Mrs. Dalloway interweaves the lives of the protagonist, Clarissa Dalloway with that of a few other characters, some part of her past self, some part of her present self, some whose lives do not overlap with hers at all (except rather insignificantly at the very end) but run parallel with hers in the sense that they struggle with issues that are partly similar to her own.

The book, just as I expected, is mostly tedious and hard to get through, especially given my short attention span. Sentences are long, some spanning an entire paragraph (!) and divided by many brackets and semicolons that I sometimes have to reread it in parts to really absorb whatever Virginia Woolf is trying to say.

However, what I was really looking forward to when I started on this was deeply beautiful descriptions of life and perceptions of life and death from the point of view of an author that eventually took her own life – I thought it would be interesting – and happily enough that is really what I got as I ploughed through the 200-odd pages. Tedious indeed, but peppered by chunks of wonderfully-put lines such that I find it all completely worth it.

The themes are most probably feminism and homosexuality and post-war culture and the usual what have yous, but what struck me the most was how this book always relentlessly questions the point of our existence and ever so mercilessly pits life and death against each other.

Thanks to its stream of consciousness type of writing (which is what I discovered this style is termed), it examines very closely the hearts and minds of the characters in the book; it amplifies each bout of happiness, each moment of revelry. I was especially moved by Rezia’s response when Septimus returned to his old self for just a while. Here life is sculpted to look so beautiful even if it is only because of the intensity of the different facets to a human being. Each passing moment, emotion, figment of imagination; everything so intangible, but the expanse and the intricacies so breathtaking, that somehow we are led to believe that there actually is something big to life.

And it is a good delusion to have, until the next moment where Virginia Woolf throws life out of the window, and starts toying with death and hate and spite and the unattainability of love. What can life mean when death is always so nearby, always hovering at the door to remind you how short and fragile life can be, that anytime soon it could come knocking?

“All the same, that one day should follow another; Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday; that one should wake up in the morning; see the sky; walk in the park; meet Hugh Whitbread; then suddenly in came Peter; then these roses; it was enough. After that, how unbelievable death was! – that it must end; and no one in the world would know how she had loved it all; how, every instant…”

And what about religion? Can it save people from hate, from fear of death, from guilt, from madness?

“And the supreme mystery which Kilman might say she had solved, or Peter might say he had solved, but Clarissa didn’t believe either of them had the ghost of an idea of solving, was simply this: here was one room; there another. Did religion solve that, or love?”

I suppose the characters I am most in love with are Septimus Warren Smith and Rezia. Septimus’s madness is dreadfully misunderstood, even by his wife: loving, feminine, protective, and desperate to understand. She is in such despair that when Septimus displays even a brief glimpse of his old self, her joy is immeasurable and she does everything she can to cling to that moment, to make the most of that fleeting return of her husband before he is gone again. That scene was so incredibly tragic that I had to tear. (Nobody ever made her laugh like Septimus did) Septimus is a pitiful character, but even within the chaos that inhabit his mind – the hallucinations and fear of things that are real, obsession with things that are not – he recognises his wife; he knows that his wife is on his side. I find that very moving indeed.

At the end of the book, I sort of lost interest – the climax and the ending is the party, but I couldn’t be bothered, and I realised why. I don’t empathise with Clarissa. Her thoughts are beautifully crafted, but I don’t feel sorry for her, I feel sorry for characters around her – Doris Kilman, Ellie Henderson, and so forth. Perhaps even Peter Walsh, because I find him kind of pathetic.

To sum it up- a good book but I think I’ll need to read it a second time before I can fully absorb the point of the book. Maybe that’s why I can’t seem to empathise with Mrs. Dalloway?

So I’ll end it here, with this beautiful excerpt which I don’t fully understand (heh heh):

__________
Through all ages – when the pavement was grass, when it was swamp, through the age of tusk and mammoth, through the age of silent sunrise, the battered woman – for she wore a skirt – with her right hand exposed, her left clutching at her side, stood singing of love – love which has lasted a million years, she sang, love which prevails, and millions of years ago, her lover, who had been dead these centuries, had walked, she crooned, with her in May; but in the course of ages, long as summer days, and flaming, she remembered, with nothing but red asters, he had gone; death’s enormous sickle had swept those tremendous hills, and when at last she laid her hoary and immensely aged head on the earth, now become a mere cinder of ice, she implored the Gods to lay by her side a bunch of purple heather, there on her high burial place which the last rays of the last sun caressed; for then the pageant of the universe would be over.
__________

P.S: Funny quote from Gengrui:

Strange how much heartache a thread of time can give me. says:
my hair is stil awesomely SHORT.
Strange how much heartache a thread of time can give me. says:
like myself.

Haha so cute.

P.P.S. BWV 1007 on Guitar. One (word?). OMG!

I think this would serve as a good OST to Mrs. Dalloway by the way.

Advertisements