I read this novel for the first time as part of the Woolf in Winter reading group. Discussion of this book is hosted today by Sarah at what we have here is a failure to communicate. There you will find the reviews and opinions of the other book group readers. I thought a second perspective on the book might clarify some things about the story for me. So I invited John Mutford of The Book Mine Set to do a guest post and give us his take on this modern classic. My thoughts on the book are at the end of this review. Here's what John had to say.
Mrs. Dalloway by Virgina Woolf
"It was okay. This is not the glowing review that I'm sure many English profs would give it. While I can't say that such a scant plot enthralled me, it isn't as boring as one might think.
I think I have a better handle on this stream-of-consciousness style. Quite like reading a daily-journal-entry-type blog, it has the appeal of being let into someone else's world and the realization that most thoughts are actually quite mundane. But what keeps Mrs. Dalloway from slipping into the back of your brain too much, is the occasional glimpse into her troubles and especially her desires. When Woolf sticks to one character at a time, I'm fine. I'm not sure I grasp everything at those moments but my attention doesn't waver off leaving me trying to figure out what so-and-so is talking about. I read about the luncheon party that Richard Dalloway (Clarissa's husband) was invited. If Woolf had let go the stream-of-consciousness thing here, or still had it contained within a single person (say Richard) perhaps I could have followed. But it jumps from one person to the next and I simply couldn't attend to anyone. I found myself thinking about a time I went to an arena full of people with my hearing impaired grandfather. His hearing aid was rendered useless and he simply had to shut it off, explaining later that it couldn't focus on or isolate one conversation and just magnified all the noise in the room. See the connection?
At the end of this book, I have a theory. But going along with that theory, I have to question why Woolf chose Mrs. Dalloway as the title character and not Peter. I saw Clarissa Dalloway as being on one end of an unhappiness spectrum, with Septimus on the other, and Peter finding his place in between. Clarissa's unhappiness seemed to stem from dwelling on trivial things (such as parties with her elite friends) while Septimus' unhappiness seemed to stem from dwelling on global, intangible things (such as human nature). Peter walked back and forth between the two, trying to find happiness, leaving him a fragment of a man (represented quite nicely with his constant fiddling with his pocketknife. (Freud anyone?). It is only at the end that he thinks he has found the answer through a conversation with Sally. Basically, he seems to resolve the question of how to find happiness- not through thinking at all (whether trivial or global) but by following his heart.
I've never heard anyone debate whether Mrs. Dalloway has a happy ending or not, but I'd have to say not. While it looks like Peter has found his answer, I'd have to say not really. Following his heart would have led him to Clarissa and almost certain heartbreak. Furthermore, if the adage were applied to Clarissa, she would have been led into the arms of Sally (and most likely heartbreak too, unless you feel a lesbian couple could have found happiness in 1920s England). And applying the adage to Septimus wouldn't even make sense. So all in all, I somewhat enjoyed a pessimistic book with nary a plot to be found."
Thank you John. John Mutford is a reviewer who lives in the far north of Canada and has been blogging since 2005 He has had articles published in several places. This man reviews everything; literature, poetry, short stories, Shakespeare's plays, even books of the Bible, he's fearless. he also hosts interesting challenges, author polls, and other original book features that are a lot of fun. Do stop by at The Book Mine Set and take a look. __________________________________________________
My opinion is not much different than John's. I am glad that I finally read it, I will no longer feel left out and clueless when people discuss it. I have read several of Woolf works and enjoyed them all immensely ; A Room of One's Own, The Death of The Moth and Other Essays, some of her letters and diaries, Orlando, and Jacob's Room, which I reviewed here. Her intelligence and wit shines through everything she writes. Mrs. Dalloway was Woolf's fourth novel, published in 1925, and it was immediately recognized as a major achievment. My edition states "With this book she finally broke from the form of the traditional English novel, establishing herself as a writer of genius."
Basically she turned the novel of manners on its head, using the interior monologues of the main characters to give us deeper insights into their thoughts and lives. But not enough happens in Mrs. Dalloway to arouse any real interest for me. I'm not averse to stream-of-conscience writing at all. Jacob's Room in 1923 was Woolf's first experiment with it and I had very little trouble. And I always enjoy writing that let's me inside a character's head. In this story Clara (Mrs. Dalloway) plans and hosts her party, a thing she's known to do, and except for Peter's unexpected visit nothing much happens. His sudden presence does stir up strong emotions, bringing back memories of an important time in Clara's life when she made the decisions that she now lives with. All of us at times wonder how our lives would be now if we'd made different choices, married a different person, etc. But inconvenient timing prevents Clara from contemplating her thoughts for long. She is after all preparing for a huge and important party (even the Prime Minister is invited). She has little chance to sit and ruminate. Clara and Peter are the same people in the same situation at the end of the story as at the beginning. Perhaps there's more subtlety in Woolf's writing here than I am picking up on and a second reading would show me more. I know many people love this book and consider it to be her best work. I think I just need more in a story.
I look forward to the next novel in our Woolf in Winter reading group, To the Lighthouse, hosted by Emily at Evening All Afternoon. We will be posting our reviews on January 30.
Have you read Mrs. Dalloway? What are your thoughts?
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