"Mrs. Dalloway" by Virginia Woolf

La emblemática novela de Virginia Woolf, que se desarrolla durante un solo día en el Londres de los años veinte, continúa seduciendo a los lectores con una narración basada en el monólogo interior.

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Virginia Woolf’s fourth book is a brief but condensed novel that, almost a century after its publication, continues to inspire new generations of writers and mesmerise numerous readers. The events of the story take place in London in a single day in June 1923. Its protagonist is Clarissa Dalloway, an upper-class housewife married to a Member of Parliament. Woolf’s greatest achievement was her ability to use an ordinary day of party preparations to explore themes such as lost love, life choices and mental illness.

EXPLORING THE MIND

Mrs. Dalloway is also known for its use of stream-of-consciousness narrative, a writing style that was influenced by James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. This singular technique marks a break with the traditional novel form: Clarissa’s thoughts and sensations on that one day and the interior monologues of those whose lives interweave with hers gradually reveal the personalities of the main characters.

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NO PLOT

The novel has no obvious plot because what action there is takes place mostly in the characters’ consciousness. It travels backwards and forwards in time and inside and outside of the characters’ minds to construct an image of Clarissa’s life and the social system of London between the wars.

AT A GLANCE

The book starts with Clarissa’s decision to go out first thing in the morning to buy flowers for her party. As she walks around London she engages in a lengthy inner reflection of her life, past and present. She recalls her youth, when she and her friend Sally lived with their parents in the village of Bourton in rural Gloucestershire. It was there that she met the enigmatic Peter Walsh, who wanted to marry her. Although she loved him, she decided to marry the more reliable Richard Dalloway:

“For in a marriage a little licence, a little independence there must be between people living together day in day out in the same house.”

Porque en el matrimonio debe haber algo de libertad, un poco de independencia entre personas que viven día tras día en la misma casa.

When she returns from flower shopping, Walsh drops by her house unexpectedly and they realise that they still have feelings for each other.

A TROUBLED MIND

The direction of the novel then shifts to Septimus Warren Smith, a First World War veteran who was injured in battle and now suffers from shell shock. Septimus has serious mental problems, to the point of being suicidal. In the novel, he reflects on the meaning of existence while he’s undergoing treatment by his practitioner Dr. Holmes, and a celebrated psychiatrist called William Bradshaw:

“Once you fall, Septimus repeated to himself, human nature is on you. Holmes and Bradshaw are on you. They scour the desert. They fly screaming into the wilderness. The rack and the thumbscrew are applied. Human nature is remorseless.”

Una vez  que alguien cae, se repitió Septimus, la naturaleza humana se le echa encima. Holmes y Bradshaw se le echan encima. Peinan el desierto. Se lanzan gritando a los yermos. Aplican la tortura del potro. La naturaleza humana es implacable.

 

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At the end of the novel we realise that the events in Clarissa’s day parallel those of Septimus, whose precarious mental state worsens as his life heads towards a tragic  conclusion. Finally, we realise that each character offers a unique insight into the narrator’s mind.

Clarissa in London

Mrs. Dalloway is also one of the great novels about London. The city is almost another character in the book, and Woolf shows that getting to know where we live can be a way of understanding who we are:

“I resign, the evening seemed to say, as it paled and faded above the battlements and prominences, moulded, pointed, of hotel, flat, and block of shops, I fade, she was beginning, I disappear, but London would have none of it, and rushed her bayonets into the sky, pinioned her, constrained her to partnership in her revelry.”

Renuncio, parecía decir la tarde mientras palidecía y se desvanecía sobre las almenas y prominencias, redondas o puntiagudas, de hoteles, apartamentos y bloques de tiendas;  me desvanezco, pero Londres se negaba a aceptarlo, apuntaba con sus bayonetas al cielo y la inmovilizaba obligándola a participar en la fiesta.

a love story

Many London tours offer walks that follow Clarissa’s route, and the notebooks containing Woolf’s drafts of The Hours – the working title for Mrs. Dalloway – are kept in the British Library. Many places related to the novel still exist in London, from bookshops such as Hatchards in Piccadilly to the teashop Dalloway Terrace in Bloomsbury.

“[...] what she loved: life, London, this moment of June.”

[...] lo que ella amaba: la vida; Londres; este momento de junio. 

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