Friday, February 22, 2019

Book Review- Mrs. Dalloway

Title               Mrs. Dalloway
Author          Virginia Woolf
Pages             208
ISBN              978-81-7599-421-8
MRP              Rs 150
Publisher    F!ngerprint!  Classics

Rating          2/5 Stars

So finally, I am done reading ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ (1925) by this overhyped, Indo-phobic, semicolon fanatic goddess of incoherent writing known as Virginia Woolf.

This is a circadian novel thus traces the lives of all characters over a single day. Set in early 1900s, this 200 page convoluted work revolves around a 52 years old high-society English woman named Clarissa Dalloway, the wife of a politician in England. As she is constantly disappointed by her reclusive teenage daughter Elizabeth and her ever busy husband Richard, she busies herself in preparing for a party at her house because she has nothing better to do, even though out of some illness, she has turned weak and pale.

That morning, she goes to the market to ‘buy the flowers herself’ for her party in the evening and philosophizes pointlessly on everything around. This novel also describes the insane adulation masses had for the Royal family; everybody in the market goes nuts when a royal car stops for a second before passing by. Another character, a clinically depressed solider, Septimus Warren Smith, is busy conversing with the dead and imagining weird things while strolling in a park with his distressed Italian hat-maker wife. Yet another major character, Peter Walsh, Clarissa’s old lover is back, after serving five years in India’s ‘heat and dust’, to the life civilization and society of London and every woman, ‘even in rags’, seems pretty to him. Woolf’s writing degrades India and its people to dirt and many times, the book put me off. Walsh is staying at a hotel and broods constantly. He goes to meet Clarissa and she invites him to her party which he attends as he could not stop himself from loving her passionately.

Some major themes emerge-

1.  English Culture- The frivolity, snobbery and idiosyncrasies as well as the typical English shrewdness of characters comes to surface very clearly. Clarissa herself is shown as a very worldly, class-conscious and cold.
2.  Clinical Depression- It is one major theme that takes up much space. Described through Smith, Woolf throws much light upon the malfunctioning of a depressed mind. She herself suffered from it and had committed suicide just as Smith in this novel.
3.  Same-Sex Love- The very undertone of Clarrisa’s undying love for Sally, a wild and carefree friend of hers suggests the same.
4.  One-sided Love- This theme is described through Peter Walsh who is helplessly in love with Clarissa and remains unmarried and bitter when she rejects him for a far more successful Richard Dalloway.
5.  Hatred for India- India is described as a grimy land of uncouth barbarians after which London seems like heaven. The author also expresses sympathy for those who served in India while she exalts her country England as the epitome of civilization. By the way, Woolf was sexually abused for a long time by a ‘civilized’ English gentleman named George Duckworth who was her first cousin. Her fatal depression was a direct result of that exploitation. England is the harbinger of apartheid and this work shows many incidences betraying this outlook.
6.  Class Clash- Firstly, Clarissa is perceived as a spoilt, dumb, and wretched woman by her daughter’s underprivileged but erudite History teacher, Miss Kilman. On the other hand, Clarissa detests Miss Kilman for being independent, ugly, poor and single. Secondly, this occurs when Elizabeth feels ashamed of riding an omnibus in market. And lastly, Clarissa maltreats her ‘very poor’ cousin, Ellie Henderson and is shown to be ‘really very hard on her’.

The story describes the lives of people across all classes and sections of post World War- I England, especially focusing on war’s psychological effects. However, the writing is very knotty with truckloads of commas and semicolons, page long sentences, prolonged descriptions of minor characters, never ending musings and pointless philosophies. The outcome is a jumbled maze that annoys for most part. Some parts are good though.

The story ends with an unhappy, lonely and ill Mrs. Dalloway, despite being married and wealthy, drifting towards Peter Walsh, who despite being single and independent, is feeling sad and empty too, just like her.

PS- No more Virginia Woolf for me!

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