The other day, I finished Mrs Dalloway. I liked it very much. I think you have to read this book after turning 45, maybe 50. Once things have happened to you in life. Good and also bad. And, above all, once things have not happened to you. Things that you thought would happen, but haven’t. I liked the way Virginia Woolf delves into the characters’ inner world, the way she presents their feelings, their ideas, one right after another, in apparent disarray and yet clearly linked, spewing out of their minds like a stream of blood flowing violently from a major injury. I read elsewhere that this is called “stream of thoughts”, it is almost like seeing their thoughts in real-time. Sometimes difficult to follow, but easy to understand, somehow.
“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself”.
Such a powerful first sentence, a perfect summary of a character and what is to come. It is the story of one day. But it is also the story of a lifetime. On that Summer day in London, Clarissa Dalloway is organising a party. Somehow, the insignificant events of the day make every character reflect on how they have reached this point in their lives. Trying to understand why things have happened… and why they haven’t. Tracing memories back in an attempt to identify the decisive moment that would explain their “now”. Whether they are happy, whether the others are happy… whether they should have done something differently… or not have done it. They reassess everything. They are turning a page, all of them, maybe unaware. Clarissa’s husband, who loves Clarissa but feels too clumsy to express her love with words. Her friend, who also loves Clarissa but was unable to tell her. Her daughter, who feels oppressed. Her daughter’s friend, who just hates everything around her because she feels lonely. Nothing relevant happens in the whole book. They don’t do anything. And yet, inside, a silent and inexorable whirlwind brings them close to the precipice, to the mirror in which they see reflected their own existence. What was, what is and, above all, what is not.
The sudden surprise, how did I get here… There are no coincidences. Sometimes we wonder why we made those choices. But even if our decisions seem now illogical, capricious, even random, they made some sense back then. We can’t change the past, only the future. This is obvious, and yet, the past often clings to us and doesn’t let go. We don’t let go. In the last page of the book, Clarissa finally summons the courage she needs to turn her page, at last. The book doesn’t say what happens next, but it is probably irrelevant.
“There was a mystery about it. You were given a sharp, acute, uncomfortable grain — the actual meeting; horribly painful as often as not; yet in absence, in the most unlikely places, it would flower out, open, shed its scent, let you touch, taste, look about you, get the whole feel of it and understanding, after years of lying lost”.Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
I am sure Mrs Dalloway meant different things for different people, somehow finding part of our own selves reflected in this or that character, maybe in all of them. In any case, I do believe it is a most beautiful example to illustrate the second half of life. A sublime book.