. Johnson and A. Andersch (both from the Federal Republic of Germany) in developing the sociopsychological novel. However, the stream-of-consciousness school, like modernism in general between 1910 and 1930, was creatively refuted in works by realists such as C. P. Snow, E. Wilson, F. Mauriac, and W. Koepper.


Zhantieva, D. G. Dzheims Dzhois. Moscow, 1967.
Motyleva, T. L. “Vnutrennyi monolog i ‘potok soznaniia’.” In her book Zarubezhnyi roman segodnia. Moscow, 1966.
Friedman, M. Stream of Consciousness: A Study in Literary Method. New Haven-London, 1955.
Steinberg, E. The Stream of Consciousness and Beyond in “Ulysses. “Pittsburgh, Pa., 1973.