But reading Mrs. Dalloway again, led to greater observations than my 17 year old self could have made. These insights brought further depth to a novel I already loved. Most notable among these was the presage of the future. Woolf wrote of the prevailing philosophies of the day. These, naturally, were indicators of the future. Her character Sir William (a doctor), a progressive thinker obsessed with the twin goddesses of proportion and conversion, is a somber warning of the horrors of eugenics and power-hungry rulers:
Sir William not only prospered himself but made England prosper, secluded her lunatics, forbade childbirth, penalised despair, made it impossible for the unfit to propagate their views until they, too, shared his sense of proportion.
Conversion is her name and she feasts on the wills of the weakly, loving to impress, to impose, adoring her own features stamped on the face of the populace. At Hyde Park Corner on a tub she stand preaching; shrouds herself in white and walks penitentially disguised as brotherly love through factories and parliaments; offers help, but desires power, smite out of her way roughly the dissentient, or dissatisfied; bestows her blessings on those, who looking upward, catch submissively from her eyes, the light of their own. This lady too had her dwelling in Sir William's heart, though concealed, as she mostly is, under some plausible disguise; some venerable name; love, duty, self sacrifice. But conversion, fastidious Goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will.
All the characters of this novel can be sorted out by their adherence to these goddesses. Their willingness to bow their hearts to proportion and conversion is the test of the will of each character. Some have chosen to submit for ease, some refuse and suffer the consequences. It seems the whole of Mrs. Dalloway could not stand without this small portion of writing centered on a minor character. This is the key to unlocking the secrets of Mrs. Dalloway.
Thus this is a novel about choices. Choices made. Choices regretted. But always choices. Many will say this is one of the first feminist novels, but I say it is a novel about self-determination. It is about how you choose to live your life, suffering consequences or bearing them up. The things of the past for some characters are events to get beyond; for others, they are something to live inside. Some would say that women before the turn of the century did not have choices, but this novel would point out just the opposite. Each character (especially Clarissa) had the right to choose. One must remember there is a difference between not having a choice and regretting making the decision.
Rating: 6 out of 7