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Mrs. Dalloway [Paperback]

Virginia Woolf

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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  275 reviews
196 of 208 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mystery of Human Personality Oct. 8 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Although the time covered in this complex novel is only one day, Virginia Woolf, through her genius, manages to cover a lifetime unraveling and exposing the mysteries of the human personality.
The central character of the novel is the delicate Clarissa Dalloway, a disciplined English gentlewoman who provides the perfect contrast to another of the book's characters, Septimus Warren Smith, an ex-soldier whose world is disintegrating into chaos. Although Clarissa and Septimus never meet, it is through the interweaving of each one's story into a gossamer whole that Woolf works her genius.
The book is set on a June day in 1923, as Clarissa prepares for a party that evening. Unfolding events trigger memories and recollections of her past, and Woolf offers these bits and pieces to the reader who must then construct the psychological and emotional makeup of Clarissa Dalloway in his own mind. We also learn much about Clarissa through the thoughts of other characters, such as her one-time lover, Peter Walsh, her friend, Sally Seton, her husband, Richard and her daughter Elizabeth.
It is Septimus Warren Smith, however, driven to the brink of insanity by the war, an insanity that even his wife's tender ministrations cannot cure, who acts as Clarissa's societal antithesis and serves to divide her world into the "then" and the "now."
In this extremely complex and character-driven novel, Woolf offers her readers a challenge. The novel is not separated into chapters; almost all of the action occurs in the thoughts and reminiscences of the characters and the reader must piece together the story from the random bits and pieces of information each character provides. The complexity of the characters may add to the frustration because Woolf makes it difficult for the reader to receive any single dominant impression of any one of them. This, however, forms the essence of the novel and displays the genius of Woolf: It is impossible to describe any human being in a simple phrase or collection of adjectives. We are many things to many people, all of them somewhat different, none of them the same, just as we are many things to ourselves.
Throughout the book, the reader is constantly called upon to compare and contrast Peter Walsh and Richard Dalloway, the two significant love interests in Clarissa Dalloway's life. Compared to Peter, an adventurer, Richard Dalloway appears more than a bit reserved and dour. But, readers must constantly question this view of Richard as his personality seems to alter with his altering relationships.
Intimacy, particularly emotional intimacy, and the preservation of one's uniqueness are two of Woolf's continuing themes. We find that Clarissa married Richard, in part, to preserve her sense of self; Peter would have demanded far more of her than she was, perhaps, willing to give. Here, Clarissa and Septimus, so outwardly different, would find they share much in common. While Clarissa feels threatened by her daughter's tenacious tutor, Miss Kilman, as well as by Peter, Septimus feels threatened by his doctor. Each feels the others are asking too much. Septimus and Clarissa even agree on the subject of death: "There is no death," Septimus declares, while Clarissa, the atheist, secretly believes that bits and pieces of her will remain intact forever.
Although some characters in this book may, at first, appear to be one-dimensional, we soon learn that all are extraordinarily complex. There is Sally, impulsive yet considerate; Richard, bashful yet timid; Peter inhibited yet adventurous; Septimus, insane yet credible. And Clarissa? She is all of these things and more.
It is, however, Woolf's torrential stream-of-consciousness prose that makes this novel a true masterpiece. Even those who find the plot of little interest will be drawn in by the exquisiteness of Woolf's language. This is a complex, character study in the fullest sense of the word, one with no easy answers, for Woolf, in the end seems to be telling us that perhaps, at our essence, we are all unknowable, even to ourselves.
65 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetic lyricism in Virginia Woolf Jan. 3 2001
By mcl - Published on Amazon.com
Any young aspiring writer should compare Woolf's early work, such as Night and Day to something like Mrs. Dalloway. The transformation in narrative strength is incredible. I think Woolf found her voice when she gave up on traditional technique and focused on vivid imagery, poetic language, and really getting into the souuls of her characters.
Her views on love in this boook are heartbreaking. Love serves as mere convenience, romance is just an illusion. 9 times out of 10 people choose safety. Pretty cynical viewpoint, but she lived during the days of a crumbling Empire and wrote about it beautifully. She really achieved her greatest literary power later on in life.
