Beth's Reviews > Mrs Dalloway

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
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's review
Oct 24, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: library, stupid-me, slow-progress, classic, october-2011, something-different, a-specific-taste, subjects-i-know-nothing-about, beth-is-all-grown-up, wish-i-hadn-t-read
Read from October 25 to 31, 2011 , read count: 2

Mrs. Dalloway is an easy book to admire, but it's not an easy book to like or - dare I say it? - love. At least, not to me.

It is a series of vignettes. This is the first problem I had with it - I couldn't help but feel that Woolf tried to do so much, using a frame that was more like a series of interconnected short stories than a true whole. Was that the point? Perhaps the fragmented narrative was supposed to show the disconnection between the characters, the intense internal world that most of them inhabited vs. the real world that they were all wandering through. Still, I couldn't help but feel that that idea was best suited to a collection of short stories. I've seen a lot of people praising Woolf's insight, the way that she can encapsulate a broad range of emotions. Yet that was my fundamental problem with "Mrs. Dalloway" as a novel. The range is so broad, so sprawling, that it almost undermines the true moments of insight, such as the almost awful segment from Miss Kilman's perspective; her relentless binge-eating, as a comfort from a life of disappointments and shortcomings, is so viciously but brilliantly rendered that it had me cringing in my seat, but the impact of it felt lessened by the fact that I'd waded through 150+ pages before then of quite samey characters with quite samey narratives.

As I was saying, I liked "Mrs. Dalloway" in parts. The title is strange; it's not just a character study. Well, not one character. There are multiple characters, all of whom get quite similar moments in the limelight. The focus is more intensely honed on Peter Walsh or Septimus than Clarissa Dalloway herself. In addiiton to this, "Mrs. Dalloway" felt overlong to me. Despite being fairly short, it felt like a total slog to get through in parts. Although it takes a broad scope (the rich, the poor, the lucky and unlucky are all swept over by Woolf to a greater or lesser degree), most of the characters reflect on their predicaments in very similar. There are long memories of how their lives were; ruminations on how their lives are; loving evocation of London around them; more reflecting on the past; some unfair judgement of those around them; a brief, confusing topic shift and then a melodramatic high point punctuated by an exclamation mark!

Again, maybe Woolf is making a point about how all characters, whether rich, poor, shell-shocked or smug cycle through the same thoughts, how people really are alike all over. Still, this just felt so repetitive - the repetition is clever to begin with, showing how the same thoughts recur (Clarissa's hatred of Miss Kilman was great), but in the end, it just becomes a drag - and done in such an overlong, overheated way that I couldn't bring myself to care for any sustained period of time. Forget beating a dead horse -- Woolf pulps it. That brings me back to the scope and range of "Mrs. Dalloway": the emotions that the "Mrs. Dalloway" covers are, by nature, intense. But the length of the novel and the number of characters diffuses the intensity to such a degree that I just feel weary and irritated by it all. This is compounded by the fact that it covers a single day; the characters have thoughts that are strung together in a fairly coherent whole, but they are split up over a range of 20 pages before we return to them, which means that I can hardly remember it all.

I guess I was just too stupid for the deeper meanings of "Mrs. Dalloway."

Still, the setting of London is lovingly and evocatively told, and the final conversation between Sally Seton and Peter Walsh is lovely, a perfect encapsulation of what it feels like to meet people that you haven't seen in years, and - I imagine - what age must feel like. The book as a whole is sad but not morbid, both 'life-affirming' and affecting. The humour is fantastic - I found myself laughing out loud at some parts, but I wish it could have shown up with a little more frequency. In parts, the prose is so true that it actually hurts. My favourite section, without a doubt, is the final one:

"I will come," said Peter, but he sat for a moment. What is this teror? what is this ecstasy? he thought to himself. What is it that fills me with extraordinary excitement?
It is Clarissa, he said.
For there she was.
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Reading Progress

10/26 page 9
4.0% ""For it was not her one hated, but the idea of her, which undoubtedly had gathered into itself a great deal that was not Miss Kilman." Loving this already."
10/26 page 10
5.0% "Mmmm...cherry pie."
10/29 page 67
39.0% ""[She had] that extraordinary gift, that woman's gift...of making a world of her own wherever she happened to be.""
10/31 page 153
89.0% "[On the prime minister] "He looked so ordinary. One couldn't laugh at him. You might have stood beside him and bought biscuits - poor chap, all rigged up in gold lace. And to be fair...he did it very well. He tried to look somebody.""
10/31 page 171
99.0% ""For what can we know of the people we live with every day? Are we not all prisoners?" - you know, Woolf, this damn book would have been a lot shorter if you'd just written that all over 172 pages."
02/02 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Tatiana (last edited Oct 31, 2011 03:02PM) (new)

Tatiana Woolf is a very hard writer for me to like. There is something about her writing style that is too incoherent to enjoy. Like you said, maybe not everyone is smart enough to "get" her.

message 2: by Cory (new)

Cory Tatiana wrote: "Woolf is a very hard writer for me to like. There is something about her writing style that is too incoherent to enjoy. Like you said, maybe not everyone is smart enough to "get" her."

Same here. I think her life, and diaries, are fascinating, but I can't get into her work. I read one of her short stories for school -- one about a house or something, or was it a poem? eh -- and it left me wondering if I was an idiot. Kind of like with Franny and Zooey or anything by Hemingway and Faulkner.

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