Mrs Dalloway was on one of my university module reading lists, and I really thought that it deserved a review. Being very short at under 200 pages, it was a pleasant change from the Victorian novels I had been used to, and actually meant that I was much more alert for the book’s entirety- aware that every word would matter. I certainly wasn’t wrong about that, it was such an intense read, with every page packed with ‘stuff’- in a good way! I found myself highlighting and underlining all the time, and not merely for academic purposes, but simply because there was just so much that I thought stood out. It was refreshing to read a book that had so much to offer on every page, even though the timeline of the narrative is only actually one day and only really follows preparation for one party.
The fact that this book is set around World War I instantly appealed to me, as it is a subject I can’t ever learn enough about, and the fact that it is written by a woman added to this appeal because so much war literature is dominated by men.
I can’t avoid the truth that the narrative is a little confusing, and only really upon my second and third readings did I really get the book. Mrs Dalloway, if you didn’t know, is written with a ‘stream of consciousness’ narrative. This means that point of view that the narrative is told from can change without notice- even between sentences. Once you have gotten to grips with this, it actually makes for a brilliant read, allowing you to realise how everyone’s thoughts do sort of merge into and follow on from each other in daily life.
The book deals with the issue of PTSD in a very subtle way through the character of Septimus Smith and his relationship, not only with other people, but the world in general. Woolf noted his reactions to such small details that I might never have considered would affect a sufferer, and how this altered his relationships with other people, notably his wife. I really believe this gave the book a new level, and was great to have a character developed in such a way.
On a similar note, Woolf’s attention to detail throughout the entire narrative really was second to none, and her use of figurative language and imagery means that no questions are left as to why Mrs Dalloway is such a timeless classic. One part that particularly stands out to me is close to the beginning, describing the public’s reactions to planes in the sky post war, and the fact that no one can yet fully comprehend that they will not cause harm as they did in previous years.
I would wholeheartedly recommend Mrs Dalloway to anyone regardless of age, gender, or anything. It doesn’t matter that it was written almost one hundred years ago- I believe that everyone has a lot to learn from Woolf’s literature. If nothing else, it allows you to see where modern types of stream of consciousness narrative may have got their inspiration from, and accomplishes such a narrative far better than I have ever read before. Virginia Woolf- a true literary genius.