Thursday, 5 March 2009

18 - 'Mrs. Dalloway' by Virginia Woolf

Tony was walking home, thinking about all the things he had to do that evening, gazing idly at the dandelions (silly things, really, when one thinks about them, yellow, fluffy, idle things) growing in the field next to the road leading up to the station. 'What am I going to say about Mrs. Dalloway?', he thought, 'What are the main themes, why did she write it (she being Virginia Woolf of course, a stream-of-conciousness writer Tony had lately become aware of; a little late in the day, but never mind), what does it all mean?'. He continued walking, passing a woman, probably in her mid-thirties, pushing a pram down the slight incline which rolled down towards the university buildings before levelling out slightly, pushing a chubby-cheeked baby in the pram (and wasn't that one of the things that most came through, the role of a woman, the energy, the effort expended - wasted - on organising the household, holding parties when, and this is the tragedy, the talents of the wife far outstripped those of the bread-winning husband?). The woman nodded as she passed, happy, content to have escaped the gloomy living room and enjoying the fresh air; the child looked on ignoring Tony.

And as he trudged up the hill, thinking back to the characters and events of the book, he thought how topical some of it still was; poor old Septimus, a victim of medical malpractice, misdiagnosis - well initially anyway. Unable to cope with the aftermath of a terrible ordeal during an awful war (just like those returned from the first Gulf War, or the soldiers, and civilians, on both sides out in Iraq and Afghanistan): post-traumatic stress they called it nowadays, 'shell shock', the specialist had labelled it. He had, nevertheless, the moment of peace and happiness with his wife before taking the fatal step - Tony paused while crossing the road, careful not to be caught by the impatient traffic (another parallel?) - out of the window, and into... who knows? Was he starting to come round? Was it merely a moment of lucidity before the inevitable? If the doctor hadn't come, would he have... - one more road safely navigated, on the last stretch now.

But the writing, he thought, actually said, for a moment talking to himself as he walked past the playground, his voice tailing off as he became aware of the parents pushing their daughter on the swing, looking suspiciously at him until he smiled, looked away and continued down the road, thinking (not speaking) once more of the way the dialogue, the thoughts of the protagonists meandered, got sidetracked, mingled with other people's minds, before giving way to the next person, sometimes so quickly that you were never quite sure who was thinking. It's people like that that you have to be careful of, she thought, pulling her daughter off the swing and looking coldly down the road. But Tony had gone.

And now he was springing down the last hill, remembering the party, the bringing together of all the characters, making them interact, act, perform for the reader in one last hurrah before the fall of the curtain (not far to go now, just around the corner), although Clarissa seemed deliberately kept back, away from Richard and Sally, prolonging the suspense until (just coming up the driveway now) when Clarissa finally comes up to Richard, (his wife comes to meet him at the door) and the blood starts to come to his face (he bends toward her and kisses her, still thinking, distracted), and the book ends -

"Tony, for God's sake, you are not Virginia Woolf. Stop daydreaming, and go and pick up the baby."

Make of that what you will.