Friday, January 25, 2008

Clarissa's party

Mrs. Dalloway has many poetic sections whose meaning must be picked out, hesitantly interpreted. The novel comes close to its swing point when Clarissa recognizes that, after all and once again, she's created space, via one of her parties, for people to reach outside themselves and see their lives, briefly and tentatively, in a new frame of reference.

The words she uses to describe this recognition are puzzling. Clarissa knows all is well only when Ralph Lyon beats back the curtain. Ralph Lyon is just a name; he has no significance outside this one action. The curtain is in the drawing room. Woolf has already told us about it while Ellie Henderson is asserting her right to wallflowerdom: "Gently the yellow curtain with all the birds of Paradise blew out and it seemed as if there were a flight of wings into the room, right out, then sucked back. (For the windows were open.)"

Here's the block of text for the moment, later in the party, when Ralph Lyon beats back the curtain:
The curtain with its flight of birds of Paradise blew out again. And Clarissa saw—she saw Ralph Lyon beat it back, and go on talking. So it wasn’t a failure after all! it was going to be all right now—her party. It had begun. It had started. But it was still touch and go. She must stand there for the present. People seemed to come in a rush.

Colonel and Mrs. Garrod . . . Mr. Hugh Whitbread . . . Mr. Bowley . . . Mrs. Hilbery . . . Lady Mary Maddox . . . Mr. Quin . . . intoned Wilkin. She had six or seven words with each, and they went on, they went into the rooms; into something now, not nothing, since Ralph Lyon had beat back the curtain.

And yet for her own part, it was too much of an effort. She was not enjoying it. It was too much like being—just anybody, standing there; anybody could do it; yet this anybody she did a little admire, couldn’t help feeling that she had, anyhow, made this happen, that it marked a stage, this post that she felt herself to have become, for oddly enough she had quite forgotten what she looked like, but felt herself a stake driven in at the top of her stairs. Every time she gave a party she had this feeling of being something not herself, and that every one was unreal in one way; much more real in another. It was, she thought, partly their clothes, partly being taken out of their ordinary ways, partly the background, it was possible to say things you couldn’t say anyhow else, things that needed an effort; possible to go much deeper. But not for her; not yet anyhow.

{Not Clarissa's curtain, but nice.}

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