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Heralded as Virginia Woolf's greatest novel this is a vivid portrait of a single day in a woman's life When we meet her Mrs Clarissa Dalloway is preoccupied with the last minute details of party preparation while in her mind she is something much than a perfect society hostess As she readies her house she is flooded with remembrances of faraway times And met with the realities of the present Clarissa reexamines the choices that brought her there hesitantly looking ahead to the unfamiliar work of growing oldMrs Dalloway was the first novel to split the atom If the novel before Mrs Dalloway aspired to immensities of scope and scale to heroic journeys across vast landscapes with Mrs Dalloway Virginia Woolf insisted that it could also locate the enormous within the everyday; that a life of errands and party giving was every bit as viable a subject as any life lived anywhere; and that should any human act in any novel seem unimportant it has merely been inadeuately observed The novel as an art form has not been the same sinceMrs Dalloway also contains some of the most beautiful complex incisive and idiosyncratic sentences ever written in English and that alone would be reason enough to read it It is one of the most moving revolutionary artworks of the twentieth century Michael Cunningham author of The Hours


10 thoughts on “Mrs Dalloway

  1. says:

    Experiencing Mrs Dalloway is like being a piece of luggage on an airport conveyor belt traversing lazily through a crowd of passengers over and around and back again but with the added bonus of being able to read people’s thoughts as they pass; this one checking his flight schedule that one arguing with his wife the one over there struggling with her cart bumping into those arguing and checking For the most part the ride is smooth as Woolf transitions from one consciousness to another But at times I find myself falling off the conveyor belt Whether this is a result of my own inabilities or whether Woolf’s dreamy style leads me naturally astray into my own wanderings I do not know But I do know that the effort to get back onto her belt are handsomely rewardedIn short this novel contains some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever seen in print e ink welcome to the 21st century Mrs D But although uoting long passages in a Goodreads review is not usually my modus operandi I feel I must do so here just to demonstrate my point Have you ever had your mind so preoccupied with “stuff” that sometimes a passing comment triggers a strange feeling of not uite right–ness a feeling which stems from the ability of your subconscious to somehow absorb the comment even while the conscious part of your brain has not yet had time to process it? This happens to me all the time and that nagging feeling persists until I find time to reflect on what has caused it Here Woolf captures the moment perfectly But—but—why did she suddenly feel for no reason that she could discover desperately unhappy? As a person who has dropped some grain of pearl or diamond into the grass and parts the tall blades very carefully this way and that and searches here and there vainly and at last spies it there at the roots so she went through one thing and another; no it was not Sally Seton saying that Richard would never be in the Cabinet because he had a second class brain it came back to her; no she did not mind that; nor was it to do with Elizabeth either and Doris Kilman; those were facts It was a feeling some unpleasant feeling earlier in the day perhaps; something that Peter had said combined with some depression of her own in her bedroom taking off her hat; and what Richard had said had added to it but what had he said? There were his roses Her parties That was it Her parties Both of them criticised her very unfairly laughed at her very unjustly for her parties That was it That was it Besides shedding light on my own strange neurosis I think this passage also reveals something interesting about Clarissa Dalloway Why do Peter’s comments about her being the perfect hostess bother her so much? Mrs Dalloway often claims to be fortunate to have married a man who allows her to be independent and to be grateful to have avoided a catastrophic marriage to one who would have stifled her But to me these are just rationalizations for her decision to marry someone with whom she does not share the kind of intimacy that she might have otherwise had In a way her parties have taken the place of that intimacy though it is an intimacy on her terms—she is able to enjoy the company of her high society friends while still keeping them at a comfortable enough distance to shield them from learning too much about her When Peter gently mocks her parties it annoys her because it invariably results in her having to reconcile the sacrifices she has made in exchange for her current lifestyleAnother noteworthy aspect of Woolf’s writing is her acute description of post traumatic stress disorder PTSD was not formally recognized until the 1970s and even though documentation of symptoms was common in the 1940s when World War II veterans were being treated for “mental disturbances” the fact that Woolf delves into this subject as early as 1925 is pretty profound Back then shell shock meant that you were suffering from a form of “exhaustion” as if veterans of the Great War were no worse off than Britney Spears after a few too many nights out In this regard Septimus is a truly tragic character a victim of a time and place without the resources to help him His mental anguish seems also to mirror the sufferings of the unrelated Mrs Dalloway In fact despite crossing paths in only the most abstract of ways Clarissa and Septimus have uite a bit in common They both struggle to balance their private lives against the need for social inclusion they both internalize their emotions at the expense of personal relationships and they both end up having to make difficult choices albeit with drastically different outcomes about their respective futuresIt’s true Mrs Dalloway offers remarkable insight into its characters and is certainly worth the effort My only uestion is does this conveyor belt stop here or will it take me To the Lighthouse?September 2012 UpdateA recording of me reading this review can be found here


