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R&R 009 | Mrs. Dalloway

Virginia Woolf
Mrs. Dalloway
Penguin, 1996
First published in 1925
The cover shows a detail of "The Artist's Wife, Katherine" by Frank Bramley.
213 pages
Book bought in: New York City
Flickr post

After reading Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, a truly stunning book based on Virginia Woolf’s renowned novel Mrs. Dalloway, I made a mental note to read it one of these days.

“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”

It is a beautiful but sweltering hot summer’s day in London, at the end of World War I. Clarissa Dalloway, known locally to be the hostess of magnificent parties, is preparing for a party to be held that evening. As the day carries on, Clarissa learns of the return of former lover Peter Walsh and her mind wanders back to her past, forcing her to think about the choices she’s made and to become more aware of the current events and people surrounding her.

Virginia Woolf used what is known as “stream of consciousness” writing, indicating that her words read like thoughts in one’s head. The downside, as I experienced it, was that the sentences were at times endless, causing me to lose track of what I was reading in the first place.

Add the constant use of semi-colons to this, and we have ourselves a novel which requires its readers to regularly “rewind, and just play that again”. In fact, a complete re-read of the entire novel would be necessary in order for it to be fully, or partially grasped.

Though the book was at times incredibly confusing, I must stress Woolf’s style is a most refreshing and even enchanting way of writing. I was incredibly fond of how Woolf switches between narrators so smoothly, flowing from character to character to character, the next picking up where the previous had left off – I could imagine myself to be a mindreader, exploring a crowd unnoticed, listening in on one mind after the other. This in itself is why I urge you to try reading this despite the possibility of having to struggle through the long sentences and semi-colons.

But there’s more to this novel. First published in 1925, Mrs. Dalloway is obviously ahead of its time, as it addresses subjects such as attraction or love between two females, doubts of happiness after years of marriage, divorce and finally the severe mental illness of Septimus, a shellshocked man whose only way out could very well be suicide.

(A representation of Woolf’s own persona, perhaps.)

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? I’m not; I hope you won’t be afraid, either.

February 14th 2008


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