Mrs. Dalloway: 100%

Photo by Ming Jun Tan on Unsplash

“…having done with the triumphs of youth, lost herself in the process of living, to find it, with a shock of delight, as the sun rose, as the day sank.”

— from Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway is my most engaging read yet this year. Out of the eighteen serials I’ve read on the Serial Reader app, it might be my favorite. Great Expectations comes close, but can’t match the synchronicity I experienced. I never recognized as much of myself in Pip as I did in Clarissa Dalloway. The fact that I’m the same age as Mrs. Dalloway in the novel certainly helped foster this feeling.

That can seem pretty loaded, to say that I identify with a privileged, middle-aged, woman living in excessive comfort in early 20th century London. But that’s not what I mean by stating “I see myself in Clarissa Dalloway.” And I’m pretty positive Virginia Woolf’s intention was not to glorify Mrs. Dalloway’s privilege.

To me, the whole point is that there is so much more to everything, and everyone, than the categories we put them in.

I had a similar experience many years ago when I read Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I remember strongly identifying with the protagonist, Anne Elliot. Not only did we share a name, we were the same age. Not yet 30 years old, I was at a point in my life where I wasn’t excited about my future prospects. Something needed to change — I needed to change — to course-correct my life. What I took from Persuasion was that if things could change for a 27-year-old woman in the Regency period, there was no reason why I couldn’t shake things up for myself at the fin de 20th siecle.

Clarissa Dalloway is at a different stage of her life, (as am I). Now it’s not so much about changing your life, as it is making sense of it. And what Virginia Woolf accomplished so masterfully in the novel is capturing the multi-facetedness of life, of perception, of everything. Reading Mrs. Dalloway was like being hit with, and comprehending, a brilliant stream from the multiverse. Not only do we understand how Clarissa Dalloway perceives things, we understand how she is perceived, chiefly through the characters of Richard Dalloway, Peter Walsh, and Sally Seton.

And what can I say about the other anchor for the story, the Great War veteran Septimus Warren Smith? Suffering from PTSD and rapidly losing his grip on reality, reading his scenes was difficult, to put it mildly. Clarissa Dalloway does not know him, but knows his doctor, Sir William Bradshaw. When she learns of Smith’s death from Bradshaw, she is profoundly affected, and the story comes back around to itself in the most amazing way. It was one of the most convincing depictions of humanity’s interconnectivity I’ve encountered.

I didn’t go into Mrs. Dalloway with high hopes. I read Woolf’s Night and Day first, and didn’t care much for it. There was only one character I really liked, Mary Datchet, and she kinda gets the narrative shaft. Night and Day was published six years before Mrs. Dalloway, so I guess it just goes to show how writers can develop. Something else I can hope to identify with.

To conclude: my recent interest in Virginia Woolf relates to her novel Orlando. I read it in college, and remember being very intrigued with how time is treated in the story. I plan to re-read it this year, and Night and Day and Mrs. Dalloway were a sort of grounding in Woolf. Tying it back to time, the striking clocks were another thing I loved about Mrs. Dalloway. So I’ll leave you with this, right after Clarissa learns about Septimus Warren Smith:

The clock was striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun. But she must go back. She must assemble. She must find Sally and Peter. And she came in from the little room.

Figure of Speech

Last Saturday, I went to the studios of WRBH and read from my soon-to-be released novel, The Trouble on Highway One. It was a trip! Sitting in sound proof booth, filling up twenty-seven minutes with a soliloquy of my own making. In my marketing past, I’ve done some fill-in voiceover work, and recorded a few 30-second and 60-second radio spots. But this was an entirely different experience. Like the difference between a daily commute and a cross-country road trip.

This segment will air on an upcoming episode of WRBH’s “Figure of Speech.” Here’s the description of the program, from the WRBH website: “Local authors and poets share and discuss their own work, as well as work from the artists who influence and inspire them.” Local meaning New Orleans.

Here in New Orleans, (and in the U.S.), WRBH is the only full-time FM reading radio service. And much of their original content, including “Figure of Speech,” “New Orleans By Mouth,” and “The Writer’s Forum” is available on Soundcloud.

For my segment, I read the first chapters of The Trouble on Highway One, and The Incident Under the Overpass. In between, I talked a little bit about traiteurs, and their healing tradition here in Southern Louisiana. At the end, jumping to artists who’ve inspired me, I mentioned Walker Percy for how he evoked the spirit of New Orleans in his writing, and I read from Jane Austen’s Persuasion (my favorite Jane Austen novel!) Funny how I found my own work easier to read aloud than Jane’s. 😉

My “Figure of Speech” episode should be available sometime in the next month, but in the meantime, don’t hesitate to check out the WRBH programs on Soundcloud. I listened to some really compelling stories as I prepared for my session!