Mrs Dalloway is a book that I have started, put down and started and put down a thousand times. After graduating with a degree in English I am not quite sure how I managed not to read it until now but, now that I have ill have a go at reviewing it.
So just to start with, here is a quick summary from my Wordsworth Classics copy –
Virginia Woolf’s singular technique in Mrs Dalloway heralds a break with the traditional novel form and reflects a genuine humanity and a concern with the experiences that both enrich and stultify existence. Society hostess, Clarissa Dalloway is giving a party.
Her thoughts and sensations on that one day, and the interior monologues of others whose lives are interwoven with hers gradually reveal the characters of the central protagonists. Clarissa’s life is touched by tragedy as the events in her day run parallel to those of Septimus Warren Smith, whose madness escalates as his life draws towards inevitable suicide.
I did find the book a little difficult to get into at first and so had to return to some advice my mum gave me as a kid when I started reading Lord of the Rings at aged nine. “If a passage confuses you, read it twice and then move on – if its important it’ll slot in, if it’s not it won’t matter.” It was the best advice I was ever given for tackling new texts. This was a tactic I had to employ a lot with Virginia Woolf’s novel, not because the text was necessarily difficult but because of how it was written. Mrs Dalloway is written from the point of view of each of the characters switching from one to the other in a stream of consciousness style. This can make it difficult to get into when reading it, however once you have settled in to the style you are transported and are well and truly in the minds of Woolf’s characters. A true form of escapism into someone else’s world.
The imagery throughout is beautiful, taking you into little corners of London and showing it in ways you had never thought of before. The writing really truly does draw you in to the world and time of Mrs Dalloway and her contemporaries. You see the world from their point of view, through their memories and personalities, from Septimus’ depressive and manic states to Hugh’s ambition and pompousness.
I have to say, although I found the book difficult at first as a reader who enjoys chapters and structure (even though I write more like Woolf) I became inevitably sucked into this world. I enjoyed learning more about the characters, their pasts and the way this influenced how they see their lives and the world around them. I’m going to leave the academic reviews and insights into the meanings and interpretations of Woolf’s texts and characters to those much cleverer than me. Overall it was a fascinating way to travel London in the summer of 1922 and I would recommend this book.