Friday, 31 May 2013

There She Was

Mrs. Dalloway explores mortality without grimacing or shying away from it yet simultaneously affirms life. This, for me, is the heart of the novel, the challenge for us to wrangle with as we attempt to make sense of and meaning from the novel (in spite of its Modernist futility). 

At the very end of the novel, several characters consider young Elizabeth Dalloway. Peter says, "There's Elizabeth" and "she feels not half what we feel, not yet" (171). This book in so many ways has been about how much and how intensely individuals feel. The heroes of this novel (even if they're Modernist anti-heroes) are those who are capable of complex thought; sensitive, deep reactions and feelings; fluid movement between joy and anguish. Peter and Clarissa are certainly most prominent among them. 

'I will come,' said Peter, but he sat on for a moment. What is this terror? what is this ecstasy? he though to himself. What is it that fills me with extraordinary excitement? It is Clarissa, he said. For there she was. THE END (172).

Terror, ecstasy, and excitement are overlapping; the world is pluralistic, not singular; it cannot be divided into good and evil or right and wrong. This, too, is one of Woolf's very Modernist thoughts, yet she develops it uniquely in Mrs. Dalloway. Pluralism, multiple perspectives, and the variability of truth look different for Eliot, Joyce, Faulker, and the rest. 

Here are some examples of things (seemingly contradictory) that are simultaneously true and overlapping (as opposed to mutually exclusive and non-overlapping) in the novel:
  • "Are we not all prisoners?" (170)
  • "We know everything" (171).
  • "Somehow it was [Clarissa's] disaster--her disgrace" (164).
  • "Death was defiance" (163). 
  • "Perhaps there was somebody there. But there was nobody" (162).
  • "They looked; that was all. That was enough" (157).
  • "She hated her; she loved her."
  • " is certain we must die" (155).
  • "...still these semblances, these triumphs."
  • "That was satisfying; that was real" (154).
  • "Every one was unreal in one way; must more real in another" (151).
  • "Life was that--humiliation, renunciation" (148).
  • "Absorbing, mysterious, of infinite richness, this life" (144).
Woolf's project, it seems to me, is to proclaim the connectedness of joy and anguish, life and death, loss and triumph--the ways in which they are one and the same, not opposites. I love how C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed and Surprised by Joy writes about how one must understand pain in order to truly know love, how grief and joy and interrelated. Lewis and Woolf in this are immensely brave.

1 comment:

  1. I think this post raises a really good point. This novel dances and skirts between morbid and delightful. At some points in the novel though, I found myself confused or overwhelmed at the juxtaposition and rapid switches of mood and tone. I agree with you, Woolf's goal was perhaps to illustrate how seemingly opposite these two extremes are. With this in mind, going back over the text, I feel myself understanding it a bit better.