It’s been a while since I last read Mrs Dalloway. I’d always had it down as her third best book, but falling a fair way short of The Waves and To the Lighthouse. Therefore I was surprised by just how much I loved and admired it this time round. It’s probably her most popular novel – because it’s more intimate, more personal and sprightly and warm than her other novels. What’s most brilliant about it is the easy fluid way she makes of each passing moment a ruffled reservoir of the inner life of her characters. Every moment alters the composition, the ebb and flow of memory and identity. And everything, very subtly, is experienced in relation to the inevitability of death. It’s a deeply elegiac novel and one of the finest celebrations of the beauty to be gleaned in the passing moment I can think of.
She does, now and again, get carried away with her metaphors. Extending them until they bear little relation with their starting point, like shadows that have no source. In fact so epic and sweeping are her metaphors sometimes – usually when she’s writing about/making fun of men – that you think she might have had a copy of The Iliad on her desk while writing this. And men get a pretty rough deal on the whole.
There’s probably no richer book about London in the history of literature. I remember when I was a skinny nineteen year old thing walking about London and how Woolf’s presence, through her prose, was almost like a medium permeating the squares of Bloomsbury, the bridges and churches and parks of the city. She added an entire layer to my experience of the hidden riches of London. At one point Clarissa muses, “It ended in a transcendental theory which, with her horror of death, allowed her to believe, or say that she believed (for all her scepticism), that since our apparitions, the part of us which appears, are so momentary compared with the other, the unseen part of us, which spreads wide, the unseen might survive, be recovered somehow attached to this person or that, or even haunting certain places, after death. Perhaps – perhaps.” Well, no question, Virginia still haunts certain places –pretty much every London location she writes about in this novel.