by Bridgette Glover
There are countless novels that, as university students, we are “supposed” to have read. We are in a hub of higher thinking and the classics are apparently our go-to educators on the ways of life and love. Well shit, who’s got the time? In between our exams and assignments and required reading, are we really expected to schedule in a one-on-one with the world’s classic canons? I don’t think so. So here it is, the answer to your time-pressed prayers: life’s essential reading in one convenient column. You’re welcome.
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)
So you may or may not have heard of Virginia Woolf, but she’s kind of a big deal. In a nutshell, she was an English writer born in 1882 who was pretty much crazy from the get-go. She’d had several nervous breakdowns in her short life but was content for a moment after marrying a man who, although penniless, was incredible in bed; oh and she also had a fling with a chick. Each of these defining moments clearly served as inspirations for her writing (especially Dalloway). Anyway, she lived until 1941 when she became depressed again; she put some stones in her coat pockets and drowned herself in a river...
So now you understand the author, you might get this book a little more. Maybe. Probably not.
So what is it even about?
Ok, so Mrs Dalloway is a story about Mrs Dalloway. Shocker. First name Clarissa, she is a 51 year old London socialite who spends the day wandering about the city and preparing for a party she is hosting that June night in 1923. Clarissa does a hell of a lot of soul searching on this particular Wednesday, which is probably because of that bloody Peter Walsh. He’s just a dude who proposed marriage to Clarissa when they were younger and she rejected him for the more reliable Richard Dalloway. However, the reader eventually comes to learn that there was someone else in Dalloway’s life – Miss Sally Seton. But alas, she had a vagina so that was doomed from the start. So basically Clarissa went on to have a family with safe Rich and regret it forever. It’s difficult when so many people love you. However, while Clarissa’s little soap opera continues for the rest of the day, veteran Septimus Warren Smith (great name right?) is basically losing his mind. Only five years after WWI ended, he’s basically hit breaking point and after being committed involuntarily to the psych ward he decides to jump out a window. Despite Clarissa and Septimus never knowing each other, his passing totally puts a downer on her party.
After a couple of reads you work out that this grey ghost of a man was kind of like Clarissa’s double in a way, and if he didn’t pack his bags and leave the island then she would’ve. You could say that this sacrificing of the male to further develop the character of the female is Woolf’s clever feminist ploy. Or you could say that someone who comes to that kind of conclusion has attended one-too-many English Lit classes. Curse you Tom Bristow!
You will love it if: You’re unsure about your sexuality; you’re ageing gracefully and you hate it; you feel invisible.
You will despise it if: You can’t get past long sentences; you’re mentally unstable.
Difficulty level: It’s just over a hundred pages - you can do it!
Other titles you might enjoy: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Best line: “She felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged.”