Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

It’s been years – no, decades – since I read any Virginia Woolf. And I’d be hard pushed to say what of hers I’ve read, apart from A Room of One’s Own (and when it’s so long ago, I’m not sure it counts).

Anyway, Mrs. Dalloway was in the reading stack and seemed like a decent starting point for Novella November.

People have written theses about what is considered to be Woolf’s greatest novel, so there’s little that I can add. Nevertheless, some brief thoughts.

I found the stream-of-consciousness narrative to be at times mesmerising, and at times tiring and circuitous. The descriptions – of the simplest things such as the passing of time, the curl of cigar smoke, the tilt of a horse’s head – are nothing short of exquisite, and the story emerges from this lush staging.

And everywhere, though it was still so early, there was a beating, a stirring of galloping ponies, tapping of cricket bats; Lords, Ascot, Ranalagh and all the rest of it; wrapped in the soft mesh of the grey-blue morning air, which, as the day wore on, would unwind them…

But what struck me most about the story was how sad and alone each character was – trapped by their place in society, by love or the lack of it, by past trauma – such a lonely, lonely book.

Their marriage was over, he thought, with agony, with relief.

If I thought hard about these characters, Plato’s cave allegory popped to mind, and how we’re trapped by convention… but truly, I didn’t spend much time thinking hard!

She felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged. She sliced like a knife through everything; at the same time was outside, looking on. She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.

3/5 Persistence paid off (the ending was satisfying).

Bond Street fascinated her; Bond Street early in the morning in the season, its flags flying; its shops; no splash; no glitter; one roll of tweed in the shop where her father had bought his suits for fifty years; a few pearls; salmon on an ice-block.

I love salmon and will eat it however it’s served (but especially love smoked salmon blinis).

10 responses

  1. “and when it’s so long ago, I’m not sure it counts”. With good books I (sometimes) retain an impression, but I think you’re right. I’ve read a bit of V. Woolf, but over such a long period that I couldn’t say anything sensible about it. One of the advantages of blogging – it reminds you what you think.

  2. I re read this a couple of years ago and agree with you, the loneliness is everywhere. I found Clarissa’s marriage particularly sad, all the small acts that she missed. When I read it the first time I was just caught up in buying flowers in Bond St!

  3. I read this book and only gave it 2 stars, BUT I think I was in the wrong headspace at the time. I feel it deserves a second chance, especially now that I’m getting into the groove of novellas. So, I am going to switch it from “read” to “tbr” on GR and start fresh with it one fine day.

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