Mrs. Dalloway | book review

22742741Title: Mrs. Dalloway
Author: Virginia Woolf
Publisher: Hogarth Press
Publication Date: May 1925
Rating: 4 stars

Wow, look at that! Alyssa actually read something other than YA. Amazing, isn’t it? Yeah, I know I read a lot of YA…it’s just what I’m into. Such a prestigious English major, aren’t I? Well, being an English major, I have a ton of lit classes, one being Major Authors. This semester, the class is on Virginia Woolf, so I’ll be reading tons of her work. The first novel we read was Mrs. Dalloway. This is the first work I’ve ever read of Woolf’s, and my first significant experience with stream of consciousness writing. It took me a long time to read…when reading this type of literature, I have to read slowly and really focus. Oftentimes, I have to read a sentence over and over until I can actually understand what it’s saying. That being said, it really was not as fun to read as my darling YA novels. I gave it 4 stars because it’s one of the better classics that I’ve read.

Mrs. Dalloway is about, yep, you guessed it – a lady named Mrs. Dalloway. Clarissa Dalloway is planning a party, so she goes out to buy some flowers and prepare herself for the evening. Some of her old childhood friends are in London that night and are planning on attending the party, including Peter Walsh, the man who has been desperately in love with Clarissa since they were young. That is pretty much the entire plot of this story. However, this is a stream of consciousness novel, told in third-person omniscient, so the perspective shifts quite frequently. In fact, the majority of the novel is about different characters’ thoughts and memories. There are no chapters, and very few breaks in the writing, even when the perspective shifts, so sometimes it takes a moment to realize you’re now reading the thoughts of a new character.

Even though I found myself bored and skimming sometimes, I really liked this novel. I highlighted tons of quotes and was quite eager to reach the end, to see what happened to the characters. The book is about growing old and reflecting on the past (oftentimes being stuck in the past), and thinking about all the “what if”‘s: what would my life be like if I had done this, said this, etc.

True, it was hard to read, and I didn’t get as into it as I do with my YA fiction, but I was surprised at how easy it was to relate to certain characters, and the honesty of their thoughts. I think it’s interesting to read stream of consciousness works because it reflects how our minds work – we see or hear something, and it reminds us of something else, which reminds us of something else, which reminds us of something else, which brings us back to our original thought. I love it. Although it’s a challenge, I’m excited to read more of Woolf.

Favorite Quote(s):

“Nobody lives for himself alone.”

“Far away he heard her sobbing; he heard it accurately, he noticed it distinctly; he compared it to a piston thumping. But he felt nothing. His wife was crying, and he felt nothing; only each time she sobbed in this profound, this silent, this hopeless way, he descended another step into the pit.”

“It was jealousy that was at the bottom of it – jealousy which survives every other passion of mankind.”

“But nothing is so strange when one is in love as the complete indifference of other people.”

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7 thoughts on “Mrs. Dalloway | book review

  1. Mrs. Dalloway is as interesting as it is daunting, however it’s not intrinsically a difficult read, it’s just different to what most readers are used to. You’ll fall into that style of writing really fast, and as you pointed out, Woolf overflows with amazing quotes which make her worth the effort. “To The Lighthouse” is slightly more accessible and no less profound, well worthy of your time. If you are set to read a lot more of Woolf for your class it’s interesting to pay close attention to her narrative voice. She doesn’t just relate the experiences of her characters, she gives them her own artistic ‘stamp’ as it were. Her narrative voice is almost like a translator, turning base English into high poetic.

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  2. Mrs. Dalloway is one of my favorite books! I see that the first quote you list is about Septimus, who is such an interesting (and tragic) character…I definitely understand how stream of consciousness can be difficult to fully comprehend at times. It can get confusing but its also incredibly fascinating. William Faulkner is also known for his stream of consciousness technique, particularly in The Sound and the Fury.
    Happy reading!

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    1. It earned four stars because it’s pretty much one of the only works of stream of consciousness that I was able to get through. And I did find a lot of ways to relate to the characters. And yes, it’s the only one I read in that class because I found it impossible to keep up… Oh! I read about ten of her short stories though.

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  3. Loved this book when I read in college, and reread the book many years later, and loved it again; also saw the movie with Vanessa Redgrave in the 90s, but on recently listening to the unabridged novel as an audiobook, certain flaws surprised me. For example, her hostility to Mrs. Kilman just seems cruel and pointless. Was Mrs. D so spoiled and self-centered that she felt no compassion for a woman who surely must have suffered terribly as her native England went to war against her ancestral homeland, Germany?

    And, the dripping hatred with which Woolf describes Dr. Holmes is also unfounded. That depiction of early psychiatry is unfair; to this day, schizoid breakdowns remain poorly understood. Holmes only cares about pleasing the family (who get tired of the mentally ill person’s behavior), and therefore prescribes unnecessary isolation and long periods of enforced physical inactivity to the detriment of his patients’ health. Sylvia Plath similarly demonized mental health professionals, who even in less enlightened times, knew enough not to show off their happy family lives to their depressed clients.

    Mrs. D’s comparison of herself to Septimus makes no sense. To what trauma has she been subjected, which would rank with Septimus’ horrific experiences in combat?

    Peter Walsh’s background confused me: “Anglo-Indian”? Is the woman whom Peter first married Indian or English or both? Is the woman whom he now says he loves English or Indian? When they are described as dark, did Woolf mean that they were Whites sun-tanned from an outdoors life in a sunny hot climate, or were they of an entirely different culture? Or were they Whites who were not of the same social class? Neither woman is considered of any interest socially. More details would have been helpful.

    Anti-imperialism underlies the story; Septimus’ promising life is destroyed in the war, as is most of Europe; Clarissa regards India (and other non-European countries) as a bore; Peter’s imagined conversations with Clarissa help him to cope with decades of living outside England; an unpleasant guest is an advocate for moving young men returned from war to Canada, rather than assist them in finding new opportunities, demonstrating how little the empire appreciated their sacrifices in the end. But Woolf could have developed both her anti-imperialist and her antiwar viewpoints more strongly.

    At the conclusion of the novel, Peter still loves Clarissa even after 30 years.

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