Virginia Woolf

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Reading London in Mrs Dalloway

Imagine, just for a moment, that you’ve never set foot in London. The time has come for a trip to the big city, but something’s troubling you, and it has to do with making sense of inner London. Where do you start? Chances are, you’ll begin by swiping your finger or clicking a button. Getting to grips with London involves a kind of digital navigation these days – through the lens of Google Maps, or in the virtual footsteps of those who’ve left their mark on Trip Advisor. Why not ‘plan your journey’ with the help of Transport for London? You’ve heard people talk in the past of checking ‘TFL’, and that’s half the problem: planning your journey and crossing the city requires you to learn a new vocabulary, a host of snappy acronyms and code. Take the City of London website, for instance. What are these ‘oyster cards’ that come so highly recommended? If there are ‘fast-track tickets’, is it also possible to opt for a ‘slow-track’ option? Does getting from A to B really mean catching the DLR?

None of these are new questions. Travelling through London, as through any complex urban environment, has always amounted to a curious kind of reading exercise – of signs, abbreviations, logos, and markers. The purpose of this resource is to bring some of these questions to bear on a novel that is deeply concerned with literacy and the city: Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (1925). The novel relates the comings and goings of a house in Westminster, London, the home of Mrs Clarissa Dalloway, who is preparing to throw a party. The resource centres on the first 20 pages or so of the novel, and should be considered an introduction to some of the quirks, problems and pleasures of ‘reading’ the city in Woolf’s company. There are 3 activities:

• Activity 1 – First Impressions, which introduces the theme of ‘reading’
• Activity 2 – Standstill, which reflects on the congestion and blockages of city life
• Activity 3 – Skywriting, which returns to the purpose and processes of reading the city as a place of spectacular possibility