Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

This has the appearance of being a day in the life of a wealthy married woman in London after WW1 but Mrs Dalloway is not defined as a mother or wife. This is not a guide to her daily tasks but to her psyche – how she came to be herself, from her experiences and the choices she has made, to how she reacts to the people and world around her. Many books run like plays where a cast of characters act out scenes and the authors deftly supply the details to help us stage the action in our imagination. While Woolf always assembles an intriguing cast, she does not write so much about actions but emotions, impressions and passing thoughts. The most mundane activity can send the protagonist into a reverie or musing on the state of being or the world at large. It always takes me a while to slow down and take in what is being discussed, out loud or through many an internal monologue, and I sometimes get confused as the narrative flits from one subconscious to another. Yet I always feel it is worth the change in pace as Woolf depicts her world and the hearts and minds that inhabited it with moving precision and insight. She deals with themes that are still controversial and still difficult to discuss; from sexuality to mental health and suicide.

But he could not taste, he could not feel. In the teashop among the tables and the chattering waiters the appalling fear came over him- he could not feel. He could reason; he could read, Dante for example, quite easily…he could add up his bill; his brain was perfect; it must be the fault of the world then- that he could not feel.

Sadly some attitudes towards mental illness are still recognisable, the fear and disgust brought on by a lack of understanding even in the ‘professionals’.

Sir William said he never spoke of ‘madness’; he called it not having a sense of proportion

From: A bookshop splurge at some point – I’m a sucker for the Vintage classics

Read: on a rainy day under a blanket

Felt: stuck in a fishbowl full of swirling emotions and overwhelmed with the intensity of what we feel and how often we are unable to communicate this or observe it in others. The whole thing was, for me, bleak and unhappy but oddly reassuring to see these people putting words to all those strange fleeting feelings.

Liked: a quote about adulthood and perception that I wrote down somewhere and promptly lost.

Would recommend: as a slow read. I think this book means more second time around when knowing the plot leaves you free to take in all the many many ideas.

3 thoughts on “Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

  1. ‘Mrs Dalloway’, as you’ve said, it a book that is well worth repeating. I studied it last semester at uni, and every time I went back to it I found something new. I’m in agreement with you again on how she writes; not about actions, it’s amazing how actions become secondary to emotion and memory. If you haven’t already, I’d definitely recommend ‘Between the Acts’, although it’s definitely easier reading than ‘Mrs Dalloway’ it is just as rewarding 🙂


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