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Old 05-10-2016, 11:17 PM   #1
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Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

This is the MR Literary Club selection for May 2016. Whether you've already read it or would like to, feel free to start or join in the conversation at any time, and guests are always welcome!


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So, what are your thoughts on it?


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Old 05-12-2016, 12:25 PM   #2
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I bought the Oxford edition several years ago from the Sony store. It looks like this edition is no longer available as an ebook in the US but is still available in other countries. I recommend it. It has great annotations that are providing details on some of the cultural and historical references from the time period. It is enhancing my reading of the book.
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Old 05-12-2016, 11:53 PM   #3
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Finding it a bit of a struggle at the moment.
I like the words. Just struggling a bit with comprehension.

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Old 05-13-2016, 12:05 AM   #4
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Two books in a row with long-running sentences with lots of commas. Some parts flow better than others. Sometimes you are with it and it goes quickly. Other times you have to slowdown and re-read a passage. I do like the words and descriptions too.
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Old 05-13-2016, 09:17 PM   #5
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I found that when the narrative moved away from the more random elements at the start and started focusing on Clarissa, the prose began to make more sense to me.

Enjoying it much more now.
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Old 05-14-2016, 05:02 PM   #6
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The book is essentially plotless--in the usual sense of the word. What Woolf seems to substitute is a different sort of character pattern. Thus we get a series of incidents focusing on reactions of characters to the aeroplane spelling out an advertisement for Toffee. We have Mrs Dalloway musing (if that word is appropriate for her cascade of thoughts) on the empty frivolous life she has and The nearly psychotic world-picture of Septimus. The backfire of a car links the two sets of thoughts and additionally allows other reactions Later, when Peter visits Clarissa two more thought patterns are contrasted.

This use of this technique is reminiscent of Joyce who superimposes a day in the life of Leopold Bloom with the events in Homer, thus taking a realistic life pattern and giving it a mythic dimension. As with Joyce, there is the substitution of thought patterns for plot with characters dredging all sorts of resonances from the stream of consciousness.

All this does create an intriguing approach but not one of which I am particularly fond.

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Old 05-14-2016, 05:12 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by fantasyfan View Post
...This use of this technique is reminiscent of Joyce who superimposes a day in the life of Leopold Bloom with the events in Homer, thus taking a realistic life pattern and giving it a mythic dimension. As with Joyce, there is the substitution of thought patterns for plot with characters dredging all sorts of resonances from the stream of consciousness...
I agree with that but Woolf regarded Ulysses as being pretty much rubbish. But there again she seemed to regard all the other modernist authors, as far as I can tell, as inferior. But her motives in that may be based on personal political views rather than good sense; such as her contempt of Hemingway, who is without doubt an important American writer, which was in my opinion likely driven by her self proclaimed self importance as a feminist writer.

I'll save some of my specific comments on the book for later , but I must add that I like the reference to its being plotless.
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Old 05-14-2016, 06:13 PM   #8
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I agree with you fantasyfan that the approach doesn't really appeal to me. On the other hand, the writing is beautiful and some of the imagery is wonderful.
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Old 05-18-2016, 09:23 AM   #9
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I have just finished reading the book. In one sense I found it a bit of a slog because I really don't enjoy "stream of consciousness" novels. At the same time, some of the writing is absolutely exquisite, as for example this passage quite close to the beginning:

Quote:
But she feared time itself, and read on Lady Bruton's face, as if it had been a dial cut in impassive stone, the dwindling of life; how year by year her share was sliced; how little the margin that remained was capable any longer of stretching, of absorbing, as in the youthful years, the colours, salts, tones of existence, so that she filled the room she entered, and felt often as she stood hesitating one moment on the threshold of her drawing-room, an exquisite suspense, such as might stay a diver before plunging while the sea darkens and brightens beneath him, and the waves which threaten to break, but only gently split their surface, roll and conceal and encrust as they just turn over the weeds with pearl.

And then there is the magnificent meditation on death in the last few pages of the book:

Quote:
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.
It is impossible to read that and not think of Woolf's choice to embrace death some years after writing this book.

