yoli's Reviews > Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
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's review
Nov 24, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: 2007, school-thesis
Recommended for: lovers of semi-colons and minutia
Read in December, 2007 , read count: 4

My reasoning for reading this book are three-fold:
- I'd tried once and gotten about 3/4 of the way through, but never finished
- It is by Virginia Woolf, who was discussed in Ursula LeGuin's Steering the Craft , a book about writing, as an example of great use of sentence length and complex syntax
- Woolf's A Room of One's Own was discussed in my literary theory class as one of the seminal books of Feminist theory, and Mrs. Dalloway is very much a women's novel focusing in on a singular day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway

What I've that it contains all of the above, and more. It's actually one long continuous piece with only a few section breaks. There are no chapters and nothing to separate one passage from another, save the occasional double line break and corresponding half-inch of blank space between two paragraphs. In such a way all the different narratives, all the different points of view, all the different characters, are brought together as a seemingly endless thought--punctuated by momentary breaths of air. In the introduction Maureen Howard mentions a metaphor employed at the beginning of the book: the metaphor of water, of swimming, of "taking a plunge."

That is precisely what the reader does: you plunge into one June day in the lives of all these characters, the day Clarissa Dalloway is to give her party, and follow them through their thoughts and actions, both the mundane and extraordinary. Woolf's epic sentences, containing semi-colon sandwiched fragments, force you to take a big breath before plunging in, because often times you forget what she's said at the beginning far before the period is within sight. We're swimmers not quite prepared for the strength her literary tide. Those half-inches serve as helpful intermissions for us to gather our thoughts and catch our breaths before continuing.

That being said, at the end of this marathon I find myself both connected to and disconnected from the story of these characters. I will have to read it again to better understand, but from what I've gleaned first read-through her fame is not undeserved. There is a brilliant understated passion to her descriptions and word choices. Woolf is absolutely deliberate in her gestures, forcing us, as readers, to be more perceptive of subtle nuances and to consider each critically. This isn't a casual stroll, or shouldn't if you really want to experience the complete story.
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