I am learning to read slowly. I’m learning to not jam books into my bag to read in small snatches of time between other bits of life, but to savor a book, linger over it, let myself get carried away in the eddies and flow over the same words multiple times. Mrs. Dalloway is a book to be sipped and savored. I gulped it down in my first reading many years ago, but this time I tasted each word, noticed the cadence, spotted the repetitions. The leaden circles of Big Ben punctuating the day. Is there controversy over the influence of Ulysses on this book, I don’t know. She’d been exposed to Joyce’s work, and then produced her own book encapsulating a June day with a cast of various characters high and low.
Clarissa, the hostess throwing a party, who (going about her daily life) runs into old friends and an old boyfriend, who lives to bring people together and yet has depths beyond the superficial frivolity of parties. Peter Walsh, her old beau, back from India and playing with his knife. Septimus Smith, war veteran gone mad, Clarissa’s counterbalance in the story and whose suicide she hears about at her party. Richard, Clarissa’s husband, and Elizabeth, Clarissa’s daughter (swept up with the awful Miss Kilman, super-religious freak wandering about wearing a mackintosh and “dreadfully poor”). Hugh Whitbread, the court groveler called upon to write a letter to the editor to increase emigration to Canada. Various other vagrants and stuffed shirts and flavors of Westminster and the Strand. Elizabeth’s calm and competent mounting of an omnibus. All culminating in the evening’s party, first deemed a failure by Clarissa but then a success when people stream in.
As a cloud crosses the sun, silence falls on London; and falls on the mind. Effort ceases. Time flaps on the mast. There we stop; there we stand. Rigid, the skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame. Where there is nothing, Peter Walsh said to himself; feeling hollowed out, utterly empty within. Clarissa refused me, he thought. He stood there thinking, Clarissa refused me. (p 49)
… when the ship actually sailed, he felt an extraordinary relief, wanted nothing so much as to be alone; was annoyed to find all her little attentions – cigars, notes, a rug for the voyage – in his cabin. Every one if they were honest would say the same; one doesn’t want people after fifty; one doesn’t want to go on telling women they are pretty; that’s what most men of fifty would say, Peter Walsh thought, if they were honest. (p 79)