Mrs. Dalloway is a novel I’ve been tentatively meaning to read since I first saw and then read The Hours. After picking it up at my library’s annual book sale a few weeks ago, I finally got around to doing just that—of course, now I’ll have to go back and rewatch The Hours to refresh my memory of that but even from my vague memories of the story there, I can tell that it did a fantastic job of incorporating this source text through the three stories that novel interwove. I was surprised, however, to find that it isn’t a favorite of the handful of Virginia Woolf works that I’ve read so far.
Clarissa Dalloway is giving a party and she has some last minute preparations to take care of before everyone arrives in the evening. Through the course of her day, she glimpses other people going about their days and the narrative flits from her perspective to theirs. One of the most significant occurrences during her day is the reappearance of Peter Walsh, a man who had proposed to her shortly before she met and married her husband and with whom she had been in love. Memories of their younger selves and their impressions of each other, then and now, create an intriguing tension as the evening builds.
Considering the fact that the book is titled Mrs. Dalloway, I was surprised when so much of the narrative was spent out of her physical presence—and yet, she is still very much felt in many of the conversations. That said, I think the interior thoughts and plot that I found most interesting and engaging were those pertaining to Septimus and Lucrezia Smith. Again, they still managed to tie into Clarissa Dalloway and her party neatly by the end and there’s a thematic link between their emphasis and hers—but simply in terms of where in the narrative I felt most engaged, it was with their struggles. Of course, by the end, that seems to be the point—the show, the artificiality of the party and the Dalloways’ guests when compared to the existential crisis being suffered so strongly by Smith and, to a lesser extent, Clarissa Dalloway.
The questions of what it means to love, how to love, and what a person needs in order to live rise and permeate the interiorities of pretty much all the perspectives presented within the narrative and with so many available, they’re examined from every angle. The examination of perspective and circumstance actually reminded me of Atonement and the way that meaning and interpretation are very much projected onto those with whom we interact. It’s something I think we need to be reminded of from time to time—and actually, perspective of a different kind is also a theme that creeps up within the text.
While Mrs. Dalloway is a literary critic’s dream—it has symbolism, themes, and style that continue to keep academics analyzing, debating and writing almost a hundred years after its initial publication—as far as personal enjoyment when it came to plot, I was underwhelmed. Definitely something to revisit once I have rewatched or reread The Hours as it feels like a piece I’ll better appreciate in conjunction with its impact and influence than on its own.