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Mrs. Dalloway (Vintage Classics) by Virginia…
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Mrs. Dalloway (Vintage Classics) (edition 2004)

by Virginia Woolf

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602916,247 (3.8)71
Member:Amy7
Title:Mrs. Dalloway (Vintage Classics)
Authors:Virginia Woolf
Info:VINTAGE (2004), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 208 pages
Collections:Read, Your library
Rating:****
Tags:Classics, Read in 2012

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Mrs. Dalloway (Annotated) by Virginia Woolf

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This was the first book I've read by [[Virginia Woolf]] and it won't be the last. [Mrs. Dalloway] is set on one summer day in London in 1923. But though the book only takes place in one day, Woolf manages to tell a lifetime of stories for her many characters in this one short book. The book revolves around Clarissa Dalloway and the party she is throwing that evening and the suicide of Septimus Smith, a war veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress (or whatever they would have called it then). Almost all of the action takes place inside the minds of the many characters that are introduced, which made for a very interesting and different way to read a book.

This is one of those books that I know I won't stop thinking about for a long time, though honestly I didn't connect with it at first. Woolf's writing is very lyrical, and I found myself reading whole paragraphs and then realizing that I had no idea what I'd just read because the words just roll along so beautifully. Once I got used to the pace I needed to read at, I was able to both understand the story and appreciate the language. I'm looking forward to trying out some more of [[Woolf's]] books soon. ( )
  japaul22 | May 13, 2012 |
Full review here: http://for-the-reading.blogspot.ca/2012/05/mrs-dalloway-virginia-woolf.html

I'll tell you a secret, but only if you promise not to let any of my professors in on it: I'm really not a huge Virginia Woolf fan. I know, pure heresy. I first encountered dear Virginia in high school, where I pretended to adore her for the sake of my know-it-all reputation, even though To the Lighthouse went so far above my head I could scarcely see it for the clouds. I've since read most of her canonical works with what I hope is a higher degree of understanding than my first attempt at To the Lighthouse, and I must admit that I've never been as smitten with them as most of my literature-aficionado friends. It's not that I dislike dear Virginia, and unlike so many online reviews of Mrs. Dalloway, I do not consider her work boring. In fact, I think her use of free indirect discourse is masterful, and from a political perspective, Mrs. Dalloway is fascinating - feminism and lesbianism pushed down by bourgeois values. But still, I don't consider myself a Woolf fan, and the reason why might actually be because of her pervasive influence on contemporary literature. Hold onto that reasoning, we'll get there eventually.

As to Mrs. Dalloway, it's as deceivingly simple a story as was ever penned. Taking place over the course of one day, Clarissa, our title character, prepares for a party, and Septimus, in an unrelated plot, copes with shell shock and eventually commits suicide. The plots entwine at the conclusion of the novel, during which Clarissa hears of Septimus' death, and while she appears somewhat envious of his ability to embrace death, she ultimately decides against committing suicide herself. The existentialist factor is high in Mrs. Dalloway; ruminations about the characters' isolation, the effects of past suffering, the passage of time, and the inevitability of death are constant throughout the novel. Taken with the clear critique on bourgeois repression, this novel is a loaded one.

Woolf once called Mrs. Dalloway an elegy, but it's a great deal more complicated than that. Septimus' death echoes the deaths of other soldiers in WWI, as well as death in universal terms. These deaths may result in some lamentation, but it's a decidedly quick lamentation. People move on, civilization continues, and flowers are bought in preparation for parties attended by politicians who puppeteered the wars in which said soldiers died. It can be fairly argued that perhaps in preventing Clarissa's suicide, Septimus' death is given a purpose, but Clarissa's own ambivalence undercuts this. I am not particularly convinced that Clarissa is made wholly healthy by the novel's conclusion, and Virginia Woolf's reflection on the process of writing seems to support this.

