Mrs Dalloway

Unknown.jpegMy mother has been a bit vaguely sad at me for not having read this in the past, so I decided it was finally time to bite the bullet. I read and adored Orlando waaaay back in first year; I couldn’t get through To The Lighthouse. I have seen The Hours (and brought home the book, from my mother). So that was my context. Plus a vague suspicion that this was going to be depressing.

At least it’s better than James Joyce’s Ulysses. Which isn’t saying much, except the truth.

So yes. Depressing. With occasional glints of wait – is this actually as depressing as I think it is? Or is this just… life? With occasional regrets and obviously things that are difficult but hey, for Clarissa at least, this isn’t SO bad. (I’ll get to Septimus.) I was so conflicted and in need of debriefing that as soon as I finished reading it I had to call my mother, who was very amused by my reaction. Yes, dear, I think it is meant to be a bit depressing and horrifying. Oh good. She also pointed out to me just how obsessed the book is with TIME. I had noticed that Big Ben is almost a secondary character in its own right, but I hadn’t really clued into time being referenced EVERYwhere. Which makes the story even more poignant. And depressing.

Imagine, an entire novel about an upper class woman’s ordinary day! How absolutely extraordinary that must have been.

And of course, it’s not JUST about Clarissa Dalloway. Her daughter, her friends, all get a little bit of time for their own thoughts… almost always coming back to Mrs Dalloway. The one exception is Septimus, who is completely unconnected to Mrs Dalloway except that they are physically close by one another very briefly, and that his absolutely appalling doctor is a guest at Mrs Dalloway’s party. This was one of the most heartbreaking fictional descriptions of shell shock I’ve come across.

I vaguely remember the discussions about modernist literature and what it was trying to do (that class was a very long time ago). I find Woolf’s style intriguing – and so very different from what I normally read – so many semi colons! And it occurred to me that while this isn’t Joyce’s stream of consciousness – ugh; it’s unreadable – it’s very close to replicating thought patterns, and indeed speech patterns. It approaches verisimilitude and while I am absolutely certain Woolf sweated blood to produce it exactly as it is, it comes across as effortless. As simple and … naive is wrong. So is innocent. Unsophisticated, perhaps, where sophistication means cunning and artifice and tricksiness.

I liked it. I will read The Hours soon. I will probably reread this, now that I know what I’m in for regarding the plot – and I’ll pay more attention to the descriptions than I did this time.

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