“It might be possible that the world itself is without meaning.”
To put it simply, the first time I read these books, I was confused. They seemed to be about nothing. As I reread them, however, entrenching myself in the imagery, they soon became alive with meaning. Woolf is a genius. She once said that to capture moments in their most organic form, the writer has to “record the atoms of the mind,” enacting and habituating her readers to fill in the plot with their minds.
Mrs. Dalloway is about a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a London socialite who hosts a party. Just one day? you may ask. Yes, one day. Similar to The Glass Menagerie and Waiting for Godot, in Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf is somehow able to concurrently be both insightful and precise. A day may seem like too short a span of time for a book to cover anything, but if you think about it, books are meant to be condensed versions of life.
This is the most organic thing a book can be: trying to make sense of life, providing order within chaos. I found that in Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf presents and emphasizes the paradox of epiphany and mundanity that touches all of our lives. In many novels, moments of epiphany are so heavily emphasized that the daily occurrences of life—such as peeling a hard boiled egg—are overlooked. Woolf brilliantly manages to retain both of these elements; if that means she must sacrifice the plot, so be it.
To the Lighthouse is also plotless; however, it takes place over a span of years. Its beauty lies in its lyricism and stunning imagery. Even though the characters pass away, they are embedded and preserved in Woolf’s melodic descriptions of nature. This novel is about the Ramsay family and a number of guests staying in their holiday home in the Isle of Skye. The children desperately want to go to the lighthouse, but their father doesn’t allow them to; however, their wish is fulfilled several years later. Like Mrs. Dalloway, this novel has no shortage of quirky characters, tense interactions, and grand moments of realization.
"This is not what we want; there is nothing more tedious, puerile, and inhumane than love; yet it is also beautiful and necessary.”
In this quote from To The Lighthouse, I can see all that I love about analyzing literature. The contradiction of “this is not what we want” and “it is...necessary,” the exhaustion of “tedious,” the immaturity of “puerile,” and the cruelty of “inhumane,” all somehow forming a positive and “beautiful” entity.
There are many scenes in both books that taught me how to write with simplicity and about love. One of my favourite quotes in Mrs. Dalloway is when Richard is going to Clarissa to give her flowers and tell her that he loved her, all the while thinking “in so many words... because it is a thousand pities never to say what one feels.” In the end he cannot bring himself to speak; nevertheless, “she understood without his speaking.”
When I read this, I was so touched. Think about all the times you’ve wanted to say something but held it back because you were afraid of what someone else would think. Think about the emotions welling up inside of you when you become overwhelmed with love. The words “so many words” reminded me of that thrumming in my chest, that inexplicable exhilaration, that loss, that fear, that longing. Woolf is able to show that even in silence, your intentions may shine through. People understand.
Both of these books are in essence plotless, lyrical, and elegant pieces that helped remind me what it is to think, to live, and most importantly, to love. I highly recommend these books; they masterfully and seamlessly combine the most important parts of life and the most trivial into a single entity. To put it simply, they’re both absolutely stunning.
“To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others... and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures.”