Top positive review
5 people found this helpful
on 28 December 2017
I first read “Mrs Dalloway” some years ago and never really got on with it, deciding – incorrectly – that she was not for me. However, Virginia Woolf, herself, has always fascinated me and, having recently read, “The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, E.M. Forster and the Year that Changed Literature,” I decided that I needed to give “Mrs Dalloway” another try.“Mrs Dalloway,” was first published in 1925 and is set over one summer day in June, 1923. However, as Bill Goldstein writes in, “The World Broke in Two,” Woolf started to write it in 1922, while immersed in Proust and deciding to write as she pleased, regardless of opinion. Clarissa Dalloway is getting ready to host a party and the novel begins with her plunging into London, setting out to buy some flowers.
Along the way there are various characters and points of view, things that trigger memories (obviously, echoes of Proust here) and musings on the past, questioning decisions and thinking of how life could have turned out, if only various paths were not taken. On the day of the party, Clarissa meets Peter Walsh, recently returned from India, who she could have married, had she not rejected his intensity for the more staid, and successful, Richard Dalloway (although success is relative and, although Dalloway is a politician, he had not made a Cabinet position). There is also the adjacent story of Septimus Warren Smith and his Italian wife, Rezia. Septimus is suffering from shell shock and Virginia Woolf writes movingly, and knowingly, of both the trauma of mental illness and the difficulty of watching someone you love suffer. Septimus is told that he needs to get a hobby, that there is nothing wrong with him, that he should get out of bed – in other words, he should ‘get on with it’. There is no sympathy, no understanding and no help for those young men who returned home damaged. Indeed, the First World War is everywhere in this novel, in a country which bore the scars of the conflict in every memory.
Virginia Woolf writes beautifully in this novel. There is the ‘grand deception,’ practiced by hostesses when there is a, “profound illusion in the first place about the food – how it is not paid for; and then that the table spreads itself voluntarily with glass and silver…” There is the embittered, but pious, tutor, Miss Kilman, who found religion and gained, “sinister serenity,” and the wonderful phrases just roll endlessly from her pen and create a world that is both known and yet unknown. This is London; the parks, the shops, the crowds, the people. It is a way of life now gone, but still it shows how much hidden emotion surrounds us; with every person we pass containing their own undercurrents, their own stories, their own passions. All hidden, but still there, beneath the surface. This novel makes you look at the world differently and that is what makes it so immersive.