Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway / Virginia Woolf
NY: Harcourt, 1953, c1925
296 p.
In my recent readings and rereadings of Virgina Woolf, I was inspired to pick this one up again -- the first Woolf I ever read, many years ago -- when there was a readalong on Twitter. I'm so glad I revisited it. 

This is actually the same edition as the one I found on my cousin's bookshelves so very long ago. When I saw it in a second hand bookshop, I knew I had to buy it, since the yellow cover evokes my first experience with it so well. 

It was just as flowing, just as fascinating as the first time I read it, knowing nothing of the book or even Woolf other than that she was an important writer. But this time I also had tons more reading behind me to compare this with, both Woolf's own writings and so many more which influenced and were influenced by her. It made the reading very rich.

From the famous first line: "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself" to the bittersweet ending, it's a story told like the alighting of a butterfly on different consciousnesses as the narrator's eye sweeps over London. It is like a flowing, continual noticing. Mrs. Dalloway herself likes to have people around her, she's not very self-reflective, and I think the narrative style repeats this: it's about the thoughts, feelings, reactions, interactions of many people, not the interior investigation of one character. Mrs. Dalloway feels only slightly more known by the end than she did at the beginning. I kept thinking back to the appearance of Mrs Dalloway as a young woman in Woolf's The Voyage Out and trying to compare the two versions.

There are so many elements in this book that Woolf repeats throughout her work; the unknowability of others, the awfulness of humanity and bourgeois life, the thoughts and appearance of death and suicide. You can see her thematic and structural interests intersect in all her work. 

This is a beautifully written, poetic book with some very memorable characters, with beauty and sorrow side by side. It richly rewards more than one reading.


  1. I love this book and re-read it every year. I've just completed a novella using it as a sort of informal template because everything about it is so captivating that I can't help but see its themes and patterns in places both remote and near to its locus.

    1. It will be very interesting to see what you make of that! I do love this book also.

  2. This is one of my favorite Woolf novels. (And one of the first books by her that I read.)

    1. I think it still is one of my favourites too. I've found that I love a few and am pretty lukewarm about others.


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