Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Genre: Classic Drama
Edition: Paperback, Martino Fine Books
Length: 214 pgs.
“Mrs Dalloway” is a novel by Virginia Woolf that details a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a fictional high-society woman in post-World War I England. It is one of Woolf’s best-known novels. Created from two short stories, “Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street” and the unfinished “The Prime Minister,” the novel’s story is of Clarissa’s preparations for a party of which she is to be hostess. With the interior perspective of the novel, the story travels forwards and back in time and in and out of the characters’ minds to construct an image of Clarissa’s life and of the inter-war social structure.
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Be aware that this is one of the longest reviews I have ever written. =]
Mrs. Dalloway takes place over the course of one day, in which Mrs. Dalloway flutters around town in order to perfect her party that takes place that night. But the story also revolves around other characters such as Richard Dalloway, her husband; Peter Walsh, her old friend; and Septimus Warren Smith, a WWII veteran, and his wife.
Do not be fooled by the shortness of this novel, by its length or its time, because it a very complex novel that follows several streams of consciousness. If you do not enjoy classics, do not ever go near this book. However, if you delight in studying characters and like a little bit of complexity, this is the book for you.
There are many things that puzzle me about Mrs. Dalloway but the most obvious one is the ending and how conflicted I feel about it. From the beginning we are clear on the fact that Mrs. Dalloway is the “definition” by which our protagonist, Clarissa Dalloway, is being defined but I wonder if this decision of her choosing to be “Mrs. Dalloway” was the correct one. Throughout the novel, we shuffle from Clarissa’s and her husband, Richard Dalloway’s, perspectives as well as a friend from her past, Mr. Peter Walsh and I wonder if Peter would’ve been the better choice for Clarissa. Their minds process their relationships as we read on and each of them seems to have their own thoughts about the kind of person Clarissa was and is today. Personally, I prefer the Clarissa that Mrs. Dalloway once used to be, for she was much more outgoing and friendlier in my opinion, even if a bit old-fashioned.
Richard, Clarissa’s husband, is more of a simpleton. He doesn’t have a lot to really offer and he seems to be “satisfied” with everything in his life, even Clarissa. But I wonder if and why that is enough for Clarissa. Their relationship is an honest one, for they both share deep feelings for each other but Clarissa’s brief relationship with Peter brought out more in her than her marriage with Richard. Clarissa, it seems to me, choose the easier road by marrying Richard. Peter Walsh was a man who knew everything, wanted to know everything if he wasn’t sure and being with him, Clarissa gets challenged. When she sees him at her party, she describes him perfectly:
“He made her see herself; exaggerate. It was idiotic.”
Peter Walsh saw Clarissa. Richard only knew her, by her own words and actions. Peter was essentially the “bad boy” in this triangle (though I hesitate to use the word) because with him, she would have struggled but I also think she would’ve been a better person. With Richard, she is just being “kept.” Again, the only word I can come up when describing how they feel about each other is “contentment.” I don’t consider being happy being “content” so although I wouldn’t mind being “content” in life, I would always attempt to pursue the ultimate happiness and I think despite the fact Peter can be a bit much at times, Peter would’ve attempted to make Clarissa truly happy in their life together.
Peter at one point says,
“But it would not have been a success, their marriage.”
At this point, I was willing to take his word but I wonder though—is he simply saying that because he couldn’t have her anyway? Or does it truly think it? Perhaps I’m just wishing too much because Clarissa can, at times, seem like a snob. Richard knew this for he knew her after so many years of marriage,
“…she wanted support. Not that she was weak, but she wanted support.”
I don’t consider Clarissa a snob but she can act really snobbish at times. But then again, if she had married Peter, she could have been different. Who knows? If you read this book, I would love to know your thoughts! I am far too conflicted about this and cannot stop myself from thinking.
Now, to briefly talk about the other characters. Septimus Smith—he’s a WWII veteran suffering from what we have discovered today to be “shell shock.” He keeps imagining the death of his old friend, Evans, and his new, young Italian wife, Rezia, doesn’t understand what to do to help him. Septimus is a really sad character that I just could’t stand reading about because of what eventually happens to him. The two “doctors” who diagnose him really made me furious because no one, not even these “professionals,” attempted to understand what Septimus was suffering from. Rezia, his wife, is an immigrant and new in London, terrified of being left alone. Dr. Holmes, one of Smith’s doctors, keeps telling her to let them put her husband in a “home” when he threatens suicide and Rezia is scared of being left alone. I don’t understand her character very well, she sort of disappears by the end and I feel immense sympathy for her situation though I can’t help but wonder if she contributes to Septimus’ condition by constantly feeling aggravated by having to deal with him.
Then there’s Elizabeth, Clarissa and Richard’s daughter, who isn’t much in the novel so I don’t have much to say about her except I don’t really understand how she can be so easily persuaded by Mrs. Kilman’s, her tutor, opinions. Mrs. Kilman, oh my—she is a frustrating, selfish, bitter old woman. I feel bad for the way people have treated her but at the same time, her attempt to “take” someone else’s daughter is a bit much. And all those religious beliefs about “knowledge comes from the flesh”—oh, do not get me started on that. I am on Clarissa’s side on this, which was also surprising—the fact that Clarissa was an atheist—because I expected her to be among those who always followed all the rules of the society.
Sally, Clarissa and Peter’s old friend, is quite a hypocritical character. She seems fascinating through Clarissa’s younger years but in the “present” timeline, she seems to have thrown away all her beliefs and is living a life that I never expected her to have. Her brief encounter with Clarissa also seems very intriguing but too bad, once again, Sally just seemed more scared than Clarissa to do anything about it.
I have a lot of more thoughts actually but I’m going to wrap it up here but clearly, as you can tell, I have a lot to say about this book. Which means I clearly loved it. It’s a harder read but oh, it is a good one. I can go days talking about this book, seriously. But like I mentioned before, I would not recommend it to everyone. If you enjoy classics that are largely shaped through streams of human consciousness, you will like it but if you find them too hard, you will struggle greatly with this book so read if you are interested but don’t force yourself to do so.
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