Monday, September 08, 2008


Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf, Harcourt Inc, 1925, 190 pp

Mrs Dalloway is not a person I would care to know or hang out with, so despite my readiness to be impressed by Virginia Woolf's fiction, I found this book a long and sleepy go. The story covers one day in the life of Mrs Dalloway. She is giving a party in the evening in her home in London, a society affair, so we follow her through the day as she gets ready and through the party itself. A few other characters are also living through that day in London, though not all interact with Clarissa Dalloway.

One of these characters is Peter Walsh, a former flame whom Clarissa almost married 30 years earlier. You get back stories on all these characters which makes the one day a device for telling several stories at once and for taking up topics such as love, marriage, careers, society, politics and the Great War.

I was reminded most of Jane Austen in the style of writing and the subject matter, though the story is in the 20th century. According to the introduction to the edition I read (Harcourt Annotated, 2005), Woolf was part of a whole group of writers including T S Eliot, D H Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield and James Joyce, who were each attempting to modernize poetry and the novel. Due to Sigmund Freud also publishing at that time, psychology was a big subject, though Woolf, who had mental issues herself, did not care for or respect her male doctors' application of psychology to her. This aversion comes through in Mrs Dalloway.

In any case, I have now read the book; I will read the rest of her fiction one day. I consider it part of my literary education. Since My Big Fat Reading Project begins in 1940, I have missed almost half of the 20th century, so I will have to fill that in eventually. Next in this particular study is to read The Hours by Michael Cunningham and then see the movie.

Here is a quote from Woolf's essay "How Should One Read a Book?: "The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions."

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