I first read Mrs Dalloway when I was 16 and was rather oblivious to the absolute beauty and value of it, actually, I was smart enough to know it was big deal and when people mentioned it I made I known that I had read the great work of Virginia Woolf, however deep down I didn’t really understand it. As the years passed I would remind myself ‘you have to read it again Sarah, you have to!’ This never happened and so I was delighted when Michael mentioned we were going to take a look at Mrs Dalloway.
I decided to do my own critical piece today because I really want to express a specific part of the book. This is… the first sentence. Writers from all over will you tell you the first line of a book is of so much importance. They have the ability to hold foreshadowing, symbolism, allegories and so much more. I am going to support this view as Woolf’s first sentence is symbolic of a multitude of things that have great links throughout the novel.
“Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”
That’s it. only nine words, yet countless layers and ways to unravel it. Straight away the reader can imagine a female from a higher class in society, which is further enforced by the action of the sentence. On the surface, my first thought is that she normally would not buy these herself and that she has someone to do that for her. We find out later that this is, of course, the case. In knowing little historical context, perhaps merely the date the novel was written, 1914? the reader can branch off in many ways of looking at this sentence, including female social structures, societal views, upper-class politics, oppression, and freedom of the mind. In one way or another, all these views can be found in Mrs Dalloway.
Another reading on this sentence that has a significant link with the rest of the book is how Clarissa Dalloway focuses on trivial aspects of life. Her mind is overwhelmed with mundane activities that others would not think twice about. In my opinion, this is a curse and a blessing. Curse in the sense that no observation, thought or action can go on without being analysed and consciously acknowledged. In saying that, sentences like these show that Clarissa is always present which shows a link to Woolf’s writing style, the stream of consciousness.
The motif of flowers is also a major inclusion of Woolf’s novel which readers can recognise as they continue to unravel the life of Clarissa. To include the flower motif in the first sentence of the novel is a deliberate decision by Woolf to introduce their importance. We see this is how different flowers represent different people in the novel. Particularly linking to characters like Clarissa and Septimus.
Overall, through this very shallow analysis, we can see just how much potential and depth this first line holds in Woolf’s work. In only scratching the surface we can see that many themes, symbols and messages lie in this first sentence.
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