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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf Mrs. Dalloway is a classic of English literature that I decided to read to provide background knowledge for my anticipated reading of the novel The Hours by Michael Cunningham which I understand contains parallels to this book. I read Woolf’s A Room of Our Own earlier this year for a book discussion group, and I intended to get both Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours read prior to that meeting, but I didn’t get it done. So now I’m part way through my effort to educate myself about Virginia Woolf’s writing.

The book’s story covers one day in the life of Mrs. Dalloway and her surrounding post-WWI London community as she prepares for a party that she hosts that evening. As the story develops we are exposed to the interior thoughts and social conversations of a circle of upper class individuals in their fifties. Many in this circle of acquaintances have known each other from youth and are now able to reflect on their life’s experiences and ponder the meaning of it all. Such incidences as rejected and/or accepted marriage proposals, war-time experiences and various personality clashes are recalled. Repeatedly the reader is made aware of the considerable gap between interior thoughts and what is actually said out loud.

A sense of melancholy prevails throughout the novel. The aspirations of youth haven’t been met, and there are frequent reminders of those lost in the war. The miscellaneous resentments, jealousies, prejudices, and revulsion at other’s undesirable personality traits are made very real by the book’s narrative. However, there are other moments in the story when various individuals express feelings of joy and happiness.

The narrative describes a suicide by a war veteran who is apparently suffering from what we today call post-traumatic stress disorder. Since we now know that Virginia Woolf suffered from bipolar disorder and eventually committed suicide herself, one can’t help but wonder how much of her own thought patterns are being expressed by the characters in this book. It is clear from this book that Virginia Woolf did not think highly of the medical profession’s treatments for mental disorders.