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Mrs. Dalloway Paperback – January 1, 1990
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As Mrs. Dalloway prepares for the party she is giving that evening, a series of events intrudes on her composure. Her husband is invited, without her, to lunch with Lady Bruton (who, Clarissa notes anxiously, gives the most amusing luncheons). Meanwhile, Peter Walsh appears, recently from India, to criticize and confide in her. His sudden arrival evokes memories of a distant past, the choices she made then, and her wistful friendship with Sally Seton.
Woolf then explores the relationships between women and men, and between women, as Clarissa muses, "It was something central which permeated; something warm which broke up surfaces and rippled the cold contact of man and woman, or of women together.... Her relation in the old days with Sally Seton. Had not that, after all, been love?" While Clarissa is transported to past afternoons with Sally, and as she sits mending her green dress, Warren Smith catapults desperately into his delusions. Although his troubles form a tangent to Clarissa's web, they undeniably touch it, and the strands connecting all these characters draw tighter as evening deepens. As she immerses us in each inner life, Virginia Woolf offers exquisite, painful images of the past bleeding into the present, of desire overwhelmed by society's demands. --Joannie Kervran Stangeland
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Woolf is a superb writer; perhaps one of the greatest of all time. And this may well be her best work, made all the more impressive by the fact that she used the stream of consciousness technique that jettisons many of the rules most readers are familiar with. There are no chapters, for example, and many of the most important sentences are so short and simple, by design, as to be overlooked. I won’t say it’s difficult to read but you do have to get used to it.
The storyline has been well documented by other reviewers. Set in London following the First World War, we follow the day of Mrs. Dalloway, hostess extraordinaire to the “ruling class”, and the wife of an English bureaucrat in the upper crust of the British government but who will never quite grab the golden ring of appointment to the Cabinet. The achievement and the shortcoming both define him in equal measure.
There is a long list of characters, many of them quite minor, but to whom Woolf devotes considerable print. That, I believe, is quite by design, because each represents a different representation of the human reality that we each, at some level, accomplish something, but that none of us ever quite realize complete and utter fulfillment. We choose who we are but can never quite choose who we ultimately want to be. It is the duality of human existence and there are no exceptions.
Even Mrs. Dalloway, who has devoted her life to living in the present, faces the same existential dilemma. She is admired by some, tolerated by others, and quite disliked by a few. She is, in a word, human and, as a result, she is both defined and burdened by her duality.
One of the characters is Septimus Warren Smith, a young veteran of World War I who suffers from what we now call PTSD. He is, in terms of the storyline itself, a minor character, to the point that many have questioned his inclusion. To me, however, he is a central character and the book couldn’t exist without him. And even Woolf herself admitted, when challenged on this, that he was the double of Mrs. Dalloway.
Smith is central, it seems to me, because if Mrs. Dalloway hides the doubt and ambiguity of her life successfully, he loses himself to the same ambiguity quite obviously. They are quite like yin and yang, the complementary forces of light and dark, fire and ice, the masculine and the feminine. One cannot exist without the other.
In the end it would be difficult to describe this work as uplifting. It is life. And life, as Woolf reminds us, despite pockets and moments of glamour, is always a bit messy and dispiriting. Life is a duality. Tragedy occurs alongside grace. Doubt inevitably accompanies hope. Can there be the joy of success without the crush of failure?
All told I think this is a superb book and if you have any interest in exploring the duality of our existence there is a great deal here, in what is a relatively quick read.
While an interesting meditation, and an insight into the ultimate tragedy of Virginia Woolf herself, it lacks any type of traditional plotting and tends to meander at times, even with the tight page count. I liked it and give it 4 stars.
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I have been unable to post my comment without giving the book a rating so I have given it a nominal 1 star which is an over-rating in my opinion.
We all also watched the film with Vanessa Redgrave and Rupert Graves (but thought the casting poor but brilliant at the same time) and agreed that Eileen Atkin's adaptation was masterful. Many found the film really helped in their understanding of the book (somewhat unusual).
As a book club book it and the film were great because they generated a great deal of discussion about the content, the times and PTSD. We all agreed that reading it was a little tough but that we are appreciating it more and more afterwards as we think about it. Definitely recommended.
I have since bought the Penguin classic version from Kindle and this is fine. I am enjoying the read.
Doesn't warrant a star rating but had to give a minimum of 0ne to submiy this review.
Do not buy this version.