Mrs. Dalloway (thoughts)
I just finished my second reading of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and I find myself as enchanted as the first time. I’ve loved Woolf since I first met her when I was 16 (via Orlando, which I’ll be rereading next month!), and for me the opening pages of Mrs. Dalloway felt like floating on a current. I could give myself up completely to the prose and just bob along, relaxed and dreamy and full of thoughts. I realise that’s a mildly tasteless metaphor for Woolf, but I couldn’t think of a substitute…air is too thin for what I felt, and riding in any kind of transport too inorganic. A great many of my fellow book bloggers also read the book and are posting about it today, as the first part of Woolf in Winter (Sarah is the host for this book), and I’ve loved reading all of the posts. It amazes me how differently we can all react to the same book, and I think that says a lot for the richness of Woolf’s writing.
As for myself, I find Mrs. Dalloway to be a wonderful little book, one that validates the odd internal monologue I know I have going almost constantly, and I always finish it feeling hopeful. I think Clarissa has a wonderful life…she’s a character I’d happily become, since she finds joy in the little things, she’s well off materially, she has a good man as a husband, and a daughter who, while being troublesome in the way all teenagers are, is good as well. Moreover, Clarissa herself doesn’t seem to want more (which I think is the key to happiness)…the only real times she seems dissatisfied with her life is when Peter is there, making her feel petty. I think she looks back with nostalgia on her youth, but we all do that, and it’s not a sign that her life is pointless or wasted.
I was surprised how much I loathed Peter this time around. The first time, I found him mildly annoying, but this time, I was really angry with the way he seems to want to make Clarissa has dissatisifed with her life as he is with his. And he’s such a snob! But he really has no right to be a snob…it’s not as if he’s devoted his life to art or anything marvelous. Nope, he’s a civil servant whose hobby appears to be random love affairs with inappropriate women. I fail to see where he gets off judging Clarissa for anything! And I don’t think he sees her as she truly is; I think he’s projecting himself on to her. Since he wants more to life than a comfortable existence among the British upper class, she must to. After all, she was the great love of his life, and if she’s happy being conventional, what does that say about him? And whenever he’s around, Clarissa finds herself acting, which is as far from ‘being her true self’ as it’s possible to be. I want to banish Peter back to India, sending his self-righteousness with him.
While, for me, Clarissa is the heart of the book, I think that the Septimus bits are just as important. First of all, Woolf demonstrates her real power as an author; her way of capturing Septimus’ thoughts feels just as convincing as Clarissa’s, and the two couldn’t be more opposite. I love how I always know exactly whose viewpoint I’m reading, simply from the shifts in tone and focus Woolf makes. That being said, while Clarissa feels like a real person, Septimus feels more like a symbol to me. He represents the bits of England that were destroyed by the war, all of the young men that never came home, or the ones who always carried memories of the trenches. Whereas Clarissa and her circle are an older generation, Septimus seems to embody the dashed hopes of the younger one. They’re the ones who saw that earlier way of life break down, and they’re struggling to find a new value system. So while I appreciated Septimus and what he brought to the book, I couldn’t empathise with him as I did with Clarissa, and I didn’t really care when he launched himself out the window.
On the other hand, I felt so much for Rezia, his wife. I can’t imagine loving someone and watching him decline into insanity, desperately trying to help, but never knowing what could make it worse or better. Woolf further isolates her by making her Italian, an outsider in London, which makes her situation even more precarious. I often wonder what happens to Rezia at the end…I imagine her travelling back to Italy, to trim hats with her sister again. I hope she finds a new husband, one to have children with, since she seems to want to be a mother. But nothing can make her the light-hearted girl that she was before.
It’s funny…I find it difficult to blog about a book like Mrs. Dalloway! There’s so much I want to say, so many different aspects I could focus on. But I think I’ll save something for the next rereading. :) Now I’m off to read more of what my co-participants had to say!