  2. says:

    What does the brain matter” said Lady Rosseter getting up “compared with the heart?”Mrs Dalloway Virginia WoolfI didn't realize this until the final page but at its heart MRS DALLOWAY is a love story I absolutely loved this book Mrs Dalloway is a complex compelling novel It is wrongly described as a portrait of a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway; this is not correct Mrs Dalloway is the hub that connects the spokes the characters of Woolf's novel but there is no main character What MRS DALLOWAY is is a wonderful study of a day in the life of its principal characters The novel enters into the consciousness of the people it takes as it subjects creating a powerful effect With Mrs Dalloway Woolf created a visceral and unyielding vision of madness and a haunting descent into its depthsMrs Dalloway follows a set of characters as they go about their lives on a normal day The eponymous character Clarissa Dalloway does simple things she buys some flowers walks in a park is visited by an old friend and throws a party She speaks to a man who was once in love with her and who still believes that she settled by marrying her politician husband She talks to a female friend with whom she was once in love Then in the final pages of the book she hears about a poor lost soul who threw himself from a doctor's window onto a line of railingsSeptimus Smith Shell shocked after his experiences in World War I he is a so called madman who hears voices He was once in love with a fellow soldier named Evans a ghost who haunts him throughout the novel His infirmity is rooted in his fear and his repression of this forbidden love Finally tired of a world that he believes is false and unreal he commits suicideThe two characters whose experiences form the core of the novel Clarissa and Septimus share a number of similarities In fact Woolf saw Clarissa and Septimus as like two different aspects of the same person and the linkage between the two is emphasized by a series of stylistic repetitions and mirrorings Unbeknownst to Clarissa and Septimus their paths cross a number of times throughout the day just as some of the situations in their lives followed similar pathsClarissa and Septimus were in love with a person of their own sex and both repressed their loves because of their social situations Even as their lives mirror parallel and cross Clarissa and Septimus take different paths in the final moments of the novel Both are existentially insecure in the worlds they inhabit one chooses life while the other chooses deathWoolf's stream of consciousness style allows readers into the minds and hearts of her characters She also incorporates a level of psychological realism that Victorian novels were never able to achieve The everyday is seen in a new light internal processes are opened up in her prose memories compete for attention thoughts arise unprompted and the deeply significant and the utterly trivial are treated with eual importance Woolf's prose is also enormously poetic She has the very special ability to make the ordinary ebb and flow of the mind singMrs Dalloway is linguistically inventive but the novel also has an enormous amount to say about its characters Woolf handles their situations with dignity and respect As she studies Septimus and his deterioration into madness we see a portrait that draws considerably from Woolf's own experiences Woolf's stream of consciousness style leads us to experience madness We hear the competing voices of sanity and insanityWoolf's vision of madness does not dismiss Septimus as a person with a biological defect She treats the consciousness of the madman as something apart valuable in itself and something from which the wonderful tapestry of her novel could be woven


  3. says:

