Don’t Judge a Book by its First Three Pages–Meghan

After reading the first three pages of Novel on Yellow Paper, I closed the book, walked into my living room, and handed the book to my fiancee saying, “I don’t get it.” He took Novel on Yellow Paper from me and read the first three pages aloud. When he was done I said, “see, it doesn’t make any sense and I hate it.” Though I didn’t really hate the book and I was already frustrated by the numerous other things I had to read or write that night, I judged the book very early. Eventually, I picked the book up again and continued reading. I was still frustrated with the style and found myself drifting off into other thoughts because I wasn’t fully following the text. I found the stream of consciousness writing difficult to follow, and, at first, everything seemed very random.  As I continued to read, I started understanding–or at least following–the style. The use of stream of consciousness proved to be an interesting perspective. I began to appreciate the witty comments, humor, and historical awareness that Smith presented throughout the novel.

Although I did develop an appreciation for the style and content, I still wasn’t engulfed in the text. I was curious what kind of reviews the book had and if any reflected my frustration. I found a review that called Novel on Yellow Paper a “book of a lifetime” and spoke highly of the text. I found a another review that aligned more closely with my own views of the novel claiming it to a little frustrating and have little plot, but many ideas.

I also found a blog that claimed Novel on Yellow Paper to be Woolfian because of the stream of consciousness style in which it is written. However, I disagree with this claim because I found Mrs. Dalloway much easier to follow. Plus, as we discussed in class, Woolf does not use a stream of consciousness style, but rather free indirect discourse. Mrs. Dalloway also has a clear plot (Clarissa preparing for a party), whereas Novel on Yellow Wallpaper does not. I can see a slight connection between the two novels, but I

In the end, though it honestly was not my favorite book, I found Novel on Yellow Paper to be an interesting read. I think my favorite thing about the book, aside from the literary references and humor, was that the novel was reflective of random thoughts that happen throughout the day. Though this was also the part that I found frustrating, I began to see the artistic element in stringing together random thoughts. Also, I thought it was interesting that the random thoughts ended up not really being random because they were reflective of events and interactions in Pompey’s life. I think thought tangents, like Pompey’s, happen to everyone (at least they do to me), and you wonder how your brain got there. Though I wouldn’t place Novel on Yellow Paper on the same level as Mrs. Dalloway, I agree that the novel is compelling and witty.

Here are a couple recordings of Stevie Smith reciting her work. Novel on Yellow Paper is not included, but I think it is interesting and useful to hear how the author reads their work.


For the Birds

There are so many interesting aspects of this novel that I still want to discuss. One that I am still not completely sure what to make of, and one we didn’t address in class, is the bird imagery in Mrs. Dalloway.

As I was reading, I noticed bird imagery and descriptions of people as birds constantly.  Two birds are mentioned on the first page alone—A lark and a rook. I figured this would be a topic that had been written about at length, but I couldn’t find much in the library databases, or even by doing a general internet search, that discussed the use of birds in the novel. Eventually I uncovered a couple of sources that discussed the bird imagery, but not in very much detail. One source, a blog post on Blogspot,  tracks the instances of bird imagery in the novel.

In trying to decipher these images, I  thought about what birds can represent. The obvious things that come to mind are the juxtaposition of freedom in flight and life in a cage, the migratory nature of birds, the use of the term “bird” to refer to a young girl, and the fluttering nature of the smaller birds. The metaphor is complex, though,  because of the variety of birds used. Clarissa is described as a jay, Septimus as a hawk, Sir William Bradshaw as a swooping bird of prey, and Lucrezia as a little hen. The most obvious distinction here is between the male and female characters. The males are powerful, large birds of prey and the women are fragile little birds. The birds, I think, represent the character’s place in society.



Illustration of a Jay from the The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSBP).

There is so much I could say, but for now I want to focus on Septimus as a hawk. The idea of danger seemed to come up in this novel a few times. One of my favorite lines in the novel is “she [Clarissa] always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day” (Woolf 8). I love this line because, to me, it serves as a commentary on the novel itself–which takes place over the course of just one day and becomes quite dangerous at points. The day could be seen as dangerous to Septimus since he doesn’t live through it, but Septimus can also be seen as a danger to the society he is part of. He sees things for what they really are and ignores the conventions of his society. Septimus, thus, represents a threat to that society.

Another interesting aspect of bird imagery in Mrs. Dalloway is the beak imagery. I’m not sure I want to venture down this road, but this  (on p.47 of the google book) excerpt from The Flight of the Mind: Virginia Woolf’s Art and Manic-Depressive Illness by Thomas C. Caramagno discusses the implications of a “beak.”

My final guess as to the reason for all the bird imagery may be far-fetched, but the birds may represent the meaningless of (most) of the characters’ lives and their society.The use of the phrase “for the birds” was used during the first half of the 1900s, according to The Free Dictionary, and it was used to refer to something worthless or something that shouldn’t be taken seriously. This seems an apt description for the London society Woolf paints in the novel.


