Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

Mrs. Dalloway turns out to be a good choice of a book to read during a pandemic.

Mrs. Dalloway, as is noted on page 2 of the book, has been ill (“…she was over fifty, and grown very white since her illness.”) She has had “the influenza,” and it has affected her heart. The book takes place in 1923, so it is likely that Mrs. Dalloway became ill during, and survived, the flu pandemic of 1918.

In a recent article in The New Yorker, Evan Kindley writes about how the famous first line of the book – “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” – is being repurposed in social media for our current situation, as in “Mrs. Dalloway said she would make the mask herself,” or “Mrs. Dalloway said she would order from @Instacart herself.” (Read more HERE.)

Pandemic references or not, Mrs. Dalloway is always a good choice of a book to read, for it never ceases to yield new insights, and Woolf’s prose never fails to astound (and often confound) with its brilliance. In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf gives us so much: her brilliant stream of consciousness writing, a portrait of post-war London in the midst of modernization, and the story of a 52-year-old woman trying to discern meaning in her life, while twinning this with the story of Septimus Warren Smith, a “shell-shocked” WWI veteran on the verge of madness. Clarissa Dalloway has begun the day by purchasing flowers for the fancy party she is hosting that evening, and throughout the course of the one day during which the book takes place, the chain of actions set off by this sunny June day weave their way through London’s streets and in and out of the consciousness of so may of the city’s denizens.

I had scheduled a virtual class about the book as part of my Women’s Words series because: how can you teach a program on important writing by women without Woolf? I also scheduled the class as a challenge to myself: can I teach Woolf? Am I, as a teacher, ready to take this on?

I think my students will tell you that that I ably guided them through a thoughtful and careful examination of the book. As one of them said the next day: “I think we did justice to Clarissa.” But, knowing Woolf as much and also as little as I do, I’m guessing we missed more than we found. Which means that Mrs. Dalloway will be ripe and ready for my next reading, whenever that may happen to be.

Author: Lynn Rosen

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