In the first version Septimus, who later is intended to be her double, had no existence; and that Mrs. Dalloway was originally to kill herself, or perhaps merely to die at the end of the party. Such scraps are offered humbly to the reader in the hope that like other odds and ends they may come in useful. - Virginia Woolf

So how are we to interpret this? Well, not being an especially optimistic person, the inevitability of Clarissa's death (perhaps via suicide, if not, certainly by natural means) looms still at the conclusion, and that society will continue unaffected afterwards seems highly likely. She may be mourned, but the party will go on, as it did after Septimus' death. Because of this, Mrs. Dalloway is not a nihilist's text, although it is certainly dark. The world of Mrs. Dalloway is not meaningless, perhaps a tad chaotic and certainly unjust, but meaning can still be gleaned in everyday existence, in simple interactions and fleeting moments. Clarissa's ultimate decision to enjoy the party after learning of the suicide is a brief reaffirmation of the enjoyment of life, given its ephemeral nature. Thus, Clarissa's declaration that she will buy the flowers herself may seem surface-level, but taken with the importance of class and gender roles in the novel as a whole, it becomes a moment of potential light in a very dark world.

Woolf's use of the third-person omniscient merged with indirect discourse enables an intimate understanding of Clarissa and Septimus, and also blurs the two characters through unclear transitions. This further links them, and to borrow Woolf's language, the doubling of these characters is embedded in the very writing style. Because of this, I ultimately derive pessimism about Clarissa's condition, but of course that is only speculation, and I welcome any dissenting opinions in the comments. One doesn't have to look too deep into Woolf's own history to see the likely inspiration for Clarissa and her plight, and perhaps knowing the circumstances of Woolf's death has unfairly shaded my interpretation of Clarissa and the conclusion of the novel.

Mrs. Dalloway has a lot of elements I generally look for in novels: fluid writing, compelling protagonists, political subversion. Why, then, do I not consider myself a fan? It's hard to pin down, but I would have to attribute it to a vague sense of I've-read-this-before-many-times-over. Virginia Woolf is extremely influential, one of the few female voices to have really infiltrated a very patriarchal canon, and because of this, she's echoed in not only the modernist tradition (and as a result, the postmodern tradition that reacted against it), but also the feminist tradition. There's so much of Virginia Woolf in the writings of Margaret Atwood, Simone de Beauvoir, Elaine Showalter, Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, and despite her criticism of Woolf, even Alice Walker, among many others, and in the course of my education, I encountered most of these authors well before I was introduced to Woolf and with greater frequency. As a consequence of this, the very tropes that Woolf popularized became familiar territory to me via her influence, and this may account for my general disinterest. Again, it's not that I dislike Woolf, and from a critical perspective I think Mrs. Dalloway is a pretty fascinating read, but it doesn't quite hold my attention. The deja vu feeling cannot be avoided.

I appreciate Mrs. Dalloway for the great effect it's had on modernist and feminist literature, but I suppose that, for the most part, contemporary works that have drawn inspiration from Virginia Woolf are simply more compelling to me personally. But I still recommend Mrs. Dalloway for those looking to get acquainted with a pillar of feminist literature, the source of what is now often taken for granted.
  AlysonofBathe | May 5, 2012 |
I can see why this is a classic and I'm very glad i read it. I both loved and hated it. Vacillated between disinterest and absolute absorption. I think it's one that must go on the "to be read again" list, in order to access all that it has to offer. The constant shifts in POV were challenging for me, but they seem central to the theme (or at least one of them) that life is POV, privilege, perspective, ---- that no two people can ever experience the same moment in exactly the same way. I recommend this highly, even though at times it will feel like a slog. ( )
  EBT1002 | Jul 10, 2011 |
I've had this for a long time. I first attempted to read it in 2003, when I was hanging out at The Space one day while Chris had a keyboard lesson. I made it to page 5. My bookmark was still in there.

It's a deceptively small book. I thought it would go somewhat quickly because of its length, but of course the style is very dense, and moreover that terrible pace took hold that happens when I'm not too interested in reading something. I won't read something else, since I want to finish, but I don't really read it either, since I don't love it, so... that's no help. And so it took absolutely forever.

