We’ve broken up our reading of Mrs. Dalloway into three parts: (1) questions about Mrs. Dalloway to p. 275 of The Mrs. Dalloway Reader; (2) questions about Mrs. Dalloway to p. 331 of the Mrs. Dalloway Reader; (3) to the end of the novel.
Today, a day late due to Memorial Day activities (the smoked brisket was a big hit), I’ll offer some final thoughts after my first reading of Mrs. Dalloway.
If you’d have asked me five years ago whether I’d ever read Virginia Woolf I would probably have answered in the negative. Not because I thought it was of less value than other books, but because I thought I might not like it. Could I have ever made a logical argument why I shouldn’t read it? No. One day, here, Joseph Dante submitted an article entitled The Gender Divide and Becoming More Aware of What We Read. What he said hit home. I wasn’t consciously trying to avoid women writers, but I was not exactly piling up female authors’ titles on my bookshelves either.
So far, with Slow-Read Sunday we’ve read Austen and Woolf and we’re about to take on Burnett’s The Secret Garden. It’s a start. So some of my closing thoughts are a thank you to Joseph for bringing this issue to my attention.
With so much to read and so little time, Mrs. Dalloway will probably get tucked away in the same kind of compartment that Clarissa tucks Peter and Sally in. It will be on my mind, but I doubt I will make the time to engage in much real conversation with it for a while. We’ll go our separate ways and live our separate lives and we will think of one another, but we will only rarely connect in the physical world. If that starts to sound like a bad thing, let me tell you why it’s not. It’s not a bad thing because the real impact this book will have is on my inner-self. I’ve read it closely enough that I’ll find myself referring to it, monthly, weekly, maybe even daily. Most times when I think of war veterans I’ll think, now, of Septimus Warren Smith. Most times when I think of suicide I’ll think of the conscious decision we all make every day to go on living. Most times when I hear a clock bell ring I’ll think about the idea of time. This is how books work on us long after we’ve set them aside.
I can relate to how Peter and Sally shaped Clarissa’s life because books shape our lives in similar ways. We make choices about who our favorites are and about how we’ll spend the majority of our time, but that doesn’t mean past relationships, with books or people, are impermanent. They influence and shape our lives, too.
Even if I never pick this book up again, I am changed because it passed through my life. People, ideas, stories, told from all walks of life, from all perspectives, enrich us. We become more layered, more complete human beings by seeking experiences outside the sphere of our ordinary experience. Joseph’s right. We’ve got to do a better job of being conscious where we devote our attention and our time because we become the things we let into our lives.
Now, for June we have a date with The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. For our first chunk, let’s read to Chapter VII, The Key to the Garden or about p. 22 of Dover Children’s Thrift Classics edition.