It was an awkward feeling. As I was re-reading Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” (1925) I noticed that during my recent visit in London, to some extent, I literally followed Clarissa Dalloway’s footsteps.
Her walk from Piccadilly to Bond Street and next to St. James’s Park in search of perfect flowers for the party was my walk a couple of weeks ago. For a moment, completely unconscioulsy, in a busy street, I was Clarissa.
“Mrs. Dalloway” is a hallmark of its time – written as a stream of consciousness, focused on interiority, hopes and regrets. Thoughts, people, places, views, landscapes, plans and memories are all created equal and poured out on empty pages from the fountain of Woolf’s genius.
Trivia: “Mrs. Dalloway” contains a few refrences to Shakespeare. The most famous one comes from Cymbeline: “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun / Nor the furious winter’s rages” (Act 4, Sc. 2).
The novel is not easy to read; it takes patience and time. And it’s good to come back to it after a few years. I think I was too young when I read it for the first time.
You’ve probably heard about “Mrs. Dalloway” thanks to Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours (1998) and its brilliant film adaptation by Stephen Daldry (2003), starring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore.
“The Hours” (2003) movie trailer, Paramount Movies
The movie ingeniously resources “Mrs Dalloway”‘s themes and blends them with Woolf’s biography. This adaptation got Nicole Kidman her well-deserved Oscar (not only for her fake nose, trust me), and left me with “the myriad of impressions” – something that Woolf expected of a modern novel in her famous manifesto.
As I was saying, for a moment I was treading the same paths as a fictional character of Woolf’s novel; subconsciously or not, I was also looking for flowers that I would buy myself.
Woolf had the strength and courage to look for new paths of artistic expression, liberating her thoughts that surely belonged to more women of her era (not only to those associated with Bloomsbury Group).
I’m grateful to Woolf, because she was a pioneer who gave way to conscious and open-minded female writing. The price she paid for her genius was the price that too many artists have paid – inability to adapt to everyday reality, followed by a successful suicidal attempt.
We are left with her works – full of details that remind me of delicate ornaments on a porcelain vase. “Flowers” and “parties” are a natural connotation that readers have with “Mrs. Dalloway”. They are also natural to other artists, inspired by Woolf’s novel.
Nika Zupanc, whose vanity table I presented a few months ago in a post titled Cutting edge, is the author of an exhibition called “I will buy flowers myself” – referring to the opening sentence of the novel:
Zupanc’s projects are design beauties: minimalist, elegant, with a touch of glamour and profundity you don’t encounter so often these days.
I’d like to illustrate some fragments of the novel with the objects I’ve found and the photos I took:
“There were flowers: delphiniums, sweet peas, bunches of lilac – and carnations, masses of carnations. There were roses; there were irises. Ah yes – so she breathed in the earthy garden sweet smell as she stood talking to Miss Pym” (2003:10);
“Sally’s power was amazing, her gift, her personality. There was her way with flowers, for instance. At Bourton they always had stiff little vases all the way down the table. Sally went out, picked hollyhocks, dahlias—all sorts of flowers that had never been seen together—cut their heads off, and made them swim on the top of water in bowls. The effect was extraordinary—coming in to dinner in the sunset.” (2003:25)
Sometimes we like to follow somebody’s footsteps, taking him or her as a role model – and that’s perfectly fine. Yet, the most important thing is to find your own path to follow – that corresponds with your own desires, feelings and talents. One of my favourite fragments reads as follows: “Her only gift was knowing people almost by instinct, she thought, walking on. If you put her in a room with someone, up went her back like a cat’s; or she purred” (7). I wish you both the instinct and flexibility in finding your way (which is always the best).