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Ann

Mrs Dalloway

Who is afraid of Virginia Wolff? I am so I'm having a go at Mrs Dalloway and trying to feel positive about it. It was written in 1925 so when she talks, at the beginning, about the war she means WW1. So far it is all a stream of consciousness piece of writing about Mrs Dalloway going to shops and seeing a car in which probably contains a VIP.
I see reading the blurb at the back that Virginia commited suicide in her forties. That should make me feel sympathetic towards her, and it does, but it makes me even more prejudiced against her writing as I feel it is going to be full of deep dark feelings.
Ann

It is beginning to grow on me. She has a very charming style and I liked how the populous followed the car through London and then got distracted by an aeroplane doing an advertinsement using its smoke trail.
Castorboy

Ann wrote:
...and then got distracted by an aeroplane doing an advertinsement using its smoke trail.

I seem to remember those adverts in the fifties and in NZ in the late nineties.
county_lady

Ann wrote:
It is beginning to grow on me. She has a very charming style and I liked how the populous followed the car through London and then got distracted by an aeroplane doing an advertinsement using its smoke trail.


Yes it is charming I'm fifteen pages in. It is also disturbing in a way as I recognise many of my own thoughts there!
Unfortunately I need to concentrate so will have to find a quiet space to read more.
Chibiabos83

I'm in the middle of another book at the moment, but intend to start Mrs D. tomorrow.
Chibiabos83

I was a bit slow to start, and I suspect I'll be a bit slow to finish too, because it's a book I think you need to read slowly, but I started Mrs Dalloway yesterday and I'm about 20 pages in. So far, I love it.
Ann

I'm about half way through now but I'm trying to pace myself as I know I read very quickly. I have met some of the other characters in the book and although I feel very strongly for the poor man with PTSD and his desperately unhappy wife I was bored rigid by the man called Peter with his knife. He is really over analysed and is just the sort of person I was worried I would find in VW's books. I will wait a bit longer to get your comments before I go on and hope you will be able to  give me another point of view on Peter.
I did enjoy the lady giving a lunch to those Mr Dalloway and the courtier man whilst all the time Mrs Dalloway was so jealous. Lady B something or other (the book is downstairs as I'm sure you can tell)  only wanted them to write a dull letter for her and Mrs D was sure they were having a scintillating and exciting lunch from which she felt excluded.
Ann

Can I start reading again? How are you all getting on?
county_lady

Ann wrote:
Can I start reading again? How are you all getting on?


Ann do proceed at your normal pace. I've reached the part where Richard Dalloway bought the roses for Clarissa and has left again for the House. Elisabeth and Miss Killman (?) are at the door of Clarissa's room.

So far I've found Septimus and Rezia are of the most interest to me.
Chibiabos83

Keep reading, Ann. I won't finish simultaneously with others. I have limited reading time at the moment (currently on about p. 50) and limited internet access (my router at home is on the blink). I do intend to post something soon, but don't hold your breath...
Chibiabos83

Having said it would take me ages to finish, I have just done so.

Ann, you ask for another perspective on Peter. I hope that by the time you reach the end (perhaps you have by now) you might find, as I did, that the novel has provided it for you. The business with the knife is a bit tiresome, but perhaps it's a pose that betrays something of his character.

More and more as the novel proceeds we are made aware of the impossibility of knowing other people. That's an idea that is present from the very start, because almost everything we read about in the novel is refracted through the prism of someone else's consciousness, even the characters' thoughts about themselves. We can't know other people, and we can't even know ourselves. Peter admits as much when he talks to Sally Seton (now Lady Rosseter) at the party:

For she had come to feel that it was the only thing worth saying--what
one felt. Cleverness was silly. One must say simply what one felt.

"But I do not know," said Peter Walsh, "what I feel."

Another bit from the same scene. Sally is pondering the Dalloways' unlikely marriage:

"But what has he done?" Sally asked. Public work, she supposed. And
were they happy together? Sally asked (she herself was extremely
happy); for, she admitted, she knew nothing about them, only jumped to
conclusions, as one does, for what can one know even of the people one
lives with every day? she asked. Are we not all prisoners? She had read
a wonderful play about a man who scratched on the wall of his cell, and
she had felt that was true of life--one scratched on the wall.

Peter Walsh isn't the most amiable character, but he knows that he hasn't got life figured out and isn't good enough, and admits it to himself. I love that quality in people. It's what one loves about Winnie-the-Pooh -- or indeed the Pope, who hasn't done anything more impressive than the admission this week that he isn't up to the job.

