Monday, May 18, 2009

Mrs. Dalloway, Again!

Speaking of Justice. With a capital J. I finished Mrs. Dalloway, and what you may find interesting is that there is more about faith in this novel than most Christian novels one might pick up in a bookstore today.

That may not be saying much. But still. Oh, there is evil. Clearly identified evil. There is the communion of saints, although they are not identified as such. There is strong spiritual connection throughout, one character with another. As though the unconscious parts of the characters and some of the conscious parts of the characters all swam in the same spiritual medium. In the same ocean of spiritual meaning, spiritual being, spiritual struggle, spiritual vulnerability.

There is the persistent metaphor of the waves and the oceanic bringing the highly various sensibilities and personalities and perspectives together into one disparate community of experience and understanding and spiritual immediacy. It is as though the various characters have been created to live separated from one another bodily but to live together also, commingling in one homogenous substance. One linguistic or elemental or moral or emotional or cultural or kingdom construct.

There is one Christian that is identified as such. One unattractive, large, desperate woman. A woman who attempts to alienate Elizabeth from her mother, Clarissa Dalloway. The woman resents Clarissa. Resents people with money. Envy’s them. Is full of spite and anger and self-loathing. A woman who cries out for justice. Who is bitter because she feels the world has ignored her, may even despise her. Feels as though the world and those around her have been thoroughly unjust to her. And she has no means of escape.

She attempts to alienate Elizabeth from her mother but is not successful. And the narrative leaves her desolate, miserable, feeling acutely the injustice of her life. She knows her powerful feelings are not Christian. Her pastor calls her emotions and attitudes “of the flesh.” She knows that her hatred of the privileged is wrong, but she feels herself to be powerless to do anything against it.

Another character—Septimus Smith—a shell-shocked veteran of World War I commits suicide to avoid his evil doctors. Doctors who are in denial of the horror that exists in the world and that Septimus has seen and participated in. In denial of his real mental and spiritual terror. Doctors who pretend that evil does not really exist and who want Septimus to participate in this same delusion with them. This lie with them. And in his anguished state of mind. His tortured spiritual state. Septimus can think of no other way to escape them than to throw himself to his death.

These and many others are arranged in a kind of chorus of spiritual unfolding, of spiritual disrobing, of spiritual improvising. The narration moves from the stream of consciousness of one character to another and to another and through almost 20 altogether throughout one day in June, 1923. A day that precedes Clarissa Dalloway’s party. A party given for no particular reason. In the evening. Party-giving is Clarissa’s particular joy. Bringing together others who should be brought together in the flesh as they have somehow already been in a less apparent way. This is her contribution, she thinks. This ability and willingness to bring people together who ought to be together.

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