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

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Slow Read: Mrs. Dalloway: 3/4 through

Mrs. Dalloway Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

When I reached my arbitrary stopping point (no chapters!) I was wondering if Sir William was as good a doctor as his fame warranted, and if he was the connection of Septimus to Clarissa.

Not so sure I like Sir William as a doctor, but I imagine he would have been popular for the way he took problems away. Out of sight, out of mind, and euthanization.

Proportion, divine proportion, Sir William's goddess, was acquired by Sir William walking hospitals, catching salmon, begetting one son in Harley Street by Lady Bradshaw, who caught salmon herself and took photographs scarcely to be distinguished from the work of professionals. Worshipping proportion, Sir William not only prospered himself but made England prosper, secluded her lunatics, forbade childbirth, penalised despair, made it impossible for the unfit to propagate their views until they, too, shared his sense of proportion--his, if they were men, Lady Bradshaw's if they were women
Poor Rezia. She is a good woman who still cares for her husband, and intuitively doesn't trust Sir William.
He swooped; he devoured. He shut people up. It was this combination of decision and humanity that endeared Sir William so greatly to the relations of his victims. But Rezia Warren Smith cried, walking down Harley Street, that she did not like that man.
Richard Dalloway has lunch with Lady Bruton and Hugh Whitbread on the same day as Clarissa's party. My, there's a lot that fits into this day. Lady B doesn't like Clarissa. How astute of Richard to be the one to remind/ask Lady B to the party. Milly Brush, her assistant:
"D'you know who's in town?" said Lady Bruton suddenly bethinking her. "Our old friend, Peter Walsh." They all smiled. Peter Walsh! And Mr. Dalloway was genuinely glad, Milly Brush thought; and Mr. Whitbread thought only of his chicken. Peter Walsh! All three, Lady Bruton, Hugh Whitbread, and Richard Dalloway, remembered the same thing--how passionately Peter had been in love; been rejected; gone to India; come a cropper; made a mess of things; and Richard Dalloway had a very great liking for the dear old fellow too. Milly Brush saw that...
Richard must be quite the politician. He can't truly be glad to hear about his old rival being in town? They apparently agree that if Peter's looking for a position, they won't really be able to help him. ""In trouble with some woman," said Lady Bruton. They had all guessed that that was at the bottom of it."

After they leave, Lady B dozes and dreams, and this seems significant to me, like this is how all the people are connected, underneath the conscious world, and would explain the way the story is told, as though the omniscient narrator is passed from person to person, familiar character to stranger, and back.
And they went further and further from her, being attached to her by a thin thread (since they had lunched with her) which would stretch and stretch, get thinner and thinner as they walked across London; as if one's friends were attached to one's body, after lunching with them, by a thin thread, which (as she dozed there) became hazy with the sound of bells, striking the hour or ringing to service, as a single spider's thread is blotted with rain-drops, and, burdened, sags down.
Richard fills out as a character:
Why these people stood that damned insolence he could not conceive. Hugh was becoming an intolerable ass. Richard Dalloway could not stand more than an hour of his society.

...She had failed him, once at Constantinople; and Lady Bruton, whose lunch parties were said to be extraordinarily amusing, had not asked her. He was holding out flowers--roses, red and white roses. (But he could not bring himself to say he loved her; not in so many words.) But how lovely, she said, taking his flowers. She understood; she understood without his speaking; his Clarissa.
I am so impressed with Woolf's ability to show us know how, from the outside, Clarissa seems to be a social butterfly, but from the inside she is thoughtful, and finds deeper meaning in her daily life and her talents.
An offering for the sake of offering, perhaps. Anyhow, it was her gift. Nothing else had she of the slightest importance; could not think, write, even play the piano. She muddled Armenians and Turks; loved success; hated discomfort; must be liked; talked oceans of nonsense: and to this day, ask her what the Equator was, and she did not know. All the same, that one day should follow another; Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday; that one should wake up in the morning; see the sky; walk in the park; meet Hugh Whitbread; then suddenly in came Peter; then these roses; it was enough.
Miss Kilman: what a pill. "But Miss Kilman did not hate Mrs. Dalloway. "Turning her large gooseberry-coloured eyes upon Clarissa, observing her small pink face, her delicate body, her air of freshness and fashion, Miss Kilman felt, Fool! Simpleton!""

Elizabeth learns from Miss Kilman. Is it good for her?
But then Miss Kilman was frightfully clever. Elizabeth had never thought about the poor. They lived with everything they wanted,--her mother had breakfast in bed every day; Lucy carried it up; and she liked old women because they were Duchesses, and being descended from some Lord. But Miss Kilman said (one of those Tuesday mornings when the lesson was over), "My grandfather kept an oil and colour shop in Kensington." Miss Kilman made one feel so small.
It seems perhaps Elizabeth will learn the good from Miss Kilman, without buying into the bad. Perhaps the appeal is simply that Elizabeth identifies more with dad than mom, and his simpler needs. Elizabeth leaves Miss Kilman for a walkabout.
And Elizabeth waited in Victoria Street for an omnibus. It was so nice to be out of doors. She thought perhaps she need not go home just yet. It was so nice to be out in the air. So she would get on to an omnibus. And already, even as she stood there, in her very well cut clothes, it was beginning. . . . People were beginning to compare her to poplar trees, early dawn, hyacinths, fawns, running water, and garden lilies; and it made her life a burden to her, for she so much preferred being left alone to do what she liked in the country, but they would compare her to lilies, and she had to go to parties, and London was so dreary compared with being alone in the country with her father and the dogs.
A sweet time between Rezia and Septimus. I wonder if his apparent lucidity, and their sweet connection, foreshadows something bad.
It was wonderful. Never had he done anything which made him feel so proud. It was so real, it was so substantial, Mrs. Peters' hat. "Just look at it," he said. Yes, it would always make her happy to see that hat. He had become himself then, he had laughed then. They had been alone together. Always she would like that hat. He told her to try it on. "But I must look so queer!" she cried, running over to the glass and looking first this side then that.

...But this hat now. And then (it was getting late) Sir William Bradshaw. She held her hands to her head, waiting for him to say did he like the hat or not, and as she sat there, waiting, looking down, he could feel her mind, like a bird, falling from branch to branch, and always alighting, quite rightly; he could follow her mind, as she sat there in one of those loose lax poses that came to her naturally and, if he should say anything, at once she smiled, like a bird alighting with all its claws firm upon the bough.
Uh-oh. This definitely can't be good.
She brought him his papers, the things he had written, things she had written for him. She tumbled them out on to the sofa. They looked at them together. Diagrams, designs, little men and women brandishing sticks for arms, with wings--were they?--on their backs; circles traced round shillings and sixpences--the suns and stars; zigzagging precipices with mountaineers ascending roped together, exactly like knives and forks; sea pieces with little faces laughing out of what might perhaps be waves: the map of the world. Burn them! he cried. Now for his writings; how the dead sing behind rhododendron bushes; odes to Time; conversations with Shakespeare; Evans, Evans, Evans--his messages from the dead; do not cut down trees; tell the Prime Minister. Universal love: the meaning of the world. Burn them! he cried.
I would like to get a glimpse of those papers. Crazy brilliant, I bet. His wish to burn them does not bode well.

The beginning
The 2nd quarter