James Joyce detailed Leopold Bloom’s day in Dublin. Virginia Woolf followed Clarissa Dalloway through London on a fine day in June. Ian McEwan told Henry Perowne’s tale on a post-Sept. 11 Saturday in February. And Christopher Isherwood described one day in the life of an ageing professor named George in his 1964 novel A Single Man.
That novel has now been made into a film produced and directed by Tom Ford, who also co-authored the screenplay. And when I read his comments about the impact A Single Man had on him, I saw another similarity to Mrs. Dalloway.
Ford said he first read Isherwood’s novel when he was in his twenties, and the book stuck with him. But it wasn’t until he read it again years later, when he was in his late forties, that he says he found “the book resonated with me in an entirely different way.” Ford called it “a deeply spiritual story.”
That’s how I felt about Mrs. Dalloway. I was 20 when I first read it and was duly impressed by Woolf’s thinking and her magical way with words. But I didn’t really get Clarissa Dalloway.
When I reread the novel 20 years later, I did. After marriage and children and the winding ways of life, I could understand much more about Clarissa.
But not everything. Each time I reread the novel, I get to know her better.
That’s why I think these instructions should be on each of Woolf’s novels: Read. Think. Repeat.