Sunday, June 16, 2013
Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf)
Read: 17 March to 28 March 2013
5 / 5 stars
It is so difficult to write about the books that I have loved with a jealous fervency. And it's hard to write about this book, specifically. I am tardy to the Woolf party, for sure, so I can't help but feel like my gushings are all going to sound like that annoying person who discovers some incredible thing well after everyone else has and still feels the need to verbally ejaculate arcing ropes of praise with unselfconscious awe like she's the first to realize that this is some amazing stuff while everyone else patiently nods and politely smiles and surreptitiously checks their watches because, sweet Jesus Christ who died for the day off, does this chatty broad ever shut up?
There is so much to love about Mrs. Dalloway. Just. So much. I had to forgive Woolf for smashing my unsuspecting heart to bits in the first few pages because she had won me over with that same uncanny knack for poking at old wounds that never healed properly so she could reignite the feelings that first inflicted them. There are so many universal fears and hopes and little lies we tell ourselves and basically the whole gamut of ABSOLUTELY ALL THE FEELS tearing through these pages that manage to send the much-needed message of "Hey, you're not the first and you're sure as hell not the last to experience this thing that only seems like it's such a uniquely isolated event in your life when, really, it's just your turn to deal with this episode that happens to everyone" while perfectly encapsulating all the things that make each momentous occurrence -- good, bad or ultimately neutral -- feel so damnably unique but so terribly pertinent to the act of living. As a further testament to Woolf's remarkable understanding of human nature, each instance of brutally raw beauty heralds a much bigger sense of comfort: The scars and failures and terrible clarity of hindsight we all carry around are not ours to bear in lonely secrecy because we all dogged by our quiet baggage and the only difference is the way we allow it to affect our present lives and future paths.
For all the time Woolf spends painstakingly crafting the individual personalities singing in this day-in-the-life chorus, she creates a harmonizing element of bigger-picture society, subtly driving home the point that we are all but one small cog in the larger machine of society. She drifts from person to person, often transitioning between characters who momentarily occupy the same space, quietly emphasizing that one man's life-altering tragedy is another man's background noise.
Reading this so soon after my second helping of Proust was another happy accident of modernist literature. I can't help but admire both writers' willingness to empathetically explore the small moment's lasting impact, the importance of the inner terrain that can never fully rise to the surface of a person's outward expression, and the way the necessary mysteries that exist between one soul and another create such rich relationships and perpetual misunderstandings of one's true nature. As I intend to keep greedily lapping up Proust this year, so will I do the same with Woolf.
I'm ashamed that I'm only now getting over my purely academic and largely disinterested introduction to Woolf and have finally begun to appreciate the enormous talent living in tandem with such a tortured soul. The consolation here is that living in ignorance of her literary prowess for so long means that I have so much left of her output to devour that I'll be positively glutting myself on her beautiful words, searing emotions and jabs of humor for years to come. Because there is nothing worse than realizing that you've read all a writer has to offer and there will never again be something to experience for the first time.