Saturday, February 06, 2010

Slow Read: Mrs. Dalloway: finished

Mrs. Dalloway Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Just as I was afraid of, Septimus kills himself. He acts as though cornered by Dr. Holmes...better to jump than to face the man. The omniscient narrator flits with the ambulance back to Peter.

Ah, but thinking became morbid, sentimental, directly one began conjuring up doctors, dead bodies; a little glow of pleasure, a sort of lust too over the visual impression warned one not to go on with that sort of thing any more--fatal to art, fatal to friendship. True. And yet, thought Peter Walsh, as the ambulance turned the corner though the light high bell could be heard down the next street and still farther as it crossed the Tottenham Court Road, chiming constantly, it is the privilege of loneliness; in privacy one may do as one chooses. One might weep if no one saw. It had been his undoing--this susceptibility--in Anglo-Indian society; not weeping at the right time, or laughing either.
I just remembered, in The Voyage Out, Clarissa Dalloway said she loved her husband because he was a man, as well as like a woman to her, referring to their ability to be intimate with each other. Yet here, later in their life, the two don't seem quite so close. It is Peter who is reminiscing about their time together when young, and his own emotional upheavals, which one would think at that time would be ascribed to a woman.
Clarissa had a theory in those days--they had heaps of theories, always theories, as young people have. It was to explain the feeling they had of dissatisfaction; not knowing people; not being known. For how could they know each other?

...It ended in a transcendental theory which, with her horror of death, allowed her to believe, or say that she believed (for all her scepticism), that since our apparitions, the part of us which appears, are so momentary compared with the other, the unseen part of us, which spreads wide, the unseen might survive, be recovered somehow attached to this person or that, or even haunting certain places after death . . . perhaps--perhaps.
Here is another possible way to see the whole of the story, "that unseen part of us, which spreads wide." We get just one day, and as the story flows from one to another character, we get a deeper understanding of each. The whole of each person cannot be explained fully through their own thoughts, or through the views of others upon them, but altogether.

Peter on Daisy, his wife-to-be:
so wholly admirable, so splendid a flower to grow on the crest of human life, and yet he could not come up to the scratch, being always apt to see round things (Clarissa had sapped something in him permanently), and to tire very easily of mute devotion and to want variety in love, though it would make him furious if Daisy loved anybody else, furious!
After 30 years, Peter is settling, it seems. So he goes to the party, telling himself he'd like to pick Richard Dalloway's brain. He's somewhat ambivalent, however. Does he really judge Clarissa this way, or is he talking himself into it?
"How delightful to see you!" said Clarissa. She said it to every one. How delightful to see you! She was at her worst--effusive, insincere. It was a great mistake to have come. He should have stayed at home and read his book, thought Peter Walsh
Clarissa is surprised at her own party:
What name? Lady Rosseter? But who on earth was Lady Rosseter? "Clarissa!" That voice! It was Sally Seton! Sally Seton! after all these years! She loomed through a mist. For she hadn't looked like that, Sally Seton, when Clarissa grasped the hot water can, to think of her under this roof, under this roof! Not like that! All on top of each other, embarrassed, laughing, words tumbled out--passing through London; heard from Clara Haydon; what a chance of seeing you! So I thrust myself in--without an invitation. . .
Peter softens as he watches the party:
There was a breath of tenderness; her severity, her prudery, her woodenness were all warmed through now, and she had about her as she said good-bye to the thick gold-laced man who was doing his best, and good luck to him, to look important, an inexpressible dignity; an exquisite cordiality; as if she wished the whole world well, and must now, being on the very verge and rim of things, take her leave. So she made him think. (But he was not in love.)
Peter and Sally wait and watch while Clarissa flits about as hostess. Sir William arrives...I knew it! The connection.
The party's splendour fell to the floor, so strange it was to come in alone in her finery. What business had the Bradshaws to talk of death at her party? A young man had killed himself. And they talked of it at her party--the Bradshaws, talked of death. He had killed himself--but how? Always her body went through it first, when she was told, suddenly, of an accident; her dress flamed, her body burnt. He had thrown himself from a window. Up had flashed the ground; through him, blundering, bruising, went the rusty spikes. There he lay with a thud, thud, thud in his brain, and then a suffocation of blackness. So she saw it. But why had he done it? And the Bradshaws talked of it at her party!
I wonder what the old lady symbolizes. Earlier, Mrs. Dalloway had watched her, musing on the intimacy of the old neighbor's actions, not knowing she was watched. Now, Clarissa retreats from her party for a few minutes.
It held, foolish as the idea was, something of her own in it, this country sky, this sky above Westminster. She parted the curtains; she looked. Oh, but how surprising!--in the room opposite the old lady stared straight at her! She was going to bed. And the sky. It will be a solemn sky, she had thought, it will be a dusky sky, turning away its cheek in beauty. But there it was--ashen pale, raced over quickly by tapering vast clouds. It was new to her. The wind must have risen.
Now Clarissa is witnessed. And she ponders...
The clock began striking. The young man had killed himself; but she did not pity him; with the clock striking the hour, one, two, three, she did not pity him, with all this going on. There! the old lady had put out her light! the whole house was dark now with this going on, she repeated, and the words came to her, Fear no more the heat of the sun. She must go back to them. But what an extraordinary night! She felt somehow very like him--the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away. The clock was striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun.
Meanwhile, Peter and Sally connect.
When one was young, said Peter, one was too much excited to know people. Now that one was old, fifty-two to be precise (Sally was fifty-five, in body, she said, but her heart was like a girl's of twenty); now that one was mature then, said Peter, one could watch, one could understand, and one did not lose the power of feeling, he said. No, that is true, said Sally. She felt more deeply, more passionately, every year.
And Richard is charmed by his daughter, and tells her so.
And he had not meant to tell her, but he could not help telling her. He had looked at her, he said, and he had wondered, Who is that lovely girl? and it was his daughter! That did make her happy.

It was the perfect thing for Elizabeth to hear just then.

And this is the end:
"I will come," said Peter, but he sat on for a moment. What is this terror? what is this ecstasy? he thought to himself. What is it that fills me with extraordinary excitement? It is Clarissa, he said. For there she was.
At first I thought, well, he never was out of love with her. But now I'm thinking it is that invisible connection that has lit him up. It is because she enters fresh from her epiphanic moment. Of course it is a moment in which one could fall in love all over again, or one could connect with Love again.

I've been wondering, just what was her epiphanic moment? It seems to be that she completely connected to life is Just This. Moments connect, and this is what makes life beautiful. Even in death.

The beginning
The 2nd quarter
The 3rd quarter

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