    “So on a summer’s day waves collect overbalance and fall; and the whole world seems to be saying ‘that is all’ and ponderously until even the heart in the body which lies in the sun on the beach says too That is all Fear no says the heart Fear no says the heart committing its burden to some sea which sighs collectively for all sorrows and renews begins collects lets fall And the body alone listens to the passing bee; the wave breaking; the dog barking far away barking and barking” We first meet Clarissa Dalloway and her husband Richard in The Voyage Out Too many pages have been turned since my reading of Virginia Woolf’s first novel for me to remember that I’ve met them before It is similar to meeting someone at a party and then meeting them again several years later I might have a sliver of memory of meeting them before I always find it awkward to decide to confess that I do have a vague memory of them potentially subtly unintentionally insulting them or brazen it out with of course I remember you potential minefield if my slender memory is in fact wrong There is always the option of hitting the restart button by saying what a pleasure it is to meet them Some of this of course is entirely up to how they play it and if they remember meeting me before Clarissa Dalloway would know exactly how to handle that situation If she did bungle it she would recover the situation with a little laugh and say something along the lines of how silly she is about names and faces I feel that Virginia was a bit harsh in her description of Clarissa in The Voyage Out Clarissa is a tall slight woman her body wrapped in furs her face in veils with artistic tastes and inclinations but no brain whatsoever” I think that Clarissa has become who she was supposed to be not as we find out who she wanted to be She has become Mrs Richard Dalloway and her identity beyond that has become a series of sepia toned memories of her brief life before marriage If you were to look in any phone book for Phillips County Kansas from 1954 to 1995 you would find listed a Mrs Dean Keeten From the moment Leota Irene Chester 22 married Dean Leo Keeten she became known as Mrs Dean Keeten My grandfather died in 1954 but when she checked herself into the hospital in 1995 for what became the last time she still registered as Mrs Dean Keeten To her the only power she had existed in my grandfather’s name I can only think that she was well aware of the powerlessness of women and wanted people to believe that if they irritated her they would have to deal with her husband ghostly though he was I’d like to think too that there was a lingering pride in being married to the man Clarissa has trepidations over the changes in herself She is feeling older ” June morning; soft with the glow of rose petals for some she knew and felt it as she paused by the open staircase window which let in blinds flapping dog barking let in she thought feeling herself suddenly shrivelled aged breastless the grinding blowing flowering of the day out of doors out of the window out of her body and brain which now failed”Clarissa is planning a party while her doppelganger Septimus Smith is considering his death ”He is linked to Clarissa through his anxieties about sexuality and marriage; his anguish about mortality and immortality; and his acute sensitivities to his surroundings which have gone over the line into madness”Birds sing in GreekHe is haunted by the war in particular his memories of his friend Evans who died in the closing months of the war He hallucinates He is certainly suffering from acute shell shock He is ”Septimus Warren Smith aged about thirty pale faced beak nosed wearing brown shoes and a shabby overcoat with hazel eyes which had that look of apprehension in them which makes complete strangers apprehensive too The world has raised its whip; where will it descend? I do wonder if there weren’t some homosexual overtones to his relationship with Evans I like the idea because if he is a true doppelganger of Clarissa then her thoughts and memories of Sally Seton tie in so nicely I would say Clarissa was smitten at first sight ”But all that evening she could not take her eyes off Sally It was an extraordinary beauty of the kind she most admired dark large eyes with that uality which since she hadn’t got it herself she always envied a sort of abandonment as if she could say anything do anything;” Sally must have been a handful because the strained relations with her family necessitated a span of time apart There is the hope that an unruly child will act better with others than they do with their own family A kiss shared between the two girls is remembered by Clarissa as one of the most passionate moments in her life Sally does come to the party now married now Lady Rosseter with five sons She is completely reformed and conformed to the very aspects I’m sure she found so infuriating about her family Clarissa also has an old flame Peter Walsh who is back from India just in time to attend her party She has not seen Sally or Peter for many years so her party is infused with a certain level of warped nostalgia Though really one gets the impression that Clarissa might have preferred leaving them both suspended in time when they were who she remembered them to be Sheyou see jilted Peter for Richard Peter is still in love with her As she analyzes her thoughts of Peter it is certainly on a practical level than a romantic one She considers without any gossamer wrapped sentimentality what her life would have been like if she had married him In his pockets Peter carries a menagerie of totems ”his knife his watch; his seals his note case and Clarissa’s letter which he would not read again but liked to think of and Daisy’s photograph?” The knife he pulls out whenever he is nervous and opens and closes it This trait so annoys Clarissa It is potentially comparable to fondling oneself into arousal I had the impression that if he were to lose everything he owned except for those few things he carried on his person he would be fine If he were to lose those precious items he would be out of sorts for uite some time and would be slow to recover from their lossPeter has trouble with women leaving scandals in his wake wherever he goes He falls in love too easily which could be attributed to a naturally romantic manner He once followed a girl for a half hour and from the scant information he gained about her nearly fell in love with her Easy to do when you have only flipped through the pages very uickly without taking the time to actual read the narrative I’d like to think that the reason he is this way is because of the torch he still carries for Clarissa Nothing else will ever be as real for him anyway Of course the woman he loved no longer exists either Clarissa shares some of her thoughts on death after she hears the chatter at her party about the suicide of Septimus Smith ”Death was defiance Death was an attempt to communicate people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which mystically evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded; one was alone There was an embrace in death” The reverence with which this statement about death is made put a shiver down my back Woolf admitted that she had difficulty writing about the madness of Septimus She used some of her own depression inspired hallucinations to describe his distressing anxiety She had planned for Clarissa to die at the end of the novel but shifted that role to Septimus Not that I think Clarissa is Virginia but there are certainly aspects to her thought processes that are shared with Woolf It may have been too bold too frightening for those who knew Virginia to have Clarissa kill herself The treatment if you call it that of Septimus is a condemnation of psychology in post WW1 British society Woolf was treated by several incompetent doctors for her own struggles with depression Sir William Bradshaw the famous psychiatrist who was treating Septimus often bragged about his ability to determine a person’s problems and to also be able to prescribe a treatment in five minutes or less Obviously his respect for his own profession is rather cavalier and certainly his dismissive attitude to the true nature of mental illness is reprehensible Virginia Woolf put stones in her pockets walked into the river Ouse and drowned herself sixteen years after the publication of this novel I often think how long she had been considering suicide before she actually made that final decisionI had planned to start this book and then set it aside while I finished another book That turned out to be impossible Mrs Dalloway would not tolerate any rivals I was hers for the duration It is a modest book in regards to size but so packed with so many wonderful observations that I could continue with ease to write several thousand words regarding other aspects of this novel I loved the style There is a bounce to the writing as if springs have been attached to the words to keep them from miring down in meditative thought The characters though possessing few characteristics that I admire were likeable and today I actually find myself missing them as if I had toddled off to India or the West Indies The ending was superb ”What is this terror? what is this ecstasy? Peter thought to himself What is it that fills me with extraordinary excitement?It is Clarissa he saidFor there she was”If you wish to see of my most recent book and movie reviews visit also have a Facebook blogger page at