Anyway, I thought I'd like it more. A lot more. I enjoyed and got a lot from two of her other books in the past couple years. Since this is the most famous I thought it would have the most to offer, but it really seems to be appreciated more as an art piece than a novel that feels amazing to read. A classic to write essays about: let's identify the flower motif, let's count the bells of the clock.* Pretty and poised and no fun. Too much the properties of the title character, I guess.

* (It was pretty awesome when she called the strokes of the clock "irrevocable.")

The problem is basically that no one here feels interesting or meaningful, even when their meaning is obvious. With all the points of view in such a famously omniscient narrative, you'd think someone would not be boring. But they all were boring. They all made me want the next person to show up. And that's a huge disappointment. In Night and Day, her characters were perfectly placed vessels for her authorial insight, and in To the Lighthouse, everything was so beautiful that every long moment with every person landed. And Mrs. Dalloway is chock full of this same insight -- I marked dozens of pages that said something fabulous -- but for the most part all of this was just Virginia Woolf being brilliant, and had little to do with whatever was there in the novel at that point. With some exceptions, these wonderful notes belonged much more to the author than to any person or place in the book, like she could have said them anywhere.

Also, I always thought it ended really, really differently.

The only place I loved any of these people was during the rich memories the characters share of their time at the summer home on the beach when they were young. Their recollections of their passionate friendships and silently tender moments, and the shorthand of shared knowledge that Woolf imparts them with, it's lovely every time. I was always happy to go back there with them and it's evocative to read. The pain of loving that time in your life more than any other time in your life, and the pain that it then changes forever. In certain ways it could be argued that this is the most important part of the book, therefore I should like the book, but... it's not, really.

So I didn't like it much. I doubt I'd like to reread it. But I'm adding a star for all the good things that get said here regardless. Because I like it that way. ( )
2 vote pokylittlepuppy | Jan 18, 2011 |
I made it about 30 pages through this book before giving up because I couldn't make heads or tails of what was going on. Also it was pretty boring, the amount that I read and kinda sorta understood. ( )
1 vote sandglass | Jun 25, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156030357, Paperback)

As Clarissa Dalloway walks through London on a fine June morning, a sky-writing plane captures her attention. Crowds stare upwards to decipher the message while the plane turns and loops, leaving off one letter, picking up another. Like the airplane's swooping path, Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway follows Clarissa and those whose lives brush hers--from Peter Walsh, whom she spurned years ago, to her daughter Elizabeth, the girl's angry teacher, Doris Kilman, and war-shocked Septimus Warren Smith, who is sinking into madness.

As Mrs. Dalloway prepares for the party she is giving that evening, a series of events intrudes on her composure. Her husband is invited, without her, to lunch with Lady Bruton (who, Clarissa notes anxiously, gives the most amusing luncheons). Meanwhile, Peter Walsh appears, recently from India, to criticize and confide in her. His sudden arrival evokes memories of a distant past, the choices she made then, and her wistful friendship with Sally Seton.

Woolf then explores the relationships between women and men, and between women, as Clarissa muses, "It was something central which permeated; something warm which broke up surfaces and rippled the cold contact of man and woman, or of women together.... Her relation in the old days with Sally Seton. Had not that, after all, been love?" While Clarissa is transported to past afternoons with Sally, and as she sits mending her green dress, Warren Smith catapults desperately into his delusions. Although his troubles form a tangent to Clarissa's web, they undeniably touch it, and the strands connecting all these characters draw tighter as evening deepens. As she immerses us in each inner life, Virginia Woolf offers exquisite, painful images of the past bleeding into the present, of desire overwhelmed by society's demands. --Joannie Kervran Stangeland

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:46:48 -0400)

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This novel explores the hidden springs of thought and action in one day of a woman's life. Virginia Woolf is direct and vivid in her account of the details of Clarissa Dalloway's preparation for a party. The novel was first published in 1925 by the same Hogarth press that Woolf and her husband founded.… (more)

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