June 21, 2013

For there she was: a day for Mrs. Dalloway


With the benefit of hindsight, Virginia’s Woolf’s refusal to name the exact date Mrs. Dalloway takes place on seems like a poor marketing move.

It’s a shame Virginia Woolf set Mrs. Dalloway in “the middle of June,” rather than on a day readers could remember and plan around each year. Clarissa Dalloway, like Leopold Bloom, has a long, fairly ordinary day, though historically her fans have not gathered for annual celebrations on the same scale. A few readers have suggested a day in mid-June might be declared Dalloday, but it hasn’t caught on.

Think of the ways readers gather and toast to Ulysses each June 16: readings in countless independent bookstores and pubs; trips to Dublin for the book’s walking tour; performances by the likes of Stephen Colbert and Fionnula Flanagan at Bloomsday on Broadway.

This year, the 90th anniversary of Mrs. Dalloway’s publication, a small group of committed readers toured London on “Clarissa Dalloway’s Day Walk.” They read extracts on location from Dean’s Yard, Westminster to Regent’s Park, and settled down for a picnic with a discussion led by Clara Jones, a PhD candidate at Queen Mary, University of London.

Visitors were reminded to wear green, and given a few lines for inspiration:

Elizabeth is ‘like a hyacinth, sheathed in glossy green’; at the party, the debutante Nancy Blow, though she is dressed at great expense by the greatest artists in Paris’ looks as if ‘her body had merely put forth, of its own accord, a green frill.’  Clarissa admires ‘lovely old sea-green brooches’ at the jewellers, and her favourite dress is ‘a silver-green mermaid’s dress.’  Miss Kilman wears a green mackintosh coat.

Kelsey McKinney argues in Slate this week that as much as it would be nice to celebrate the book each year, there’s no way this event will catch on. The scope of the book is not so epic, racy, or exclusive a club as Ulysses.

Joyce’s language is better suited to being barked out in a room full of people. “The sea, the snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea,” someone on a Bloomsday stage bellows. “To love makes one solitary,” Woolf writes—a line not exactly made for a roaring public reading.

But, McKinney argues, regardless of its length, Mrs. Dalloway stays with its reader much longer than one leisurely afternoon. Perhaps it’s better to have the whole “mid-month” to find the right pocket of time to reread Woolf’s work in one sitting, after your errands, settled beside the vase of flowers you must buy yourself.


Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.