  4. says:

    While reading her works I get the impression that Virginia Woolf knows everything about people and that she understands life better than anyone ever Is there a single hidden feeling or uncommon perspective with which she is not intimately acuainted? And does anyone else draw forth these feelings and perspectives with grace and empathy and impart them to us in such a lush inimitable fashion? Perhaps But you’d never think that while immersed in her exuisite adult dramas In Mrs Dalloway Woolf’s able to achieve complete well roundedness for a half dozen people in a smattering of pages; where each person is valuable and each is misguided where disagreements truly have two or reasonable sides where issues of right wrong black white are utterly absent dismissed as child’s play uninteresting Woolf allows her characters to hate as well as to love and everyone must expose their private raw feelings to the reader I want to get to know Virginia Woolf; I want to absorb her wisdom and to see the world through her eyes with her soul wise beautiful understanding She’s one of the few authors whose writing is so evocative and filled with human beings so well drawn that I freuently drift into thoughts of my own life comparing myself to Peter Walsh or Clarissa Dalloway or Hugh Whitbread or Sally Seton ferreting out my own shortcomings as I see them gently spread out in Woolf’s oh so real characters Many people who’ve read Woolf’s shorter works admit surprise at how long it takes to finish them even if one is fully engrossed I think this is why her writing invokes open ended reverie that’s profoundly personal and inescapable Woolf’s prose is fantastic although I prefer that of To the Lighthouse which has a haunted ethereal beauty that’s better fit for the Isle of Skye than for London’s busy streets Still she has a poetic way with descriptions that I find so aesthetically pleasing First a warning musical; then the hour irrevocable Is there a better better sounding at least description of Big Ben’s tolling? In many passages the stops and starts feel abrupt strange to the reading mind But for whatever reason it simply feels right; always just enough and never It’s difficult to discuss or sum up the plot of this book which moves fluidly from the streaming conscious of one character to the next This passing of the story telling baton is so subtle however that I can’t remember a single transition None These moments would likely deserve study and genuflection in an inevitable rereading I suspect that Mrs Dalloway is one of those books you can not only reread and enjoy at different stages in life but one that will offer distinct new pleasures and wisdoms at each stage In other words it’s the best kind of book Mrs Dalloway ultimately builds toward the title character’s dinner party but I actually found this finale to be somewhat less interesting than the parts that came before We’re introduced to many new characters in the final 25 pages which despite the fact that each one gets no than a paragraph of time and some must share is something of a nuisance after becoming attached to five or six major players She wraps things up well with the mainstays though and the ending manages to be both understated and stirring providing the readers with the pain and relief that comes with confession Upon finishing the first thing that popped into my mind was Radiohead Everything In its right place


  5. says:

    Virginia Woolf set out to write an unconventional novel and succeeded although since she wrote we have read so many unconventional novels that it seems tame In her introduction to the edition I read Maureen Howard writes “If ever there was a work conceived in response to the state of the novel a consciously modern novel it is Mrs Dalloway” She may have been influenced by Ulysses because all the action occurs in one day Church bells mark significant events In turn this marking of the day influenced The Hours a book based on Woolf’s life by Michael Cunningham But unlike in Joyce’s work this is not an ordinary day True it centers on what we would now call a cocktail party – Mrs Dalloway lived for those and hosted them freuently – but it’s also the day when a former flame of hers the fire on his part not hers returns from five years in India And it’s also a day when one of the characters we follow commits suicide His doctor arrives at the party and announces this to everyone as soon as he’s inside the door – now there’s a downerThrough her reflections and that of several other characters we learn the details of Mrs Dalloway’s life She’s 52 pale a bit sickly attractive enough but not beautiful We learn of her husband a nice man a government bureaucrat whose career has peaked – he will never be a Minister She worries about him having a business lunch today with another woman friend of hers and Mrs Dalloway was not invited Of her daughter she worries that she is being “unduly influenced” by the religion of her female tutor Catholicism? And of course she worries about meeting the old flame – he still loves her after 30 years a marriage and various affairs True love or arrested development? The book published in 1925 is also a time capsule of daily life in London in the early post war years WW I of course A time when horses had been replaced by cars As we follow her around town in her preparations we see the hustle and bustle of the city the grocers the shop girls the crazies in the park A good book It makes you think about life and death You can’t ask for than that Her language is also fun When is the last time you were “whelmed?” Not overwhelmed – just plain old whelmed What’s a Holland bag? Even on the web apparently no one knows


