I just finished Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Although it’s quite a slim novel, it took me three whole days to read. I found myself reading carefully – at a leisurely pace – in order to savour and appreciate its subtlety. It certainly isn’t a book to be devoured mindlessly. At first, I must stay that I liked the idea of it much more than I liked the actual book, but now I’m completely in love with it. Books tend to grow on me.
There were several phrases that I loved – “the leaden circles dissolved in the air” – and this passage, from the first page:
…the air in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp (yet for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke winding off them and the rooks rising, falling; standing and looking until Peter Walsh said, ‘ Musing among the vegetables?’ – was that it – ‘I prefer men to cauliflowers’ – was that it?
The abundance of ‘green’ imagery – “like a hyacinth, sheathed in glossy green”, “lovely old sea-green brooches” , “a silver-green mermaid’s dress” – was also very refreshing. This is undoubtedly a spring/summer book.
I also found the character of Clarissa Dalloway an interesting one. She was described by Woolf as much too ‘tinsely’, and is generally perceived as a foolish, superficial woman. I thought, however, that there was much more to Clarissa than parties and wealth. She is shown to have had a relatively poor education (“how she had got through life on the few twigs of knowledge Fraulein Daniels gave them she could not think”), yet she is clearly clever, independent, and a shrewd observer of character. She isn’t as ‘dumb’ and insubstantial as she is made out to be.
All in all, stream-of-consciousness certainly isn’t my everyday cup of tea. This is the first Woolf I’ve read, and I think I’ll settle back into less experimental writers before approaching more of her works. I’m not sure what other people think of Woolf’s writing, but to me, it seems as though almost a century after it was published, Mrs Dalloway is still extremely fresh and avant-garde. Perhaps it’s because I’m not familiar with Modernist fiction.