The first time I heard of Mrs. Dalloway was in my postcolonial literature class last semester when its title was briefly mentioned during a class discussion regarding modernism. I was immediately intrigued by the concept of the story occurring over a single day, and I quickly added it to my lengthy list of “Things I Would Eventually Like To Read”. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it on our reading list for English 340, and I am happy to say that it far exceeded my expectations. Oddly enough, I was most surprised by the amount of detail throughout the novel, as I originally assumed that the plot would revolve around simple observations. However, I enjoyed being guided through the story as it maintained a balance between simplistic events and characters that were both minor and complex.
The particular section that I found most interesting was between pages 2166 and 2171, because of the quick and brief introductions of many different characters in such a short time.
In a single paragraph, the second paragraph on page 2166, we are introduced to three characters: Sarah Bletchley, the mother whose voice resembles that of a “sleepwalker” (2166), Emily Coates, who seems to completely forget about her child who is “lying stiff and white in her arms” (2166) while she watches the plane soar across the sky, and “little Mr. Bowley” (2166), who is equally as engaged with the flying object.
Continuing onwards to page 2169, I was surprised to find even more characters being introduced so quickly: Maisie Johnson, the young girl “visiting London for the first time” (2169), Mrs. Dempster, the older women observing and wishing she could “whisper a word to Maisie Johnson” (2170), and Mr. Bentley, an inquisitve man focused on the aeroplane as “a symbol…of man’s soul” (2171).
I found myself having to read this section over and over until I could figure out exactly what Woolf’s intentions were when including these minor characters in such close proximity, and although I am not sure of the exact reason, I will explain the significance it had for my reading experience.
Recently, I have been thinking about interactions with people and the shared experiences we all have, maybe without ever realizing it. I have been considering how everyone who is at the same place at the same time has the potential to have similar experiences, even though we all take something different away from that particular place and time. It is odd that this book has come to me at this time, and I see it as a sort of fate because of its similarities to my life right now.
Virginia Woolf including these minor details is a characteristic that is simply reflective of real life and its complexities; specific details being designated to such minor characters is representative of our everyday lives. We share experiences with people, much like the characters in this section (all observing the plane and each other), but will we ever see these people again? This is something I constantly think about, and I think it is the point Woolf is trying to make: when we are reading the novel, will we remember these characters later on? As English majors, I think we tend to try to remember characters and all of their attributes because we believe that they may become important later in the story. However, life is not always like that; people often come into our lives and leave just as quickly as they came, our interactions soon forgotten.
Much like this novel, our lives are filled with small details that may or may not be significant later on. Although I will most likely not remember these six characters in the future, nor the name of the friendly women with whom I had a conversation with on the train the other day, all were significant at their respective moments in time, and that is what makes our lives, and literature, meaningful and significant.
Woolf, Virginia. “Mrs. Dalloway”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2012. 2155-2264. Print.