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Mr. Dalloway: A Novella by Robin Lippincott
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Mr. Dalloway: A Novella

by Robin Lippincott

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Whenever an author decides to write a sequel or continuation to a work someone else has written, a reader is always skeptical of the potential for egotism and for excessive deviation from the vaunted original. In the case of Mr. Dalloway, Robin Lippincott has attempted to continue the story of arguably the most radical and influential novel of the 20th Century, so perhaps its not fair to judge it in comparison to Virginia Woolf's masterpiece. But the fact that it's so hard not to is a part of what makes his novella fall short of its goals.

Taking on the idea of another "day in the life" of the Dalloway family, Lippincott's text takes on the 30th anniversary of Richard and Clarissa's marriage, following several characters through the machinations of London life amidst the backdrop of Richard's secretive plans for a large celebration of the occasion. Perhaps the most radical change from Woolf's text is that Richard is gay -- and Clarissa is, significantly, okay with it. His lover Robert, however, finds himself tortured over the affair, and his crashing of the anniversary and the inexorable drawing together of the three figures is what propels the novel forward.

The question of homosexuality in early 20th-Century London is obviously at the center of the novel, and the question of Richard's authenticity as a person parallels nicely with the question of the authenticity of the story as an extension of Woolf's narrative. Lippincott does not, interestingly, attempt to outdo or even redo Woolf: he is content to write in his own distinct style, borrowing the stream-of-consciousness sliding from character to character in a more judicious way. The shifts in perspective don't operate nearly as smoothly as they do in Woolf, which is to be expected, but perhaps most disconcerting is the lack of anything deeply interesting to say for much of the text. Long stretches seem to flounder and fail to go anywhere, only underscoring Woolf's mastery at detailing the mundane.

More unfortunately, Lippincott never manages to convince the audience that Richard is a plausibly gay character -- like Robert, the scenario itself feels perpetually out of place, though it is a reflection of Clarissa's own lesbian leanings from Woolf's text. Robert's struggle seems to be shockingly immature and unconvincing, falling somewhere between half-hearted bribery and full-fledged identity crisis, but never ringing as true as Clarissa's own experiences. Furthermore, Robert is figured as an object of suspense, which trivializes the significance of gay identity as a central theme: we wonder more what the gay man is going to do than what will develop between Richard and Robert, if anything, by the end.

While the effort is interesting, and extremely personally satisfying to Lippincott himself, the reader is left to wonder if it is really necessary. It would be hard to argue that Mrs. Dalloway really needs anything more to it, since it is such an effectively self-contained document, and Mr. Dalloway seems to betray that quality by leaving the audience sadly unsatisfied in the end.
  dczapka | Feb 23, 2009 |
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A day in the life of Richard Dalloway, husband of Clarissa Dalloway, the heroine of Virginia Wolf's novel, Mrs. Dalloway. A retired member of parliament, he lives in permanent fear of discovery, being a homosexual. He has confessed to his wife and she understands.… (more)

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