Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway is known for her parties, known for being the consummate hostess.
When her husband questions her about her newest party plan, she answers him:
Richard, it's all that I can do, give people one night in which everything seems enchanted, when all the women seem beautiful and all the men seem handsome and everyone is made to seem they're amusing.
Putting all other themes of Mrs Dalloway aside, clearly Clarissa Dalloway is the quintessential hostess and I love that her wish is to make her guests shine, not herself.
In tidying all my bookshelves this winter I pulled out my old copy of my favorite Virginia Woolf novel expecting to love it the way I did when I was much younger. Within ten pages the stream of consciousness writing defeated me and I turned instead to finding Mrs Dalloway available to watch on Tubi where Vanessa Redgrave enchanted me as the older version of Clarissa Dalloway.
Ignoring the complex themes behind Clarissa needing to give a party, I fixated that cold winter night simply on the party itself with people arriving all dressed up and standing close to each other talking and eating special food and drinking festive drinks. You know, those things that pretty much disappeared during the two years of pandemic.
And I began to miss it so very much!
Not that RH and I were ever accomplished hosts. We were always more of the "scruffy hospitality" philosophy made popular by an East Tennessee couple.
But oh, the large cookouts we had at Valley View! Times when our big Adult Sunday School Class (and our daughter's Young Married Class) came in autumns and in springs to sit around the campfire and roast hotdogs over an open fire after exploring our 24 acres, with S'Mores for dessert and musical entertainment by guests in the Christian music industry.
We had birthday parties where teenagers hiked back to our waterfall and swung out over it on a rope. That experience halted for anyone except family after one teen girl fell and got the breath knocked out of her.
Which makes me think of the G.I. Joe birthday party I had for Zack with a dozen little boys playing themed games. Was it my fault that one of them peeled his finger instead of the potato he was holding during the KP Duty game? His mother seemed to think so.
I even gave a fancy women's luncheon one time that took a month of preparation with three tables decorated with different Spode patterns from my collection. That party was anything but scruffy and I often pat myself on the back for having pulled it off, with help from my daughter and two daughters-in-law and the men in my family.
And over 26 years at Valley View there were large family parties galore. There still are large parties at Valley View but now they're hosted by our son and daughter-in-law, the new owners.
I'm truthfully past being able to pull off a large party now, even a scruffy one. But the desire to have them lives on and makes me wonder, is this an intrinsic need in most women?
I've noticed that even though I can no longer physically host big parties, I adore books and stories that include women (and men) preparing for special dinners--or brunches. I love it when bloggers write about their holiday parties or even birthday parties for a child.
And I keep on jotting down ideas for parties that will never happen. I can't help thinking that I must not be alone in this. Is it wired into our DNA to love having a party?
Or, as one of my favorite authors Phyllis McGinley wrote once, "I love to have given a party!"
We did have a large family Christmas party last Christmas here at Home Hill. Anything but fancy. I served spaghetti, salad, and french bread. But oh, it was so much fun!
And I miss it so! Even though any future ones might have to be catered.
Do you know what I mean?
Do you love having a party or having given a party?
Did you miss it during the shutdown?
Is there just something in women where having a party is a necessity of life?
Even when the world is not in a party mood?
Watch Mrs Dalloway if you get the chance. Or read the book, or both.
And give parties when you're young and able, for goodness' sake! Especially scruffy ones.