A Day in the Life of London's Upper Crust

Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf

Somebody, who is no longer on Goodreads, once wrote in a review to this book that the best way to read it is while wandering around London. Well, I actually tried that but I encountered a number of problems, one of them not so much being that it is really hard walking through Whitechapel reading a book, carrying a cup of bad coffee, while also trying to take photos of some interesting things (not that there is anything hugely interesting in Whitechapel). The other problem that I discovered reading a book while wandering around London (not counting the fact that you are forever dodging people, especially if you happen to be wandering up Regent Street on a Sunday afternoon) is that it rains – reading a book while it is raining is something that does not help the book all that much.



Some have also suggested (I think it was actually an Asterix comic) that as soon as you cross the English Channel the sun suddenly disappears and all you have over your head are clouds. Well, as it turns out that is true – we jumped onto a train at Gare du Nord on a sunny Friday morning and got off the train at St Pancras to discover that it was overcast, and it has remained that way ever since (which makes me wonder about how Greenwich is supposed to see the stars through all those clouds). Actually, I am exaggerating a little bit – we did see the sun yesterday.



As for the book, I have to admit that I really didn't enjoy it all that much. Okay, it has managed to make its way onto one of the lists of must read books, and I have now read it (namely because somebody suggested that I read it while I was on London) and now that I have read it I can say 'well, that wasn't all that fascinating'. Look it wasn't really all that bad, well, bad enough for me to give it a rating of 2 out of 5, but it certainly wasn't one of those books that grabbed me and held me right until the end. Rather it was dull, pointless, and I was glad that I had finished it so that I could get onto something a little more interesting. Which was a real shame because I actually thought To the Lighthouse was actually a really good book.


The book itself is about a woman who wanders about London (or more precisely Westminster) preparing for a party later that evening, and while the story is set only in this one day the action stretches across a number of years back to Dalloway's childhood and also to the second protagonist's, Septimus, time in the war. Apparently Woolf read James Joyce's Ulysses and didn't particularly like it, so set out to write her own version of it – which is probably another reason that I didn't particularly like this book, namely because she is trying to one up what has turned out to be one of the greatest books of the 20th Century (not that Ulyssees is an easy read mind you).



The other thing is that Mrs Dalloway apparently is a member of the London upperclass, but then again she does live in Westminster and even back in the 1920s if you lived in Westminster you probably had quite a lot of money to your name. Personally, I really have no cares for the upper crust of society and aren't particularly interested in their lifestyles, or their wanderings around Westminster as they prepare for a party. Sure, they may be human just like us, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I am interested in what they do, where they go, who they like and don't like, and what type of club sandwiches that they are eating for lunch. Mind you, a lot of the stories of the past spoke about princes and kings and the nobility, and even if there was a pauper in the story, the pauper was either comic relief, or a handsome prince in disguise. However, it is the normal people that actually make better subjects namely because it is a lot easier to relate to them – anything else is just voyerism, or keeping up with the Kardasians.



There are a couple of interesting things that come out of this book though, one of them being the idea of shell shock. Septimus fought in the war, and during that time lost a friend who was incredibly close to him. While Septimus survived he was never mentally the same again. The problem is that governments really don't want to have to deal with the psychological after effects of war, and apparently in the 20s tried to ignore the reality of shell shock. In a way it seems to be a little different to what the Vietnam Vets experienced, namely because in World War I the soldiers were stuck in a trench with shells exploding all around them (especially at the height of one of the major battles where the enemy would pound your positions with artillery before sending the troops out of the trenches). Vietnam wasn't so much like that, but rather a guerrilla war where you would never see the enemy, or even known who the enemy was.



Septimus is caught up in the denial of shell shock, and ends up committing suicide. Mind you, similar with the Vietnam Vets, there is also the idea of the tremendous loss of life that occurred during the war, and soldiers watching their buddies get killed for what ended up being nothing more than a windmill, or even a hill (that is no longer actually a hill). In a way there is that sense of guilt over one surviving while the other didn't, which no doubt is what drove Septimus to his position. Actually, the relationship that Septimus had with this person goes a lot deeper, namely because there are subtle hints that this relationship was actually homosexual in nature.



Homosexuality is also explored in this book, in particular with Mrs Dalloway, who is always looking back on this kiss that she had when she was much younger. She views this kiss, with one of her girlfriend's, as the most perfect kiss that she has ever had. Mind you, back in these days homosexuality was still pretty much illegal, and certainly not practised among the upper echelon's of society (which included Mrs Dalloway). It is not that it didn't happen, it is just that nobody spoke about it, and such things generally weren't thought about. However Woolf does paint this picture of longing for what might have been – both protagonists land up in what appears to be very much loveless marriages.


In the end though, as a book, it really didn't do all that much for me, and while my review is unlikely to stop anybody from reading it (particularly since we all have different tastes, which is what makes discussing literature so much fun), it is not a book that I would be returning to, or thinking much of, in the future. At least it can now go onto my 'have read' pile and be forgotten about.


Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1745584331