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Mrs. Dalloway's Party
Virginia Woolf
Edited, with an introduction, by Stella McNichol
Orlando: Harcourt, 2004.
$10.00, 80 pages, ISBN 0156029324.

Christine Reynier
Montpellier 3


This Harcourt book is a new American paperback edition of Mrs. Dalloway's Party, which was first published in 1973 by the Hogarth Press. The dust jacket, with its fancy typeface and its sepia-coloured photograph, is more immediately attractive than the sober pink and blue Bloomsbury-style Hogarth one. On the back, Michael Cunningham is quoted before Virginia Woolf's short stories and Virginia Woolf herself are presented. This American edition is obviously addressing the general reader who has discovered Mrs. Dalloway through the film The Hours, and possibly through Michael Cunningham's novel, and who is now asked to read the short stories surrounding Woolf's novel. The commercial intent is obvious, backed as it is by hyperbolic epithets, such as those attached to the stories ("The groundbreaking stories"), the novel ("The landmark modern novel Mrs. Dalloway") and the writer herself ("Virginia Woolf, one of the major literary figures of the twentieth century, transformed the art of the novel with such groundbreaking works as Mrs. Dalloway")—all meant to titillate the reader's curiosity.

Yet the content of the book is exactly the same as the 1973 one. Stella McNichol's introduction has been reprinted and is followed by the same seven short stories by Virginia Woolf: "Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street," first published in The Dial in 1923; "The New Dress," "The Man who Loved his Kind," "Together and Apart," and "A Summing Up," first published by Leonard Woolf in A Haunted House and Other Stories in 1944; and "The Introduction" and "Ancestors," published for the first time in 1973. In her introduction, Stella McNichol makes it clear that the choice of these seven short stories is entirely hers and amply justifies it. Having become aware, while working on the manuscripts of Mrs. Dalloway, that the party was a central preoccupation of Woolf's, she brought together these short stories because "they relate to each other thematically: the social theme and subject of the party and the actual or implied presence of Mrs. Dalloway give a unity to them" [7]. Stella McNichol also points out that "Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street" was first meant to be the first chapter of the novel whereas "The New Dress" was written in 1924 while Woolf was revising Mrs. Dalloway and the remaining five stories were written after the novel had been completed, though not later than 1925.

Interestingly enough, even if implicitly, she redefines the text of Mrs. Dalloway as being surrounded not simply by a "pre-text" but also by a "post-text." Her work indirectly throws a light on the nature of the short story, too often reduced to an experimental form, preceding the writing of a more noble one, the novel. Through this sequence of stories, the short story appears to ensure an afterlife to the novel and to be able to go where the novel cannot go. These are some of the stimulating conclusions the reader of Mrs. Dalloway's Party: A Short Story Sequence by Virginia Woolf, edited by Stella McNichol (London: Hogarth Press, 1973) can come to. The reader of the Harcourt book is deprived of such conclusions since the name of McNichol does not appear on the dust jacket and the title Mrs. Dalloway's Party is accompanied by the following comment: "The groundbreaking stories that inspired the classic novel Mrs. Dalloway," a statement reiterated on the back ("But before Virginia Woolf wrote her masterwork, she explored in a series of sketches and stories a similar revelry in the mental and physical excitement of a party"). The short stories are here definitely presented as partaking only in the genesis of the novel, as if the notion of "work in progress" or "unfinished novel" was not palatable outside academia. Secondly the absence of McNichol's name on the dust jacket leads the reader to conclude that Mrs. Dalloway's Party is a book by Virginia Woolf.

Comparing the two editions brings out the commercial strategy of Harcourt Books while showing how the coherent yet eminently subjective choices of an academic can be passed off, three decades later, as the author's choice. In a roundabout and somewhat ironic way, this type of edition leads us to wonder about the legitimacy of such publications...


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