  6. says:

    Virginia Woolf I hate you There I said it Some authors you just don’t get on with and Woolf is right down the bottom of my shit list I’ve got uite a few reasons whyArtistic slayingSo there’s a trend with each and every new artistic movement which involves pissing all over the one that came before it The newness asserts its dominance by destroying the old; it’s happened many times over history in all forms of artifice whether it be literature music paintings or media in today’s society The point is Virginia Woolf is a bitch Here’s what she says about my beloved Jane Austen “Anyone who has the temerity to write about Jane Austen is aware of two facts first that of all great writers she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness; second that there are twenty five elderly gentlemen living in the neighbourhood of London who resent any slight upon her genius as if it were an insult to the chastity of their aunts” from A Room of One's OwnAnd then this “With their simple tools and primitive materials it might be said Fielding did well and Jane Austen even better but compare their opportunities with ours Their masterpieces certainly have a strange air of simplicity” from Modern Fiction PffftIs this woman for real? Don't worry Austen I've got your back Her Style or lack thereof So Virginia Woolf is one of the defining authors of the modernist movement; she wrote the manifesto and she wrote some of the novels Some would even argue that she is modernism but is that a good thing? As a cultural movement I find modernism slightly disturbing I’m a romantic at heart I believe in the idealism of Percy Shelley Wordsworth’s vison of nature and Coleridge’s imagination; thus I feel like I am naturally predisposed to react negatively towards the movement Is this reader response theory at work? Yes it is I’ve warned you I’m incredibly bias towards this It focuses on a suburban way of life and analyses the relationship between humans and the city Therefore we have pages and pages of material in which the characters wonder round the streets looking at random things They observe the sights and they observe each other in a stream of mundane consciousness They remark on nature and almost almost compare it to this new modern life And this is where I throw my book at the wall How could the two even be put together in a paragraph? The words Virginia Woolf uses to describe these things are ill at ease in my mind they don’t belong here “Beauty the world seemed to say And as if to prove it scientifically wherever he looked at the houses at the railings at the antelopes stretching over the palings beauty sprang instantly To watch a leaf uivering in the rush of air was an exuisite joy Up in the sky swallows swooping swerving flinging themselves in and out round and round yet always with perfect control as if elastics held them; and the flies rising and falling; and the sun spotting now this leaf now that in mockery dazzling it with soft gold in pure good temper; and now again some chime it might be a motor horn tinkling divinely on the grass stalks—all of this calm and reasonable as it was made out of ordinary things as it was was the truth now; beauty that was the truth now Beauty was everywhere” Is city life natural? Can we really describe a city in these terms? Woolf proposes to capture the real essence of life; this passage here isn’t life it feels false Who walks through a city sees a leaf and is enamoured by its beauty No one Step outside the city and experience life in the true Wordsworth fashion visit the lakes see the trees and see real nature Granted the Romantics made it sound sublime but they captured the heart of it they didn’t combine city life with its connotations of ordinariness and industry with the real essence of nature Real life is dull So Woolf attempts cough cough to capture real life modernism was said to be real than realism This isn’t some exciting plot or twisted love story or gothic drama this is a book about a woman who hosts a very dull party She walks round the city a few times making some disjointed descriptions ponders a shell shocked victim realises she never fulfilled her repressed lesbian desires notices that the prime minister is in fact an ordinary man shock horror hold onto your seats and that’s it So this new modern thing then is it good? In the case of this book no it’s not It takes than a rejection of literary norms to establish greatness I’ve read modernists next since this one and I’ve actually enjoyed them Sometimes I feel like Woolf didn’t know uite what she wanted when she wrote this I feel like other writers adhere closer to her manifesto than she does herself And well they don’t attack Austen


  7. says:

    Mrs Dalloway is one of those books one is supposed to adore for its disruption of convention and innovative use of time sound parallel narrative structure etc While I respect and admire the literary advances VW makes with this novel I just can't get into it I've read it three times over the course of my reading life once at 17 then at 21 and finally just a few months ago I find it sleepy like dozing in a warm insect filled garden which is not a bad way to spend an afternoon as long as you have some DEET but ultimately doesn't jolt me into action revelation excitement or motivation Rather Mrs Dalloway really annoys me as a character and I feel the need to explore this since many of my friends cringe when I tell them I'm just not that into her I'll continue trying to figure out my problem with this novel and post an update someday Meanwhile if there is anyone out there who sort of doesn't like it too please let me know; I feel lonely


