Believe it or not, I forgot that I read this book in the spring. Last night, however, I was musing over my brother’s copy of Beloved (Toni Morrison), and my wandering train of thought went from the short stream-of-consciousness chapters in the book to the Modernist style of it to Modernism in general, and finally to other feminist Modernist writers, and poof! I thought of Virginia Woolf. With that, I remembered that I had never written up Mrs. Dalloway like I was supposed to.
The book needs no introduction, really. Woolf is one of the biggest names of her genre, writing Modernist novels in ways far more important than anything Joyce was doing (though he always gets mentioned first, it seems). Mrs. Dalloway is really two things in one: a protofeminist critique of traditionally unwavering domesticity and a treatise on the nature of human relationships. Woolf used the idea of “rooms” as a recurring theme in much of her work. Rooms, as characterized in Mrs. Dalloway are physical spaces of separation; subtextually, they are psychological barriers which preserve our individuality but prevent expression and communication. One of the most heart-wrenching points in the book (for me) is when Clarissa muses that she and a stranger she sees in a building across the street are in two separate rooms “and that was it.” Despairingly alone.
The book touches upon the subject of homosexuality, though not in a way that’s particularly controversial. There are many ways to read it, of course, though my own opinion happens to be that it’s merely a vessel for Woolf’s condemnation of prescribed social/gender roles and not a man-hating or pro-homosexual point.
Though Mrs. Dalloway shares much with its contemporaries like Ulysses—a 24-hour span, a fluctuating point of view, interrupted by short bursts of narrative synchronicity, &c.—I found it many times more readable than the latter, though perhaps it helps that I read Woolf as a college sophomore and Joyce as a high school sophomore. As an introduction to Modernism, however, I would suggest something by Woolf, namely Mrs. Dalloway as a good primer for some of the concepts and styles that characterize literary Modernism.