Friday, 20 May 2011

On the Connectedness of All things in Mrs. Dalloway

In the early pages of Virgina Woolf's formidable novel, Mrs. Dalloway, we can observe the tenuous line between vital life and ending death. On the first page, in fact, the narrator says, "What a lark! What a plunge!" (1) Perhaps this lark connotes a kind of life and this plunge a kind of death from here at the very beginning. They are practically one and the same in this novel; they intersect; they intertwine; they flow in and out of one another; they overlap.

The narrator goes onto describe the London morning for Clarissa Dalloway, listing an enormous range of physical objects and people in a single, long sentences before summarizing: "... what she loved; life; London; this moment of June" (2). What she loves is thereby a totality, a wholeness, a pluralism (as opposed to a singularity or particularity). What she loves includes practically everything--this world of things and people and ideas that flow in and out of one another.

Just several pages further, the narrator confesses that "[Clarissa] would not say of any one now that they were this or were that", making presence and absence fluid (5). Who knows what is or is not? The narration goes on: "She would not say of herself, I am this, I am that" (6). We are inside Clarissa's perception as the narrator explains: "...death ended absolutely [...] but [...] somehow in the streets of London, on the ebb and flow of things, here, there, she survived, Peter survived, lived in each other, she being part, she was positive, of..." (6). Somehow death is total but life endures nonetheless.

Perhaps this is all why Clarissa has the sense that "it was very, very dangerous to live even one day" (6). Characters of all sorts, like Rezia Smith or Maisie Johnson, already want to cry out, "Help! Help!" or "Horror! Horror!" (12, 22). One man, Mr. Benley, interprets the aeroplane overhead as a "symbol... of man's soul; of his determination [...] to get outside his body, beyond his house..." (23). This life, this fate, is something that all of these characters are inextricably caught up in together--in all its "beauty" and all of its harm.

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