18 October 2014

I Love You, Mrs. Dalloway

I’ve returned to University, again. Well, in reality I have never quite left it: after my own college education (1965-69), I began a master’s program and then a doctoral program, finishing finally in 1990. During that time I also taught high school English, the subject I was studying at the University. I adored reading and studying literature. It was always myself I sought in the books, and in that search I often came across great beauty. Indeed, I taught myself (I learned) to know the beautiful.
And so when my beautiful daughters went off to University and studied literature, I chose to read the books along with them. I have mentioned this occasionally here and more recently in the final chapter, “Of Cabins, Pequods, and Classrooms,” of my new book, The Classroom: Encounter and Engagement. And over these past six and seven years I have experienced great delight in returning to many of the texts I had studied myself during these past forty-five years: how my readings have changed! How I have changed is marked often in my markings in the readings. I have had the opportunity to discuss books and ideas with my daughters but also with the twenty year old as I now commented within the texts to the comments entered upon the texts those many years ago by he who first had read those books at University. 
And so I have been rereading Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. And there is one passage (of many, actually) that struck me as particularly beautiful and poignant. (I wonder now: to what extent poignancy is integral to beauty!) Richard Dalloway has purchased roses for his wife, Clarissa, well, to tell her “in so many words’ that the loved her.” And he was happy.
Theirs is a complex, adult relationship (I know, I know, I should define those words but I won’t here, this is not a literary analysis of Mrs. Dalloway), and Clarissa loved her roses. More than the events of the day (was it the Armenians or the Albanians who were massacred?), Clarissa loved her roses. “What she liked was the simple life.” And it is for the sake of the simple life that Clarissa throws her parties. “They are an offering . . . an offering for the sake of offering, perhaps. Anyhow, it was her gift.” Clarissa is a simple woman: “Nothing else had she of the slightest importance; could not think, write, even play the piano. She muddled Armenians and Turks; loved success; hated discomfort; must be liked; talked oceans of nonsense; and to this day ask her what the Equator was, and she did not know.” Dear Clarissa, so simple and complex.

And then Clarissa reflects on the beauty of the simplicity: “All the same, that one day should follow another; Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday; that one should wake up in the morning; see the sky; walk in the park, meet Hugh Whitbread; then suddenly in came Peter; then these roses; it was enough. After that how unbelievable death was--that it must end; and no one in the whole world would know how she had loved it all; how every instant . . .” Yes, privileged, rich, physically comfortable is Clarissa Dalloway, but how happy in the beauty she enjoys in the diurnal. And how that feeling of happiness dissolves the reality of death and makes it well, unbelievable. It is not that Clarissa is oblivious, nor even that she is not touched by sorrow and doubt. But at this moment, with her roses, and just hours before her party, she loved it all . . . every instant!


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