The Mrs. Dalloway Reader – Virginia Woolf, Francine Prose (Editor)

DallowayFrom This first volume of its kind contains the complete text of and guide to Virginia Woolf’s masterpiece, plus Mrs. Dalloway’s Party and numerous journal entries and letters by Virginia Woolf relating to the book’s genesis and writing. The distinguished novelist Francine Prose has selected these pieces as well as essays and appreciations, critical views, and commentary by writers famous and unknown. Now with additional scholarly commentary by Mark Hussey, professor of English at Pace University, this complete volume illuminates the creation of a celebrated story and the genius of its author.

On Mrs. Dalloway: Created from two short stories, “Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street” and the unfinished “The Prime Minister,” the novel addresses Clarissa’s preparations for a party she will host that evening. With an interior perspective, the story travels forwards and back in time and in and out of the characters’ minds to construct an image of Clarissa’s life and of the inter-war social structure.

Why I Chose It: Although I have read Mrs. Dalloway several times I have never read this edition cover to cover. I wanted to take the opportunity to read the rest of the material.

The Review:

This edition has essays, commentaries, and Woolf’s own journal entries that supplement the story. I want to focus on the story separately, so this review will be broken into two parts: The “Reader,” for review of the supplementary information; and “Mrs Dalloway,” for review of the actual story.

The Reader:

What I really like about this collection is that there are essays and commentary about not only Mrs. Dalloway, but also other works by Woolf. The short stories and essays were really wonderful to read, as I was able to learn about the evolutionary process that Mrs. Dalloway went through during writing. The Reader really digs into what makes Woolf’s works so interesting and different, and I really enjoyed seeing a greater depth to the story.

I have read parts of Woolf’s journal before, but what I liked about this edition was that it isolated specific entries that pertain to Mrs. Dalloway and the creation of the story. It adds a greater depth to understanding work, and allowed me to notice subtleties in her writing that I’ve never noticed before – small details that I found insignificant, yet she worried about and pondered on while writing.

Rating: 5 / 5

Mrs. Dalloway:

As a stream of consciousness novel, every thought that travels through Mrs. Dalloway’s mind is represented on the page as she goes about her day and plans a party. There are moments of clarity and focus on her task, but other moments when she gets distracted, when her thoughts follow a tangent not related to what she’s doing. The story provides an intimate picture of Mrs. Dalloway that greatly intrigues me.

I love Woolf’s transitions between the characters; a character observes an event, followed by a different character observing the same event. This provides the reader with multiple viewpoints, but also allows the comparison between two characters thoughts and reactions to external forces. I find the transitions smooth and effortless, and incredibly interesting when examining how people react differently when faced with the same situation.

One aspect I really enjoyed about this book was reading characters’ concerns when with other people. For example, Mrs. Dalloway is incredibly worried that her party will be a failure, and that others would judge her by her failure. While on the surface it may appear vain, it really represents those self-conscious moments that we have all had at social events. The novel really gets into the heart of human emotion and the fluctuating bonds that exist between people.

Finally, there is a very charming aspect about this book that I love, and it’s to do with memories. Several moments in the story show how one small smell or sight can allow a large memory to drift up and take over a person’s thoughts, taking them to a different time and place if only for a moment.  It really shows how thoughts can link together and take over the mind, before something calls attention back to the present. It is one of the aspects that really makes this book worthwhile to read, and all the more enjoyable.

Rating: 4 / 5

Quotations: The Reader

“In this book I have almost too many ideas. I want to give life & death, sanity & insanity; I want to criticize the social system, & to show it at work, at its most intense.” p 93, Selected Entries from the Diary of Virginia Woolf.

“Woolf’s delicate use of drifting thought has shown us that Mrs. Ramsay is never thinking of nothing, that we are always thinking of something, even if the thought is merely the process of forgetting something.” p 125, Virginia Woolf’s Forgetful Selves, James Wood.

Quotations: Mrs. Dalloway

“But she feared time itself, and read on Lady Bruton’s face, as if it had been a dial cut in impassive stone, the dwindling of life; how year by year her share was sliced.” p 220

“That was the devilish part of her — this coldness, this woodenness, something very profound in her, which he had felt again this morning talking to her; an impenetrability.” p 248


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