Unfortunately – I say this with regret – I did not like Mrs Dalloway.
Reason Number 1: The writing is extremely confusing, with sentences that are so long you forget the point that is being made.
Reason Number 2: The stream of consciousness flits between characters with absolutely no warning. One minute, you’re reading about a man in a park and then the narrative flies to a totally opposite side of London from a different character’s viewpoint.
Reason Number 3: I have never lived in London. I do not know where the Strand is or how far it is from Trafalgar Square. Woolf mentions various London locations over 240 times! There is a person out there who has actually found the time to trace the footsteps of Mrs Dalloway, Peter Walsh and Septimus Smith. This map can be found by clicking here. If a map has to be made to demonstrate the walking pattern of individual characters, then there is far too much thinking involved for my poor, confused, non-Londoners brain.
A word of advice: DO NOT PICK A NOVEL FOR YOUR DISSERTATION THAT YOU HAVE NEVER READ. I hadn’t read Mrs Dalloway before I thought it was a good idea to use it in my dissertation. Now, I am most definitely regretting that decision. But you live some you learn some. That’s why I’m telling this to you and putting it in caps to remind myself never to make that mistake again. Moving on.
As a book, Mrs Dalloway just did not grip me. I found it increasingly difficult to read, finding myself skim reading (something I do not do if I find a good book). I was hoping that not only did I have to read it, but that I wanted to read it. This was most certainly not the case.
The novel takes place during one day in June. Clarissa Dalloway is organising a party, something she appears to be very good at and enjoys doing. Her party is that night and the book follows her preparations for it. However, the narrative also changes between Peter Walsh, an ex-lover of Clarissa’s, and Septimus Smith, a war veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. It is one of those books in which plot is almost extinct. If someone asked me to describe the plot, I wouldn’t be able to describe it like I would a book such as Huckleberry Finn or even Harry Potter. The book focuses more on character’s thoughts and decisions, important particularly in the case of Septimus as the reader can clearly see his PTSD and how it affects the relationship with his wife. It is clear that Woolf is trying to capture the mundanity of life, rather than dramatising it. A book very similar in this sense is Catcher in the Rye, by J.D.Salinger, a novel in which Holden, the protagonist, is kicked out of school and left to wander aimlessly around New York.
Woolf was clearly interested in mental health and thoughts as this is what the novel centres around. She herself struggled with depression and mental health issues throughout her life, before committing suicide in 1941 at the age of fifty-nine. The way in which she wrote was revolutionary in terms of literature and changed the way in which novels were written; there are no chapters, her punctuation is extremely unusual and her use of stream of consciousness is genius. However, I did find that there was no plot and the book was very difficult to follow. I will be reading it again as it is my dissertation topic and I will be trying to make more sense of it then!
Length: 176 pages.
Setting: 1920s, post World War One.
Overall rating; 3/5