Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Classics Club 28: Mrs Dalloway

In this novel by Virginia Wolf, we spend 24 hours with Clarissa Dalloway, a London lady, as she goes about her day, preparing for a dinner party.  At one level the novel reads like a series of somewhat connected, mainly everyday scenes and it can feel like there is too detailed a focus on relatively trivial things. Yet each  scene reveals more about the characters than is obvious on the surface.Rather than just focus on the externals - a trip to pick flowers - what was unusual about this novel was that most of it was based on  inner thoughts with plenty of flashbacks and was written in a stream of consciousness type style. This style highlights the difference between the inner and outer selves of the characters - and also of ourselves. On the outside Mrs Dalloway is serene and respectable, yet on the inside she is much more complex, battling mixed feelings about the return of an old beau, worried about aging, having difficulties with her daughter, feeling her identity has been subsumed by her husband and focusing on a kiss shared years earlier with a female friend  for whom she obviously still has more than platonic feelings.

While we focus mainly on Mrs Dalloway we also spend time with, and in the heads of, other characters, most memorably and shockingly Septimus Smith, a World War I soldier suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Mrs Dalloway was one of the first novels to highlight the difficulties faced by World War one veterans so is interesting to read for this reason alone.

Overall the novel is fairly bleak with its focus on lost potential whether that of Septimus, Peter Walsh (Mrs Dalloway's former beau who has not managed to achieve the great things he once dreamt of), or of course Mrs Dalloway herself . She used to be lively and vivacious but now seems somewhat dull and confined to mundane domestic matters. While it wasn't the most enjoyable read I am glad that I read Mrs Dalloway. It certainly gave me plenty to think about.

Mrs Dalloway was first published in 1925 and is my 20th century classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016.

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