As I sit, impatient, waiting for the snow to subside so I might start shoveling, I can’t help but think about what I want you to get from reading Mrs. Dalloway. Yes, I know what that makes me, but I’m owning it, so there.
Most important of all is the narrative style, which is the kind of thing that distinguishes knowing how to read from knowing how to read. I actually couldn’t think of a clear way of making a distinction, so I repeated myself and played a font game, which puts the pressure on you to know what I mean and removes from me the responsibility to be clear. Just thought I should let you know, for the sake of transparency. Between the sentence structures, the free indirect style and the epic similes, so much that happens in the story – or at least what happens between the characters’ ears but comes not out of their mouths – is communicated in the kinds of subtleties that reveal themselves only on a second or third reading.
Many of you have indicated a sense that this might be a love story, a story of lost love unrekindled, of a nostalgia for love, and in some ways it might be: albeit a love story among people who don’t know how to love. Outside of Rezia, the character who might be the most loving is Richard – you might see what I mean when he goes shopping with Hugh after Lady Bruton’s luncheon.
Beyond that, I figure I might help if I make a few key points about character:
Clarissa – I already drew your attention to the coldness, the distance, embedded in the “nun withdrawing” passage, where Virginia Woolf first draws your attention to Clarissa’s problems with Victorian Era sexuality and the intimacy associated with married relationships. Clarissa’s life is filled with things she wants and doesn’t want – social class assumptions; closeness with family; “manly” characteristics such as Lady Bruton’s interest in politics and Lady Bexborough’s courage; a connection to Peter. You will run into some very interesting passages about her sense of relationships and her sense of self when Richard comes home from his lunch with Lady Bruton and when Peter remembers her “transcendental theory.”
I had gotten that far by lunch on Monday, and then the urchins tugging at my sleeves prevented me from proceeding. So I ended up here on Tuesday morning.
Septimus – While almost half of you are taking a math test, the rest of us are trying to make more sense of Septimus, the tensions between life and death, the “old” Septimus and the current Septimus, the patterns of unreality that plague him, the treatment he needs and the treatment he receives.
Peter – Like Clarissa, but with a little less complexity, his tensions are time-based. There is a little bit of a tension between the way he wants to see himself and the way he actually sees himself, as well as a disconnect between himself and his social class in the present of the story; and a tension recurrent between his feelings for Clarissa back at Bourton and now in London.
And then there are some interesting little plots: Clarissa’s battle for “possession” of Elizabeth; the anxiety associated with the party; social commentary on Britain’s mental health care system.
A little Google Earthing can take you into the neighborhood between Marylebone and Euston Streets and the Thames, between Regent’s Park and Hyde Park, so you can get a sense of the place where this particular day in the life is happening.
As a parting thought – TAG your highlights and your posts on Subtext, and use multiple tags so you give yourself search options! You don’t make your work any easier if you don’t give yourself a way of finding what you had earlier paid attention to.