Is it any wonder that we can't know people, when what goes on in their heads runs so deep and what we see is so shallow? Each of us is a mass of contradictions, the sum of not only our nature (if such a thing exists) and our genetic makeup, but also of everything that has ever happened to us, whether we remember it or not, everything we have ever seen and felt. The human mind is impenetrable, and yet it's what drives us. There are any number of examples of people at cross purposes because of this lack of self-knowledge and knowledge of others in the book. Take Mrs Dalloway and Miss Kilman. In their scene together, we see things from the point of view of each of them separately. Each of them has a simplistic view of the other, and they cannot be reconciled (and probably never will be). Take the scene where Septimus Warren Smith has a disagreement with his wife Rezia in Regents Park. The reader knows that the balance of his mind is disturbed, but Peter, passing, suspects little:

And that is being young, Peter Walsh thought as he passed them. To be
having an awful scene--the poor girl looked absolutely desperate--in the
middle of the morning. But what was it about, he wondered, what had the
young man in the overcoat been saying to her to make her look like that;
what awful fix had they got themselves into, both to look so desperate as
that on a fine summer morning? The amusing thing about coming back to
England, after five years, was the way it made, anyhow the first days,
things stand out as if one had never seen them before; lovers squabbling
under a tree; the domestic family life of the parks. Never had he seen
London look so enchanting--the softness of the distances; the richness;
the greenness; the civilisation, after India, he thought, strolling across
the grass.

I'm delighted to have discovered a book that is so understanding and indulgent of humanity. It confirms a very strong belief I have that one should give people the benefit of the doubt wherever possible. Frequently in my daily work I have to tell people off either for having left undone those things which they ought to have done, or for having done those things which they ought not to have done, and I try always to be equable and polite and generous, telling myself that I have no idea what trauma they may be suffering that has prevented them from behaving in the prescribed manner. It's easier said than done, of course. If Woolf has villains, they are surely Holmes and Bradshaw, the doctors who fail Septimus Warren Smith so badly, but even these characters have their own problems, and are deserving of our compassion. There's pity enough in the world for everyone.

Woolf writes her characters' interior monologues quite brilliantly. It is like reading a transcription of the passage of thoughts in one's own brain, and if it's difficult to process at times then that may just be because the reader's brain is trying to do something else, it wants to go in another direction. That's why this book demands to be read carefully and closely. When I got to the end of To the Lighthouse, a book I didn't greatly like, I wondered if I would understand it better if I listened to an audiobook of it. I imagined that something would suddenly click into place. Well, I have borrowed an audiobook of Mrs Dalloway from the library (read by Phyllida Law, joy of joys) and will give it a whirl. There's no denying Woolf can write beautifully elegant sentences and paragraphs; it's just difficult to absorb them sometimes.

The Vintage edition I read had an introduction by Carol Ann Duffy that said something I thought was rather neat:

We carry poetry, even if we do not write it or read it, inside us and Woolf
is a writer who can remind us of this or show us for the first time.


I imagine this is something a lot of people have felt when reading the book, but perhaps not been able to express.

Presumably the predicament of Septimus Warren Smith has some relation to the question of how (or why) to live one's life. It's a subject Mrs Dalloway and other characters ponder throughout the course of the book. I'm afraid I don't have an answer to that one.
Ann

I'm sorry it has taken me a while to reply, Gareth, but first I was finishing the book and then having a rather busy couple of days.

I enjoyed reading your thoughts. I had a different take on the novel but I could see how it made you feel. I think I shall divide my review in to three parts - what I liked, what I didn't like and my overall feeling about the book.

I too have the vintage classics edition with two introductions in the front. One is by Carol Ann Duffy and the other by Valentine Cunningham. They were both thoughtful and interesting and, as is my usual habit, I didn't read them until I had read the book myself as I prefer to meet a new author in the raw so to speak.

As I mentioned about she writes really exquisitely. You are aware, when reading, that every word counts. Carol Ann Duffy writes:-



Mrs Dalloway is a poet's novel - by which I mean that it speaks clearly to the poet in the reader. Virginia Woolf's words here, in one of her most accessible books, make up the landguage of what life feels like.


I love how well she gets into her character's heads and shows us their character while delivering their thought processes. She is particularly clever at showing how wrong people are about each other, as you mention Gareth. I thought your resolution to try and be more tolerent of others after reading this book was commendable. I'm not sure if I am capable of emulating you but I'm afraid I am not such a nice person as you are. I thought her depiction of Septimus Warren Smith and his italian wife very moving and suffered with them as they tried to get medical help from the doctors who did not understand his condition at all.

However there were things I didn't take to about the book. I get the feeling that Woolf was extemely thin skinned and almost feels too much for her characters. I remember talking to a friend about D H Lawrence, once, and she amused me greatly by saying how Lawrence always is looking for the deep dark feelings inside his creations and what he didn't realise is that most of us don't have them very much. I certainly don't which may be to my loss but makes for a more comfortable life. This makes the way that everyone in this book is having profound thoughts a lot of the time, even if they are totally misguided (which can be very funny as well as sad) feel alien to me. It must have made life very hard for Virginia Woolf to have all these intense emotions all of the time and I can see why she was so often depressed and, eventually, suicidal. However it makes the whole thing unrealistic to me or requiring an empathy I am not capable of.

