July 23, 2010KR BlogKR

Happy Dalloday!

There’s nothing like a marathon, or for that matter, a sprint. Especially when it doesn’t actually involve running, but rather, a kind of literary dash en masse. According to my overblown jacket copy, “Mrs. Dalloway was the first novel to split the atom.” All nuclear fission aside, today was a day unlike any other, but of course, as Clarissa might recognize herself, in so many ways, it was also just like them all. Several of us here in Gambier, Ohio decided to fill ‘the hours’ by deeming it not Thursday, but “Dalloday.” A day when Dallowdames wear Dallowdresses and read Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in less than 12 hours.

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For some of us — one might say virgin(ia) readers — it was a rapid introduction to Septimus, Peter and of course Clarissa with her flowers and her party. And then there were those of us already familiar, with the tramp and trudge of Woolf’s London, the lark, and the plunge. The bells of the church struck just as the bells of Westminster, echoing the sounds of Big Ben, St. Margaret’s and all those clocks on Harley Street, slicing and subdividing. And no matter how many times I return to it, there is nothing like the final crest of Mrs. Dalloway, read this time simultaneously alongside a friend, in a kitchen filled with July heat. The reunion of Sally and Peter, expecting Clarissa, the soft settling of the celebration as its attendants exit and then such a simple statement, “For there she was,” somehow always blows my mind. It seems Woolf’s magic is not in the isolation of the singular object. To put it one way: the arrow never quite pierces the apple, rather she paints around it, with lots of impasto. It is not the lone sentence which is perfect or stunning, but, like Clarissa, the novel’s conclusion is buttressed by the pages it follows, so that these final simple words are lifted outside their supposed borders, “like the trees lift the mist.”