Thursday, June 13, 2013

Do I have to read Mrs. Dalloway?

Four days ago, I started the twentieth book on The Well-Educated Mind list: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.  After the first ten pages, I stopped, put the book down, and was afraid to go near it; I literally avoided it like a miserable assignment that I hoped would eventually disappear if I just ignored it.

Then I actually googled: "Do I have to read Mrs. Dalloway?" as if Google had power to pardon me.  Well, I was not pardoned from reading Mrs. Dalloway, as I had childishly imagined, but instead came upon several suggested links, such as one that compared reading Mrs. Dalloway to watching paint dry.  Frankly, in the opinion of the writer, watching paint dry was more interesting.  In fact, there were numerous remarks across the internet in which readers had admitted they picked up the book, read a few pages, put it down, only to never return to it again.  Unless I found advice quickly, I would join their ranks very soon.

Since I have yet to skip a book in TWEM list, and, after all, I persevered through Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, I continued searching.  Then I found a post by Sarah Reads Too Much that starts off with "I need help.  Big time."  Like me, and like so many other readers, Sarah was struggling through Mrs. Dalloway.  I read through her post and the comments and found a plethora of useful advice by others who had survived the complete reading and actually appreciated this book.  It was so useful, I even took notes.  Here are some suggestions on how to read Mrs. Dalloway:

1. Keep pushing through;
2. Think of it as a stream of consciousness; "It is not going to make sense because people's thoughts do not make sense; thoughts wander; they get distracted;"
3. Read it like poetry;
4. Don't try to piece together a story; "It is as if we are eavesdropping."
5. Read it aloud.

Furthermore, Sarah posted her final review after finishing Mrs. Dalloway and added her suggestions:
6. Do not focus on details; "Details do not matter;"
7. There is not much of a plot.

Two days ago, I picked up Mrs. Dalloway again, and, with an exception of reading aloud, I applied all of the ideas and suggestions; and do you know what?  Suddenly, reading Mrs. Dalloway is a totally  different experience.  Instead of looking for details, connecting dots, focusing on characters, and trying to figure out the story, I am able to follow more clearly, even if it does not make sense in the normal sense of things making sense.

While I still have more than three quarters of the book to go, I already recognize the changes in my reading of Mrs. Dalloway and am more aware of my own "stream of consciousness," which, by the way, is quite loud.

I hope the links and suggestions can help others trying to get through Mrs. Dalloway, as they have helped me.

Yay!  I know I am going to survive this one.  So, yes, I do have to read Mrs. Dalloway.  


  1. I'm so glad that my experience has helped you conquer Mrs. Dalloway! It really is a different way of reading and digesting the words, and it is really difficult letting go of all the details and such. Good Luck with the rest of it - sounds like it will be a much smoother read for you from here on out!!

  2. Very good advice! I'll admit that I've been struggling as well - trying to understand the people, details, etc. I'll "let go" and see how I do with it then!

  3. I'm glad you made it through. I hate to admit this, because I've lamented on my site so often about stream of consciousness, but I'm actually getting used to it, and finding a little (a little mind you) more pleasure from Woolf and others that use s.o.c.