I decided to read Mrs Dalloway as my third Woolf novel primarily because it is the novel most often mentioned in Hermione Lee's wonderful biography of the author. My first Woolf novel was The Waves, followed by Jacob's Room. I also read and posted on two of her short stories and two of her essays on reading. The Waves was my first ever encounter with Woolf and it was enough to make me start The Reading Life Virginia Woolf Project in which I will try to read all her short and long fiction. Just prior to reading The Waves I read Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End which I had come to see as a kind of cubist novel in which reality is constructed socially from many points of view and this is sort of a way into Woolf. The Waves and Jacob's Room to a lesser extent are novels of the stream of consciousness of the characters. It is not easy on first reading to get the "action" straight in your mind and I think that is not the real pleasure in Woolf anyway. A Woolf novel to me is not a puzzle to figure out. The value to me lies in seeing how far we can enter into the stream of consciousness of the characters. I love the many literary references in these works and the passing asides about the reading life are wonderful. I have decided to let Woolf teach me to read Woolf though I totally endorse the Hermione Lee work. My pleasure in Woolf is also personally reinforced by her association with Katherine Mansfield.
Mrs Dalloway is about one day in the life of the lead character, Mrs Dalloway. Most of her time and thoughts are taken up with the planning of a party. The events also run sort of in tandem with the last day in the life of a war veteran. I would not say I understood all the action nor did I worry over what I missed -what I took into my own stream of consciousness will well reward my efforts. Reading Woolf can be done very much for the beauty of the prose and the marvelous bits of streams of consciousness that can emerge when least expected. At times the concerns of Mrs Dalloway some how brought to mind to me Eliot's "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock". I hope my next long Woolf work will be Orlando though I may read some shorter works along the way soon.
I am open for suggestions as how to approach Woolf. As of now I plan to read the acknowledged master works first and short works sort of at random. Please leave any ideas also as to very good secondary works on Woolf and her circle.