Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Hours vs. Mrs. Dalloway

My reading of Mrs. Dalloway this past week is my second reading of the novel. I have to say the second time around it is certainly more enjoyable! I would assume that any one's first encounter with Virginia Woolf's prose is momentarily confusing. I certainly do not mean to say that I did not enjoy it the first time I read it, only that my concern was focused primarily on the form, as well as understanding the shifts in narrative. My second reading allowed me to apply much more attention to detail, as was already familiar with the "plot" or lack there of. What particulary stood out to me in this reading was sparked while I was reading the supplementary reading, Erwin Steinberg's article "Mrs. Dalloway and T. S. Eliot's Personal Wasteland." I enjoyed it especially due to the alternate reading of the character of Septimus. Traditionally, the character of Septimus is generally treated as the foil for the character of Mrs. Dalloway, which Woolf supported herself. However, Steinberg's article laid out a convincing argument otherwise, which I enjoyed. The article, though it was focused on the correlations between Eliot and Septimus peaked my interest in Woolf's original intended title for the novel. Again, I realize that Woolf's intention to name the novel The Hours initially is no new information. However, as I was reconsidering the character of Septimus, I began to consider the impact of the novel if Woolf chose to keep the title of The Hours. Of Course, Woolf did not choose to keep the intended title, which means there must be some significance in the change (as I believe the title of a work is very, very, important).

Obviously, to change the novel to the title Mrs. Dalloway, makes the novel a novel about Clarissa Dalloway. Well actually, it makes it a novel that identifies with the Clarissa Dalloway that is the married woman, wife of Richard Dalloway. Therefore, to be more specific, the title refers to Mrs. Richard Dalloway. While I'm inclined to believe that the change in the title makes the novel about Clarissa Dalloway, Woolf did not choose to name the novel Clarissa, but only Mrs. Dalloway. I believe (speculating of course), if Woolf kept the intended title Clarissa would not be the character that we can assume survives. Though the last section of the novel appears to be the frivolous and selfish concerns of society men and women, Clarissa is obviously struggling within. The death of Septimus allows her to deal with her own dissatisfaction in life while she is ultimately able to praise Septimus for his choice, because he is able to be true to himself, something that until this moment Clarissa has not been able to do. The novel becomes Mrs. Dalloway because Clarissa ultimately understands herself as she is, though it cannot be Clarissa because unfortunately it taken Clarissa much of her adult, married life to come to this realization. Finally, I believe the shift to Peter's point of view solidifies Clarissa's identity as the main character of the novel. The narrative is a shift to another character's gaze of Clarissa, reiterating her identity, both within herself, and among others.

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