Mrs. Dalloway

As a woman of a certain age, I wanted to read books about women of a certain age, and this book falls into that category: Mrs. Dalloway by another English writer, Virginia Woolf. I want to talk about certain aspects of the plot and there is not much of a plot, that’s why I want to talk it, so this is your spoiler alert in case you don’t want to know too much about the book before you read it. I’ll try to not give too much away.

The reason I want to talk about it is because after I started the book, I didn’t quite understand what was going on, and why it appears on many lists as one of the best 100 novels. What made it stand out enough from other books to make these lists and what was wrong with me because I was finding it boring and disjointed. At about one-fourth of the way into the book, I put it down momentarily to find out what others had written about it. There is no real plot to this story, it’s purely character-driven, focused on the internal dialog of two characters trying to get through one particular day in June, both contemplating the end of their lives. I thought I was missing something, but I was looking for something that’s not there and once I realized that, I was able to finish the book.

The two main characters are Mrs. Dalloway, whose first name is Clarissa, and Septimus. Clarissa is getting ready for a party during which she looks back over her past relationships and wonders what could have been if she had chosen a different partner. And Septimus, who is a war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is also looking back at a past relationship. It wasn’t intuitive to me at the beginning that these completely different characters who never meet in the story, have aspects of their lives that are mirror images of each other. The only connection is that Clarissa hears about Septimus’ tragic end during her party. While I think Septimus’s character and the characters that surround him are well-written by Woolf, it made more sense to me when I found out that Woolf originally had written Clarissa with the tragic ending and Septimus was not in the story at all. I think I would have much preferred that version of the story, personally. But Mrs. Dalloway is a character that appears in other Woolf stories so ending her life in this book, I’m sure, would not have been financially convenient.

Learning that this book was published 16 years before Woolf had her own tragic ending by taking her own life, made me inclined to believe that some of the internal dialog in this book must have been an extension of her own mental state at the time she was writing it and knowing this helped me to better understand what she was trying to convey.

Mrs. Dalloway is in the public domain, so you can listen to the audio for free on Librivox and read online at Project Gutenberg. You can also download phone apps for both Librivox and Project Gutenberg.

I’ve been candid about my experience with this book and I hope this can help you in deciding whether or not Mrs. Dalloway is a good read for you. If it’s for you, find your quiet place and start reading or listening.

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