Red and White Roses: Love and Silence-Meghan

Warning: I’m going to nerd out on plants again.

As I briefly discussed in class last night, one of the articles from my annotated bibliography discussed the meanings of plants in Mrs. Dalloway. In her article, “Nature as Symbol and Influence: The Role of Plants in Mrs. Dalloway,” Jeanne Shearer explains a bit of history about plant symbolism. I am just going to throw in a few fun facts here from Shearer’s article because they are fascinating, and then I will talk about Mrs. Dalloway, I promise.

Fun fact 1: “In nineteenth-century Europe, flower symbolism appeared in the popular flower language…[which] consisted of certain flowers representing specific words or phrases; combinations of significant flowers could thus spell out whole sentences” (Shearer 26). Isn’t that cool? I wish we still spoke in flower language.

Fun fact 2: “Several Greek myths deal with the origin of certain flowers, many of which are described as having come from the blood or tears of certain gods and goddesses” (Shearer 26).

Anyway, back to Mrs. Dalloway. Since there is SO much plant symbolism in the novel I am going to stick to the scene that Richard gives Clarissa red and white roses and does not say what he is feeling. Shearer claims that roses in general “symbolize love and beauty” and that red and white roses “are a symbol of unity” (26). Since Clarissa is having issues with her identity and searching for herself, Shearer claims that the white and red roses signify a unity with Richard because she identifies as his wife, as Mrs. Dalloway (26). However, I looked into this a little bit more and found some other interesting factors that could contribute to our reading of the flowers. According to the article, “Flower Meanings: Language of Flowers,” in  The Old Farmer’s Almanac, white roses symbolize purity, innocence, reverence, and silence, whereas red roses symbolize love and desire (just for kicks and for the sake of this blog post, let’s pretend the white roses are a symbol for Clarissa, and the red roses are a symbol for Richard). The two words I found most compelling in these descriptions are “reverence” and “silence.” If we apply these words to how we read Clarissa, I think we can learn something about her internal struggles. Because we know that Clarissa is having somewhat of an identity crisis, I think the symbolism of “reverence” in the white roses could refer to her reflecting on her past, when she enjoyed life and was proud of who she was. She is searching for her identity but she is tied to Richard and has lost her independence, which brings me to the next word: silence. If Clarissa has lost her identity and is now defined by her husband, then “silence” becomes problematic. Although it may be a stretch, I think the white roses could symbolize Clarissa’s silence and her conversion into thinking she know nothing. This could be another way Woolf is depicting male dominance over females in the novel. Before Clarissa was married, she read Plato before breakfast and seemed to be a free-spirit; however, after her marriage, she has been silenced and does not express her opinions or engage in educated conversations. Instead, Clarissa is left worrying about domestic duties, such as throwing a party and entertaining people.

Shifting to Richard (whom I do not have as much to say about), I think the red roses symbolize him because he cannot say what he is thinking. Richard wants to tell Clarissa that he loves her, but he does not use words, he only gives her the flowers. If the flower language that I mentioned at the beginning of this post is still relevant, than maybe he got the idea across. However, let’s assume flower language isn’t common knowledge. Giving someone roses, especially red roses, is pretty cliche. Sure, it is a nice gesture and shows that you were thinking about someone, but it isn’t very original. Flowers are nice, but I think they are a default when you want someone to know (or think) you like them. Richard is hoping that Clarissa understands that he is trying to say “I love you,” but is he really? Or is he telling Clarissa that she needs to remain silent (with the use of the white roses) and that he will appear to love her (with the use of the red roses)? Just a random thought.

Note: I have not found consistent meanings on all of the flowers. I am just going along with the article in the Farmer’s Almanac, like I said before.

Here are a few other sites to check out if you are interested:



Mrs. Dalloway- Annotated Bibliography


Here are a few sources that I ran into while researching, but I did not include in my annotated bibliography. Someone might find them useful:

Colesworthy, Rebecca. “‘The Perfect Hostess’: Mrs. Dalloway, Gift Exchange, and the End of Laissez-Faire.” Modernist Cultures, vol. 9, no. 2, Fall 2014, pp. 158-185.

Czarnecki, Kristin, and Carrie Roman, editors. Virginia Woolf and the Natural World: Selected Papers from the Twentieth Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf. Georgetown University, 2010. (This one looks really interesting, but I haven’t been able to look over it because it just came through on the library exchange).

Tromanhauser, Vicki. “Mrs. Dalloway’s Animals and the Humanist Laboratory.” Twentieth Century Literature, vol. 58, no. 2, Summer 2012, pp. 187-212

Wiechert, Nora. “‘No Sense of Porportion’: Urban Green Space and Mental Health in Mrs. Dalloway.” Virginia Woolf Miscellany, vol. 78, Fall 2010, pp. 21-23.


Meghan Miller