Wednesday, July 28, 2010

There she was.

Current book: Mrs. Dalloway
Pages read: 130 - 195 (end)

Ms. Kilman and Elizabeth have tea together, and we're treated to Ms. Kilman being melodramatic and obnoxious. At one point she even says, "I don't pity myself." (I mean, come on. Anyone who says she doesn't pity herself is clearly lying.) Anyway. Elizabeth leaves the tea and enjoys her afternoon in London by riding the omnibus to the Strand. (Did you, gentle readers, know that the word bus is short for omnibus? It's not a widely known fact, but it ought to be.) Meanwhile, Septimus and Rezia have a nice afternoon together during which they laugh and converse. At the end of it, Dr. Holmes (Septimus's first doctor, who claims nothing is wrong with him) barges in, and Septimus, in a frenzy to escape him, jumps out the window and lands on the railings below, killing himself.

Clarissa's party finally begins, and all the guests, including the Prime Minister, arrive and are introduced to one another. Clarissa sees Peter Walsh and Sally Seton conversing and promises to come speak with them later, but subsequently hears another guest discussing Septimus's suicide, and is bothered enough by it that she retreats to her bedroom for a considerable time. While she's gone, Peter and Sally discuss their early years together, and Peter confesses that the fact that he still loves Clarissa has made a mess of his life. Sally mostly talks about her husband, children, and gardening, and Peter reflects (to himself) on the fact that the lively spirit that characterized her youth has been swallowed by her adulthood. Sally leaves, having grown too impatient to wait for her hostess to return, and Peter's left alone. In that moment, he looks up to see Clarissa waiting for him. There Woolf leaves us.

Thematically, Woolf is expressing the idea that the tides of our own pasts always move us, whether we're able to see it or not. Sometimes, we are self-aware and have moments of clarity that allow us to understand truths about ourselves that stem from the events of our lives, but we are often following, unknowing, a pattern set forth for us by previously established emotional ties. Clarissa's moved this way in that she made her decision to marry Richard Dalloway and spurn Peter, but her existence is clouded by anxiety and fussiness that result from wondering whether her decision was correct. Peter's moved this way in that he cannot settle in one place or on one woman because of the fact that he never got to possess Clarissa in the way that he wanted, and is now driven to seek her, regardless of the fact that she's unattainable. Septimus is moved this way by the ghosts of the war, by the fact that he's seem humanity stripped down to its true brutal nature, and now he cannot cloak the world in the veil of civility that the rest of us do.

Septimus is interesting, too, in that he characterizes his doctors as representative of the beast that is human nature. He thinks, several times, that he just wants them to leave him alone, but that they are human nature, and so cannot. The characteristics of human nature that they represent, then, must be the inability to ignore what is different or strange and the impulse to change or destroy it. Difference is frightening to humanity, especially difference that's represented by social error and mental illness, both of which Septimus suffers from.

I believe it is worthy of the list because, if nothing else, it's stylistically revolutionary. It's more than that, though; it's also, somehow, captivating, regardless of the fact that very little happens and none of the characters are particularly compelling. The strong sense you get of that day in London, of the echoes of the past haunting the present and future, and of the intertwining, intricate, and sometimes beautiful and tragic nature of lives is what makes it great.

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