Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Listened to it. Great for walks & other forms of travel

An audio version has once again (e.g., Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby) helped me to complete a classic that I’d stalled upon in previous attempts. Audible reader Anne Flosnick provided a fine reading of the text. After all, the novel is about nothing in particular and everything.

Mrs. Dalloway is a London matron giving a party one fine June day not long after the end of the Great War (WWI). Starting with this premise, Woolf acts as an eavesdropper on the thoughts—often mundane and full of envy and remorse—of those who encounter or surround Clarissa Dalloway. Despite serving as the title character, Clarrisa Dalloway, does nothing of significance, nor do any of the other characters with one significant exception. And that was the act of a man gone out of his right mind (if I may use that old-fashioned turn of phrase). Thus, the novel is full of activity and lacking in action. It has characters but no actors. I suppose that this is, in part, why it serves as an example of modern fiction. (N.B. Woolf was not on my Modern Fiction (David Morrell) reading list, but this seems like it would have fit.) 

By the end of the novel, we have a sense of the characters, at least of their inner chatter. We live by our own internal monologues (don’t you?), and Woolf captures the monologues of this set of Londoners—at least as far as I could imagine them—brilliantly. If we laid out our thoughts to examine them, I suspect we’d be appalled at what we see. Our daily thoughts and mental images usually won’t have the sex obsession that Freud imagined or the mythic grandeur suggested by Jung. Most are rather like small fish that we reel in thinking we’ve made a great catch when in fact they’re all small-fry, rarely worth examining and embarrassing to discuss.

Woolf captures multiple streams of consciousness without creating the prose challenges laid down by the likes of Joyce or Faulkner. Her prose is clean and efficient, written as a sympathetic reporter. Woolf does not comment upon her characters. She does not impose judgment upon them. She captures them and puts them on display for us. She reveals the streams of consciousness of these individuals who collide and coalesce around this one London lady who’s throwing a party, Mrs. Dalloway.

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