April 3, 2013

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

How do you write about a book that you like but don't understand? I guess admitting the fact is a good thing to start with. So here it is: I don't understand this book. But for once it is actually a compliment to the book, not otherwise. Somehow Woolf managed to put so much on these 139 (in my edition) pages, that I'm still wondering what was all this about.

There is no plot in the usual sense of the word in the book. It describes just one day in Westminster, London, and the flowing of time is accentuated by city clocks striking. It is on purpose that I don't say that it is one day in the life of Mrs. Dalloway, as the reader "gets inside" several people's minds as they meet, talk to each other, observe street scenes and remember their past. One of these people, Septimus, is actually a madman suffering from shell shock after his friend (or more than friend?) was killed in the war, and it's amazing how his thoughts and illusions are made so real for the reader by following them from inside, that they really make sense.

But let's get back to the main heroine, Clarissa Dalloway, an aristocrat, a wife of a politician and a hostess of a fitting household near the park. She is already 50-something, and her life is very decent and proper. She had some turbulence in her youth, and sometimes she wonders if she should have married another guy, her big but very demanding love. But surely one needs some distance and coldness in marriage, so decides she has chosen well. Only HE returns from his long absence this very day, and all their history pops to the surface.

However, this novella is not about love at all. It's about life choices, about life values, about life-long relationships and the passage of life. Well, about everything in life really. And it's about leaving life too. Until the last pages I was sure Clarissa was going to commit suicide. There are some clues in the text. But somehow when she hears of Septimus going out of the window from his doctor at her party, she approves of the deed and sees the beauty of life at the same time. So she doesn't attempt anything, and somehow in the context of the book it seems that Septimus committed suicide INSTEAD of Clarissa. Which brings us to the point of concluding that we are all mad to some extent, which is also underlined by the similarities in the thought flow between Septimus and Clarissa.

When I came to this point in my speculations, I just stopped. Because the deeper I go inside this novel, the more addled my brain becomes. But I really liked the stream of consciousness style, it brings the reader really close to the characters and helps understand their motivations. The only drawback is that there is no convenient place to stop, but is it really a problem for a bookaholic? =)

I have seen two reviews of Mrs. Dalloway recently, so I'll link them here. It's rather interesting to compare what different people think of the same book!

Fanda's review
Allie's review

If I've forgotten somebody, please don't get cross, I have a short memory :) Just tell your thoughts or link your review, I'd like some discussion!

1 comment:

  1. I too like to compare with other readers. I have to confess I started this book with some prejudice. I don't care for stream of consciousness, and I didn't care for my other experience with Woolf (To the Lighthouse). So, I was pleasantly surprised. My review: http://100greatestnovelsofalltimequest.blogspot.com/2015/09/mrs-dalloway-by-virginia-woolf-59-down.html


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