Yesterday evening I returned home from my classics book club meeting very sad. We read Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, and when I last read it, I remember wishing I could read and discuss with other classics readers. My classics reading group (last year, a total of four of us) agreed to give it a try this year.
Alas, the people in my group, different people from those who gave input on this years’ books, were nothing but scathing in their thoughts of Mrs Dalloway. It was too much work, there were no chapters, nothing happened, the characters were flat and boring (!). In short, they got nothing out of it.
I can relate to that feeling. I recently read The Red Badge of Courage and felt only joy when it ended because I was not enjoying it at all. But this was particularly hard since I so enjoyed my reread.
This post contains thematic spoilers for Mrs Dalloway.
I loved Clarissa and Septimus and Rezia and especially Peter Walsh. I hated Richard Dalloway, and Doris Kilman. Richard was a jerk. Poor Clarissa was trapped; likewise, Septimus was trapped.Clarissa because of her gender roles in a changing age; Septimus because of his haunted past, his life during the war. I saw how they are foils for each other, and I loved discovering it.
One of the discussion questions I found about the book asked this.
When Clarissa reflects on Septimus’s death at the end of the novel, she experiences a moment of being, or an epiphany. What truth becomes clear to her, and why is it significant?
This end was one of my favorites in a long time. I loved her recognition of the world for the first time.
It was new to her. … It was fascinating, with people still laughing and shouting in the drawing-room, to watch that old woman, quite quietly, going to bed. The clock began striking. The young man had killed himself; but she did not pity him; with the clock striking the hour, one, two, three, she did not pity him, with all this going on. … She felt somehow very like him — the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad he had done it; thrown it away. The clock was striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun. (page 186)
Can I just keep quoting Woolf? I love it. I need to read more of her novels. I believe Woolf is an acquired tasted, and she is meant to be read slowly, ponderously. She is meant to be reread. No, she’s not for everyone.
But it did break my heart a little bit to realize that all those in the group who read the book got none of the beauty. It makes me want to read everything a little bit more carefully. What beauty am I missing?