Sunday, January 17, 2010

Slow Read: Mrs. Dalloway: The Beginning

Mrs. Dalloway Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

First, let me say I really enjoyed The Voyage Out. There was an intimate feel to the gatherings of the English expatriates somewhere in South America. Before arriving, however, Mr. and Mrs. Dalloway were passengers on the ship which housed the heroine Rachel Vinrace. I was so intrigued by that little glimpse, I quite looked forward to Mrs. Dalloway. Rachel is an innocent. She hasn't been awakened to the ecstasies and epiphanies of love. The other characters on the ship provide examples of couples, such as her relatives, the Ambroses, as well as the Dalloways. The Dalloways are a key to her awakening. He is a politician, she his adoring wife. Their marriage appears to be the perfect example: they enjoy intimacies in private; they know each others' quirks; they enjoy each other. Yet when there's an unexpected intimate moment with Rachel, Mr. Dalloway kisses her. He seems to feel Rachel brought it on them both; she, however, is ignited. This is the spark that ignites her pilot light to love. (She has a very yonic/phallic dream.) She does not completely understand this feeling, but likes it, and is ripe, ready to fall in love. Reading, I hoped the right person would happen along. The Dalloways depart, and I find myself wondering, does this happen before or after the next book I read? Are the Dalloways really so understanding of each other, even of themselves, as they at first appear to be? That kiss seems to belie the notion, but it also was a kiss that needed to happen, so as to awaken Rachel, the sleeping beauty.

The story of Mrs. Dalloway begins with her running errands for her dinner party. While she walks, she muses. She'd chosen Richard Dalloway over Peter.

But Peter--however beautiful the day might be, and the trees and the grass, and the little girl in pink--Peter never saw a thing of all that. He would put on his spectacles, if she told him to; he would look. It was the state of the world that interested him.... So she would still find herself arguing in St. James's Park, still making out that she had been right--and she had too--not to marry him. For in marriage a little licence, a little independence there must be between people living together day in day out in the same house; which Richard gave her, and she him.
I've been wondering how old is she as compared to The Voyage Out? This doesn't help me much:
She felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged. She sliced like a knife through everything; at the same time was outside, looking on. She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.
In The Voyage Out many if not most characters were not religious. Mrs. Dalloway informed Rachel she didn't know yet. Clearly Mrs. D. was part of a set who thought about such things, and Rachel hadn't needed to, yet. I wonder if this was the norm at the time, or was the author's ideal world. This thoughtful non-belief seemed also to carry an enlightened rationality.
not for a moment did she believe in God; but all the more, she thought, taking up the pad, must one repay in daily life to servants, yes, to dogs and canaries, above all to Richard her husband, who was the foundation of it...
What a heady time it must have been for the Woolfs, to be part of the Bloomsbury Group, in which they rebelled against the Victorian age. And hmmm, what great fodder for books.
She resented it, had a scruple picked up Heaven knows where, or, as she felt, sent by Nature (who is invariably wise); yet she could not resist sometimes yielding to the charm of a woman, not a girl, of a woman confessing, as to her they often did, some scrape, some folly. And whether it was pity, or their beauty, or that she was older, or some accident--like a faint scent, or a violin next door (so strange is the power of sounds at certain moments), she did undoubtedly then feel what men felt. Only for a moment; but it was enough. ...But this question of love (she thought, putting her coat away), this falling in love with women. Take Sally Seton; her relation in the old days with Sally Seton. Had not that, after all, been love?
Speak of the devil. Hadn't she just been thinking about this guy? Peter's quite sure Clarissa will see him.
"But he never liked any one who--our friends," said Clarissa; and could have bitten her tongue for thus reminding Peter that he had wanted to marry her. Of course I did, thought Peter; it almost broke my heart too, he thought; and was overcome with his own grief, which rose like a moon looked at from a terrace, ghastly beautiful with light from the sunken day.
He announces his new love. Does this upset her world view? We'll see, I suppose. Certainly she began his visit by telling him she was having a party and he wasn't invited (or was she being coquettish?), but when he leaves abruptly
saying "Good-bye, Clarissa" without looking at her, leaving the room quickly, and running downstairs and opening the hall door. "Peter! Peter!" cried Clarissa, following him out on to the landing. "My party to-night! Remember my party to-night!" she cried, having to raise her voice against the roar of the open air
What a day for ghosts in Mrs. Dalloway's life. She ponders her past as she prepares for the night's dinner, and one shows up, opening old doors she'd thought she'd closed.

I liked the way the point of view shifted from one character to the next as Mrs. Dalloway went about her walk and her errands, like it was the wind listening in on the thoughts of the people on the street.


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