I carried on not wanting to read about Peter. I often liked Mrs Dalloway's thoughts and those of all the other characters but every time I got to him I found his thoughts tiresome, boring and silly. I don't do silly and I found myself skim reading those bits. If I met him at a party I would be manoevering myself out of his vicinity as often as possible. All these others finding him so admirable and lovely! It spoilt the book for me.

I am pleased to have read Mrs Dalloway. Thank you Evie for suggesting it as a good way into Virginia Woolf. I enjoy  stream of consciousness writing and I can now understand, which I didn't before, why she has such a reputation. Interestingly I was driving with radio 4 on the other day and heard that there is a newly discovered piece of her writing which has just been published. It was written for a magazine composed by her family and was funny and absurd. I liked her humour in this extract  and I didn't expect to find any in Mrs Dalloway as Virginia Woolf  struck me as a lady who never laughed. She seemed from her reputation to take herself a great deal too seriously. I was happy to be wrong about that.

I don't think I shall try another because of the thin skinned ness of it but it was most interesting and I'm delighted to have enjoyed it as much as I did![/i]
Chibiabos83

Thanks for that, Ann - I was worried I'd written a very self-centred review that contained even more drivel than usual, but then all I can do is write about how I see things from my perspective (cf. all of Mrs Dalloway). I'll reply properly over the weekend, I hope. What you say about me being a nice person is utter rubbish.
Caro

If that's the case, you must be a totally different person in reality from how you seem here, Gareth.  A very nice person indeed, I think.

I didn't manage my try at Mrs Dalloway a few years ago - probably because of the 'poetic' nature of the writing; feeling every word matters is a bit straining.  But after your post I did feel I should give it another try - I like books which are indulgent of humanity with all its foibles and difficulties.  Some books are rather judgemental in their attitudes and condemn people without showing their motives and helplessness and ideas etc.  Or they stick them in boxes of upper-class, criminal, hopeless, etc.  

When Ann writes I often feel as if she might be me writing!  I don't seem to have these big dark depths either (I had quite a lot of sympathy for Stiva in Anna K in his attitudes, though not so much for his behaviour) and I get a bit impatient with silliness.  (We watched the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice recently and I just felt like hitting Lydia over the head and telling her to grow up.)
Ann

Caro wrote:


When Ann writes I often feel as if she might be me writing!  I don't seem to have these big dark depths either (I had quite a lot of sympathy for Stiva in Anna K in his attitudes, though not so much for his behaviour) and I get a bit impatient with silliness.  (We watched the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice recently and I just felt like hitting Lydia over the head and telling her to grow up.)


I feel similar thoughts, Caro! It must be our fondness for Georgette Heyer who was intolerant of silliness too - think of Belinda in The Foundling  Very Happy
I hope you do have another stab at Mrs Dalloway as I would very much like to hear your thoughts.
Ann

Chibiabos83 wrote:
Thanks for that, Ann - I was worried I'd written a very self-centred review that contained even more drivel than usual, but then all I can do is write about how I see things from my perspective (cf. all of Mrs Dalloway). I'll reply properly over the weekend, I hope. What you say about me being a nice person is utter rubbish.


Gareth anyone who can devise a quiz on poetry versus chocolate has got to be seriously nice so no false modesty! I shall always think fondly of that competition. Chocolate wins with me every time though.
TheRejectAmidHair

Ann wrote:
Chibiabos83 wrote:
Thanks for that, Ann - I was worried I'd written a very self-centred review that contained even more drivel than usual, but then all I can do is write about how I see things from my perspective (cf. all of Mrs Dalloway). I'll reply properly over the weekend, I hope. What you say about me being a nice person is utter rubbish.


Gareth anyone who can devise a quiz on poetry versus chocolate has got to be seriously nice so no false modesty! I shall always think fondly of that competition. Chocolate wins with me every time though.


I met Gareth once. Didn't strike me as a nice person at all.
Chibiabos83

No, just struck you...
Chibiabos83

Caro wrote:
I get a bit impatient with silliness.  (We watched the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice recently and I just felt like hitting Lydia over the head and telling her to grow up.)

Oh, I had that too. And wanted to whack Lady Catherine round the face with a branding iron.
TheRejectAmidHair

Good heavens - I didn't mean you, dear boy! I meant that other Gareth Burgess -have you met him? Ghastly chap!
MikeAlx

Afraid I don't have time to reread Mrs Dalloway at the moment. I read it a few years back and enjoyed it, with a few reservations. Technically, it is a masterpiece. I don't seem to share others' problems with absorbing Woolf's prose (admittedly I haven't tried The Waves, which is supposedly less accessible). I loved the way she could drift seamlessly between different consciousnesses, by focusing on a particular object or person, then zooming off to a different perspective on it.

