Before I begin this post, I should let you all know that I used Grammarly’s free plagiarism checker because, well, I like to watch The Bachelor and write my posts at the same time. Thank goodness for their grammar checks because, whew, there were a couple of embarrassing errors in the first draft. So far I’m using their free trial and it’s great as a second set of eyes for someone who is constantly writing and can’t always get another person to help with the proofreading!
On to the post…
Coming out of class the other day, I texted my friend and said, “Virginia Woolf is a genius. The rest of us should just give up and go home”. I was (half) joking, but the more I learn about her writing, her blending of narratology, her inexplicable penetrating commentary on the structure and workings of society, and her uncanny ability to pinpoint and evoke human emotions, the more I find myself completely enamored. We’re currently tackling Mrs. Dalloway in class, and frankly I can’t see myself making much of a dent in the brilliance of the book unless I spent two or three devoted years of study towards it. That being said, don’t be too intimidated. Mrs. Dalloway is a wild ride and one that every passionate reader should take up at some point.
Be prepared to surrender your senses and sensibilities at the door because the narration in itself will leave you full of doubts. Woolf blends techniques of narration (for you lit nerds, psychonarration and free indirect discourse) which ends up creating doubts in the reader’s mind. There are moments when one sentence could be thought or said by several characters currently present in the scene, and one can’t ever quite put a finger on whose point of view it’s from. This creates a thrilling sense of instability which, if you’re prepared for, makes the reader surrender his or her own authority in the book.
Mrs. Dalloway draws attention to just how ‘mindful’ society is. The narration blends the consciousness of all the characters to emphasize how social and interpersonal relations are so full of other minds. While there’s a positive side to this combination of communications, it also highlights how the opinions and thoughts of others can impose on another’s viewpoints. Rather than being a smooth read, Mrs. Dalloway jars you and makes you hyper-aware of the fact that one’s own mental space is so full of the thoughts of others that it ends up being an incongruous space.
Virginia Woolf demands a great deal from her readers which, at least I, end up giving willingly. Her characterization of people in the story is stunning–down to the nameless, faceless strangers on the street. The simplest thoughts reveal strong reflections of trauma and fear regarding the First World War, religion, the State and the Church, down to how these factors influence the behaviors of every last person in society. She paints characters that are sane, insane, and even the sane representation of insanity (if you can begin to wrap your mind around that, you are a smarter/cooler individual than me). While I’ve heard some call Clarissa Dalloway’s storyline “frivolous”, I find her to be hysterical and on the precipice of unhinging entirely. This make for some very lively debates in class as there is a clear line drawn in the sand between those who find Clarissa to be completely sane and those who find her to be the fine line that rests between sanity and insanity.
Okay, so maybe you should be intimidated by Mrs. Dalloway. That’s just part of the fun. But a book that encourages readers years later to ponder the complexities of the tone, structure, and personalities is truly one of the greats. It deserves to be studied and talked about and interpreted. At the end of the day, the various interpretations are all a reflection on the style of the book itself–that thought and mindfulness is not straightforward and uncomplicated. That there are various ways to interpret emotions and thoughts. That one phrase could be uttered by many and yet there will always be a disconnect. Virginia Woolf captures the intricacies of consciousness in a way that I guarantee no one else could.