Friday, January 18, 2008

Mrs. Dalloway, a demi-review

I'm half way through Mrs. Dalloway, so it may be time for a demi-review. I've been struck by the many correspondences with Ulysses by James Joyce, but they've been noticed by many others as well: [1], [2], [3], [4].

The book seems wholly opposite to The Traveler (which I did finish after all) -- the one a thriller set in a dystopic near future having minimal character development and in-your-face metaphysics, the other a quiet tragedy of manners in a very specific time and place close to a century past.

However ....

So far as I can tell from the first half of Mrs. Dalloway ....

Both have a strong female protagonist, both treat alienation as principal theme, and the prevailing attitude of both is a profound pessimism. Both ponder the meaning of life by examining its opposite, not just death, but the absence of all matter, absence of time, absence of place. Whatever unimaginable nothingness beyond the infinitely great, the infinitely little. Virginia Woolf expresses this covertly in those of her misfit characters whose minds wander farthest from common reality, both Septimus and Peter. For Septimus it is plain death earned by illicit survival. For Peter, it's a typically romantic "the death of the soul." But I think it's also latently present elsewhere. For example in the tall quivering shape outside the Regent's Park tube station whose "ee um fah um so / foo swee too eem oo — " is outside human history, eternal, ageless, awaiting a time when "the pageant of the universe would be over."

And also both books, it seems to me, have an existentialist core. I think I'll write about that when I have more time.

No comments: