Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, August 21, 2010

"Mrs. Dalloway" by Virginia Woolf-On Learning to Read Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925, 195 pages)
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.


Mel u


Suko said...

Excellent review! The idea of writing a book about one day of life was quite revolutionary, I think. And to write about giving a party, a chance for Mrs. Dalloway to "kindle and illuminate" was an opportunity for Virginia Woolf to exhibit her many gifts as a writer.

Mel u said...

Suko-thanks as always-!!!

Mel said...

Great review and helpful :)
Even though my mother loved Virginia Woolf I have not picked up any of her work since I was a teenager. Unfortunately I tried reading A Room of Ones Own and found it too difficult for me at that age.

I remember watching the film Orlando many years ago (with Tilda Swinton in the lead) and loved it. I would be interested in reading this novel and look forward to your review.

Your description of your approach to reading Woolf is helpful, and encourages me to give her another try. Thanks :)

claire said...

I particularly loved To the Lighthouse. It was very poignant. Orlando was very enjoyable, too. Have you already gotten a copy? If not, I do recommend getting the Penguin Modern Classics edition, as the notes were extremely helpful in understanding and appreciating the novel.

I haven't read her secondary novels but have a copy of Jacob's Room and Night and Day..

Rise said...

I'd like to read this sometime. I've read an excellent book 'The Mystery Guest' by Gregoire Bouillier that contains references to 'Mrs Dalloway' that I can't appreciate in full. Besides, Woolf is a favorite though I haven't really followed up my reading of her (I positively admired 'To the Lighthouse' and 'A Common Reader, vol. 1).

Ash said...

My favorite works by Woolf are her memoirs which are in Moments of Being as a very nice collected. I loved Mrs. Dalloway, it was my third or fourth book by Woolf.

Kinna said...

My favorite Woolf is To The Lighthouse. But then I love all her works. Your approach to reading her works is perfect. Enjoy and I look forward to her reviews.

Mel u said...

Mel-yes do give her another trial-maybe start with a short story

Kinna-Thank you so much-I hope to read Lighthouse soon

Rise-thanks very much for your comment

Ash-thanks so much for your reading ideas

Unknown said...

I discovered your blog last weekend and I'm really loving every review you've posted on it. I can see the dedication you have to your readings.
I love Virginia Woolf's works and I see you like her also, so I indicate The Hours by Michal Cunningham (if you haven't read it yet).

Mel u said...

Luis, thanks so much. I have posted on a few older Brazilian short stories also. I have been to Rio de Janirio several times, where in Brazil do you reside?