Book Review – Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

First published, 1925

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

A group of disparate people are assaulted by their memories as Clarissa Dalloway prepares for her party. There’s a lot of work to organising a party, it’s the height of distraction and she’s not quite sure why she puts herself through it, but everything must be right for her party. Everyone will be there: her husband, her daughter, two of her exes and some people she didn’t even invite.

The story takes place over a single day. Heavy with detail, imagery and light, I felt I’d found a heroine from the very first page. The language is majestic. Presented in a stream of consciousness style, I read it quickly. I really think that’s the only way to read a free-flowing book. To bounce from one thought to the next and to have it feel more natural than haphazard, it’s worth tricking the brain into believing it’s doing the thinking; as if those thoughts are yours and popping into your head just as you’re reading them.

I am aware that some readers find Woolf’s work forcefully middle class.

Virginia Woolf, circa 1925, image from Google

Although I can understand that, arguably there is a universality to her characters’ feelings which goes well beyond class.

When I read the following line, I felt it so completely, I thought my heart would shatter in my chest.

“‘Do you remember the lake?’ she said, in an abrupt voice, under the pressure of an emotion which caught her heart, made the muscles of her throat stiff, and contracted her lips in a spasm as she said ‘lake’. For when she was a child, throwing bread to the ducks, between her parents, and at the same time a grown woman coming to her parents who stood by the lake, holding her life in her arms which, as she neared them, grew larger and larger in her arms, until it became a whole life, a complete life, which she put down by them and said, ’This is what I have made of it! This!’ And what had she made of it? What, indeed? sitting there, sewing this morning with Peter.”
Pages 43-44, Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

There’s humour and heartache and all the beautiful things. However, from time to time in the reading, I found myself too close to know exactly what was happening in the narrative – as if I was living it and could no longer see the big picture. Also, there’s a lot of head-hopping so I found I had to reread some sections to know exactly who was thinking what, but that was no torment. I loved it.