Top positive review
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A book to keep on your shelves forever.
on April 25, 2015
How can such ordinary mental trifles of urban and modern Western civilization be so interesting and revealing when spotlighted by a genius author? Why do I continue to be fascinated by the ordinary and sometimes extraordinary relationship dramas preceding a shock of a self-revelation, or a sudden recognition of another's folly which delusion or willful blindness had hidden from awareness?
Every character in 'Mrs. Dalloway' appears to be in much turmoil over domestic concerns and their overarching urban society, and their place in their small acre of social Earth. They are seemingly temporarily distracted and heartened by beauty, only to be swept away repeatedly by nagging interior fears, anxieties, shames - social duties vs. doing something that matters, pursuing being 'in love' vs. comfortable stability, having a simple nature (which seems to represent a sedated obliviousness) vs. a complex nature (which seems to mean having a nervous sensitivity people are cautioned to control by whatever means they have - family, duty, rituals, religion, parties). Woolf's characters are so frustrated, unhappy or uncertain with their choices or conduct, or upset about the decisions of others, I wanted to step in and tell them the issue was not as huge as they felt (except Septimus who, I think, has lost all ability and resources for self-control - not his fault). However, as we all know, it is easy to diagnose the solutions or wonder at the worry of other people; not so easy when actually the person living behind the eyes!
Circumstances definitely trap us into lives we uneasily embrace. Problems overwhelm real joy, so people settle for a mask of joy. People can protest, but protest is often a pyretic option, as poor Septimus thoughts show. (He cannot accept the horrors of war he remembers, so he is conducting an interior struggle to reject reality - the worst response, and unfortunately involuntary because of traumatic war events.)
'Mind' is functionally solipsistic, despite any fact of social community or reality. It is a sad thing. Was this the point of the novel? I don't know, but it's my conclusion about the insularity revealed by the characters in Woolf's stream-of-consciousness representation in this novel.
Some reviewers saw, as I did, that Virginia Woolf's underlying theme, because of the era she lived, of exploring how thinking, although maneuvering over and managing the usual unruly desires and needs of life, was starting to spin off course from the old usual rutted paths in a post-WWI British world. The Vietnam War was also an American social earthquake. The same disturbances of truisms, tropes, customs and beliefs occurred here as a result. I lived through it, and I still come up snarling over certain perceived injustices or mores which used to be either ignored or papered over by traditions and customs. I see no difference in how WWI is beginning to subtly undermine the certainties of English society as the characters reveal their startled doubts and sudden new patterns of judgement in 'Mrs. Dalloway' and in how the Vietnam War affected American society in the 1970's. The upheavals in politics, social classes, religion and expectations of a predictability to the 'permanent' Universe are the same.
Not everyone will be as admiring as I and many other readers are when they read this book. It is an experimental (and a very successful one, polished and mostly complete) Modernist genre, utilizing a stream-of-consciousness architecture. It is one of the most accessible of its kind, which has been noted in other reviews, and I agree. I could find some resonances between myself and the characters, which isn't always true when the literary requirements are that the characters be written to serve more as symbols than they are expected to be fleshed out.
I will be re-reading this novel again in the future. It is a keeper.