It’s kind of difficult to review a book around which whole academic courses, PhDs and professorships are built, so just some rough impressions.
About 30 years ago, I read another Virginia Woolf novel, Between the Acts, and such was its impact I remember nothing about it. I hoped that Mrs Dalloway would, at least, be memorable, and it has, I think, met that modest requirement.
I actually found the book quite tough going; it was sometimes hard, I thought, to remember, exactly, where I might be, when the page was done, and I began to turn to another, or then perhaps flip back to find a thread that I thought was lost when the bells had rung the time in the warm afternoon when I had stood to move to the the window; then changed my mind in a dense knot of commas and semicolons, and finally to see a full-stop that I might make a dash for, but why dash for a full stop when surely another semicolon would do…
I’m sure you get my drift, so I’ll quit this mimicry right now.
I felt very little sympathy for Mrs Dalloway – cold, aloof, distant, self-centred; and wanted to know more about Sally Seton. Septimus Smith’s story was interesting, although too short, and mainly provided Woolf an opportunity to, it seemed, engage in an argument with the psychiatric practices of the time; it was also a chance, perhaps, to intimate that the common Tommy should never start writing and drawing, because all that creativity won’t help relieve his ills — it will simply drive him mad(der) (so perhaps John Carey in The Intellectuals and the Masses is not so far off the mark).
The stream-of-consciousness technique works best in the early part of the book, where there are some headlong rushes of adjectival deliciousness that are delightful.
I found the dipping into the viewpoints of minor characters for half a page, and then never hearing their voices again, irritating.
And yet, I give four stars – for the early vertiginous dances across the stops and dashes and colons, for Lucrezia and Septimus Smith, and Sally Seton and Peter Walsh.