“Mrs Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf

I started a book discussion group earlier this year, and several selections have been heavily father/son themed: Gilead, The Road, Lamb, and American Gods. I selected Mrs Dalloway because I thought it would be an interesting mother/daughter contrast, though I’d not yet read it. Once I did, I found that the mother/daughter theme indeed present, but one among many intriguing things to discuss.

Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer’s men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning–fresh as if issued to children on a beach.

What a lark, what a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her when, with a little squeak of hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged into Bourton into the open air.

Clarissa, the Mrs of the title, is preparing for a party. She’s also juggling memories of the past with senses of the present, and moving in and out of complex encounters with her husband, daughter, and a former suitor. Her character, and the beauty and fortune that goes with it, is mirrored darkly in that of Septimus Warren Smith, a decorated veteran of the Great War as he struggles to navigate life and London, which Clarissa does with apparent ease and skill.

This is a short novel, not difficult to read, but deceptively complex and thought provoking. With its suddenly shifting points of view and intertwined narratives, it reminded me of films like Crash and Babel, deploying now in film what was once an daring experiment in writing back when a novel was written, not written to be filmed, as so many are today. I followed this with Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, which I enjoyed both on its own and as it helped illuminate Mrs Dalloway, to which it is an homage.

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