Starting Mrs Dalloway

I’ve just started reading Mrs Dalloway, my introduction to Virginia Woolf, and clearly I left it far too long to start reading her. I will have a review on here in due course; but there’s a time for reflecting, and a time for more immediate reactions. I started reading Mrs Dallloway, and was… well, engulfed by it.

I mean, just listen to this, from the second page:

For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment, afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.

I found the tumble of words electrifying, intoxicating… and then came this:

For it was the middle of June. The War was over, except for some one like Mrs Foxcroft at the Embassy last night eating her heart out because that nice boy was killed and now the old Manor House must go to a cousin; or Lady Bexborough who opened a bazaar, they said, with the telegram in her hand, John, her favourite, killed; but it was over, thank Heaven – over.

Clarissa Dalloway’s perception envelops you; you’re carried along by the brio of her viewpoint… then comes the sting of lives cut short by the War, the knowledge that there are stories which (presumably) don’t get to be told. This sort of experience is why I read fiction… and the novel has only just begun.

Book details (Foyles affiliate link)

Mrs Dalloway (1925) by Virginia Woolf, Vintage Classics paperback

9 Comments

  1. Mrs Dalloway was the first Woolf I read, many many years ago, and I had a similar experience to the one you I describe. Her writing is stunning – there’s nothing else like it.

  2. i am looking forward to being similarly engulfed later on this year. Still debating whether to begin the Woolfalong with Mrs D or To the Lighthouse.

  3. I’m so glad you’ve been so drawn in by Virginia Woolf – I first read Mrs Dalloway about eight years ago and liked it but wasn’t over whelmed. When I read To the Lighthouse the first two or three days of the New Year I was absolutely blown away. So in the next few weeks I will be re-reading Mrs Dalloway.

  4. I am not participating to the Woolfalong. I was lucky to be made to discover Virginia Woolf when I was ten. I was in bed with a cold, and Mother gave me To the Lighthouse in the translation by Margurtite Yourcenar to read. It was a shock but not that great as I was discovering Proust at the same time (my reading aducation has been very bizarre). Since then, Virginia Woolf has been a constant companion – I would not dare say “a friend”… When you finish with “Mrs Dalloway”, it is interesting to read “The Hours”, which is a clever “paraphrase” of Woolf novel. Then there is the film with Meryl Streep, and try to grab the film “Mrs Dalloway” with Vanessa Redgrave as Clarissa. Superb.

  5. Engulfed is a good word, as is intoxicating. It really opens with style doesn’t it? And continues with it too.

    What’s the origin of this Woolfalong thing?

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