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This Thing Called Life: Virginia Woolf & Mrs Dalloway

By December 7, 2013

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Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia WoolfIn Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, the heroine spends her day preparing for a party. She collects flowers, prepares her clothing, and makes all the arrangements; but she also carefully recollects her past--loves and loss. Streams of life flow through the pages of this novel--a river of longing.

But all the expectations for her party and memories of times past also involve a intricate dance with death. Woolf was haunted by war (and the soldiers she was certain would invade). She was also troubled by the certainty of her own slippage toward madness.

In A Sketch of the Past, Woolf wrote, "One's life is not confined to one's body and what one says or does." A life is related "to a larger design, a pattern hidden behind the 'cotton wool' of daily life." It seems so terribly simple: our lives as words.

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What does she mean then? What does her life represent? As Virginia Woolf writes in Mrs. Dalloway:

  • "Did it matter then... that she must inevitable cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely?"
  • "But often now this body she wore... this body, with all its capacities, seemed nothing --- nothing at all."
  • "Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death."

Cover Art HarperCollins.

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