Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I am. (Classics)
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf is about one day in the life of a woman getting ready for a party she is hosting—or so I thought. What I found out is that only two small instances in the book are devoted to Mrs. Dalloway’s party preparations. Her venture to a shop in London to pick up flowers is how the book begins, and offers a most famous literary line. “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” The other party “fuss” is when Clarissa Dalloway sits down and calmly mends the green dress she is planning to wear to the evening event.
So, if we’re really not talking about the party, what’s happening the rest of the time, you ask? Well, the book follows the activities, thoughts and memories of people who in some way touch Clarissa’s life during the day. We tiptoe into the minds and lives of various people such as an acquaintance she passes on a park bench who suffers from PSTD after the recent Great War. We discover the struggles of a former love interest who comes back to London, the ambitions of her daughter Elizabeth, and strained irritations of Elizabeth’s underprivileged history tutor, among others. And all these thoughts are revealed in a sort of stream of consciousness as the characters float suddenly in and out of the pages in a convoluted river of 191 chapterless pages.
Try as I might, I was not enthralled or even mildly interested in this book. And although it was not a big book, it sure felt like it. It dragged on and on. Woolf’s writing style seemed like an experiment, the way the thoughts and actions of people drifted in and out without pauses. Maybe this unique style is precisely what gives the book its literary distinction, but for me, it was like a game of “Wheel of Fortune” without indications of breaks between the words in the phrase. And forget about even trying to buy a vowel to clarify things a bit. It was a game of “Jeopardy” without the benefits of categories. It was “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?” without a lifeline. This book was a cognitive workout—just attempting to decipher what she was trying to convey. Woolf’s confusing, meandering writing style had me re-reading many lines over and over. Sometimes I just scratched my head and thought who or what is she talking about?
It was definitely not a normal plot-driven book that feeds you one chapter at a time, leading you somewhere, anywhere. Woolf didn’t make me care about the lives of the people who seemingly drifted in and out. I wasn’t even moved at the dramatic event played out in one of those lives of which we see snippets.
I’m sorry to present such a negative review. This book begs the question, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” And my answer is: “I am.” I am afraid I didn’t like her style. But if you’re ready for a “Moby-like” challenge, give it a whirl and let me know where I went wrong.
What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email: Readinginthegarden@gmail.com