Virginia Woolf – Mrs Dalloway

As I said in a recent article about the French writer Françoise Sagan, I haven’t read much books writen by a female author these past two years (5 among 50) and I felt kind of bad. Picking Woolf’s book was a great choice: I’ve seen her “A Room of One’s Own” as a theatre play and really enjoyed this clear, thoughtful discourse with the 1920’s England as a dim background ; Mrs. Dalloway could be seen at the reverse: the English upper class’life constitutes the spine of the novel, with human and societal reflections being here as reactions from the characters.

In this book we follow a whole day through the eyes of many characters, whose every remembering is an occasion for narration. My favorite is Peter Walsh that we see wander across the city, after he visited his former lover and now friend Clarissa Dalloway : I found in his thoughts the exquisite balance between the memories of his past life, the questionning they bring to him about his past and present desires and life choices ; and the little details one lets himself dragged to while walking in the street with an concerned mind, as when he remarks a girl and follow her, fantasizing for a few meters.

 Well, I’ve had my fun; I’ve had it, he thought, looking up at the swinging baskets of pale geraniums. And it was smashed to atoms – his fun, for it was half made up, as he knew very well; invented, this escapade with the girl; made up, as one makes up the better part of life, he tought – making oneself up; making her up; creating an exquisite amusement, and something more. But odd it was, and quite true; all this one could never share – it smashed to atoms. p59

These constant back and forth in the past make the present plot hard to follow, as the number of narrators and the unnotified changes in the point of view : I think I missed a few important themes of the novel (mental-illness, homosexuality), founding in Mrs. Dalloway a great expression of the solitude one might feel when surrounded by people, questionning this everlasting quest for company.

 A terrible confession it was (he put his hat on again), but now, at the age of thirty-three, one scarcely needed people any more. Life itself, every moment of it, every drop of it, here, this instant, now, in the sun, in Regent’s Park, was enough. Too much, indeed. A whole lifetime was too short to bring out, now that one had acquired the power, the full flavour; to extract every ounce of pleasure, every shade of meaning; which both were so much more solid than they used to be, so much less personal. p87

And they went further and further from her, being attached to her by a thin thread (since they had lunched with her) which would stretch and stretch, get thinner and thinner as they walked accros London; as if one’s friends were attached to one’s body, after lunching with them, by a thin thread, which (as she dozed there) became hazy with the sound of bells, striking the hour or ringing to service, as a single spider’s thread is blotted with rain-drops, and burdened, sags down. So she slept. p123

Clarissa had a theory in those days – they had heaps of theories, always theories, as young people have. It was to explain the feeling they had of dissatisfaction; not knowing people; not being known. For how could they know each other? You met every day; then not for six months, or years. It was insatisfactory, they agreed, how little one knew people. p167

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