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.

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