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Mrs. Dalloway (Vintage Classics) by Virginia…

Mrs. Dalloway (Vintage Classics) (edition 2004)

by Virginia Woolf

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6501114,827 (3.85)71
Title:Mrs. Dalloway (Vintage Classics)
Authors:Virginia Woolf
Info:VINTAGE (2004), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 208 pages
Collections:Read, Your library
Tags:Classics, Read in 2012

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Mrs. Dalloway (Annotated) by Virginia Woolf



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"Did it matter then, she asked herself, walking towards Bond Street, did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely?"

Mrs Dalloway drove me nuts.

The odd thing is that I could not wait to start this book because there are some terrific books and plays that make reference to Mrs Dalloway. Most memorable to me is Michael Cunningham's The Hours, later adapted for the big screen by David Hare.
I loved that film. How could I not be excited about the book that inspired the film?

So, I got myself settled with the book and tried to follow Mrs Dalloway's train of thought as she goes about her day, trying to organise her party. And this is where I struggled. I am in awe of the way that Woolf constructed the novel and used the concepts of following Clarissa's thoughts for a day to convey all sorts of issues ranging from her doubts about herself, her relationship with her husband, her relationship with her friends, her past, her regrets, her fears, her thoughts about the significance (or insignificance) of the individual, etc.

"But what was she dreaming as she looked into Hatchards' shop window?"

The flip side of following her thoughts was that it was hard to follow the snippets of information and to make connections between the different thoughts. Not that I shy away from a challenge! It is just that the triviality of some of it made me want to go to Regents Park, find Clarissa, and tell her to get on with organising her party.

"It was her life, and, bending her head over the hall table, she bowed beneath the influence, felt blessed and purified, saying to herself, as she took the pad with the telephone message on it, how moments like this are buds on the tree of life, flowers of darkness they are, she thought (as if some lovely rose had blossomed for her eyes only); not for a moment did she believe in God; but all the more, she thought, taking up the pad, must one repay in daily life to servants, yes, to dogs and canaries , above all to Richard her husband, who was the foundation of it—"

Of course, it was part of Woolf's point, that the banality of everyday life held significance. That routine and small acts were a straw to clutch when the big questions and dreams of youth had dissolved, and when one's heart no longer felt connected with anything.

"She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible; unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only this astonishing and rather solemn progress with the rest of them, up Bond Street, this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway."

Luckily, Mrs Dalloway is not the only important character in the book. There is also Septimus Smith.

"London has swallowed up many millions of young men called Smith; thought nothing of fantastic Christian names like Septimus with which their parents have thought to distinguish them."

Septimus is a veteran of the First World War and Woolf - admirably - depicts him as one of the many young men who have returned from the war suffering from the experience.

"The War had taught him. It was sublime. He had gone through the whole show, friendship, European War, death, had won promotion , was still under thirty and was bound to survive. He was right there. The last shells missed him. He watched them explode with indifference."

Unlike Clarissa, Septimus does not have anything to put his heart into. Everything he did love died either with the war or in the war.

"It might be possible, Septimus thought, looking at England from the train window , as they left Newhaven ; it might be possible that the world itself is without meaning."

So, while Clarissa ponders about life from an emotional perspective, Septimus analyses life with some detachment. Both stories are told separately and intertwine only once - but crucially - when nostalgic and feeling Clarissa shows her shrewd unfeeling side, and Septimus decides to stop thinking things over.

"What does the brain matter," said Lady Rosseter , getting up, "compared with the heart?"
( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
While I read this book I felt that I was being consistently put off by the writer on actually developing a plot of some cohesive nature. I am wondering based off of this particular book if I am not a fan of classical literature and if I should avoid it as such. The characters had interesting elements to them, especially when compared with the times that this was created. I specifically found the "christian" character to be interesting as it was almost as if Woolf was chastising religion during a time where it was not as often under scrutiny as it is today. I just wish the book had felt more like it had a point to be written or maybe it was lost on someone like me. We all have our favorites though and I can see how this could be someone else's favorite book, but for me it was lackluster. Still I consider it a gem of a book for some reason and cannot fathom giving it below the three stars I have given it. ( )
  SoulFlower1981 | Jan 20, 2016 |
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 |
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:51 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

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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