Friday, January 15, 2010

Mrs. Dalloway

Oh, Mrs. Dalloway. You were at times exactly what I expected, and at times something completely different. I signed up for the Woolf in Winter read-a-long, the first of which is hosted by Sarah, because Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse have been languishing on my shelves for years. I'm not really into the modernists, so they could sit there for years and years more before I actually read them, so I thought this might spur me along.
I was surprised at how readable Mrs. Dalloway is. I don't enjoy stream of consciousness, but it made this a fairly quick read. I still get annoyed by the modernists though. All that art-for-art's sake and snobbiness and if you prefer the traditional stuff you must not really be that intelligent attitude. Just not my cup of tea. But, Mrs. Dalloway was still somehow better than I thought it would be.
I did think it was sad though, which is interesting because I took a sneak peek at Eva's post and she seems to go the opposite direction as I do. It will be interesting to see what everyone else has to say, which I'll check out after posting this. I feel sorry for Clarissa. I don't think she really loves her husband, or anything about her life. I don't think she's miserable, or even unhappy exactly, but you just get the feeling she just settled when marrying Richard. He could provide her with a comfortable life. I don't think she was meant to be with Peter; I'm not saying that, but I don't think she's in love with Richard either, which is sad. She lives her life for her silly little parties, because they are the only thing that makes her feel alive. That's just depressing. I still somehow enjoyed her story though. It reminded me a little of Wharton in some odd way, just written in a very different style. I guess it was the rich character who married more for convenience that for love.

On the other hand, I did not enjoy the Septimus story at all, mainly for personal reasons. SPOILER ALERT****************************
It's very hard for me to read about, or watch something about, suicide. A friend of mine committed suicide exactly 10 years ago today. I always react badly when an unanticipated suicide occurs in something I'm reading or watching, but the timing was especially bad this time. I will never understand how someone can reach that point, be so selfish that they do that, so weak. I know there are plenty of reasons people give for ending it all, and that there are physical problems that can lead to mental health issues, but I just can't understand it. For Septimus, it makes me so angry because he has this wife who loves him, wants to start a family with him, wants to help him get better, and he just spits in her face. I hurt for her, and especially because just before it happens she talks about how no one can separate them, she won't let the doctors take him away from her, but then he takes himself away from her. I still carry anger and regrets over what happened 10 years ago, and I can't imagine how one would recover from a spouse (or a parent or a child) committing suicide. So, that part of the book was difficult for me to read, although I get that Woolf was using him as a sort of symbol of the world as a whole being meaningless, life being meaningless, which again just made the book rather depressing for me. I don't regret reading it though, and I will read more of her works, so I'm glad I read it.


  1. Lindsey, I can definitely understand reacting strongly to the Septimus story when you have such a history. That must be so hard. I'm glad you found the book as a whole worthwhile, though.

    Re: Clarissa, to me she does love Richard, just not in the sort of stereotypical youthful passion way we've all come to expect from novels. She chose to marry someone who would give her a bit of privacy (as well as financial security, of course), and I can respect that.

  2. Lindsey, so sorry to hear about your friend. It must indeed be so hard to recover from something as painful as that.

    Like Emily, though, I also believe Clarissa loved Richard. She loved both Peter and Richard in different ways. And she chose Richard for the ideals she holds valuable in a marriage. I have commented the same in another participant's post, but it's the kind of love that falls comfortably into place, from trust and respect and having lived in good spirits with someone for years.

    I'm glad you still enjoyed the story, even if you thought it was sad. Thanks so much for reading along! :)

  3. Lindsey, I am so sorry for your loss. I experienced the same thing in college and it is difficult to come back from.

    And to me as well, Clarissa does love Richard, but I do see your point as well. She seems to love him in that they have created a successful marriage together, they have a shared history. She appears to have chosen based upon an external ideal whereas Peter represents a personal ideal. In a way, she chooses to celebrate an institution rather than the self, practicality over passion. And in the end, it is Peter who sees her as Clarissa, just Clarissa.

    The depressing versus not conversation goes on then. From what I see, the readers are pretty evenly divided. Hope to see you for To the Lighthouse as well.

  4. For me, I HATED Rezia. I found her incredibly selfish and non-understanding. Although I'm sorry to hear about your loss and I can't imagine how hard it had been for you to deal with that, I'm a person who has suffered from depression on and off throughout my life and I promise you that suicidal thoughts are not something anyone chooses, especially intending to be "selfish." (I think Septiums thought he was doing people a favor.) I found Rezia completely horrible for Septimus because she didn't take him seriously at all. What a horrible life for him to have to deal with her! I felt more sorry for Septimus than I did for horrible Rezia.

    Personally, in terms of Woolf's novel I didn't get the need for Septimus and Rezia this time around. I found the story to be all about Clarissa and her struggle with Richard and Peter and her past. I did find it somewhat sad but ultimately rewarding.

  5. Emily, Claire, and Frances - I agree that Clarissa loves Richard in that way, I just feel like it's more of a way you love a friend than a husband. I don't think she's in love with him, and not just because of a lack of passion. There's also a lack of depth there, and I feel like she loves him because of the life he gives her rather than for him himself, which is just sad to me. I want (and fortunately have) something better than that, which is why I ultimately thought the book was sad.
    Frances - I'm sorry you've experienced a similar loss. It changes you forever.
    Rebecca - I see where you're coming from on Rezia. She seems to pretend that nothing's wrong, and doesn't give Septimus the support he needs. I agree that Septimus isn't trying to be selfish, and probably thinks he's being selfless and setting her free, but he does ultimately make a selfish decision. Her life will certainly not be better because of what he did. It will always be messed up on some level, and she will have to live with the guilt forever.
    Maybe this is one of the reasons why Mrs. Dalloway is such a strong book - the same characters cause opposite reactions in different people because they all seem like real people. They all have faults, and they all have good characteristics too. So it's easy to argue for liking or not liking each one of them.

  6. I completely empathize with your reaction to the Septimus story, Lindsey, and I would have much less respect for Woolf if I felt she was treating suicide as a mere plot device. However, something about her treatment of the Septimus story--maybe influenced by my limited knowledge of Woolf's own struggles with mental health issues--made this seem painfully "real" somehow...almost as if Woolf were trying to explain her own feelings. I realize this is just conjecture on my part, but Woolf's attempt to explain Septimus' thought processes were therefore an essential part of the work for me; if it had been all about Mrs. Dalloway and Peter Walsh, I'm not sure I would have cared about the characters all that much. In any event, I enjoyed reading your post and hope that To the Lighthouse provides a much more pleasant reading experience for you. P.S. It was nice to discover your blog through the readalong!