“Beauty, the world seemed to say. And as if to prove it (scientifically) wherever he looked at the houses, at the railings, at the antelopes stretching over the palings, beauty sprang instantly. To watch a leaf quivering in the rush of air was an exquisite joy. Up in the sky swallows swooping, swerving, flinging themselves in and out, round and round, yet always with perfect control as if elastics held them; and the flies rising and falling; and the sun spotting now this leaf, now that, in mockery, dazzling it with soft gold in pure good temper; and now again some chime (it might be a motor horn) tinkling divinely on the grass stalks—all of this, calm and reasonable as it was, made out of ordinary things as it was, was the truth now; beauty, that was the truth now. Beauty was everywhere.”
Virginia Woolf was an incredibly successful author in post Great War Britain, when the literary institution was reeling from the hail of bullets and the need for great authors grew. And she was a good author. In the extract above from arguably one of her best books, ‘Mrs Dalloway’ it is evident of her writing prowess, the images created in the mind’s eye and her ability is incomparable to the others of her time. But, I’m afraid to say, ‘Mrs Dalloway’ is boring. Very boring. Yes, there are some eye-catching descriptions and the analysis of characters is unlike anything I’ve seen before but they are few and far between, paling by the direness of the thing in whole. I’m sure some will disagree with me, this I respect, but of the List this is by far one of the most tiresome to read (rivalled only, maybe, by ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ by Robert Louis Stevenson.) Tiresome not in that it’s too hard to read, but that the reading is dull. Every little thing is explained and described in detail, so every little thing comes across as a monotone. I did appreciate a lot of it but I didn’t appreciate the majority.
Mrs Clarissa Dalloway prepares for a party of which she is hostess, so spends most of her day in London getting everything ready while also pondering the meaning of life etc. Because, naturally, this would be the type of thing an air-headed socialite would be thinking about while pruning flowers and fussing over her guests. These guests are a group of characters in whose minds we peer and learn more about them over the course of the day and the party, in which their lives all seem to be connected. Clarissa herself, reminiscing about the past and pondering her role in society; Richard, her husband, government worker who remains distant and austere from his wife and her world; Elizabeth, her seventeen year old daughter, who greatly resents her mother; Miss Kilman, Elizabeth’s history teacher who despises Clarissa but very much likes Elizabeth; Septimus Warren Smith, a detached WWI veteran who mourns for his deceased army friend Evans; Lucrezia “Rezia” Smith, Septimus’ Italian wife who is burdened by his mental illness; Dr Bradshaw, psychiatrist to Septimus who notes his nervous breakdown; Sally, a lesbian love interest of Clarissa’s; Hugh Whitbread, pompous friend to Clarissa; Peter Walsh, another friend whose romantic advances she denied when younger; and a few more.
I did like ‘Mrs Dalloway’ at times but given the majority I found that on whole it was tedious and dragged on quite a bit. I am sorry to say that I did not like it as much as I thought I would/would have liked to. Still, the importance of the novel with such themes of mental illness, feminism and homosexuality so far before its time is undeniable. ‘Mrs Dalloway’ is a classic-just not one I enjoyed.
‘Mrs Dalloway’ is available on Amazon in paperback (£1.99) and on Kindle (£0.77)