Sunday, June 20, 2004

Mrs. Dalloway and Celtic Mythology

An intriguing article in the Times Literary Supplement (sadly since I don't have a subscription I can't read the complete essay, though there is a good chunk of it there) examining Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway through the lens of Celtic mythology.

Woolf predicted well before publication that her novel would be faulted on its construction, and she was right; yet her untroubled tone suggests that she did not feel that anyone making such a charge would fully have understood what they were reading. Few of the reactions she met with after the novel came out struck her as very perceptive: though many of the same comments are still made today. We still tend to chide her, like her friend Charles Sanger, for contemplating the lives of the idle rich; or waver between Lytton Strachey's belief that the sombre Septimus is the central character of Mrs. Dalloway, and Gerald Brenan's feeling that he is an awkward intrusion into the design. Yet still the voice of the author herself remains, quietly observing that none of this "lays hold of the thing that I have done". But what was the thing she had done? I believe, and first pointed out more than twenty years ago, that the design of Mrs. Dalloway comes into focus with remarkable sharpness when it is seen in the light--or darkness--of Celtic mythology or religion.
At first I thought, yeah right. This is just some dork reading much more into the book than is really there. But the more I read the more I thought, well maybe...It's been many years since I read Mrs. Dalloway. I've picked it up a few times meaning to read it again, get through 15-20 pages and then get distracted by something else for so long that when I get back to Woolf I have lost the thread and need to begin again. But Keith Brown's theory is interesting and makes me want to read the book to see if it's really there or he's just talking out of his ass. And tomorrow is the Solstice, what better time could I choose to start the book?