Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Classics Club: Mrs. Dalloway

I've wanted to read Mrs Dalloway by V. Woolf ever since I read Sarah's comments. I couldn't wait to dive into a complex, unconventional book where I would witness a completely different type of writing and savour Woolfe's penmanship.  I was not dissapointed - I was swept away from the very beginning and almost read it in one go...

The whole book takes place in one day.  This shouldn't be too long, should it?  And yet, by following the streams of thought of everyone participating in this plot, we get pages and pages of such diverse thoughts, wishes and regrets that I started thinking whether this happens in real life...

Yes, it does.  I even started following my stream of thoughts during one day, and indeed - within one day I had travelled through so many different instances.  While reading the news in the morning, I would remember past occurances, which would then lead me to people close to me, with whom I would speak, who would inform me of other situations, which again would remind me of other situations... That is basically the plot in Mrs Dalloway - this chain of events, and the thoughts that accompany them - all while she's preparing for her party!

Two main characters feature in the book - Mrs. Dalloway, of course, and Septimus Warren Smith.  Totally different backgrounds, thus different chains of events:  Septimus is a war veteran suffering from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Woolf makes a very sharp comment on how this is treated by society at the time - namely, there is nothing wrong with the patient and doctors will in the end commit them to a psychiatric institution.  At the time of writing this book, there were only the 1st World War veterans.  It would have to take a second World War and several other important wars before awareness about PTSD was raised and it became an accepted condition (still, not entirely stigma-free ...).  So, I'm just wondering how many veterans have gone through Septimus's  "life" and how many had the same end with him...

Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway, on the other hand, is reminiscent of her youth and regrets how her life has changed over time:  how she wishes she had chosen a different husband, have the appearance of a Lady Bexborough.  She resigns to living for "exquisite moments", for which she has to pay so much:  she is still intrigued by Peter Walsh, the man who got away, but also by the "non-option" of Sally Seton.  From the beginning, I could sense disappointment around Clarissa.   While she seems superficial and places much importance in appearance given her place in (high) society, I felt that she really enjoyed life and was just unlucky in the choices she made.  Given the time she lived in, however, I cannot think of how many choices she really had.  When even Sally Seton, who in her youth was vivacious and ready to savour every minute of the day, grew up to marry wisely and produce five sons... what chance could Clarissa have?  Of course she would marry Richard Dalloway, with his important position in the government.  She cannot escape the expectations imposed by society, so she expresses herself through these parties, which she organises and where she can meet and greet all her acquaintances.    

The book is peppered with several other characters and instances that would normally take place in someone's daily life and provide a nice platform for Clarissa's thoughts.  The end of the book describes the actual party, where Clarissa meets with several of the people she has met during the day, but also from the past.  It was slightly disappointing, in that nothing exciting happens:  with all the turmoil happening throughout the book, I would have expected something dramatic from Clarissa - that she moves away, that she flees with Peter (or Sally), that she is devastated by Septimus's fate.  Of course not -- what goes on in our minds is far more intense than how we actually live our lives...


  1. I never really considdered reading this book, but now i really want to!!! thank you :)

    love K

  2. I loved The Waves when I was about 20, but recently gave up on To The Lighthouse and decided that her writing wasn't for me, although I respect her as an artist (what I call my Picasso syndrome). Have had the same experience with other stream of consciousnesses books.

    Have The Hours on the TBR, have you read it?

    1. You're not the first to dissuade me from the Lighthouse... The Hours, I've only watched the film so far - but it is a different author ;-)

  3. Nice review. I liked Mrs. D. quite a bit more than To the Lighthouse. My review:




Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...