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Woolf, Virginia: Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway (1925)
Author: Virginia Woolf
Genre: Literary Fiction. Classic
Pages: 288 (trade paperback)
Series: Stand Alone

Clarissa Dalloway, elegant and vivacious, is preparing for a party and remembering those she once loved. In another part of London, Septimus Warren Smith is shell-shock and on the brink of madness. Smith's day interweaves with that of Clarissa and her friends, their lives converge as the party reaches its glittering climax.

Past, present and future are brought together one momentous June day in 1923.

Why I Read It: Required reading for my Religious Themes in Literature class.

Aahh Virginia Woolf. I've been meaning to read this author forever because she is considered Important, and while I don't read classics very often (back when I was 18-19, all I read for that year was classic fiction and I've been kind of burnt out on them ever since -- I've yet to fully recover) I'm not someone who doesn't enjoy them on occasion.

This novel has me a little torn. When I first started reading, Mrs. Dalloway felt merciless -- I didn't understand what the hell was going on!! -- but I refused to clear things up by hopping over to Wikipedia or Cliffnotes. I wanted to be Smart, and therefore had to understand the book by myself. I gave up on that after about 20-25 pages. I do have to say, knowing all the characters' names and what the hell is their deal made the reading experience much more enjoyable. But do I want to read a book that makes have to do that extra research? Do I want to read a book that makes me feel stupid because I don't understand what's going on? Not really, no.

Part of what made the novel so hard to understand was the writing. Mistakenly described as "stream of consciousness", the style is *actually* called free indirect discourse. Basically, the prose jumps from character to character, giving the reader a glimpse into their thoughts. So one moment we'll be with Clarissa as she's walking down the street, next we'll be with someone who is walking on the same street and is observing Clarissa, then we'll be back to Clarissa again. This wouldn't be so bad if there was *some* indication that we were jumping around like this, but the text never let's you know -- it just happens and you have to be ready for it. It also does this jumpy thing when the character is reminiscing, or having a flashback; there is absolutely no indication in the text that this is happening, so you're just like "whaa?" and it can be frustrating. BUT, when I got used to it and got in the right frame of mind to read this, the style was much easier to follow and consequently easier to understand.

The novel is littered with unlikable characters, but I felt surprisingly ambivalent about some of them. For example, Clarissa is depicted as this shallow aristocrat who is concerned with little else besides her parties, but I think she was supposed to be redeemed by her moments of mindfulness, and I found her to be quite kind. I never really got behind Clarissa either though -- she was kind of just there. The character who resonated with me the most (and I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case with other readers) is Septimus. That is someone I can sympathize with and want to see get a good lot in life (although he doesn't -- poor Septimus). While his sections could be particularly difficult to decipher because of the hallucinations caused by his shell-shock, they were the more heart-wrenching for it.

Final Verdict: I'm still unsure just how I feel about this book. It does have a lot of beautiful moments, and I can see why it's become a classic, but it really was hard to read. I know that good books aren't always easy books, but this really felt like a chore to read at times. However, once I got used to the style it was much easier to follow and therefore more enjoyable. I think I'll have to re-read this one day, since I know the story fairly well now (especially after having talked about in my class) and I think I'll be able to pick up on the nuances that went over my head on this first reading, due to concentrating on just understanding what was actually going on. :)

Cover Commentary: I don't mind the edition I own (pictured above), but I actually have no idea what the hell it is. I just like the colour turquoise, which is prominent, heh. I quite like the Vantage Edition and the Oxford Edition, with the Oxford having a bit of an advantage.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 17th, 2012 04:26 am (UTC)
Have you seen the film The Hours? I did, which made me read the book of the same name it was based on, which then made me read Mrs. Dalloway, which inspired it. It's been forever ago since I did that, but going backwards was an interesting way to go about it. :)
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