Prior to reading ‘Mrs Dalloway’, I was sneered at by many a person who believed that my experience with Woolf’s writing will be as bad as theirs.So, naturally when I first opened the book, I was a bit sceptic as to whether or not I wasted my money on this book,given that I bought it in a Folio Society edition,being persuaded,at that time,that I would enjoy it. However after I went through the first 4 pages of the book, my doubts quickly dissipated.Virginia Woolf’s genius couldn’t be denied.
”Woolf’s stream of consciousness is flawless!”.That was my immediate thought once I finished reading the first part of the book. She might not be the one who invented the stream of consciousness,but she is undeniably the master of such a technique; 72 years after her death, her proficiency ,in regard to this technique, has yet to be matched to-day.One of the book’s aims is to show how even the most ordinary-looking man has a very improbable story,and Virginia Woolf can actualize this goal only by getting inside the minds of her respective characters-the mind being the only place whereby we are the most honest.However to put in words what is going on in our mind is no easy task,for our thoughts are always disorderly, transient and very fluid.As a result,our formal style of writing,which is filled with punctuations and orderly sentences,doesn’t do Woolf’s stream of consciousness any justice.This incapacity to use the normal writing style to write her book,ultimately leads Woolf to revert back to her idiosyncratic style previously used in ‘To the Lighthouse’. As a matter of fact, it is in this very ability to improve a technique she pioneered,that Woolf’s genius lies.Indeed,‘Mrs Dalloway’ is possibly her best book,and her stream of consciousness cannot get any better: there is no other book that can convey to us the thoughts of its characters with such exactitude.What is even more impressive with Woolf’s writing style is its word-efficiency: the author doesn’t have to describe much to convey to us the mode and tone of some passages,for they are already hinted at by the punctuations and the pace used in the stream of consciousness.
This year,on May 14,‘Mrs Dalloway’ turned 88. Oddly enough, it doesn’t look in any way its age.In fact,I opine that this book shows what a genius Woolf really was,for it is the proof that she was way ahead of her time. To start with,Woolf uses the chimes of the Big Ben to switch from a character of one scenery to a different character of to another scenery.The Big Ben also serves to remind us that everything so far is taking place in one day only and to remind us that Mrs Dalloway’s party-the finale- is getting closer.On the same modernistic line, Virginia Woolf uses an aeroplane-which was still an exciting piece of technology at that time- to show us the extent to which people’s points of view can differ: the airplane forms a word in the sky,yet people can’t agree on what it is: is it ‘Glaxo’?or ‘Toffee’?or ‘Kreemo’? As a matter fact, this disparity between people’s perception is the main idea of the book,for as we enter their minds,we realise that the characters all have an erroneous idea on each other.In this respect, Woolf aptly uses the airplane to hint at the centrality occupied by the theme of misjudgement in her book. Another theme that shows Woolf’s being ahead of her time is that of lesbianism.It is interesting that she condemns the taboo nature of homosexuality by giving a sort of normality to such a taboo: although she is strongly attracted to Sally, Mrs Dalloway believes she is heterosexual,for she ignores what a lesbian is,having been brought up in a conservative family.In this regard,her use of the theme of lesbianism here might be construed as sarcastic jibe.
The humour produced from the characters’ judgements on one another is another aspect that I loved in ‘Mrs Dalloway’. While sitting in the park, Peter Walsh envies the Smiths because they are in love and enraptured,when in fact,they aren’t happy at all,for Septimus Warren Smith is on the brink of madness; Hugh Britman thinks very highly of himself,but is deemed gaudy by almost every character he encounters;Clarissa Dalloway hates Mrs Killman,yet she cannot live without her,because hating on Mrs Killman has somehow become part of her life. The madness of Septimus is also very funny,albeit fatal to the character. He believes he is the chosen one and constantly sees subliminal messages everywhere. The way he sees his doctors also adds to the comical aspect of the story: he calls Sir Bradshaw, ”Sir Somebody Something” and Dr Holmes, ”The brute with the red nostrils”.Even his sudden death is quite funny.He starts thinking about ways of taking his life and quickly realises that almost all forms of suicide will take too much time;consequently,as if fed up with life, he decides to flings himself out of the window,all of a sudden.This instance of dark comedy is so ‘Woolfesque’,and a similarly sarcastic jibe this time addressed to the snobbish women is found later in the story: ”Sitting at little tables round vases….with their air of false composure,for they were not used to so many courses at dinner; and confidence,for they were able to pay for it; and strain,for they had been running about London all day shopping,sightseeing”.There is no denial that humour tinged with either dark comedy or sarcasm is the best!
But above all, ‘Mrs Dalloway’ is a story that deals with a humane subject.Often in the book,the characters decide to suppress their thoughts and feelings and to act as if everything is normal. Peter Walsh never lets Clarissa know how much their break-up has hurt him;Richard and Clarissa will never admit their fear of losing each other; Septimus feels guilty because he doesn’t love his wife,yet he cannot admit it to Lezia. In this respect,the reader becomes the confidant of these characters and is the only one who can fully understand their behaviours. Furthermore,the stream of consciousness can extract from the characters’ minds some very poignant feelings,that strangely mirror our own sentiments in regard to certain things in life.For instance,Woolf describes Clarissa’s atheism with the following words:“She thought there were no Gods; no one was to blame; and so she evolved this atheist’s religion of doing good for the sake of goodness.” .In a like manner, Woolf perfectly describes one universal feeling,that is,the feeling of carrying our parents’ burden: ”…there was the terror;the overwhelming incapacity,one’s parents giving it into one’s hands,this life, to be lived to the end, to be walked with serenely; there was in the depths of her heart an awful fear.” I believe that the stream of consciousness has enabled Woolf to put the exact words on our most profound and most abstract feelings.Such depth in the human feeling alone makes ‘Mrs Dalloway’ a must-read!
All in all, ‘Mrs Dalloway’ has turned out to be a pleasant surprise! I never thought I would love Woolf’s writing so much. She was audacious,futuristic,poignant and gifted with the art of narrating what goes in our mind! Really, Woolf was the perfect writer,and I wonder if there will ever be another like her.It is no wonder her books (To the Lighthouse & Mrs Dalloway) are very often listed among the best novels of all time.Trust me,you should read ‘Mrs Dalloway’ as soon as possible.It is fresh,insightful,deep and filled with sarcasm; it is the work of a genius!