Set over the course of a single day in post-First World War London, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway was, and in many ways still is, regarded as a truly innovative novel and it was on these grounds that I decided to pick it up.
And I must say, at first, I was not too sure I had made the right decision. The opening pages though they are adorned with flowery, vivid descriptions that paint the London inhabited by the book’s affluent cast as a comfortable and charming world, seemed to be (in absence of a Woolf-esque description) about a whole lot of nothing. I found myself torn as although the prose was undeniably beautiful the distinct lack of story other than the fact that Mrs Dalloway would be hosting a party, left me seriously considering putting it down.
In the end, owing largely to its relative shortness at just 213 pages, I decided to see things through.
Having now read Mrs Dalloway in its entirety, I can say whole-heartedly that this proved to be the correct decision. What I took at first glance to be the purposeless, persistent charting of the characters’ meandering thoughts actually transpired to be a fascinating exploration into the complexity of the human mind and the enormous spectrum of emotions, feelings, and thoughts that trouble our consciousness every day. The cast of Mrs Dalloway, through their fluctuating emotions, prompt a re-assessment of the common propensity to downplay the relentless inner workings in every human mind as the simple mundanity of ‘normal people’. The character’s tribulations also force us to acknowledge as human beings that we are actually far more complex than we give ourselves credit for.
These inner musings of the male and female characters often focus around the notion status and the undeniable role it plays in life. Over the course of a single day, the characters seek to address the lifelong battle for self-definition that all people face; ponder how the world views them; and even in some cases, contemplate re-definition following a loss of status. The fact that these characters do this prior to and during a party in which the Prime Minister makes an appearance in an era that is more or less a century old, is as far as I’m concerned, irrelevant, as the soul-searching they undertake is just as applicable to people now in the era of Brexit and Donald Trump as it was in the time of David Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson. For that reason, Mrs Dalloway, though its purpose may at first seem obsolete, is deserving of its status as a classic piece of British literature.
Rating: 3.5/5 Beautifully written and unique in concept. Worthy of its place on any readers bucket list.