Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Penguin, 1996, 211 p.

 Mrs Dalloway cover

This tells the events of one day leading up to the throwing of a party by the titular Mrs (Clarissa) Dalloway which may, or may not, be being attended by the Prime Minister. That title might lead you to believe that the book’s main focus will be Clarissa but it is not. It is written in the stream of consciousness style but that too is a misnomer as what we have here is really streams of consciousnesses since the narration flits from one character to another like a gadfly, rarely settling down for long. This is immensely irritating to begin with but in time, with familiarity, becomes less so.

As well as Mrs Dalloway we enter the thoughts of Peter Walsh, recently returned from India and a failed marriage but declaring himself to be in love for the first time, and Rezia and Septimus Smith, wife and husband. Walsh it seems had a thing for Clarissa in their youths, later musing he had been so in love with her then. (So what was that “first time” declaration all about?) Septimus has not recovered from his experiences in the Great War and his disturbed state has tragically not been recognised by various medical practitioners, nor by his wife.

I know Woolf has received praise for her writing and was an early user of stream of consciousness (a pioneer, indeed) but there is something detached about her style which I find difficult to engage with. My reaction to this book is the same as it was with To The Lighthouse.

This copy was loaned to us by a friend who has written in the margin that Woolf was trying to erase the narrator as a persona. On this evidence, replacing a narrator with many personas isn’t much of an improvement. I’ll not be in a hurry to read any more Woolf.

Pedant’s corner:- sprung (sprang, which was used later,) waggons (wagons,) Hatchards’ (either Hatchard’s or Hatchards’s,) Jorrocks’ (Jorrocks’s,) plaguy (plaguey?) a missing full stop, missing commas before pieces of direct speech (too numerous to count,) Kinloch Jones’s (this was a plural, hence Kinloch Joneses,) “They rose .And Richard” (They rose. And Richard”,) “Mrs Peters’ hat” (Mrs Peters’s,) campare (compare,) “did not use to rouge” (did not used to rouge.)

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