  8. says:

    ‘ Moments like this are buds on the tree of life’Our lives are an elaborate and exuisite collage of moments Each moment beautiful and powerful on their own when reflected upon turned about and examined to breath in the full nostalgia for each glorious moment gone by yet it is the compendium of moments that truly form our history of individuality Yet what is an expression of individuality if it is not taken in relation to all the lives around us as a moment in history a drop in a multitude of drops to form an ocean of existence? Virginia Woolf enacts the near impossibility in ‘ Mrs Dalloway’ of charting for examination and reflection the whole of a lifeline for multiple characters all interweaving to proclaim a brilliant portrait of existence itself all succinctly packaged in the elegant wrappings of a solitary day Akin to Joyce’s monumental achievement Ulysses Woolf’s poetic plunge into the minds and hearts of her assorted characters not only dredges up an impressively multi faceted perspective on their lives as a whole but delivers a cutting social satire extending far beyond the boundaries of the selective London society that struts and frets their 24 hours upon the stage of Woolf’s words‘ Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself’This simple phrase is one any serious student of literature would recognize lest they fear an inadeuacy of appearance in the eyes of their collegiate classmates much in the way a great deal of actions in Mrs Dalloway is a learned behavior for the sake of appearances ‘ Rigid the skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame’ and much of what we do out of habit out of adherence to social standards is what upholds the society at hand and shapes the civilization of the times Woolf’s novel hinges upon manners and social standings highlighting a withering hegemony during the a period of change and rebirth with society marching forward into an uncertain and unrestrained future following the first World War However before getting too far ahead into a broad scope it is imperative to examine the immediate and singular implications of the novel Much of Mrs Dalloway is deceptively simplistic using the singular as a doorway into the collective and offering a tiny gift of perfect that can be unpacked to expose an infinite depiction of the world Take the title for instance In most cases the central character is referred to as Clarissa Dalloway yet it was essential to place Mrs Dalloway first and foremost in the readers mind to forever bind their impression of her as a married woman an extension of Mr Richard Dalloway In comparison Miss Kilman is never addressed in text without the title ‘Miss’ to emphasize her unmarried—and in terms of the social standings of the time inferior—position in society; or even Ellie Henderson whose poverty doesn’t even earn her a title of marital status in the eyes of the Dalloway circle forever condemned to a singular name inconseuential to anything Just the indication of Clarissa as the wife of a member of government expands well beyond her status as an individual to open a conversation about social implications‘ Mrs Dalloway is always giving parties to cover the silence’Personal identity plays a major theme within the novel with each character’s entire life on display simply through their actions and reflection within the solitary June day Clarissa is examined through a weaving of past and present as she tumbles through an existential crises in regards to her position as the wife of a dignitary and as a the perfect party host ‘ Why after all did she do these things? Why seek pinnacles and stand drenched in fire? Might it consume her anyhow?’ Through her interactions with Peter the reader is treated to her romantic lineage rejecting Peter for the safer social circle security of Robert which gives way to a uestioning if she is merely a snob Further the reader witnesses Clarissa in her heights of emotion through her friendship with Sally Seton¹ a relationship that seems to transcend the rigid gender roles of the time The strange thing on looking back was the purity the integrity of her feeling for Sally It was not like one’s feeling for a man It was completely disinterested and besides it had a uality which could only exist between women Virginia Woolf’s own sexuality has been a topic of interest over the years and the relationship between Clarissa and Sally—the kiss shared between them being considered by Clarissa to be a notable peak of happiness in her life—is open to interpretation However this aspect of Clarissa’s life and identity allows for one of the numerous footholds of feminism found throughout the text giving way to an image of Sally rejecting standard gender roles through examples such as her openly smoking cigars Through Clarissa we see a desire of life of not becoming stagnant of not ‘ being herself invisible; unseen; unknownthis being Mrs Dalloway; not even Clarissa any ; this being Mrs Richard Dalloway’ There must be a way to separate from the society to form an identity beyond social conventions or gender to find life in a world hurtling towards death‘ Once you fall Septimus repeated to himself human nature is on you’As a foil to the character of Clarissa Woolf presents the war torn Septimus While Clarissa finds meaning in her merrymaking because ‘ what she liked was simply life’ and bringing people together to be always moving towards a warm center of life Septimus is shown as moving outwards stolen away from the joys of life through his experiences of bloodshed in battle So there was no excuse nothing whatever the matter except the sin for which human nature had condemned him to death; that he did not feel While Clarissa grapples with her fear of death ‘ that is must end; and no one in the whole world would know how she had loved it all’ Septimus finds life a never ending spiral of guilt for not feeling beset by visions of his fallen comrade to be a fearsome and loathsome beast Doctors would have him locked away a dramatic contrast to the lively parties hosted by Clarissa and even his own wife forges an identity of guilt and self conscious sorrow for upholding a clearly disturbed husband This is a haunting portrait of post traumatic stress disorder and depression the latter fmuch like Woolf herself suffered Septimus