Friday, January 22, 2010

Woolf in Winter: The Belated Celebration


I told you all I'd be late to the Woolf in Winter party, but I hadn't expected to be quite this late! The original discussion took place on January 15th, and it's now January 22nd. Nevertheless, I'm tickled to be posting anything about Mrs. Dalloway because it's my first of Woolf's novels, and it's only now that I'm finishing it after three or four failed attempts in my younger daze days.

My first run-in with Woolf was in a literary criticism class as an undergraduate. My very favorite professor required us to read an excerpt from "A Room of One's Own." I was startled and tickled when I read anything in that class that I actually "got," and Woolf's extended essay was no exception. I fell in love with her ideas and her words, and my professor had a knack for making all writers and philosophers seem the most fascinating creatures. I fell in love with Woolf's reputation as much as her essay.

Sadly, it's taken me almost exactly ten years to return to Woolf. It's not for lack of trying, I assure you. I bought my own copy of Mrs. Dalloway many years ago, and for whatever reason I would start and stop. I suspect it was the density of her stream-of-consciousness style. However, I have continued to indulge in the Woolf mystique by reading The Hours. I consider it one of my favorite novels, and I'll certainly be revisiting it after this roll in the hay with Mrs. Dalloway.

So I suppose you're wondering what I thought of the book? Beautiful. Very dense but very beautifully written. Having taken a stab at Joyce several years ago, I can safely say that Woolf's stream-of-consciousness is far more enjoyable and far more believable than that of Joyce. While I had to have my concentration cap on to read through her work, it was definitely worth it. It was even worth the dead-end e-book and finishing up the reading willy-nilly from an internet e-text. It will be nice to revisit Clarissa, et al, in paperbound version one day, though.

I think my very favorite parts of the novel were actually the peripheral characters. Sections I particularly enjoyed were those devoted to Septimus and Rezia and their heartbreaking plight, Clarissa's daughter Elizabeth and the sad Miss Kilman, and the enigmatic Sally Seton. Of course I enjoyed Peter Walsh very much, and even the moments inside Richard Dalloway's head. I really thought Clarissa would be the star for me, but what I found was that these other characters whirling around London helped put Clarissa into greater focus. Through their experiences, losses, tragedies, the reader gets a better feel for what Clarissa is about: her shortcomings, her triumphs, her insecurities, and her overall sense of self. 

There's much going on in this slim volume from a critique of the social structure to issues of feminism and homosexuality. I found it all stunning, though I know it'll take a re-reading or two to "catch" even more of Woolf's complicated narrative. I'm also looking forward to exploring more of her work and seeing which themes and motifs repeat in the next discussion, To the Lighthouse.

10 comments:

  1. Good to know you're looking forward to the next one (I'll be reading 'To the Lighthouse')and that her writing needs concentration, but isn't all that scary.

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  2. Not scary! I was pleasantly surprised myself.

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  3. Today was my third time re-starting To the Lighthouse. For me, it is impossible to take any of it in when I'm not 100% focused on every word. But I'm glad to be reading it and delving further into Woolf's work.

    I had a lot of fun reading Mrs. Dalloway. Maybe it's because I had already read it once but the second time around, it felt like I didn't have to try so hard to take things in - and odd little details that I missed popped out at me.

    As for being late, it's a fashionable late of sorts. I look foward to your thoughts on To the Lighthouse!

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  4. I haven't read any Woolf except Mrs. Dalloway and A Room of One's Own - loved both. Looking forward to your future reviews so I can tell which other novels to try :)

    I was in a college library last year and saw her collected diaries & letters. That must be some interesting reading.

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  5. Yeah, I still haven't read Woolf. I am very far behind in the celebration!

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  6. I haven't read To the Lighthouse, but I did rent the movie a few years back. Probably soon after watching Mrs. Dalloway. I can't say I loved reading MD, but I appreciated the work, especially after reading (and viewing) The Hours. The two would make a great f2f book club "assignment" although I doubt I could get half my members to even finish Mrs. Dalloway.

    I love your new layout. Very crisp and clean. I rarely ever look at all the sidebar stuff people have posted on their templates. It gets a bit overwhelming when there's too much clutter. I really need to make the switch from Blogger's classic template so I can freshen things up a bit. I tried the new templates when they first came out, but wound up messing up my hyperlinks to Amazon, so I switched back.

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  7. Lena, I'm hoping on my subsequent readings of MD I'll catch much more detail than I did the first time. And amen to concentration. It's essential!

    April, I really want to read her diaries and letters. Many authors I would pass over, but I bet hers are great.

    LOL, Kailana! You'll get round to her one day, I'm sure.

    Les, it's one of those I appreciated more than enjoyed. It didn't set my nosehairs on fire or anything, but I am so glad I read it. Especially after several failed attempts. Thanks re: the template. I hunted for a while, and this is my favorite of my findings. It's always a pain to undertake the switch, but it's worth it when it's over. Good luck playing with yours!

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  8. I really love Mrs. Dalloway and I like the fact that it is told in first person narrative. Such a great story about the choices we make and looking back on them with hindsight and how we continue on, even with regrets.

    On a side note - they have made a new adaptation of Emma that you can watch via PBS or online...

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/emma/watch.html

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  9. Christine, it is a great book isn't it?! And I'm so excited about this new version of Emma. I just saw mention of it on another blog, and I will definitely be watching. The Gwyneth Paltrow version was a huge fave of mine growing up.

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  10. I am glad you liked it! It seems to be the general concesus but I just couldn't get into it. I think maybe it was the time and place in my life. I had just slumbered through a longer book which placed me right in someone's head so this one was just as maddening. It might be a re-read when I am older.

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