I wanted so badly to enjoy reading Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. This novel was my first encounter with Woolf’s work, and as such, I was excited, I was ready to be enticed, I was ready to be enchanted by the words of the celebrated author. However, I did not have that experience.
I recognized immediately that page one contained no chapter heading. I was not concerned at first; however, after I read for several pages, twenty or more, I realized there are no separate chapters. The novel is written as one long chapter. I found this phenomenon to be vexing as there were no natural stopping points. I felt as though the book should be read in one long frenzied, and frantic sitting. The frantic need to reach the end of the work increased to the point I felt as though I were anxiously experiencing moments of Woolf’s madness imprinted on the pages the further I read.
From our classroom discussion, I knew of the tunneling through multiple consciousness style of writing, and I expected I would enjoy reading from the multiple personalities. As I began, I expected a visual shift as a cue to a change in consciousness, but as such clues are not always present, I often felt I could not follow the swift changes. At several moments, I felt as though the characters were experiencing thoughts of obsessive-compulsive disorder through the listing of items. At first, I felt the listing was all in the mindset of Clarissa Dalloway as a matter of thought organization when she begins by stating the names of flowers available at Miss Pym’s: “delphiniums, sweet peas, bunches of lilac; and carnations, masses of carnations. There were roses; there were irises” (12). However, the repetition of the listing so quickly on the next page felt as though it were not so much an organization, but a problem. The action is repeated once again in the consciousness of Lucrezia Warren Smith in the form of a multi-step sequence: “Her words faced. So a rocket fades. Its sparks, having grazed their way into the night, surrender to it, dark descends, pours over the outlines of houses and tower; bleak hillsides soften and fall in” (23). Through the purposefulness of this action, I felt more anxious.
Other moments, I felt as though the characters’ thoughts felt extraordinarily fragmented within the same paragraph. Though Clarissa Dalloway appears to recognize this fragmentation, she makes it appear more purposeful as facets of the whole. She explains the difficulty and exertion it takes to put oneself together as “[. . .] she alone knew how different, how incompatible and composed so for the world only into one centre, one diamond, one woman [. . .]” (36). Though I did not feel the joining together of myself in the way of a faceted diamond, I feel as though I did experience a fragmentation of my thoughts alongside the pages which led me to a feeling of isolation which was reflected in the thoughts of Septimus Warren Smith when he claims “he could reason; he could read, Dante for example, quite easily [. . .] he could add up his bill; his brain was perfect; it must be the fault of the world then—that he could not feel” (86). Because I know nothing is wrong with my brain, hopefully, much like that of Septimus, I must find fault elsewhere in the world of Woolf.
Though I did not enjoy the reading of Mrs. Dalloway in its entirety, I felt I glimpsed the “secret deposit of exquisite moments” (29) through lines which were truly remarkable moments of literary ecstasy. These were moments in which I could see the landscape of London unfolding in waves before my eyes, the many colors of nature (especially through the multiple red and white flowers) blossoming across the pages, and the lives of the characters unraveling like seams.
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. 1925. Harcourt, 2005.