Slow-Read Sunday: Mrs. Dalloway (to End)

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) our final discussion follows and carries us to the end of the novel.

Septimus is dead, Big Ben continues to strike with expected regularity, and Mrs. Dalloway must host her party to the satisfaction of her guests. There are more important questions to ask of the novel, though.

1. Is being bookish manly?

On p. 335 the text poses the question through the character of Peter Walsh: Is his bookish nature altogether manly? There’s some mention of this making him more attractive to the opposite sex, the fact that he is “not altogether manly.” Do you associate reading with one sex or the other?

2. Are the characters capable of honest self-analysis?

On p. 342 we see a glimpse that Peter Walsh is capable of being honest with himself, at times. He comes to a universal conclusion that he has gotten older and so can do what he likes to do, but in the next sentence recognizes that he does still care enough to attend a party he has no interest in attending, except to satisfy others. This kind of self-analysis is often difficult to engage in, though. Do the characters in the novel consistently engage in this kind of honest self analysis, or, do they sometimes deceive even themselves?

3. Stop and smell the roses.

There are several lines in the novel that could stand alone as poems. Some of my favorite lines of the novel are found on  p. 343, “The brain must wake now. The body must contract now…the soul must brave itself to endure.” That’s it, just pointing to some language. You have to do that sometimes with this novel, because it would be a shame to miss it.

4. What does it mean when we compartmentalize our friends?

On p. 358 we see Peter and Sally off on their own. Clarissa checks in on them and then leaves. At no point in the novel is it more clear than this, Peter and Sally are part of a different life than the one Clarissa now lives. They are, in many ways, more alive in her memory than they are in her real, present life. I think we’re all guilty of this kind of compartmentalizing. We know Peter’s done it because he chooses who to mention his Indian mistress to. We know Sally does it because her husband didn’t come to the party. Is there anything wrong with this kind of behavior? Is Clarissa living a dishonest life if she behaves one way with a certain set of friends and another way with a different set?

5. Septimus is at the party.

Septimus appears at the party, almost like a ghost. He is talked about, and his presence is felt, even if he is not physically present. His visit impacts Clarissa’s mood. Is this another attempt to show us how the internal world is every bit as real as the external world?

6. What is the book’s major idea?

I have two suggestions and they are lines directly from the novel: (1) p. 361, “Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death.” (2) p. 369 “…for what can one know even of the people one lives with every day? Are we not all prisoners?” What do you think is the novel’s main idea? Is the main idea every explicitly stated in the novel?

7. The novel’s conclusion.

At the conclusion of the novel (p. 371) we see Clarissa has returned to Peter. Peter is filled with excitement, terror, ecstasy, he can’t even really define it himself. But, what does he verbalize to Clarissa? All he says is “It is Clarissa.” Of course, that answers the question of what has caused this rush of internal excitement, but it does not clue Clarissa in to what he is really thinking. The final scene of the novel drives home the idea that we’re not very good at communicating our internal state. Some of that is because we can’t even understand what’s going on ourselves, in the moment. Sometimes it takes time and hindsight and in the case of a writer it might take a whole novel’s worth of writing before we can understand what’s going on inside.

So far, Amarie is the only one to suggest a book for June. She’s recommended we lighten things up a bit and read The Secret Garden. Assuming I’ve linked to the right book, there appears to be a free Kindle version. I’m game. I’ll try to get a copy and figure out what we should read for the first week in June. I may have some additional thoughts on Mrs. Dalloway next week, but in the meantime get your copies ready for June. If you had a suggestion for June and didn’t get it in in time, I’ll open things up again for suggestions in July, so don’t despair.

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