Book Review: “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf

Jul 26, 2012 by

Reading Mrs. Dalloway involved learning a lesson that I didn’t expect.  I went into it flippantly, even though I had been warned that Virginia Woolf was difficult.  But I have read authors that some consider difficult and made it through…  I thought I knew more than I did.  I mean, it is a small book, and I assumed it would be a quick read no matter what.  I knew some people loved Woolf, and I hoped I would find an enjoyable story in it.  After all, it was a day in the life of a woman planning a party… how difficult could it really be?

Yes.  I thought that.  Can you see me cringing with that admission?  I can’t believe that I tried to debase Woolf, not to mention women in general (and I am a woman!) to that level.  I am not even going to get into all the terrible things that I’m thinking about myself right now, for thinking so simply.  For not realizing the scope of what that initial assumption could mean in a general sense.  Like I said, I am a woman (though I’ll safely assume that this applies to men as well) and I am perfectly aware of how much and how often my mind wanders throughout any given day…. subject to subject, to the past, and curious wonderings about strangers I see on the street….  I guess I never expected that true mind stream of thought could be captured so eloquently on the page.

It takes some getting used to; and I certainly had a hard time with it at first.  Thankfully, I received some great advice which really helped me let loose my usual reading style and ride the stream of consciousness flow of thoughts and ideas.  (Read the post and comments linked HERE if you are interested in the discussion)  The two hardest concepts for me to wrap my head around were that there isn’t much plot and that not every little detail matters.  It also helped to read some passages aloud, so I could grasp where the point of view changed.  While this is a day in the life of Mrs. (Clarissa) Dalloway, we also see into the minds of different people in her life or at least touch her life and day and thoughts in some manner.  I’d say that the first quarter of the book is an exercise in adjusting to this literary writing style.

And this style is extraordinary.  It is innovative.  Simple and complex all at once.  You don’t have to like it or enjoy it to see and appreciate the importance of it.  I’d imagine that re-reading this would be almost necessary to pick up on the subconscious thoughts embedded in the stream of consciousness…  It is going to take me a bit before I will be able to do that though.  This was so far out of my comfort zone that I am going to need to be gentle to my mind for a bit and read something light (and with more plot!).  I am not put off by Woolf though, and I still have Orlando on my Classics Club list.  But I will be better prepared to give her and her writing a proper go from the start next time.  I should also add that an annotated edition might have been helpful in my case!

Mrs. Dalloway
by Virginia Woolf
Harcourt, 1998.  Originally published 1925
194 pages
Source:  Purchased Used
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