Mrs. Dalloway and Perception at Parties

Just wrapped up Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf for Epic Read’s Reading Decathlon.  Click here if you want to read the full text for free on Project Gutenberg.

This is more of a reflection than a review.

Before my reflection, here is a short summary from Goodreads.

Mrs. Dalloway is a novel by Virginia Woolf that details a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a fictional high-society woman in post-World War I England. The novel addresses Clarissa’s preparations for a party she will host that evening. With an interior perspective, the story travels forwards and back in time and in and out of the characters’ minds to construct an image of Clarissa’s life and of the inter-war social structure.

Insights

“Every time she gave a party she had this feeling of being something not herself, and that every one was unreal in one way; much more real in another. It was, she thought, partly their clothes, partly being taken out of their ordinary ways, partly the background, it was possible to say things you couldn’t say anyhow else, things that needed an effort; possible to go much deeper.”

My dad has always asked me, “Do you want to go to this family friend’s party or stay at home?” and 70% of the time, my brother and I would choose to stay at home.

I used to think, once I am away from my childhood life, I would become a social butterfly: go to all the parties, socialize with anyone but as the years of college passed by, I realized my default really is to stay at home. I had a choice to be by myself and I usually choose it over anything.

And it is just preference. But just as I went to less parties in college, I became more adapt at socializing in school and I realized something.

When I leave my home and go into a social setting, I leave part of myself behind to fit the mask of what I need to be.

“Every one was unreal in one way…”

We want to be the best versions of ourselves in front of others. Be the perfect hostess (like Mrs. Dalloway) or guest. But that is the unreal version of ourselves. The facade we keep up for society’s sake.

“…much more real in another.”

My favorite part of parties. If I play my role well enough, I can become an active observer rather than a participant of socialization.

Who are these people? What are they hiding? What are they trying to prove? What are they afraid of?

If you are observant enough, you can also see past my facades and answer these questions too.

You see, Mrs. Dalloway was a conundrum to me. On the surface, she acted and seemed like a superficial politician’s wife, but internally she repressed feelings, thoughts and actions that society (at that time) deems scandalous and unnecessary. Because of that lack of fluidity between her outer and inner self, she seemed ingenuine. This begs these questions.

How can you be true to yourself in the presence of others? How does one express their inner thoughts in a way that is palatable to society? And as a member of society, how do you digest the extreme, anti-conformist thoughts of others? With judgement or with understanding?

Until tomorrow!

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