I read this years ago and then much later I read The Hours by Michael Cunningham and not really liking either one I put them away – even out of my mind. (I love To the Lighthouse and A Room of One’s Own.) Whatever – a reading group decided to read Mrs Dalloway and I thought it might be interesting to revisit – maybe I missed something. (Obviously I missed something – lol.) It’s very complex.
by Virginia Woolf
1925 / 177 pages
Read by Phyllida Law 7h 25m
Rating – 9 / classic 20th century Eng.
(both read and listened)
Mrs Richard Dalloway (Clarissa) is giving a party – Clarissa loves giving parties and she’s quite good at it. The day of this party, in mid-June of 1920, she takes a walk to buy flowers and sees people and places while thoughts drift through her mind. Sometimes the narrative focuses on what is in the mind of some of the people she encounters, but it’s not stream of consciousness like it is with Clarissa.
Another character with the stream of consciousness treatment is Septimus Smith, a WWI veteran, who is mentally unsound due to the war. There are many, many other walk-by characters including Septimus’ wife, but mostly name dropping of how many people Clarissa knows. A royal limousine passes and an airplane flies over so there’s a bit of chitter-chatter. Clarissa gets back home where she thinks some more – about Sally, her teenage love, about other people, love, clothes, Buckingham Palace. She’s not a thinker of ideas – she’s rather shallow so it’s generally all about people and things.
There were no “chapters” as such in the version I read but the hours are ticked off as the day goes by.
Yes, it’s a lot like Ulysses, James Joyce’s magnum opus, which I’ve read twice and don’t love but do admire – I probably don’t really “understand” the half of it. In some ways Woolf mimicks Joyce in the “day in the life of…” approach as well as the stream-of- consciousness. But I think she expanded on it in her own way, too.
Rather than Stephen, Leopold and Molly types, Woolf used a woman with nothing particularly intellectual or sexy about her thoughts. The thoughts of Septimus Warren Smith are not really about reality. Clarissa’s thoughts are completely steeped in feelings and emotions – some thinking about other peopel. – Septimus is lacking any feelings that he’s aware of – he thinks about his best friend in the war. Also Peter, Clarissa’s old love, and Lucreza, Septimus’ wife, seem to have minor inner dialogues. But there are probably a hundred named characters coming in and out of the action (such as it is) and some of them have some inner dialogue which is more than simply, “‘_______,’ he thought to himself.”
I also suspect Woolf thought she’d improve on Joyce by having her stream of consciousness come from a fairly normal but snobby and very social woman doing her normal things, (being an upscale homemaker), and a man who was made mentally ill from WWI. There are no twisted intellectual games like Joyce used in addition to his Irish history embedded in a parallel to The Odyssey. Instead, Woolf uses some very curious characters and intriguing insights.
And where the themes of Ulysses revolve around a quest or two in addition to memory, time, and sex, Woolf has her own themes which include time and memory, of course, but also the ravages of World War I, mental illness, love of various sorts and the role of women in society.
Reading Mrs Dalloway today gives an interesting insight to the times of post-World War I in England and I sense a connection to some of T.S. Elliot’s poetry and ideas – they did work together sometimes.
There are some really fine parts in this book – but other parts are just plain boring. I think it might be the kind of book a student would enjoy studying and taking apart in various ways but I’m really not all that interested at the moment – too many good books to read.