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Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf is a classic. Many of us have read it, many haven't. Still, it is a milestone in literature, so one should probably consider reading it at least once in his life.

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Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf is a classic. Many of us have read it, many haven’t. Still, it represents a ground-breaking piece of literature, so you should probably consider reading it at some point in your life.

What strikes me about this novel is its modernityMinimal and intense, as relevant and true to life as ever. It doesn’t matter that it was published in 1925.

 

The story covers one day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, an upper-class housewife — yet, it is so reductive to define her by her social status. As soon as we open the book, we step into her mind, her emotions. Especially when she meets her old friend and suitor Peter Walsh, whose marriage proposal she turned down years ago. Now she is married and has a daughter, and it looks like she has put away all those intense feelings and has chosen a comfortable life…

 

There is a passage, which is worthy of attention and displays some features of Modernism. It starts when Mrs Dalloway walks back towards Bond Street and considers “if she could have had her life over again!” A longstream-of-consciousness begins and offers a description of the woman from her own perspective: it is her own subjectivity that conducts the description and focuses on how she would like to be, and not how she actually is.

We’ve stepped away from objectivity: here, the narration is “internally focalized” (to quote Genette) on Mrs Dalloway. But, going on, the narration will focalize on other characters (Septimus, Peter, etc.). This can build a confrontation between two characters, through the focalization on each one at a time, when two different inner worlds clash.

In this passage, the focalization on Mrs Dalloway’s character subverts the description, which used to be a prominent and substantial feature of Realism and Naturalism. Here, the description is first denied, by a representation of how the woman would like to be, then misrepresented: “a narrow pea-stick figure, a ridiculous little face, beaked like a bird’s”.  Such a description is how Mrs Dalloway sees herself, and also an alteration of reality: we will never get an external, fixed picture of her appearance.

The ultimate upsetting of the description is its interruption, which also confirms the new predilection for fragmented and discontinuous forms: Mrs Dalloway’s speculation gets interrupted by the brackets, by a Dutch picture she stops to look at, which distracts her from her thoughts. We are in a stream of consciousness, and it is the woman’s mind in control.

 


Mrs Dalloway - UberAuraAuthor: Virginia Woolf
Year: 1925
ISBN:
9780141182490

Edition: Penguin Classics
Pages: 288

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