One day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a June day in London, punctuated accurately, impersonally, unfeelingly, by the chimes of Big Ben and a fashionable party to end it, is the complete story of Mrs. Woolf’s new novel, yet she contrives to enmesh all the inflections of Mrs. Dalloway‘s personality, and many of the implications of modern civilization, in the account of those twenty-four hours. Mrs. Dalloway in her own home is ”the perfect hostess,” even to her servants, to her daughter, her husband and her rejected suitor of long ago, who cannot free his mind of her. It is almost a perfect being that Mrs. Dalloway enjoys, but there is a resentfulness in her, some paucity of spiritual graces, or rather some positive hideousness.
Among Mrs. Woolf’s contemporaries, there are not a few who have brought to the traditional forms of fiction, and the stated modes of writing, idioms which cannot but enlarge the resources of speech and the uses of narrative. Virginia Woolf is almost alone, however, in the intricate yet clear art of her composition. Clarissa’s day, the impressions she gives and receives, the memories and recognitions which stir in her, the events which are initiated remotely and engineered almost to touching distance of the impervious Clarissa, capture in a definitive matrix the drift of thought and feeling in a period, the point of view of a class, and seem almost to indicate the strength and weakness of an entire civilization.
It is not only that Clarissa is giving, in fact does give, one of those parties at which the successful, the titled and the important pay a tacit homage to the political prestige of her husband, a member of Parliament, and an overt tribute to the fascinations of Clarissa herself. It is not alone that Clarissa’s snobberies and exclusions, her hatred of ugliness and excess, her dainty wrapping of herself in cotton wool and her ”tender superfluous probing into all that pollutes” are unerringly depicted. The whole progress of the circumstances of Clarissa’s day, from the passing of a ”somebody” in a closed motor car to the ignoring of a nobody at her party, make for a vivid interaction.
Clarissa might almost be one of those figures of high society which Mrs. Humphry Ward delighted in. She is as callous and vain as any of those earlier portraits. Clarissa is, however, conceived so brilliantly, dimensioned so thoroughly and documented so absolutely that her type, in the words of Constantin Stanislavsky, might be said to have been done ”inviolably and for all time.” | | By John W. Crawford