I too found Peter rather dull - it was like when you get told what a great and fascinating person someone is, then finally meet them and find them rather ordinary. But perhaps that was the point.

My biggest problem with the book for me was that the ending didn't really satisfy; the whole book has had a deliberate momentum towards this great party, but when it comes it's rather anticlimactic; it just sort of fizzles out. Again, perhaps that was the point, but if you're going to do that as a writer, I think you need to provide some sort of climax, or epiphany, or catharsis - something that gives a sense of closure or satisfaction, even if it wasn't in the way expected. I really don't think the book does that (or if it does, it goes right over my head).
Ann

I've taken it back to the library now, but wasn't the far from big climax (in a way) supposed to be Peter finally, at the very end, getting Clarissa to himself for a chat at the end of the party? I found that rather amusing though I felt sorry for her too  Rolling Eyes
Green Jay

Caro wrote:
because of the 'poetic' nature of the writing; feeling every word matters is a bit straining.  


Just raising a flag for liking books where every word matters  Smile. Not every book I read, as this would be much too intense, and they have to be fairly short, or at least compact, books, but I do like a book that needs close reading for ful appreciation. Deborah Levy's Swimming Home was one such, and that is quite short.

I just read a bit by Sophie Hannah saying she only really liked to read books where there was a puzzle for the reader to solve. This could be a crime or the psychological motives of the characters. And I like these, too. But I can't get by on a sole diet of these as after a time I want something different - same with the more poetic books -  so thank heavens that there is a wide world of books out there to suit my various reading moods.

I haven't read any V Woolf for a while, and I think that the experience of reading her writing is not quite what we expect; her reputation is somehow more delicate and precious and finnicky and maybe more humourless than the actual stuff. Though I think I have enjoyed her non-fiction more than her fiction. (I am sure there is something in her diaries or letters about writing to her sister Vanessa, as an adult, about using an earth closet - in far more gross detail than I'd ever use myself! - so she was more robust at times than we expect. The Bloomsberries pooed - who knew??  Wink )
Chibiabos83

I'm a little surprised that other people are finding Peter so dull. I dare say if I met him I'd have the same reaction as Ann and instinctively avoid him, but I was fascinated by the pathways of his mind, as I was with those of each character. I think I may have a fantasy life not wholly dissimilar to his, though I've never stalked a woman around the streets for half an hour, as far as I can remember.

Ann, like you I'm not inclined to melancholia, and I think I have a fairly thick skin too, but I'm sure most of us must have had times of desperation - when grieving, or worried about someone else's wellbeing, for instance - and perhaps remembering those times in my life helped me to identify with the characters in torment. I've certainly never known first-hand the suicidal despair of Septimus, but I felt I understood and empathised with him entirely, which must be a sign that Woolf is a very fine writer (or that I have a prodigious imagination, which I doubt).

As for the climax, or lack of climax, or anti-climax of the novel (the discussion makes me think of the end of Rattigan's The Browning Version, which has the teacher Crocker-Harris opining that sometimes an anti-climax can be just as effective as a climax - as The Browning Version aptly demonstrates), I wonder if it's pertinent that Woolf originally intended to have Mrs Dalloway kill herself at her party, or at least die. In the novel's earliest versions there was no Septimus, the character effectively intended to serve as Mrs Dalloway's double (this is all from Woolf's introduction to the novel, written in 1928). The final scene of the novel as it stands has Mrs D. learning of the death of Septimus and apparently appreciating his rationale for committing suicide. I think I prefer that to the original ending...
MikeAlx

Wow, I didn't know that about the original intended ending. It makes The Hours seem even more resonant somehow.
county_lady

I'm still collecting my thoughts on 'Mrs Dalloway' having finished reading last night.
Like Ann and Caro I dislike nastiness and distrust over emotional persons intensely. Our upbringings were probably very similar quietly respectable, always do as you're told and never make personal remarks about other people.  Plus I find I have no imagination whatsoever except through books.

Gareth's review is very insightful and I deliberately avoided reading it until now. To me the original ending would have felt wrong. Mrs Dalloway was too frail a character to do as Septimus did. To me he seems to be the one closest to Woolf's heart though Clarissa and Peter Walsh may show us her mind.
Was Peter a fantasist? Repeatedly falling in love is not the way to a settled mind or life. Would a marriage between Peter and Clarissa worked? It would have burned brightly at first but then what?
Also I found the minor characters interesting and intend to read more of Woolf.

The knife was jarring and made me uneasy because of my modern susceptibilities. Though all Boy Scouts carried penknives and Bowie knives when I was young I don't remember any who fiddled wth them. Taking one out when visiting seemed creepy.

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