This novel is the terrible muttering dragon of English modernism; Mrs Dalloway. I don’t really know why a dragon; I guess its prose is stern, possibly fierce with great underlying power. Muttering; well, this is book takes the form of a ‘stream of conscious’ and is a great collection of mutterings and thoughts from a variety of eclectic characters.
It is all tied up under one day; Wednesday 13th June 1923. And it’s about what we would now call the ‘mid-life’ crisis. And relationships, of course. And madness, shell shock in fact (and religious fervor). Masculinity and femininity. And lesbianism… but only a little bit of that.
The characters are both stylized and personalized. Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway is the socialite and only that, she professes no other traits and is guilty of it. Septimus Smith; driven mad through shell-shock and the death of his best friend Evans; who proceeds to visit him, spreading messages of Smith’s imminent rise to humanities savior. Septimus hold a smaller but more focused part in the day; concentrated bouts of madness; expressing the sorts of experiences held by Woolf herself. He also helps to oute the situations in the lives of everybody, rather than just the Edwardian upper class. Sally Seton is the honest romanticized perfection; everybody’s love, maybe Clarissa’s true love. Definitely Virginia Woolf’s.
This book is a literary experiment; and I rather gather… a trial in the regrets and gripes of one Mrs. Woolf, be it in a wholly original manner. However, her portrayal of human emotion, interaction, all terribly British, in a smart London Edwardian setting is so purposeful and succinct that one can’t help but enjoy it. Ok, maybe that this isn’t selling it to you. Well…I began to think of the book like a film; a combination of the suave comedy of North by Northwest combined with the flashbacks and cohesive sequences and editing a modern romantic comedy. The book certainly has it’s own Cary Grant; the baffled yet charming Peter Walsh who has had a series of bad affairs with women; who flicks his pocket knife in and out in excitement of another. This is so cinematic in it’s reading because there is no chapters; characters meet in the street or by distinguished events in the book that unite them in one time or place; and the story changes to meet the needs of that character. Memories and reminiscences are also used to great affect as well as haunting description of London in breaking summer (sometimes sharp like a poignant Hitchcock shot, sometimes abstract and wavering like some saturated Art-house flick).
Criticism is definitely needed however, just to put this book in some sort of categorization. Well… it’s feminist… no, no don’t run away yet. It’s early feminism and the power of women given by Woolf in the novel is equally undermined by their complacency and so brilliant. But I just feel that any aspects concerning her ideals are lost in the slightly abstracted nature of the novel; in such striking prose, after the ignoble treatment of Septimus by doctors, I could never find any real point, or at least any kind of clarification of a one. So when the final message is the innate powers of finicky Clarissa Dalloway over the equally jittered chap Peter Walsh, when one has read all their lifetimes worth of faults and regrets I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed. Perhaps that is more of a reference to which I should adhere some advice to; this is fantastic novel to read, stunning perhaps in some places, but it is concerned with psychology, fragments of thought of many characters laid out like strokes in an conceptual painting, no true meaning only form; in a daring experiment of a writers wit and guile.
An original Hashmark review by JR, written in early 2006