I recently read about the Baileys Prize project called #thisbook on A Little Blog of Books. The idea is to nominate a book written by a woman that has had the most impact on you and vote for it by using the hashtag on Twitter. You can find out more about the project here and see the books chosen by celebrities such as Jennifer Saunders, Caitlin Moran, and Dawn O’Porter to name a few.
With this in mind, I thought I’d share with you the book that has had the most impact on me: Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.
Mrs Dalloway follows Clarissa Dalloway during the course of one day, as she prepares for a party she is giving that evening. We also see snippets of Septimus’ view, a soldier who has returned from World War I and is suffering from, what we now know as, post-traumatic stress. Woolf delicately weaves the tales of these two unconnected people throughout the novel. Travelling backwards and forwards in time, Mrs Dalloway covers many topics: war, feminism, homosexuality, and mental illness, among others.
I first read this novel a short while before I started University, borrowing a copy from my local library. I distinctly remember thinking that I’d never read a book like it and that, one day, I wanted to be able to write like this. I loved what was my first experience of the stream of consciousness technique that so brilliantly depicted the thoughts of, not just Mrs Dalloway, but others living in London, too. I loved the city of London as described by Woolf – the opening passage when Mrs Dalloway is on her way to buy flowers for her party is one of the most memorable in the book for me; the bustling streets, the joy of “this moment of June” (p.4), the noise from a parked car and the mystery of who could be inside. I loved the fluidity of the prose, Mrs Dalloway’s thoughts slipping into Septimus’ then to his wife’s and then back again. I loved Woolf’s delicate descriptions which so perfectly describe a moment or sentiment.
I encountered Mrs Dalloway again in my second year of University where I studied it briefly for a Modernism course. This time around I uncovered new aspects to the novel and found that different passages had an impact on me – Septimus’ story, for example, seemed to affect me more this time around. I ended up writing about the novel in one of my final essays for the course and it was a joy to study and explore the novel in more depth. Studying it for University also meant that I now had my own copy, which now sits on my bookshelf, the pages covered in scribbled notes in the margin and underlined passages. At one time, there were an array of brightly coloured post-it notes sticking out of the pages.
Mrs Dalloway is one of those books that I’ll read time and time again, discovering something new with each experience.
There were other contenders for my choice for #thisbook – Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott was one of the books that I read countless times as a child and it was one of the first books where I remember being able to see myself in the characters (the creativity and love for writing in Jo and the shyness in Beth). Another could have been the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, a series of books that again I’ve read countless times and was one of the first books where I knew I wanted to be a writer too. To Kill A Mockingird by Harper Lee is another contender, as is A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf.
Which book has had the most impact on you? Let me know in the comments below! And you can let Baileys know on Twitter too!