Mrs Dalloway and the Greater Trumps
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It took me a while to read this book, even though it is quite a short one, and all the action takes place in a single day. I suppose ideally one should read it in one day too.
It is a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a London housewife who is preparing for a party. The story switches from one viewpoint to another, not only her own, but those of people around her: servants, an old friend, her daughter, a suicidal shell-shocked soldier and others. It is set in the 1920s, and so scenes from Downton Abbey come to mind.
One of the reasons it took me so long is that I got distracted into reading other books in between, one of which was The Greater Trumps by Charles Williams. I began re-reading it as a result of a discussion about the names of books by Benjamin Disraeli, the titles of whose books Sybil, Lothair and Coningsby were used for the names of characters in The Greater Trumps.
I could not help but be struck by the contrast between Mrs Dalloway and The Greater Trumps. Both are set in a similar period, between the World Wars of the first half of the 20th century. But in Mrs Dalloway I was much more conscious of the setting in a specific time and place — London of the 1920s. I lived in London for a few months in the 1960s, but the London of 40-45 years earlier was very different, just as it is very different today from the 1960s. Some things may have been the same — the sea of bowler-hatted businessmen crossing London Bridge each morning and afternoon may well have been similar in the 1920s and 1960s, but now they belong to a vanished past. But in Westminster, where Mrs Dalloway is set, the fashions were very different in the 1960s, and are probably different from both today.
In The Greater Trumps, by contrast, though the action moves from a London suburb to the country, the time and place are less important. One could film it today, in present-day clothes, and it would make little difference to the characters or plot. The setting is important, in the sense that it is an isolated country house, and there is a snow stom, but characters and plot take precedence over time and specific place.
So this is not really a review of Mrs Dalloway, but the Good Reads review prompt asks “What did you think?” and that’s what I thought.