Geoff's Reviews > Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
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Nov 17, 10

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Virginia Woolf’s use of the interior monologue is so centered in the emotional, in the memorial, in contrast to say, Joyce’s, which is so much more playful, intellectual, historical, and prone to flourish. It drifts about from person to person, almost butterfly-like, alighting here and there and opening a window or cascading down a well of time or simply gazing through the gaze of the character. The characters that inhabit Mrs. Dalloway are very much examples of that quote about most people living lives of quiet desperation; the past breaks in waves over them and recedes, vanished possibilities speak up out of oblivion, the happiness or fears or regrets or pleasures of years gone by haunt all the motions and thoughts of this one fine June day. That is the perfection of this novel- the modern human mind is painted in all its magisterial complexity, the humanness of these beings is restored to the realm of grand myth. It is Proust’s idea of Lost Time (that lattice work under the skin of our every action) that is the narrative drive behind Mrs. Dalloway.

Proust is an obvious influence here, but only in subject and tone, only in the penetrating observation of human consciousness. Really, Woolf’s style shares little with Marcel, beyond an adoration of the semicolon bordering on obsession. There are no page long sentences or infinite clause structures. The writing is straightforward, but it is her language, her rich, elegant, lyrical English that sets her apart. This is a symphony. If the classical view of a successful work of art is unity, wholeness, stability, then surely Mrs. Dalloway is a classic. Nothing is missing here, and nothing seems out of place; rather, it is a careful composition which builds and builds while always referring back onto itself, always interrelating but also moving forward at the insistence of Big Ben’s “leaden circles dissolving in the air”. Time is as much a presence as the Dalloways or Sally or Peter or Septimus, and time in this novel is an elastic, dilating, consuming, restorative force. It interposes itself with a heavy fist or it gently tugs someone back to a idyllic moment in their youth, but it always acts as it does in reality- not as a steady, measured thing, but as an aspect of an emotional state.

The novel is also a great constructor of space. The streets of London are alive with multitudes, the parks are buzzing with lovers and strollers and animals and bird songs and vibrating trees, the sunlight and the clouds impress their forms on every scene. Life is pulsing always, thought is pulsing always- a great living force is at work in these words. I have not been as emotionally invested in a novel since Proust, and at times it carries one away. Woolf has nailed that feeling of vague nostalgia for what could have been in our fleeting lives, what wasn’t, the potential joys or alternate selves we sacrificed in following one path and not another, that always seems to pursue us in particularly pensive moments; but just as much she gets at what sustains us, the happiness that overflows into our every day, the small pleasures and the great sensations and memories that help us endure; not only endure, but rejoice.
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message 1: by Brinda (new) - added it

Brinda "I have not been as emotionally invested in a novel since Proust, and at times it carries one away."

SOLD.

Adding this to my list now.
Wonderful review.


Geoff Thanks Brinda. I really can't see you being disappointed with this book. Just lush, lovely stuff.


Eric ...alighting here and there and opening a window or cascading down a well of time...

...and time in this novel is an elastic, dilating, consuming, restorative force.

Beautifully stated!


Geoff Thanks Eric. I feel like I could have gone on and on about why this book was so perfect. I didn't even mention the fact that it is such a striking example of a post-war novel, how it could be seen as a gathering together of the fragmented consciousnesses destroyed/dispersed/afflicted by WWI, and the question of how Europe was to go on (the whole idea of the Wasteland and what was possible following disasters global and personal), nor did I mention the parallels Woolf draws between schizophrenic Septimus and Clarissa's thoughts and experiences during the day (Septimus and Peter Walsh were my favorite minds to drift in and out of, something about Peter reminded me so much of myself), nor did I mention it is a lovely study of mature people facing their later years, addressing their insecurities but approaching old age as an ennobling virtue because of the variety of reflection and diversification of personality it allows. You pretty much said it anyway in your review:

The “voice of the hostess,” reflects Peter Walsh (Clarissa’s glum old flame), is one “reluctant to inflict its individuality.” To Walsh, not always able to get on with others, “individuality” is sacred, the starry virtue that sponsors his moody habits. A sociable aesthete like Clarissa knows we’re dividual, divisible; no unified self deserving comprehensive validation and expression, but many “sides”—some tiresome, irrational, hurtful, stupid, mean; “sides” programmed by hurt beneath our minds; “sides” necessarily suppressed by the aesthetics of self presentation and the moral etiquette of living among others. Part of being a grown-up is a salutary contempt for some of your feelings; Clarissa’s grievance at not being invited to Lady Bruton’s is base, is beneath her; she’s right not to let it distort her for too long. The effortfully composed, self-edited Clarissa can sympathize with Miss Kilman’s hardships but she cannot accept that Kilman has chosen to make an emotion as unattractive, as limiting and narrow as grievance the keynote of her personality, the mold of her features. I read novels to see characters surmounting or succumbing to bitterness.


Bram Great stuff, Geoff. Makes me want to pick up another Woolf novel--maybe it's finally time to try The Waves.


Geoff Thanks Bram, I really love your thoughts on Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, too. There is something so Proustian at work in Woolf, but she has certainly made it something of her own. I feel like I have neglected her for no good reason all these years, and the next few months might bring on an inundation. Lighthouse, A Room of One's Own, The Years and The Waves all are looming.


Barbara Great review. Mrs. Dalloway is amazing. Woolf's writing was brilliant in that novel. I read The Hours right after I finished Mrs. Dalloway and there was no comparison. Woolf knocked it out of the park; Cunningham wasn't even in the ball game.


Geoff Thanks Barbara, I'm thinking A Room of One's Own or To The Lighthouse should be next...


Barbara I read To the Lighthouse, also a while back. It's also terrific, but in my mind didn't reach the lofty heights that Mrs. Dalloway did. Even so, it was well worth the read.


message 10: by Bram (last edited Nov 19, 2010 06:28AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bram I suspect that Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse are equally brilliant, and it's generally the one you read first that remains the favorite. While I prefer To the Lighthouse, I think this is probably due to the fact that it was my first experience with Woolf and therefore the most wonderfully transformative.


Barbara You may very well be right! Bottom line: you can't go wrong with either one.


message 12: by AC (new) - rated it 5 stars

AC A really magnificent review, Geoff...! This book has me dizzy...


Geoff Thanks AC! Yeah, this one's pretty much as good as it gets. I feel like Mrs. Dalloway exists at that meeting point between really high level craftsmanship and utter understanding of humanity. Woolf just nailed what it is to be a thinking, feeling being...


woodfaeries This review is absolutely amazing. Well done, sir.


Geoff Merci, stumbelina. This book is one of the best. Strangely, as much as I adored this, I haven't yet taken on another of Woolf's novels. I have a lovely hardcover edition of To The Lighthouse that I am listening for the siren song of, but it hasn't yet called me strongly enough. For some reason I feel I can pace Woolf's novels, like I'm letting them discover me.


message 16: by Eric (new) - rated it 5 stars

Eric For some reason I feel I can pace Woolf's novels, like I'm letting them discover me.

Lighthouse will eventually find you, and blow your mind.


message 17: by AC (new) - rated it 5 stars

AC Geoff wrote: "Merci, stumbelina. This book is one of the best. Strangely, as much as I adored this, I haven't yet taken on another of Woolf's novels. I have a lovely hardcover edition of To The Lighthouse tha..."

I'm at *exactly* the same place as you... I guess we'll have to listen to Eric soon...


Jason This review is amazing.


Geoff Thanks Jason! Amazing books sometimes elicit proportionate responses..


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