Despite that sombre note, there are amusing moments in the book, for example only a couple of pages earlier concerning one of the guests at the party:

Quote:
There were the Bradshaws, whom she disliked. She must go up to Lady Bradshaw (in grey and silver, balancing like a sea-lion at the edge of its tank, barking for invitations, Duchesses, the typical successful man's wife) ...
So overall, I am glad to have had the experience of reading Mrs Dalloway, but now need to read something completely different!
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Old 05-18-2016, 09:47 AM   #10
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IMHO Mrs. Dalloway is a delightful read -- the language is exquisite, the pacing leisurely, the intensity slowly, yet inexorably, ratcheting up for both Mrs. Dalloway and Septimus Smith.

This is a book that improves/grows on you with repeated re-readings over time. You discover more 'gems' each time -- words, phrasings that make you pause ...

I highly recommend Michael Cunningham's The Hours -- a brilliant modern retelling/reworking of the novel. Book and movie are well worth your time.

There is a film adaptation of Mrs. Dalloway too - Vanessa Redgrave is luminous in the title role.
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Old 05-18-2016, 06:52 PM   #11
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I, too, found some passages of great emotional intensity and beauty (an example would be the moment Clarissa is kissed by Sally). On the other hand, a great deal of the time I was slogging through page after page of boring trivia. I appreciate that many find this book very fine and I envy their perceptions. For me . . . though on the whole I was glad that I had the experience of reading Virginia Woolf, I have no desire to repeat that experience.
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Old 05-18-2016, 07:51 PM   #12
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Oh, nay! "Slog" is appropriate for some of Henry James' more turgid prose. But not for Virginia Woolf -- let yourself float with the current ... stream of consciousness novels, when well written, are a marvel of construction -- mingling endless observations/descriptions/digressions within an outer plot, or some ordering structure. I think this novel, along with To The Lighthouse, showcases Woolf's creative ability to embed the consciousness of a protagonist within a tightly plotted narrative ... Mrs. Dalloway borders on Greek tragedy ... with the relentless march of both protagonists towards certain (foretold?) doom.
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Old 05-18-2016, 08:26 PM   #13
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The Voyage Out is a slog to read ... as you ask yourself if Rachel Vinrace will EVER die ... and let the characters and plot, and the reader, get on with their lives. And Night and Day drags on so long, you really stop caring which couple will pair off with whom ...

Jacob's Room is a transition piece, after which Woolf finds her voice, so to speak, and her novels become gems of careful construction and employ a vocabulary that delights the senses. Her later novels are for savoring, with discoveries every time you return to them.
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Old 05-19-2016, 07:53 AM   #14
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OK - I finished this yesterday and I only gave it two stars.

On the one hand, I really loved some of the prose. I enjoyed the writing more than James' What Maisie Knew. However, I really didn't like the story much at all - if it was a story.

There were moments where I was really drawn in. Most of the scenes with Clarissa including the dinner party at the end, I found quite compelling. But where in James' novel, I appreciated what he did with the story and could see where he was going, with Woolf, I spent too many pages feeling like Woolf was just taking an opportunity to be "floaty" again for no particular reason. A postman walks past? Time for a delightful diversion.

I liked the dark counterpoint of Septimus' journey. I felt like he was the encroachment of the war into a totally frivolous society. Even the ending of the novel was so bland that I almost felt Septimus provided the ending that Woolf wanted us to pay attention to - even as he haunted Clarissa's pointless party.

But despite the flow of the prose and the meandering story, despite the poignant moments and the possibility of deeper intent, the book just didn't work well enough for me.

Of course it didn't help that (just like with James' novel), I read it during a week where I was tired and was trying to get through it in public transport. I find these kinds of books work so much better when I'm sitting with a coffee in my library and reading in silence.
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Old 05-19-2016, 08:39 AM   #15
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Yes, it would be hard to hang on to what (if anything!) is going on when you are reading under those circumstances.

When seeing what people had to say about the book after I had finished it, I read that Woolf originally planned to have Clarissa kill herself at the end of the book, and that this earlier version did not have Septimus in it. So in a way he was there to die for her, so that she could go on with her floaty life (I like your term!).

And of course one could be pardoned for thinking that so many did die or survived in a terribly damaged state while the Clarissas of that world just went on with their self-centred and meaningless little lives.

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