Also, this book studies insanity and the doctors who are impotent to help. I'm sure woolf would have the same view in today's heavily medicated society.
This book is not for the faint of heart. She does not hide characters emotions, but tends to dwelon their weaknesses. The final party scene is brilliant. If you like this book, read To The Lighthouse, which is equally brilliant.
98 of 109 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tough, but worth the effort Jan. 3 2004
By Peggy Vincent - Published on Amazon.com
It's not really fair to judge this book or its author by today's standards, but damn, this is a hard read. I'd read it about 20 years ago and recall struggling with the endless sentences and the rambling explorations of Mrs. Dalloway's interior thoughts, her every little fleeting idea, and the tiny events of the day in her life which this book chronicles.
Then of course when The Hours was published, I rummaged around in the bookshelf, found it, and read it again.
And then the movie came out with that wonderful cast of characters, and, well, I had to read it a third time. And I'll say this: it takes more than a single reading to harvest all the gems from this dense prose. Mrs. Dalloway grew on me with the passage of time and with three careful readings. The studied explorations into past and present, men and women, women and other women, society and the family, love and regret...it's a lot to take on in what is really a pretty small book - and only someone of Woolf's talents and brilliance could have made so much of so little.
Highly recommended, but I'm sorry - you'll probably have to read it more than once to extract every single little diamond chip.
46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic book that is still a joy Aug. 30 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
I believe it was Lionel Trilling who said that if it's true that a book reads you as much as you read a book, certain books had found him at first difficult and boring, but had eventually grown friendly. "Mrs. Dalloway" found me to be -- when I first attempted to read it in high school -- a dull, even fragile creature; but with time the book made way for me in its life, and now we are rather fond acquaintances. Virginia Woolf is, of course, one of The Greats, but despite this debilitating label she is a writer whose books are addictive to any energetic and patient reader who is in love with the English language. Language is certainly not the only beauty in Woolf's work, but it is the aspect of her writing that first drew my amazed attention. She is in many ways an impressionist, a literary Monet, while we Americans are more comfortable with naturalists and expressionists, so perhaps a reader new to Woolf would need to exercise a few mind muscles which haven't had much attention paid to them, but this isnot a bad thing. And there's a good chance I'm wrong, a good chance that I'm taking my own particular weaknesses and ascribing them to the readership at large. (Oh well.) The point is this: give "Mrs. Dalloway" a chance. Go to it blind, without assumptions, with an open mind and curious heart. I think the book will find you to be a very engaging person, full of wonders and mystery.
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A modernist masterpiece March 27 2003
By bill-g - Published on Amazon.com
On a single day in June, Clarissa Dalloway is preparing for the party she is giving that evening. Septimus Warren Smith struggles with mental illness as a result of his experiences in WWI. Using stream-of-consciousness technique Virginia Woolf explores the thoughts, emotions and sensations of these two characters and others connected with them. Past and present commingle in her characters' minds and this merging of past history and present moment allows for much richer presentation of the characters and their universe than the plot would suggest.
The chief pleasures of the book are the vivid, evocative, poetic language, and Woolf's gift for inner dialogue - the stories characters tell themselves - which in turn reveals them to us.
How good is the book? I "Mrs. Dalloway" can be found on many lists of the greatest novels of the 20th century, one of Virginia Woolf's major achievements. More often than not, it's considered her best work after "To the Lighthouse." Personally, I loved the book, and it led me to start reading her other books and to the biographies. The practical question is not whether this is a good book - it is arguably a great book. The question is whether it is for you.
The book is unapologetically literary, which means that if you don't find language a genuine pleasure, you probably won't enjoy it. For those who do, the rich, imaginative language is the reason for reading. There is little in the way of conventional suspense to keep one turning the pages. The stream-of-consciousness style is demanding, and it requires an attentive reader. On the other hand, it would be a mistake to overemphasize the difficulties. The action of the book is relatively easy to follow, and one does not need a concordance to appreciate it. In fact a good sense of the language can be had simply by reading the first few pages provided in Amazon's section, "Look Inside the Book."

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