Having not read Dance but having read Dalloway several times as well as your last post on Dance, I find you refreshing and honest. You represent the reader response approach beautifully.  This type of critique requires the reader to bring all personal assumptions and expectations, his age and cultural experience, and especially her reason for the act of reading, to the process of analysis and judgement.  Reader response depends first, like many life experiences, on reader expectations. Devoted to your reading list as you have made yourself, you escape the simplistic comment that after 1000 pages of a book and thousands more to come, it is mere masochism. Perhaps the commitment to the reading list itself represents a masochistic bent, but once committed, you are simply a determined reader to be admired. As to your comments on both books, it would seem that authors who employ long sentences do not appeal to you.  I assume Garcia Marquez will also give you pause, though he might overcome your aversion through his imaginative characters and eventful plots. Mrs. Dalloway gave me a hard time as well on first read– at least the first half of the novel.  It seemed to me an obsessive celebration of the British upper class who by right of position had escaped most of the discomforts of a war which had devastated the “commoners.” Then Woolf turns inexplicably toward the tale of madness and PTSD (a term unknown at the time) in the lives of a young veteran and his wife and the woeful lack of any meaningful treatment available to them through an upper class doctor. This tale ends in the soldier’s awful suicide.  Woolf returns, almost as if the soldier’s tale had not ever meant to be part of the book, to the Dalloway universe and the endless party which closes the plot. All is status and impression, class and decorum, with even a visit from royalty thrown in for completion of the aristocratic milieu. It is reminiscent of what Poe does in “The Mask of the Red Death”, where royalty locks the gates of the castle to keep out the subjects who are dying of plague and keep in the chosen few to dance the masque and ignore the suffering. Dalloway herself perhaps can be said to live past the suffering, unlike Prince Prospero, but Woolf’s reader is suddenly pinned by the appearance at the festivities of the very doctor who was so unprepared to treat the suicide yet retells the history of the case as an anecdote meant to entertain the partiers. For me, and in reader response the expression “for me” is redundant, this is where your reader’s comment on Woolf “splitting the atom” is pointed. In a novel so apparently adoring of the British class system, a tiny percentage of plot and dialog, the size of an atom to the scope of the book,  serves to condemn the aristocratic aloofness of early 20th century Britain in ways which still reverberate today and can be sadly applied to the general American public and its government that try so energetically to distance themselves from the suffering of war on both, or perhaps better said on all, sides and look instead to abstract discussions of reasons for war and statistics of war. In America, a most poignant example of the disconnect between government officials who declare war and soldiers who die and suffer lifelong for their government is the paltry veteran benefits doled out by those in power in the Senate and House of Representatives, those very men and women who regularly vote to increase their own salaries and benefits and who enjoy lifelong retirement salaries in the hundreds of thousands per year even if they hold office for one term. Compare that to the PTSD vet wandering the cold Chicago winter streets out of money, paranoid and suspicious of society and unable to sustain a stable life rhythm. It is this haunting impression of society’s inhumanity I find so compelling in Dalloway.  If Woolf had not sidled up to the subject in such a slow and ornate fashion, the reader would never have been trapped into collaterally becoming a participant within the frivolous upper class so guilty of living on the largess of the dead and wounded. If a writer can make me feel something I had not felt or come to a perspective I had never considered in a way palatable enough for me to entertain then I will thank him or her and keep them in my respect. Dance does not apparently do this for you, but Dalloway does so for me.  Much respect to you and your quest.

 

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