Melissa Rudder's Reviews > Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
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's review
Jan 23, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: master-s-exam
Recommended for: Leah
Read in August, 2008

With its innovative and personal style, privileging of mundane occurrences, fragmented structure, and characters that teeter on the margins of the social and psychological norm, Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway epitomizes the Modernist movement of the early twentieth century. But I don't hate it. I don't even grudgingly acknowledge its worth while carefully avoiding having to lift its cover again. I absolutely love it.

The narrative of Mrs. Dalloway, which is often described as wave-like, flows throughout London, seamlessly traveling between different characters' subjective realities and the outside world. Unlike the "Wandering Rocks" chapter of Ulysses, which also follows various characters' outings in a busy city, Mrs. Dalloway did not leave me feeling like an overstimulated and disjointed marathon runner. It was dazzling not only to watch Woolf's expert portrayals of the interplay between the shared, observable world and individual subjectivity (I love the car and plane episodes!), but also to watch her spread her web of interconnected characters across London. As a reader who very very rarely appreciates setting, I could not help but admire the way that Woolf's flawless narration made London come alive for me, with a heartbeat that sounded like Big Ben and a breath that swept characters to Clarissa Dalloway's door and inspired reflections on the past.

Clarissa Dalloway is a dynamic and complex heroine. Unlike most heroines I admire (like Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice, or Clarisse from Fahrenheit 415), who intellectually dwell on the sidelines of their society, keeping an ironic or critical distance, Clarissa hungers for society. But she isn't just an immature party-planner and social plotter (*cough* Emma Woodhouse *cough*) either. Sceptical about society and empathetic to the core, Clarissa does not simply have parties for her own gratification. They are, as she says, an offering. Cynical, self-critical, and aware of the pain around her, Clarissa plunges into the world seeking and spreading joy. And I love that.

There's so much more to say about this novel. It is a meaningful and moving post World War I novel. The character of Septimus Smith, a veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder as well as his society's failure to understand his condition, is as moving as Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon's poetry. It is also a novel about middle-age, after the expectations of youth are baffled by the pressures of the world. It is a novel about friendship, communication, death, life, marriage, and, perhaps most of all, those fleeting but all-important moments of being that make everything else worthwhile.


"Life itself, every moment of it, every drop of it, here, this instant, now, in the son, in Regent's Park, was enough."

"It is a thousand pities never to say what one feels."

"For she had come to feel that it was the only thing worth saying--what one felt. Cleverness was silly. One must say simply what one felt."
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