Virginia Woolf Has Second Thoughts About Mrs. Dalloway

It had too many words. Not enough happened. There were no good plot twists. And so, now, this:

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself, and she did. But she also thought to buy better hinges and she didn’t. No matter how much oil the housekeeper applied to the hinges on the beveled glass windows that hung over the kitchen sink, they squeaked each time they were opened. And so Mrs. Dalloway wanted fresh, new hinges, which for some reason she never got around to getting. (Note to self: Develop that further, but first let the suspense build.)

Mrs. Dalloway also wanted to buy cauliflowers because Peter Walsh said he preferred cauliflowers to men. She preferred Peter Walsh to her husband. (That’s a promising idea, but is it going anywhere?)

Mrs. Dalloway wanted new, leaden, airborne circles, but not because the women of Westminster typically fancied lead. Most couldn’t even see the loops that floated out of Big Ben’s face whenever it boomed out the irrevocable hour. The loops dissolved into smoke just after they’d made it through her kitchen window and begun to hover over the sink. Such a waste of good metal, Mrs. Dalloway always said. New lead might have taken longer to effervesce. Should she buy some?

Oh, how Mrs. Dalloway wanted a happy duck, preferably like the one she saw in the park that morning! Swimming slowly, it hadn’t feared the wooly dogs that the whirling young men and the laughing girls in their transparent muslins had brought for runs through the haze of morning air. Elated to know that the war was over—yes, finally, really over!—and that the King and Queen were again in the palace, the duck hadn’t snapped at dowagers racing out on errands of mystery. Not at all. If Mrs. Dalloway could have bought a duck like that happy one, she could have kept it in a big yellow bucket near the kitchen ice box. 

Mrs. Dalloway would have liked to buy a new hat because she no longer favored her usual one. Not the right chapeau for someone with a kitchen ice box as lovely as hers, wasn’t that it? 

Mrs. Dalloway wanted nothing decorative whatsoever from India. Peter Walsh marrying that woman he met during his ocean crossing ruined all of Asia for her. Little ceramic squares with dancing Hare Krishnas from which to hang pots and pans? She wasn’t interested.

What Mrs. Dalloway really wanted for her kitchen was the fat lady she had seen steps away from her, outside at curbside, in a cab. You know, the one whose heart failed her on Wednesday. If Mrs. Dalloway could have purchased that fat lady, not in flesh but perhaps in porcelain, she might have kept her in the world a bit longer. She could have contentedly tucked her into one of the Dalloways’ kitchen chairs, posing her so that she seemed to inspect a shallow pan of clotted cream that Cook had made by heating some milk brought in from a farm in Devon. Glued or whatever you please to her chair, she could have been part of a fetching table set. For Mrs. Dalloway’s party, the fat lady and chair could have been carried into the parlor where she could have made the acquaintance of people she would never have met on her own. Indeed, she could have lived at the heart of the Dalloway family, eventually being one of the many loving souls who made the hinges on windows squeak (there’s the development!) when they led Mrs. Dalloway into her kitchen and then lifted her out through one of the beveled glass windows and onto a tree branch that she climbed all the way up to the clock face of Big Ben. There, she was finally out of reach of that monster that crashed twigs while stomping shamelessly through the depths of her soul, grubbing at the roots of whatever contentment she managed to feel.

Tears and sorrow. Courage and endurance. Can one dangle a colander from any of them? If so, Mrs. Dalloway would have wanted to buy some for her kitchen. (That shopping trip could be a whole second book.)

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