quinta-feira, 19 de abril de 2012

The religion of the modern cities in 'Mrs. Dalloway'

Like all works of art, Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway" can be interpreted by different points of view. Two themes were more impressive for me: religion and regret. Coincidentally, or not, they are connected some way by the same person, who does not appear in any of the 140 pages of the thin, but never banal book: Friedrich Nietzsche.

Or Woolf just caught her Zeitgeist in a very proper way, fictionalizing some insights from the German thinker, or I am being influenced by my previous studies and want to see connections where they do not exactly exist. Anyway Nietzsche does not need to be quote to affirm that "Mrs. Dalloway" is a book that only apparently is flat. It can have one, two, and infinite readings, as we dive inside of the book.

When I called it "apparently flat", I meant it is a work where nothing happens so evidently. Clarissa Dalloway, probably the main character of the book, is making the last preparations for a party. She is part of the upper class in London, her husband is a MP, she has contacts with very important politicians. She got a little confused, though, when she receives the visit of an old friend, Peter Walsh, who has been living in India for the last years. Apparently, they had a kind of crush when they were young, and they, in different ways, regret themselves for not having fulfill their loving desires.

Clarissa revisits her past and feels very sorry for how she has lived. Only by appearance. Clarissa feels empty inside, as she has just lost something very important, and does not know how to substitute it. She does not have any support where she can have a comfort, can feel sustained, sheltered.

This book was written just after the World War I, so, the beginning of the 20th century. At the end of the 19th century, everyone knows, Nietzsche had proclaimed the death of God, who has been in agony since the previous century. Nietzsche had appointed, also, the vacuum that could / would be formed inside of those so used to a guide that used to say what is wrong or which path should be taken. Nietzsche had suggested too that this "free space" would be filled by other ideologies, other totems. It can be seen as the growth of the importance given to the science, for instance, and how it could answers all the questions forgotten by the religion.

Woolf has showed in her book how the modern city was also one of the chosen to substitute the ancient model. In some moment of the narrative, its inhabitants are very surprised by one car that is passing by them. It is not a day-by-day object. It must belong to someone very important, they think almost in unison, the queen, the prince, or at least the prime-minister. They are astonished with this view until the moment when a more spectacular object of the modernity appears: an air plane. They do not know exactly what is happening, the plane is writing something on the sky with the smoke, but they cannot identified. One thinks it is an ad of a toffee, but there are not sure about this, or about anything. They are just amazed.
Away and away the aeroplane shot, till it was nothing but a bright spark; an aspiration; a concentration; a symbol (so it seemed to Mr. Bentley, vigorously rolling his strip of turf at Greenwich) of man's soul; of his determination, thought Mr. Bentley, sweeping round the cedar tree, to get outside his body, beyond his house, by means of thought, Einstein, speculation, mathematics, the Mendelian theory—away the aeroplane shot. [20]
The plane is the symbol of this modern city, connected to the science, to names like Einstein, Mendel, the saints of this new church. But like all the other idols, the city has its feet of clay.

[to be continued...]

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