Here are my murky first “second” impressions of Mrs. Dalloway. I was taught by a wise professor to read a novel for the story first, and then go back and really read for the nuances, the language, etc. That method changed my reading forever!
These thoughts are on my first re-reading. I’m doing this because maybe you have a similar process, or maybe it would be helpful for you to realize I, too, see through a glass darkly before the Windex of re-reading. 😊 Nevertheless, I think that first looks can be informative. Consider the first glance to be the drawing beneath the paint.
If I were reading this for the first time ever, I would say:
Here’s a society woman, Clarissa Dalloway, who has been sick but is now out and about, buying some flowers for her party, her return to society, if you will. Later, while she mends her dress for the party she will throw that evening, an old suitor returns from a stint in India, five years I think. Peter Walsh plays with his pocketknife, a habit he’s had since he was a youth. He bursts into tears at one point while talking to the preoccupied hostess-to-be, and one wonders if he has ever gotten over Clarissa, even though he confesses that he’s in love with a married woman who is about to get a divorce.
Out of sequence question: why do you suppose Woolf called the novel Mrs. Dalloway rather than Clarissa or Clarissa Dalloway? I have thoughts.
For one thing, Woolf was trying to show that any life circumstance, even that of a privileged woman with servants, was worthy of exploration. This is not a romance; this is a novel after marriage, delving into the everyday joys and challenges.
Also, the title underscores the name stripping of a woman. Not enough Clarissa “takes” her husband, Richard’s, name. By being called Mrs. Dalloway, she becomes a nondescript wife of him; her very “name” doesn’t belong to her but to him. She’s his property. (Argue if you like, but I see real tones of that here, even though I did opt to take my husband’s last name when we married. It makes a great author’s name I’ve been told more than once, so why wouldn’t I?)
Then again, in Lighthouse Mrs. Ramsay is given no first name and I think it’s brilliant because it makes her the universal spouse. Maybe there are shades of this here. I do think Woolf struggled with marriage and domesticity and its place in her own life, in the life of her peers from early on. (For god’s sake, she did write A Room of One’s Own, so there’s that.)
Anyway, why, Clarissa wonders, is her husband invited to Lady Bruton’s luncheon and she is not? I’d be pissed, so I get that. It’s rude and ungenerous, even if Clarissa had previously made some minor social blunder at Lady Bruton’s. (Actually, I have been excluded. A friend of mine invited my hubby out to dinner to “interview” him. But I had been through the same schooling as him, sooo??? I would have been pleased to sit alongside them and have a drink while they talked, just because I enjoyed my friend’s – and hubby’s—company, but I wasn’t asked along. Come to think of it, I’m not sure she ever did anything with that interview. Oh well. If memory serves, I dined with another friend a few restaurants down the street that evening, so there.)
Septimus, a veteran struggling with what we would now call PTSD and his wife, Lucrezia, are introduced in the novel, a contrast to the Dalloways. We pity the newly married pair.
Richard wants to buy his wife jewelry (suspiciously timed after he hears that her old beau is back in town) but suspects she doesn’t enjoy his taste as he had previously brought her a bracelet she doesn’t wear. Wanting to remind her of his love for her but not being one to say so, he brings her flowers. Flowers, flowers, everywhere! (And that not being able to confess love to someone, that is Mrs. Ramsay’s role in Lighthouse. Another of Woolf’s themes.)
And veils and gloves. Birds and flowers. But more on that another time.
So these are my quick, impressionistic thoughts. I really want to talk about the language itself, but that’s not the purpose of this post, so let’s hold off on that as well.
Thoughts? Rebuttals? Questions? Let’s get into it!