Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (Books 2018, 25)
I didn’t really know what to expect with this. I knew it was about, or set around, a party — in part because I’ve seen The Hours.
But it’s about so much more; and not really about the party very much at all. It’s an intriguing look at the mental lives of a range of people in London on a day in the 1920s. Not a very wide range of people, in that they’re all very much upper-middle to upper class. There are a few people from what would have been called the lower classes, but they’re just passersby, background colour. There is, however, a sympathy towards all people — from at least some of the characters.
Given the limited range of types of people, we get a remarkably effective insight into their mental lives. And it’s all done with reported thought. There is some actual dialogue, but very little. And we jump around from head to head promiscuously, but incredibly smoothly. There’s usually some handoff: the current viewpoint character sees someone, and then we’re in that person’s head. Or they might just think about someone, and now we hear the other person’s thoughts.
I guess this, along with Joyce, is one of the originators of the stream of consciousness as a literary device. An interesting thing to me is how it reminded me of other, later, works; which of course shows its influence. Most noticeable: Illuminatus! Now Robert Anton Wilson was a Joyce scholar, so he was probably coming more from that direction, but there are definitely some similarities of style, or at least echoes.
And — also from this year’s rereading — Walking On Glass. Especially in the contrast between the thoughts of people who are or are not “sane.”
It can be surprisingly confusing at times, such as when someone suddenly thinks of a person or an idea that hasn’t been mentioned before. But that just simulates the way our minds work. Our thoughts jump from topic to topic without an introductory paragraph, after all.
So it’s psychology, feminism, and a critique of (parts of) the British class system. Oh, and it’s also partly a love-letter to London. I thoroughly enjoyed it.