Book Review: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
A quiet novel that packs a punch as you spend a day with Mrs Dalloway who is preparing for a party. The life she has lived, the mistakes she has made, the men and women she has loved are all revived through her recollections while a young solider grasps to find a thread of sanity to hold onto.
Mrs Dalloway, or Clarissa, as I feel by now that we are on a first name basis, lives a life one may consider frivolous. The novel centres on a day in her life in which she is throwing a party for her husband. During the course of the day while preparing for this party, she reminisces about her youth, her mistakes, her loves, her daughter and her husband. Of course, this sharpened by the reappearance of a gentleman suitor from her past that has reappeared.
Clarissa's life is contrasted with the lives of a young couple, with the gentleman, Septimus suffering severe post-traumatic stress disorder after the war, in a time where doctors did not have a name, much less a treatment for 'shell shock.' Rezia, his beautiful, young Italian wife is desperately trying to hold on her marriage and her husband who she knows is slipping away.
Analyses and review abound for this novel and its one to immerse yourself in, letting the words and themes flow over you. Due to the nature of the book, which is like peeling back layers of the characters and finding parts of yourself underneath, I have decided to include below some of my favourite quotes and how they link back to the text or my thoughts and feelings. I am happy to have a discussion regarding what you may have gotten out of the novel, as it can be subjective to each reader but I do ask that you be respectful in the comments below.
Virginia Woolf has a way of infusing Clarissa's inner self with the exterior world, whether it's through nature or the activities in which Clarissa is engaged. Throughout this novel there is an overarching melancholy, a feeling of what does it mean to be here, what meaning can we find, and even though we are surrounded by people, whether they be strangers, or family, or long lost friends, we can still feel very alone and afraid. It's a reflection of the innermost thoughts of many different characters and the paths that they take, the choices that they make, which help shape who they are and make them different from each other. The reoccurring theme of nature, in particular, the sea, may reflect the things we as humans cannot control, that are as wild and untamed as the thoughts we have.
This is a quote I particularly like, drawing once again on nature. This is a quote that Clarissa reads from a book while considering what to get as a gift for a sick friend. "Fear no more the heat o' the sun" is repeated in the novel and I like the inference here to Icarus and flying too close to the sun, with the fear of getting burnt. If you fear getting burnt, you may never have that glorious feeling of living, of feeling, so to speak, the sun's warmth. Or possibly even in the context of the novel, feeling as though you shouldn't fear happiness (the sun) nor should you fear the unhappiness/anger/desperation (winters rages). Both make us who we are.
This quote is a long one but it sums up perfectly being a female in my opinion. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others, with what we want to look like, with wanting equality, to be considered clever, to have wealth and power. The use of the words 'instead, narrow, ridiculous ' implies that the main character is not happy with the way she does look. We are so influenced by how society views beauty that we cannot see beauty in our own traits. She allows herself a compliment with nice and feet and being good with what money she does have, but she feels small and insignificant, as if who she is as a person doesn't matter. She was (and still is) a wife, a mother and now that those stages of her life have matured, she has nothing special left to give, she is no longer Clarissa, nor Mrs Dalloway, but property of her husband. I personally feel as if there are milestones we have to meet, go to school, go to uni, get married, have kids, and once those milestones have been checked off, we race to the next one. Once we run out of milestones, who are we? We are mothers and wives and respected colleagues (hopefully in this day and age) and I hope to think that we are able to find self-worth, separate from being a mother or wife or colleague but what if we struggle and forget along the way?
This is possibly my favourite quote from the novel. Clarissa is mending her dress for the party and I love the comparison of the pleats of the dress to the waves of the ocean, how the ocean waves become collect the negative thoughts, with the heart surrendering to the pull of the waves, the calm of the falling waves, letting fears go and washing over you. The wave breaking signal release from the fear that was trapped in the heart. Nature isn't raging nor is Clarissa feeling lost at sea like the quote above implies. She is relaxed and calm, in surrendering to nature, she is free once again.
Her writing is just gorgeous and once again, a nod to nature. This quote is in reference to Rezia, Septimus' wife. She is perhaps a younger, optimistic version of Clarissa, while facing unimaginable fears for the well-being of her husband. Septimus views her, maybe for the first time in a long time and this scene is actually a gentle moment between the young couple with Septimus contributing to Rezia's work.
Both the quote above and below is how Peter views Clarissa. He sees her, despite her faults (I am not referring to the ones regarding her appearance above, but unlikeable traits in her personality that Peter points out throughout the novel in an attempt to discourage his feelings for her). The fact that he sees the real Clarissa, for who she was as a person, not just a hostess who could dazzle the crowd, but her presence and effect on his life alone is compelling enough for him. The simplicity of 'there she was' sums up the whole novel rather nicely. This woman has been examined, through her past and her present actions throughout, by herself, those around her and by the reader. She may lose parts of herself at times but she is a complex individual and not just a typical housewife. Or rather, she is a housewife who has a life and a past and friends, failures and triumphs and her life has meaning and importance. Everyone's life has meaning and the contrast with Septimus and his wife demonstrate how sometimes it can be hard to hold on to that.
I read Mrs. Dalloway during the 24in48 readathon and interestingly enough, even though it was a shorter book, it took me roughly the same amount of time to read The Cruel Prince (400 pages) as it did to read this (197 pages). The writing in Mrs Dalloway is definitely dense but if you can stick with it, it's worth it, especially if you read The Hours afterwards, which I also read in the readathon.
Have you read Mrs Dalloway? Or do you have any other recommendations by or inspired by Virginia Woolf? I would love to know your thoughts and recommendations in the comments below.