Friday, July 3, 2020

Book Review - Virginia Woolf's The Mrs. Dalloway Reader

The Mrs. Dalloway Reader by Virginia Woolf
Published by: Harcourt Books, Inc
Publication Date: November 15th, 2003
Format: Hardcover, 345 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Mrs. Dalloway is having a party and she has gone out to buy the flowers herself, as her maid is busy with other preparations for the event that night. The walk she takes through the parks and streets of London on this beautiful day in mid-June has Clarissa remembering a summer long ago in the countryside at Bourton, a summer where, little did she know it, the rest of her life would be set in motion by choosing the reliable Richard Dalloway over the lovesick Peter Walsh. As fate would have it Peter Walsh has just returned to England after a long sojourn in India. After being rejected by Clarissa he proposed to the first girl he met on the boat to India and has come back to England seeking a divorce because he has fallen in love with a married woman with two young children and they mean to marry, once their respective spouses are disposed of. But seeing Clarissa all these long years later hidden emotions come bursting forth like a damn collapsing and he finds himself crying in her presence. Fleeing her sight the two of them dwell on each other in their thoughts the rest of the day. Clarissa thinking of the failure their marriage would have been and Peter wondering if perhaps it isn't too late for them... As people cross her mind and the past is more relevant than the present, what is and isn't important shifts. Because while it may seem crazy to some, this party Clarissa is throwing is very important to her. It lets her connect to people, show them a little kindness, make it known that she thinks about others above anything else. Be it a book they'd like to read or a certain dish they'd like to eat, she always has others on her mind and at the end of the night one person will be on her mind more than even Peter, a young shell shocked veteran, Septimus Warren Smith. She hears from the young man's doctor at her party that he had committed suicide earlier in the evening. Little did she know that her day mirrored his, as his wife mused on their lives, as we followed Septimus and his Lucrezia, decidedly unable to enjoy this day in mid-June due to their burdens that, in the end, get set down.

The thing about "classics" is some classics aren't for everyone. You can see their historical significance, you can admire their ingenuity, you can even applaud them for breaking down barriers, all while not actually liking the book; and I did not like Mrs. Dalloway. At all. Written in a steam of consciousness style that played like a game of regimented tag with a shifting point of view the book is bound to easily lose your attention when it isn't infuriating you. Right now it's hard to escape the ever growing horror that is the news and reading is a refuge, a refuge that is at the moment hard to escape into even with the most perfect of books. Therefore to have a book so fragmentary and dreamlike, more poetry than prose, I found it simply impossible to connect with Mrs. Dalloway and it's complete lack of narrative. Mrs. Dalloway isn't even the star of her own book for Pete's sake! At times I felt I was going insane, which maybe was Virginia Woolf's goal? I seriously don't know what she meant to do here, because this "Reader" includes a plethora of critical essays and I was supposed to hate the doctors trying to help Septimus when I thought their care was thoughtfully presented... so therefore I'm disconnected from the meaning of individuality over conformity because I wanted him to get better instead of kill himself? Ugh. At least I didn't feel totally alone in my dislike. The author Sigrid Nunez, who wrote a book on Virginia Woolf's monkey Mitz, says that in her opinion Mrs. Dalloway is contrived. I personally think it might have just been overworked, because the book's precursor, "Mrs. Dalloway's Party," read fresher to me, but if you can imagine it, bleaker. And I won't even start on my contempt for The Hours which arose from reading all the critical essays. How can a "retelling" by A MAN win all these accolades? Unacceptable.


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