Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

If you enjoy reading literary fiction, take a look at this novel.  It impressed me so much that I want to re-read it, underlining keymrs dalloway passages in the paperback copy which I bought, and I’ve already started reading literary analysis of the book.

The novel, set in London not long after World War I and taking place on one day, follows the thoughts of its major characters, including Clarissa Dalloway, a middle-aged woman from the upper classes, Peter Walsh, the man whose marriage proposal Clarissa refused years before, and Septimus Smith, who was “shell-shocked” during the war and now faces the possibility of being sent to a mental institution.  Peter unexpectedly visits Clarissa, leading her to think about the state of her marriage and about her former relationship with Peter. Throughout the novel, Woolf so strongly emphasizes the passing of time that the movie based on Mrs. Dalloway was entitled “The Hours.”

A summary of the plot is totally inadequate in explaining the appeal of the novel.  According to a statement on the cover of the copy which I read, it “located the enormous within the everyday; that a life of errands and party-giving was every bit as viable a subject as any life lived anywhere and that should any human act in the novel seem unimportant, it has merely been inadequately observed.  The novel as an art form has not been the same since.”  To me, the book’s strengths are the excellent writing and the fascination of following the characters’ changing thoughts, which often move quickly from gloomy fears of aging and eventual death to absolute delight and memories of long-past events.  A character may even go from one opinion to the opposite view during the course of the day.  Almost every paragraph contains at least one quotable, thought-provoking phrase or sentence.  While it isn’t hard to follow the plot of this short novel, it is not an easy read.  However, this complexity and depth played a large role in my appreciation of Mrs. Dalloway, which richly repays a careful reading.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

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