and Clarissa are like opposite sides to the same coin however and many essential parrallels exist between them Both find solace in the works of Shakespeare² both obsess over a lonely figure in an opposing window one of Septimus’ last impressions in the land of the living and both trying to express themselves in the world yet fearing the solitude that their failures will form for them Even his inability to feel is similar to the love felt by Clarissa ' But nothing is so strange when one is in love and what was this except being in love? as the complete indifference of other people'Death becomes an important discussion point of the novel with each character trying to define themselves in the face of or in spite of their impending demise Peter so fears death that he follows a stranger through town inventing an elaborate fantasy of romance to blot out the deathly darkness Yet it is in contrast to death that we find life Clarissa’s desire for communication community and life is only given weight in relation to the news of death that invades her party Death was defiance Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which mystically evaded them; closeness drew apart; repute faded one was alone There was an embrace in death What is most impressive about Mrs Dalloway is the nearly endless array of tones and voices that Woolf is able to so deftly sashay between While each character is uniue it is the contrast between death and life that she weaves that is staggeringly wonderful Right from the beginning Woolf treats us to a feast of contrast For it was the middle of June The War was over except for some one like Mrs Foxcroft at the Embassy last night eating her heart out because that nice boy was killedbut it was over; thank Heaven – over It was Juneand everywhere thought it was still early there was a beating a stirring of galloping ponies tapping of cricket bats Cold death and warm life on a sunny June day all mingle together here and throughout the novel And we are constantly reminded of our lives marching towards death like a battalion of soldiers each hour pounded away by the ringing of Big Ben This motif is two fold both representing the lives passing from present to past but also using the image of Big Ben as a symbol of British society The war has ended and a new era is dawning one where the obdurate and stuffy society of old has been shown to be withered and wilting like Clarissa’s elderly aunt with the glass eye Not only are the lifelines of each character put under examination but the history of the English empire as well highlighting the ages of imperialism that have spread the sons of England across the map and over bloody battlefields Clarissa is a prime example of the Euro centrism found in society freuently confusing the Albanians and Armenians and assuming that her love of England and her contributions to society must in some way benefit them ‘ Byt she loved her roses didn’t that help the Armenians?’ In contrast is Peter constantly toying with his knife—a symbol of masculinity imposed by an ideal enforced by bloodshed and military might—to evince not only his fears of inadeuacy as a Man fostered by Clarissa’s rejection for him and his possibly shady marriage plans but his wishy washy feelings of imperialism after spending time in India Beauty the world seemed to say And as if to prove it scientifically wherever he looked at the houses at the railings at the antelopes stretching over the palings beauty sprang instantly To watch a leaf uivering in the rush of air was an exuisite joy Up in the sky swallows swooping swerving flinging themselves in and out round and round yet always with perfect control as if elastics held them; and the flies rising and falling; and the sun spotting now this leaf now that in mockery dazzling it with soft gold in pure good temper; and now again some chime it might be a motor horn tinkling divinely on the grass stalks—all of this calm and reasonable as it was made out of ordinary things as it was was the truth now; beauty that was the truth now Beauty was everywhere Mrs Dalloway is nearly overwhelming in scope despite the tiny package and seemingly singular advancements of plot Seamlessly moving between the minds and hearts of each character with a prose that soars to the stratosphere Woolf presents an intensely detailed portrait of post war Europe and the struggles of identity found within us all While it can be demanding at times asking for your full cooperation and attention but only because to miss a single second would be a tragic loss to the reader this is one of the most impressive and inspiring novels I have ever read Woolf manages to take the scale of Ulysses and the poetic prowess of the finest poets and condense it all in 200pgs of pure literary excellence Simple yet sprawling this is one of the finest novels of the 20th century and an outstanding achievement that stands high even among Woolf's other literary giants This novel has a bit of a raw feel when compared to To the Lighthouse yet that work is nothing short of pure perfection a novel so highly tuned that one worries that even breathing on it will tarnish it's sleek and shiny luster Dalloway stands just as tall however both as a satire on society and a powerful statement of feminism A civilization is made up of the many lives within and each life is made up of many moments all of which culminating to a portrait of human beauty Though at the end of life we must meet death it is through death we find life55 It is a thousand pities never to say what one feels¹ With regards to the discussion of marital titles Sally Seton later becomes Lady Rosseter through marriage This title further emphasizes marriage as a means of climbing the social ladder with Sally seen in the past as an impoverished rebellious ragamuffin yet through marriage gains an aura of dignity Perhaps Sally becoming a housewife is a statement on the society of the times suffocating feministic freedoms² There is an interesting rejection of Shakespeare found most notably in the characters of Richard Dallowlay and Lady Bruton This emphasized the dying British society as a cold and artless being devoid of emotion This is most evident through Richard Dalloway seen as a symbol of British society as he fails to express his emotions of love towards his wife


