Mrs. Dalloway, for Woolf in Winter

Taking up Mrs. Dalloway again felt a bit like settting sail on some remarkable ocean, where you embark gingerly at first, but soon get caught up in the gentle rocking motion of the wave, the ceaseless undulations of thoughts and impressions, the passing clouds of emotions and sensations which drift through the minds of Clarissa Dalloway and all the other characters who entwine with her life on this one ordinary day.

Such a remarkable novel, really, if one places it in the context of its day, where many novels were most often straightforward, moralistic, even a bit pedantic.  But Woolf changes all that with this novel, this fresh wind blowing across the world of literature, sweeping away the old in favor of sparkling new ideas.  This Mrs. Dalloway, this outline of a day in the life of one English woman, this book that heightens the emotions and actions and memories of a group of ordinary people in ordinary time and places them in their rightful place as paramount to the society in which they live.

So, while reading Mrs. Dalloway, I can’t help examining the trajectory of my own thoughts, wondering if the stream of my consciousness might yet turn into this exquisite bubbling brook that Woolf sets down on the page.   Sadly, my thoughts always reach a dead end, become dammed up before they explode into the myriad of beautiful reflections which emanate from Mrs. Dalloway’s compatriots.

Constructing an entire novel around the confines of one 24 hour period and one middle aged English woman must have seemed a dangerous risk to Woolf.  “I have to create the whole thing afresh for myself each time…it is the penalty we pay for breaking with tradition and the solitude makes the writing more exciting though the being read less so.”   With Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf took a brave step toward re-imagining the novel, a bold move at a time when people were shell-shocked from the wounds of the First World War, a world where people have yet to be lulled back into the complacency they felt before the shot heard ’round the world rang out.  Yet in the midst of Mrs. Dalloway’s fresh start, death still hovers…Septimus Smith, the young soldier whose emotional war wounds turn out to be mortal after all, the news of his suicide intruding upon the long anticipated party scene.   And Clarissa herself acknowledges for one brief moment the sense of hopelessness we all fall prey to on occasion…”She felt somehow very like him – the young man who had killed himself.  She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away.  The clock was striking.  The leaden circles dissolved in the air.  He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun.”

Pay attention, Woolf practically shouts at the reader, clocks striking the hours of the day away.  Pay attention to time passing, to people changing, to their neediness and pain.  Pay attention to the beauty that surrounds you, to the ideas of the moment and the memories of the past.  Pay attention, for like a broom sweeping across the precipice of the mind, it can in one instant be gone forever.

~for more impressions of Mrs. Dalloway, visit Sarah, this week’s hostess of  the Woolf in Winter readalong~

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14 thoughts on “Mrs. Dalloway, for Woolf in Winter

  1. You write so beautifully, Bookstack, and help to bring out what I seem to have missed in Woolf’s writing. I’m glad that you put that quote in there, and I like that you showed me that she reminds us to pay attention. Time is slipping, indeed, and who knows it more than a woman in her late 40’s (me) or 50’s (Clarissa)?!

  2. Becca, what a beautiful post. You are right, she IS telling us to pay attention, pay attention. This is why I must reread this, probably a few more times, not just once.

  3. Beautiful post, Becca! I agree with you – Woolf is claiming an importance for the details of the everyday – the thoughts, memories, physical ephemera, passing strangers, passing fancies that make up life. And excellent point about the lack of Victorian pedantry. Someone (I think Jason at Moored at Sea) brought up the idea that Woolf wrote for grown-ups; she’s not holding our hands. Which I find refreshing. Thanks for this.

  4. Pingback: Woolf in Winter: Mrs. Dalloway « what we have here is a failure to communicate

  5. Tying the ticking clocks in Mrs. Dalloway to Woolf’s insistence that we pay attention to the simple yet profound details of life is lovely. Thanks for that.

  6. Lovely post, Becca. I loved how Woolf kept those clocks chiming… pay attention, pay attention – exactly! I’m torn now whether to reread this, right now, or move on to To The Lighthouse.

  7. Great post and loved your point about the clocks. I’m really enjoying reading so many posts each pick out one or two things about this very rich novel to call attention to.

  8. What lovely images you use, especially in the opening paragraph. And such a well written conclusion. I haven’t looked around your blog yet but you must be a writer. I appreciated your point that “Woolf took a brave step toward re-imagining the novel”. She changed everything about the perception of the novel up to that time really. Thanks for a lovely review. I learned a great deal from reading the book and all the group’s thoughts on it. I look forward to reading To the Lighthouse.

  9. Enjoyed your post, Becca, and agree that this novel really shines when compared to the “straightforward” and “moralistic” competition of its time. Am curious whether there were any major changes in your opinion of the book from your first reading to this second one, though. Did you enjoy it more one time vs. the other? Nice to discover your blog!

  10. Pingback: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf « The Armenian Odar Reads

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