Friday, July 12, 2013

[Reading the Classics] Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

[Arranged from Vintage Classics ©Random House, 2004]

Author: Virginia Woolf
Publication Year: 1925
Pages: 208

Violence | Sexual ContentProfanity
Verdict: A poetic stream-of-consciousness narrative that follows the mundane day in a life of a middle-aged woman, Mrs Dalloway, as she prepares for her party. This party far from ordinary--a certain old flame from her past will be in attendance. Woolf portrays middle-class society in a sobering fashion; and yet, oddly, there is an uplifting quality that gives tribute to the preciousness of life.
My thoughts

[Source: Gilmore Girls + Tumblr]

Mrs Dalloway is kind of a British The Great Gatsby in the perspective of a middle-aged Daisy who meets up with Gatsby again, for the first time since war-time. With even more language than The Great Gatsby, more angled perception (by varied points of view) and the perspective of post-war depression to boot. The general feeling I was left with by the end mirrored that of Gatsby--this is a very serious novel, a dense piece of literature that speaks volumes, that unsettled me to my core.

Description, description. There is so much of it! Before my discussion with my Goodreads classics group I didn't know what "stream of consciousness" meant, but apparently this book was it. It's hard to really explain, but I believe it to be like--a story that has been written as liquid as thoughts are formed. It encompasses thoughts and feelings in an all-consuming manner.
"Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death. (163)
Mrs Dalloway has lived a life of relative ease, one of luxury, where she is able to throw parties whenever she pleases. But as she moves along her day, she reminisces on her past. The memories that captured my attention the most involved herself and "the other man", the one who got away. I felt that Woolf explored feelings such as regret and longing very well, such that a poignancy runs through the "story" effortlessly. The lyrical prose, while dense, reached beautiful many a time.

Mrs Dalloway is an identity. Mrs Dalloway is a wife. Not acknowledgable by her first name, she is merely the attachment of a man. That is kind of how I understood it as I read the story. The social norms and constraints between the sexes, especially the oppression that women faced during that time, is a big theme in Mrs Dalloway. The first sentence, "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself", speaks volumes.

Regrettably, it has been months since I finished reading this book, so my memory of the details is sketchy at best. All I can really say now is that I loved the emotions that Mrs Dalloway evoked in me, the reader.

About the author

Adeline Virginia Stephens Woolf (25 January 1882 - 28 March 1941) grew up in a well-to-do, educated and influencial family hoousehold in London. Her parents had each been been married and widowed, with children. Their father, Sir Leslie Stephen, was highly renowned in the literary field, which meant that Woolf was exposed to Victorian literary society growing up. Woolf experienced nervous breakdowns, the first of which was supposedly the result of the death of her mother and half-sister (1895 & 1897, respectively). Her father died in 1904 led to another nervous breakdown and a brief period of institutionalisation.

Following that she was moved to Bloomsbury and consequently came into contact with the members of writers and artists (The Bloomsbury Group). On the 10th of August, 1912, Woolf married writer Leonard Woolf, who was poor but with whom she shared a close bond.

In the '20s, the friendship between Virginia Woolf and writer Vita Sackville-West eventuated into one of a sexual nature. Leonard Woolf was aware of the affair but did not object to it. This was not Woolf's only homosexual relationship. This relationship resulted in the creation of Orlando.

Virginia Woolf is well-known as a writer who committed suicide. She had filled her pockets with rocks and drowned herself in the Ouse River, Sussex.

[Thanks to Wikipedia, WikiAnswers and Goodreads for the info. I really want to read non-fiction on this author's life one day. This brief research session of 20 minutes was truly fascinating!]
Major Works by Virginia Woolf 
(in order of publication)
  • The Voyage Out (1915)
  • Night and Day (1919) 
  • Mrs Dalloway (1925)
  • To the Lighthouse (1927)
  • Orlando (1928)
  • A Room of One's Own: an extended essay (1929)
  • On Being Ill (1930)
  • The Waves (1931)
  • The Years (1937)

About reading the classics

I have been reading more classics lately, and rather than just reading them, I've decided to share some of my thoughts with you. Reading the classics also motivates me to research a little bit into each of these famous authors, motivates me to understand the context and think my thoughts more complexly.

I will never write an essay--that's not the point of this, but if it gets even one person even thinking about reading this book then I'll be happy. Discussion is encouraged. If you have read this book or anything by this author, please leave a comment. =)

#1: Of Mice and Men // John Steinbeck
#2: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn // Betty Smith
#3: Mrs Dalloway // Virginia Woolf
#4: Animal Farm // George Orwell
#5: The Great Gatsby // F. Scott Fitzgerald
#6: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz // L. Frank Baum
#7: Breakfast at Tiffany's // Truman Capote

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