Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Does it sound familiar? Because it should, and it is the book I will be reviewing today. So I came across this book accidently and decided to give it a go. Virginia Woolf is extremely famous, right? So it must be good. That is exactly what I thought when I saw the author’s name on this mysterious book’s cover.
First things first, this book is the definition of bizarre, strange, weird, preternatural… I started reading waiting for everything but this. To be completely honest, I don’t even know what exactly creates these eerie vibes. Perhaps it’s the way it’s written, or the characters’ thoughts. Probably both. This book is also absolutely unique and I perused this book and beguiled from its original writing style. It’s a “stream-of-consciousness” novel. This means that there is no concrete story, but the writing represents and depicts what the characters are thinking. I guess you could call it a “mental” or interior monologue. It’s a very interesting and even modern choice of Virginia Woolf to have chosen this unique point of view for the story. The first person is commonly intertwined with the third person with using also at times the free indirect speech (there is no introductory verb nor subordination, but it is written like oral language which can show the reader a character’s personal thoughts in the third person), creating this absorbing narrative confusion, but also captivating since we get to know all of the story’s characters’ thoughts at different times throughout the book. I said that this book was modern because of this ingenious style, but it’s also avant-garde because of the topics are implicitly related to in the book.
As I said before, in this book there is no explicit story, meaning that it doesn’t follow the usual narrative schema (initiating action, rising action, climax…). But don’t worry, this story isn’t dull, quite on the contrary (I wouldn’t be reviewing it if it really was tedious by the way, but you never know!!!) and things do happen.
This whole story takes place in a day and its protagonist is an English woman of about fifty years of age living in London named Mrs. Dalloway, also known as Clarissa Dalloway. She is married to Richard Dalloway, a rich man who has a high position in the English government. They have a teenage daughter called Elizabeth. Albeit Richard is a kind and calm man, he struggles to display and interpret his love for his wife who he loves. But this love is sadly not reciprocal since Clarissa only married him for financial comfort, and married him although she was in love with another man: Peter Walsh. Peter Walsh in this story denies his love for Clarissa several times but he then claims that he is in agony for being in love with her. Peter Walsh isn’t capable of having long and sturdy relationships with women, probably due to this. He left for India, at the time a British colony, hoping to make a fortune in finance but unfortunately this attempt resulted in a debacle. The story takes place when he comes back from India, slightly discomfited. In very the beginning of the story Clarissa Dalloway is buying flowers for herself which is the story's most famous passage. She is also doing something she enjoys very much; preparing for a party that will take place that evening withholding many important people from the upper class, such as the Prime Minister. She loves parties and is paranoid about making a good impression, and is what we would call superficial. Her daughter, unlike her, doesn’t enjoy parties as much as she does and likes politics, the countryside and praying with a woman named Mrs. Kilman.
Clarissa Dalloway is a unique character. She is extremely passive, contemplates death, and thinks about what would have happened if she would have married Peter Walsh. She isn’t a joyful, jubilant character. She says that she might have been in love with an eccentric friend of hers called Sally Seton, whom she kissed and spent a lot of time with when she was young. Apparently with age Sally became more ordinary, got married and gave birth to five children. But what is strange with Mrs. Dalloway, is that Clarissa and Mrs. Dalloway aren’t referred to as the same person. Mrs. Dalloway, is a politician’s wife, who strives to make a good representation of herself. Clarissa quotes Shakespeare, is mentally stuck in the past and cannot stop thinking about the good old days. This schizophrenic
metaphor adds a whole new feeling to the book. But the oddest thing about the book is Septimus Warren Smith. He is the only character that never encounters Clarissa Dalloway throughout the entire story. Septimus suffers from severe post-traumatic-stress-disorder (also called (mental) shell shock) due to experiences in the First World War to the point that he hallucinates, is very paranoid and has a preternatural ideas abo world. He is married to an Italian woman named Lucrezia and he used to be a phenomenal poet with bright prospects, but everything turned around once he came back from the First World War. His wife, after a doctor’s orders, points out things to him in the everyday world, because he is ill to the point that he feels as if he is not part of the physical world, but is in his own little internal world. He has no hope in the world and believes that everybody is cynical and malignant even though he sometimes has moments where he states how beautiful the world is. Septimus is a very important character in this story because surprisingly he is Clarissa’s doppelgänger. They have a lot of things in common; they are very passive (Septimus is stuck in the world of the war and keeps seeing his dead friend, Ethan) people, they both love Shakespeare and quote from him and they cannot help but contemplate death. In the end, something happens to Septimus that profoundly marks Clarissa and changes her point of view of things. But since this is a spoiler-free book review, I shall not say what happens.
Also in this book, it is crucial to know that this story takes place during the period of the Interwar (after WWI but before WWII). Although the Allies won during WWI, so consequently Britain won, a wave of failure goes by Britain. They had sacrificed so many lives to protect and preserve England that they were in a period of decline. Also, women were demanding equal rights. All of this is implicitly referred to in the book. Between Richard Dalloway, the Prime Minister, Hugh Whitbread (a pompous friend of Mrs. Dalloway’s who has an unknown position but works for the Queen) we are plunged into a political atmosphere, but at the same time, we see Clarissa Dalloway, at home, going to buy flowers, which represents this domestic life, atmosphere that was beforehand mostly attributed to women. It is known that Virginia Woolf was seriously mentally ill and committed suicide in 1941. Septimus himself is severely mentally ill even though his doctor claims that he is not ill at all. Woolf wanted to show how indifferent psychologists/psychiatrists were towards their patients and if you read this story, you will realize the consequences that this indifference can has…
This book is from the early 20th century so evidently, the language resembles more to our common, everyday language than Wuthering Heights (go check out my book review on this book!) for example which is from the 19th century. This book is also very short, it’s only 170 pages, so if you don’t like lengthy books, this book is perfect for you. I would say that the only difficulty in this book is the “stream-of-consciousness” style in the beginning. It takes some getting used to, especially if you have never read books from Woolf before, but in the end, it’s definitely worth it.
So that is it for today’s review! I hoped that you enjoyed it and that I made you want to sprint to your local bookstore to have this book in your possession. This is also one of those classics that you need to read at least once in your life. Don’t forget to follow me on Google+ , where I post literature related posts, and to like and share this blog post! See you next time! ʕ⊙ᴥ⊙ʔ