Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
"Mrs. Dalloway said that she would buy the flowers herself." This sentence launches Woolf's classic 1925 novel, an early, brilliant example of the stream-of-consciousness technique in fiction, following its characters' thoughts as they circle and spiral ever deeper into emotionally meaningful themes, despite or because of external distractions. Although Woolf wrote a blazingly contemporary novel, it evokes for today's readers the London of almost a century ago in which dusty social customs had begun slipping away: young women startle the elderly with the narrow, ankle-baring cut of their skirts; Clarissa Dalloway has servants but wants them to like her; men have returned shell-shocked from the war in Europe; the Church is losing its grip on people's beliefs.
And yet the novel is timeless: dense with insight into human nature, filled with breath-catching descriptions of everyday sights and sounds that soar into metaphor. Its point-of-view shifts are themselves metaphorical: people pass each other on the street or are married for decades, and utterly misunderstand each other; all the same, their lives are constantly touching and affecting each other, linked by "that spider's thread of attachment."
On a day in June, Clarissa prepares for the party she will host that evening. The fresh morning air recalls the summer when she was eighteen. She broke off her attachment to Peter Walsh that year and, instead, married Richard Dalloway. Peter "would be back from India one of these days," she thinks. And so it happens: he visits that very morning. Their feelings for each other remain troubling and complex, muted and strong. An awareness of their mortality hangs over them, for no specifically stated reason except that they are, as we all are, mortal. That chance "spider's thread of attachment" links Clarissa, also, to a shell-shocked war veteran haunted by the dead, a tragic figure whom she never meets. His doctor has pompously pronounced that he has "nothing whatever seriously the matter with him," but the man's wife knows better. (1925; 197 pages in the 1981 Harvest edition)More about Mrs. Dalloway at Powell's Books or Amazon.com
Back to Europe Between the Wars
Back to Directory of Book Reviews