Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf Day 3 – A Passage

Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (1925)

Happy Dalloway Day, again, on this Wednesday in the middle of June. In England, a bit warm, as fresh as Clarissa’s morning in the book.

Today I bring you a passage I hope you will enjoy. This is Clarissa Dalloway recalling being eighteen and in love with her friend Sally. There is a group sitting around after dinner when Sally suggests they go outside:

I think this passage embodies a lot of the qualities that define the book. Here’s a memory that’s fairly ordinary in the context of a lifespan of fifty-two years. It is heightened with hyperbole (though I guess that’s debatable) and punctuation (all the commas and semicolons and their absence in longer sentences, the exclamations at the end) leading to a “revelation” that is quickly interrupted and tainted. It may come across as melodramatic (Clarissa herself immediately wonders whether she is sentimental as per her old friend and former suitor Peter’s accusation), but these moments of ecstasy are short-lived and characters are often brought back down to earth by the present and its banality. The glow of memory tends to amplify certain emotions and events, sometimes to the point of radical alteration.

Woolf wrote in her diary: “I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.”

Of course this goes against the contemporary discourse that has been in vogue for a while: enjoy the present, BE present; don’t linger in the past; don’t fret about the future. This philosophy obviously sounds healthy and wise, in spite of it often leading to insufferable levels of toxic positivity from people in positions of privilege. But this is literature, and reading about people who are happy all the time is no fun. In the book, memories do bring Clarissa some happiness and a better understanding of her present.  

Here is where I leave you today. Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Come back tomorrow for a look at a book and a film which I think are the greatest homage to Mrs Dalloway out there.

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