  9. says:

    Is this amazing book the archetype for present day feminine TV Soap Operas? If you said that I and so many others who’ve been utterly charmed by Virginia Woolf’s disarmingly ‘unrehearsed’ slice of life prose in this incredible book would take bitter umbrageNo this little book is MUCH than thatIt’s a radiant hymn to the power of momentary personal Epiphanies in our rapidly moving seemingly impersonal and largely unconscious livesYou know those magical Chicken Soup for The Soul moments when everything in our random lives suddenly why? who knows makes SENSE?Have you had those?I think we all have and a famous writer named James Joyce LIVED for them From his earliest childhood on And they are the key to his densest novelsNow back in the early twentieth century books by Mr Joyce suddenly became scarce for reasons that were perfectly clear to a precious few but unknown to the hoi poloi that’s USBut Virginia Woolf could get ‘em You see her wonderful husband Leonard was a Publisher He founded the famed Hogarth Press And he had continental publishing contacts and thus clear access to the early classics of modern lit which back then were always so strangely out of stock in our worldSo when Leonard Woolf discovered the radical stream of conscious world of Mr Joyce he let Virginia in on the secretAnd the rest and Mrs Dalloway was historyAnd NOW the English Speaking World darkened by the inclement weather of European extremist politics could see what the fuss over Mr Joyce was REALLY about And it was simply this the ordinary isolated magical moments of simple peopleAnd that’s itAnd isn’t that what OUR life’s really about? Magic momentsWhen I was in my Junior Year at University I had a wonderful professor She exuded such a simple radiance a radiance that extended itself to every one of those modern novels in that endlessly fascinating course she taught all of which she so loved and wanted to share with her young studentsNow hold on just a moment We’re talking MODERN novels? Those dark twentieth century explorations of the forbidden hidden recesses of the fallen human psyche? Writers like Joyce and Beckett? WHAT simple radiance do you mean to find in them?OK I’ll explain My prof was a bright and starry eyed scholar Disabled from an early age and a lifelong reader she brought to her readings of these dark classics a joyful reverence belonging to a human category few of us rememberUnvarnished innocenceSo there I was an impressionable kid in her class who had recently and woefully come of age and could see in her something that rose far above my fellow hippie classmates all of whom were living wildly for the dayShe had given me reason for rejoicing in the classics again looking at them through her unspoiled grateful eyesAnd I wanted to thank her for itFor my final paper of the term I chose the subject ‘That Timeless Moment The Epiphany in the Novels of Virginia Woolf’ I poured my whole heart soul and all the effort I could muster into itAnd she LOVED it Thanks Mr Joyce Mrs Woolf Mrs Dalloway and dear Susan for cutting through all of modern life’s oh so convenient dark obfuscations paranoias and taboos To get us to the radiant HEART OF LIFE again


  10. says:

    It’s been a while since I last read Mrs Dalloway I’d always had it down as her third best book but falling a fair way short of The Waves and To the Lighthouse Therefore I was surprised by just how much I loved and admired it this time round It’s probably her most popular novel – because it’s intimate personal and sprightly and warm than her other novels What’s most brilliant about it is the easy fluid way she makes of each passing moment a ruffled reservoir of the inner life of her characters Every moment alters the composition the ebb and flow of memory and identity And everything very subtly is experienced in relation to the inevitability of death It’s a deeply elegiac novel and one of the finest celebrations of the beauty to be gleaned in the passing moment I can think of She does now and again get carried away with her metaphors Extending them until they bear little relation with their starting point like shadows that have no source In fact so epic and sweeping are her metaphors sometimes – usually when she’s writing aboutmaking fun of men that you think she might have had a copy of The Iliad on her desk while writing this And men get a pretty rough deal on the whole There’s probably no richer book about London in the history of literature I remember when I was a skinny nineteen year old thing walking about London and how Woolf’s presence through her prose was almost like a medium permeating the suares of Bloomsbury the bridges and churches and parks of the city She added an entire layer to my experience of the hidden riches of London At one point Clarissa muses “It ended in a transcendental theory which with her horror of death allowed her to believe or say that she believed for all her scepticism that since our apparitions the part of us which appears are so momentary compared with the other the unseen part of us which spreads wide the unseen might survive be recovered somehow attached to this person or that or even haunting certain places after death Perhaps perhaps” Well no uestion Virginia still haunts certain places –pretty much every London location she writes about in this novel