Mrs. Dalloway, perhaps Virginia Woolf’s greatest novel, follows English socialite Clarissa Dalloway as she prepares for a party in post-World War I London. Four-time Oscar nominee Annette Bening (American Beauty, The Kids Are All Right) performs Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness style of storytelling brilliantly, exploring the hidden springs of thought and action in one day of a woman’s life.
When we first meet Clarissa Dalloway, she is preoccupied with the last-minute minutiae of party-planning while being flooded with memories of long ago. Clarissa then examines the realities of the present as the story travels forwards and back in time and in and out of different characters’ minds.
Mrs. Dalloway is daring not only in its stream-of-consciousness form, but also in its content. Woolf’s depiction of Septimus Warren Smith brings to light the ugly and often ignored truth of how the brutality of war can drive men mad. We also get to see in depth how our main protagonist, Clarissa Dalloway, suffers from her own form of psychological damage: the more subtle, everyday oppression of English society.
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©1925 The Estate of Virginia Woolf (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
“Bening's work here is fine…her tone offers its characteristic grace…both this narrator and this novelist offer tremendous gifts.” (AudioFile)
Haha! Am I the only one who liked Annette Benning? I thought her dead pan tone fit this book perfectly. Especially when speaking for Septimus.
A friend of mine is discovering classics that he's never read, and keeps suggesting books to me. He gave me an assignment to read this book, and then use Sparknotes to better understand the underlying ideas. I must say, I think I got more out of this book because of it. If I hadn't read the spark notes, I probably would have thought it was boring and dull, just as the other reviewers did.
Something that I find very interesting about this book is the way Virginia Woolf talks about mental illness. Not many people who are mentally ill themselves can describe the thoughts and feelings they have as precisely and eloquently as she does in this book. She rationalizes Septimus' feelings in such a profound way because she had those feelings (or some very much like them) all her life. I felt like I could see very clearly why she and Septimus both had to do what they did, and how it was the only way.
Ugh. That got very dark all of a sudden.
Overall, I thought this book was very much like Seinfeld. A lot about nothing. The plot...well, there isn't one. It is more a study on human character and death. It clearly captures the stream of consciousness movement that was happening when this book was written. I am a visual artist, so I was more familiar with works by Dali and Breton than I was of Woolf. I enjoyed this book as much as I would have enjoyed sitting in front of a Dali. It made me think harder than I wanted to, or than I am required to on a daily basis.
I was turned off by Virginia Woolf when I was young - maybe she was pressed on me too insistently as a 'woman writer,' definitely I was turned off by some essays I had to read as an undergrad and which I found to be disturbingly elitist. But I had heard from several people that Mrs Dalloway was quite good, and they were right. I really had no idea that Woolf was this brilliant. And Bening absolutely nails the narration. I may not have enjoyed this when I was young, but now I certainly did, and I absolutely recommend it to anyone.
Annette Bening's performance of this classic book was masterful and so reflects the complex themes and beauty of Woolf's words.
Her description of the descent into madness of one of the characters is so precise that it allows the reader to follow him into his vortex with complete understanding.
Her voice is so perfectly modulated, she is such a pro....I often don't finish books on tape because the narrator's voice often becomes annoying. Not so with this performance.
The end, when the point of view suddenly changes to Richard Dalloway, and so much more is revealed.
Highly recommended, will purchase anything else narrated by Bening, and written by Woolf.
This is possibly the most annoying book I have ever listened to.
Annerte Bening is great as the narrator of this audiobook: she catches the stream-of-consciousness voices of the characters perfectly. The problem is that listening to these voices is exactly like listening to someone's interior monologue as they natter to themselves about every detail they observe going throughout their day.
I haven't read James Joyce's Ulysses, but apparently the writing style in Mrs. Dalloway is often compared to that book. I can't say it makes me eager to tackle Joyce. There isn't really a plot in this book, just character studies. Clarissa Dalloway is a high-society woman planning a party; we follow her throughout her day starting with a walk along Bond Street. She meets an old flame who's just returned from India, prompting reflection about why she married her stodgy, reliable husband Richard Dalloway instead of the more interesting but less stable Peter Walsh. Then the narrative switches to Walsh's point of view, as we follow him going about London, reflecting on Clarissa and her refusal of his marriage proposal and the married woman he's now hooked up with.
The book drifts in and out of viewpoints, shifting perspectives and threads of narrative. Mrs. Dalloway is the main character whose head we get into, but we are also treated to the thoughts of Septimus Warren Smith, a traumatized, suicidal veteran of the Great War, whose Italian wife can't understand why he keeps acting ill when the doctors say nothing is wrong with him.
