Presented by Alexandra Harris (a favourite author herself - check out her debut book), I was treated to a half-hour delve into the background of this novel. I saw Virginia's writing shed at Monk's House, saw her handbound original manuscripts, with her crossings-out and notes in the margins, catching glimpses of a writer's mind at work.
It was fascinating, and reminded me why I so adore this novel, written and set in the early 1920s. I immediately grabbed my adored Folio Society copy, and began to read...
Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself...
One of my favourite descriptions of this amazing book is by Michael Cunningham in the Introduction to this particular edition:
In Mrs Dalloway, Woolf is riffing... She's testing not only her powers but the limits of the novel itself. We can almost hear her thinking on the page... Mrs Dalloway is like an improvisatory jazz solo, played by a relatively new musician, possessed of astonishing powers.
It ravels and unravels. It has loose ends. It coheres, but in the disorderly way that life itself coheres. Like life itself, it has patterns and themes, but is not exactly about anything singular or easily identifiable. It is about itself. (p. ix)
Those who like novels to be action-packed page-turners may not enjoy this book, but those who like a more pensive, leisurely approach may... I find it gripping, for it tackles the BIG questions of life and death obliquely, rather than head-on. Within the hours of a single day, in the lives of individuals who never meet each other, we encounter the disparate thoughts, feelings, memories and fears of Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith, and they become real to us, a part of us.
As Michael Cunningham perceptively says in the Introduction,
With Mrs Dalloway, Woolf argues that there are no insignificant lives, only insufficient ways of looking at them (p. xii)
I say, Amen to that!
[This was originally posted on my previous blog]