Saturday, August 04, 2012

Paean to London

Mrs. Dalloway
Mrs. Dalloway 

"She felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged. She sliced like a knife through everything; at the same time was outside, looking on... far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day." - Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

One of my favorite novels  because, like others that share this sobriquet, it is a book that gets better every time I read it. I think that is partly due to my ability to follow the streams of consciousness more carefully and closely as I became more familiar with the plot (I had a similar experience with Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury). But this novel also has many layers of meaning and connections to be made by the reader that I'm sure Virginia gave us as part of her marvelous creation. For example, the evocation of the Great War through Mrs. Dalloway's interaction with Septimus Smith. Shell-shocked after his experiences in the war, he is a so-called madman, who hears voices. He was once in love with a fellow soldier named Evans--a ghost who haunts him throughout the novel.

As your read it and immerse yourself in a day in the life of the eponymous Mrs. Dalloway you share in the quotidian details of her life, but you also experience the emotional moments that are more immediate as you are there in her consciousness of the moment. The everyday is seen in a new light: internal processes are opened up in her prose, memories compete for attention, thoughts arise unprompted, and the deeply significant and the utterly trivial are treated with equal importance. It is a wonderful paean to London and, in spite of the presence of death, to life.

"Lolloping on the waves and braiding her tresses she seemed, having that gift still; to be; to exist; to sum it all up in the moment as she passed... But age had brushed her; even as a mermaid might behold in her glass the setting sun on some very clear evening over the waves." - Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Harcourt: Harvest Book, 1999 (1925)

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