Classics Challenge: Mrs Dalloway
Image from Penguin
Mrs Dalloway is Woolf's fourth novel, a standout modernist stream of consciousness that begins and ends with its eponymous character, Clarissa Dalloway. As Clarissa prepares to host a party, we orbit a post-war London, flitting through the thoughts of people connected — directly or indirectly — to her life, from her husband and friends to a young soldier suffering from shell shock, tackling questions on class, feminism, mental illness, and existence along the way.
“It might be possible that the world itself is without meaning.”
Mrs Dalloway is the first Virginia Woolf novel I have read. I didn’t have many preconceptions, and as compared to some of the others in our challenge list, it was one of the shorter books, I expected to fly through the pages. I have no idea why I struggled with it so much? I was comforted a little when I checked in with Jo halfway through the month and discovered that she was having the same thoughts.
I appreciate the stream of consciousness storytelling, and how we get to drift from the mind of one character to another during the course of the day, even though on a few occasions I had to go back and double check whose mind I was currently occupying. The writing is, of course, beautiful, poetic and descriptive throughout.
Even though I did enjoy the second half of the book more, I just found the story to be less interesting than the actual characters and I found myself reading faster to finish the book. I truly think that age, passing of time and understanding the true purpose of our lives are all interesting and important topics for a story, especially when you consider so much of what we usually read is from a younger person's point of view. However, although I really appreciate this book, I can't say I'll ever love it. Hopefully there is another of Woolf's novels out there for me!(3 / 5)
This was never going to be an easy read but I didn’t think I’d struggle with it as much as I did. And I wanted to enjoy it, I really did. On the surface it sounds just my kind of book; I love clever narrative structures, ones that take a simple premise and expand them to create a universe. And yes, there were aspects to Mrs Dalloway that I appreciated for this reason.
The fluidity that Woolf writes with throughout is remarkable — drawing you into characters’ heads, drifting in to the scene they occupy — but it’s not always successful. On more than a few occasions I lost track of what was going on and wasn’t sure whether I was reading something a character was actually doing or if it was some elaborate metaphor. And while the sentences are beautifully poetic in places (
It rasped her, though, to have stirring about in her this brutal monster! to hear twigs cracking and feel hooves planted down in the depths of that leaf-encumbered forest, the soul;) it’s also just a bit too wordy in places and I found myself battling the urge to skim.
Overall, some beautiful, lyrical language and an innovative structure but maybe too ambitious and (dare I say it) *boring* for me.(3 / 5)
Nicola read the Kindle book which you can buy here. Jo scored again in the free book shop. If we were going to purchase a copy we'd have to go for this beautiful edition from the Penguin Vintage Classics Woolf Series.
Missed our previous reviews? Catch up on our classics challenge so far.