The prose is elegant and pretty and Woolf is quite artful in the way she gets us thoroughly into the characters' heads, telling us all about their hopes, fears, secrets, and entire life histories in snippets of rambling internal monologue. It's one of those "literary" novels whose craft I can appreciate while making me never want to read it again. I can see why Woolf is studied by graduate students, but nothing here spoke to me or interested me, and listening to Clarissa Dalloway go on and on and on and on, treating every precious thought she has like a precious little diamond, listening to self-involved Peter Walsh go on and on and on about his love lives past and present and his failure to "make a success" of himself, listening to Septimus Smith go on and on and on about his dead friend who haunts him and how detached he is from society, made me feel like someone trapped on a bus between people talking on their cell phones.
A snarkier review of this book could legitimately be hashtagged with #firstworldproblems, aside from Septimus's PTSD, which I'll grant that Woolf treated with a fair degree of nuance and sympathy for the time this was written. There's also a hint of a past lesbian infatuation and a lot of ruminating on the basic dissatisfaction of upper-class married life, which I guess is why this book is supposed to be an early "feminist" work.
It was not to my taste. Virginia Woolf may have been a genius, but I suspect you have to have your head somewhere like where Clarissa's or Septimus's heads are at to love this book. Maybe I'd have found the stream-of-consciousness prose more interesting and less annoying in print.
Not at all. I kept waiting for something to happen. It was dull I sped up the voice to get it over faster. There was a lot of talking but she really didn't have anything to say.
Something more fun, like War and Peace
None. Though she was good.
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I am so disappointed! This is one of the few books that I have added to my library that I am returning unfinished. Two paragraphs in I knew that I could not listen to the this voice for hours on end. I gave it a bit longer just to be fair but I just could not continue. Narrators make choices and unfortunately, I did not agree with any of them --not the voice, not the phrasing, not the pace--it all got in the way of the story.
So one curls on a comfortable chair lazily reading, but the day is too hot for such a curl and fan cools with inadequate breath, rather breathing hot the heat of the day. So, one's forehead glistens, then perspires, then -- dammit -- sweats, in fact. This is no longer civil, no longer polite. Why then must one persist in this futile exercise of reading? Oh for the appearances of course. We cannot all simply slip from the windowsill to the street below, ending our despair. Some of us must persist, perspire, not expire for the sake of it. For the bloody-minded British sake of it. So, one reads Mrs. Dalloway, not because one likes it -- certainly not because one likes her, the priggish self-centred, self-satisfied "perfect hostess". Even her friends agree. Except perhaps poor Peter. Yet again, his heart given to a woman who cannot love him: this icy Dalloway.
So, one thinks, this is modernism. How it smacks of Victorianism, how it sounds like George Eliot or Flaubert: women equally frozen, equally unable to speak, unable to throw off the social fetters -- except perhaps in Woolf the ennui has penetrated the men as well, leaving them emasculated, ineffectual, failed, mostly nothing. Indeed, it has penetrated the plot likewise, so the story (can one even call this a story, rather this scramble of thoughts left unarticulated because one just doesn't say, it is too much to say "I love you" too much to speak one's mind or heart except for Sally, she must speak her mind, but has so little of one, that it really cannot penetrate the humid fog the whole creates) drifts listlessly, interminably despite the novel's brevity, toward an endpoint that gives nothing, reveals nothing, offers nothing.
Oh, but the language?! Yes, admittedly, it is some of the most elegant nothing put into prose. If one regards it as poetry, takes delight in the languidness of language, in the emptiness of the loss of vigour or the possibility of action, then it does have a certain je ne sais quoi. And that is its appeal, the interior lives of these lost souls laid bare in the most exquisite poetic language, making their banality beautiful.
Perhaps afraid is not the right word. Although if I were stuck for a long time with nothing but Woolf novels I just might go mad. I guess that would be a fear. On the plus side, Annette Bening does a nice job conveying...well, not really much of anything. That to me is sad. Bening, a gifted artist is left trying to breathe life into a book that just sits there, tangentially wondering where things went. This is my third Woolf novel and after one hit and a miss I thought I would see if I couldn't get back on the plus side of the literary ledger. I tried to like this book, I really did. But there just isn't much to like. It's just a series of incoherent musings, with to be fair an occasional witty insight. But the ratio of incoherency to wit is far too lopsided to make this a book to recommend.
This is not one I recommend, but in all honesty I think I need to clear my head before I try to tackle such a weighty author. There, I admit that the failing could be...Or maybe not. Woolf is a tough author, and her style can be maddeningly difficult. Caveat emptor.
Yes--for the human insights, for the enduring style, for the unforgivable truth of it.
Well, of course, Cunningham's THE HOURS, eloquenty based on this eloquent work.
MRS. DALLOWAY is, of course, one of those novels that changes as one's life changes. Ah, the shock of recognition.
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