Friday, January 15, 2010
Mrs Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf
Mrs Dalloway, the events of a single day in which Clarissa prepares for a party.
First of all don't you just love that name, Mrs Dalloway, I think it must have appealed to Woolf too, when Clarissa mistakenly calls him Mr Wickham all day and only finds out at dinner what his correct name is. Sally and Peter take up on this and it becomes an inside joke "Dalloway, my name's Dalloway."
When Woolf wrote this book she was 43 years old. Seven years after the Great War, the war to end all wars. A war that changed everything, a war that had taken her generation from a time of peace and the thought that world peace was in their grasp, to the world of Septimus Warren Smith. This is why I think Woolf has Clarissa not believing in God, possibly this is how Woolf herself felt after the Great War.
I think it's interesting the way Woolf carries three threads in this book. Their youth together, their life now and Warren Smith and his wife.
Her description of Warren Smith's shell shock I think must be amazingly accurate. I have never read a biography of Woolf, but I would be interested to know if she had close friends she knew who were in that state. One would have to think she did. Of course she was older than the generation that went to war. But all were affected by the war.
By the time I reached the end of the book I was thinking exactly these thoughts about Clarissa and Woolf sums them up very concisely.
"But - did Peter understand? - she lacked something. Lacked what was it? She had charm; she had extraordinary charm. ....."
It was Clarissa's charm that made people think that there were greater depths to Clarissa, that really were not there.
"For said Sally, Clarissa was at heart a snob - one had to admit it, a snob. ..."
And the truth was she was a snob and quite shallow. She had married the right person in marrying Richard. He gave her exactly what she wanted. Her social life in London, in Society, her parties. When in fact both Richard and her daughter Elizabeth liked the countryside.
"I love walking in London," said Mrs. Dalloway. "Really it's better than walking in the country."
Her parties,to invite all those people you didn't like but they were your social circle. But to hold yourself above it as if I'm not like them, but she was like them. Would you have very old friends come and visit and just sit them aside until the end of the party, because time must be spent hostessing?
"She would marry a Prime Minister and stand at the top of a staircase; the perfect hostess he called her ..."
But of course Clarissa would, she was the consummate hostess. Appeasing her conscience with the thought that later I can devote my sole attention to them.
Youth and being in ones fifties! Woolf had an amazing clarity of these contrasting times of ones life. Close friendships of youth, that will always stand, what ever you have become in ones fifties, what ever road you travelled to get there, those times together, of youth, stand enchanted, alone. You cannot view the person in ones fifties as being the person of ones youth, and yet they are. Woolf captured this.
"She had the oddest sense of herself invisible; unseen, unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, ....."
Our minds think so many more thoughts than we ever say, but Woolf wrote them.
The scene in Regent's Park is very poignant. All those thoughts of different people watching the aeroplane.
"Ah; but that aeroplane! Hadn't Mrs. Dempster always longed to see foreign parts?"
Clarissa's friendship with Sally, the fleeting kiss.
"Star-gazing?" said Peter.
It was like running one's face against a granite wall in the darkness! It was shocking; it was horrible!"
"... She had a perfectly clear notion of what she wanted, Her emotions were all on the surface. Beneath she was very shrewd - a far better judge of character than Sally, ..."
You cannot capture in a review all the elloquence of Woolf's words.
Woolf totally captured the social scene of the time. Mrs Dalloway would be a great book to read if you were writing a social history of the time. The difference between 10,000 pounds per year and 300 pounds per year.
Ellie Henderson the poor, looked down upon cousin, who Clarissa showed a coldness to.
".. by her distressing gentility, her panic fear, which arose from three hundred pounds' income, and her weaponless state (she could not earn a penny) and it made her timid and more and more disqualified year by year to meet well dressed people ..."
Clarissa's insight into Dr. Bradshaw was bang on though. How sad for Septimus and Rezia. The law was behind him. Must! must! must! Septimus had no choice.
Two scenes which I think are very poignant is the one of Septimus and Rezia laughing together over the making of the little hat.
The second is Clarissa standing in her window alone at the party, looking across the street at the old lady going to bed and thinking about the young man who took his own life. Here is where I think all three threads come together, at that very moment.
Woolf herself straddled two worlds and she led us into them.
Looking forward to reading the other three books.
P.S. The book I read Mrs Dalloway in, was from our library, published in 1928, so quite an old copy. With all sorts of pencil markings, which was rather fun to think about who had taken this book out of the library over all those years, what they found of interest.