Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway

I always enjoy reading novels appropriate to the time of the year. Every year, in December, I read some of Nicholas Nickleby; this novel just sums up Christmas for me. This year, for the first time in June, I have read Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. This novel epitomises a long midsummer day; set on one day in mid-June. 

In people's eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.

Mrs Dalloway is possibly Virginia Woolf's best known novel. It follows the events of a single Wednesday in June 1923. The novel uses a stream of consciousness to follow individual characters inner thoughts and feelings. The two main characters, the socialite Clarissa Dalloway and the shell shocked First Wold War veteran Septimus Smith often provide mirrors of one another, reflecting concepts of sanity and insanity and life and death. Virginia Woolf wrote the novel after reading, and being inspired by, James Joyce's Ullyses. Ulysses chronicles the peripatetic appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin in the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904

I first read Mrs Dalloway, along with most of Woolf's other novels, as a young undergraduate. It did very little for me. I have a clear memory of one of my friends reading Mrs Dalloway, as we travelled by train, from university to home, one weekend. She found the book engrossing and funny. I tried reading it again and couldn't find what made her love the book so much and, certainly not what made her laugh out loud! I read some of Virginia Woolf's other novels a few years ago, when we were spending a lot of time in Sussex and enjoying Charleston and Lewes. Maturity certainly helped me understand and enjoy them more. Up until my re-read of Mrs Dalloway, my preferred Woolf reading has been her letters, diaries and essays, along with the seminal A Room of One's Own.

So, I have been surprised at how much I am enjoying Mrs Dalloway. I'm not quite laughing out loud, but I am smiling at some of the incidents and thoughts. I am also finding myself identifying with some of the issues and concerns. Maybe the current COVID-19 pandemic is akin to the influenza pandemic of 1918, which has affected the life of Clarissa Dalloway. I also think I am enjoying the stream of consciousness more than I have done previously. I find myself identifying with some of Clarissa's preoccupations. And, having experienced mental health problems within the family, I am better able to understand the inner life and concerns of Septimus, something I certainly couldn't do in my early twenties without the life experiences I have now.

So, all in all, an enjoyable experience and one which has reignited my interest in Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury set. I am loving the poetry of Woolf's prose style and am seeing many comparisons with the poetry of T S Eliot, a poet of whom I am inordinately fond.

However, I think I will always agree with E M Forster in The Art of the Novel when he sighs, in a drooping sort of way "yes, oh dear yes, the novel tells a story...that is the fundamental aspect without which it could not exist."