Mrs Dalloway: Wikis


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Mrs Dalloway  
Mrs. Dalloway cover.jpg
Author Virginia Woolf
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Novel
Publisher Hogarth Press
Publication date 14 May 1925
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
ISBN 0-15-662870-8
OCLC Number 20932825
Dewey Decimal 823/.912 20
LC Classification PR6045.O72 M7 1990b

Mrs Dalloway (published on 14 May 1925) is a novel by Virginia Woolf that details a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway in post-World War I England. Mrs Dalloway continues to be one of Woolf's best-known novels.

Created from two short stories, "Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street" and the unfinished "The Prime Minister", the novel's story is of Clarissa's preparations for a party of which she is to be hostess. With the interior perspective of the novel, the story travels forwards and back in time, and in and out of the characters' minds, to construct a complete image of Clarissa's life and of the inter-war social structure.

Time magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.[1]


Plot summary

Clarissa Dalloway goes around London in the morning, getting ready to host a party that evening. The nice day reminds her of her youth at Bourton and makes her wonder about her choice of husband—she married the reliable Richard Dalloway instead of the enigmatic and demanding Peter Walsh, and she had not the option to be with Sally Seton for whom she felt strongly. Peter reintroduces these conflicts by paying a visit that morning, having returned from India that day.

Septimus Warren Smith, a veteran of World War I suffering from deferred traumatic stress, spends his day in the park with his Italian-born wife, Lucrezia, where they are observed by Peter Walsh. Septimus is visited by frequent and indecipherable hallucinations, mostly concerning his dear friend Evans who died in the war. Later that day, after he is prescribed involuntary commitment, he commits suicide by jumping out of a window.

Clarissa's party in the evening is a slow success. It is attended by most of the characters she has met in the book, including people from her past. She hears about Septimus' suicide at the party, and gradually comes to admire the act of this stranger—which she considers an effort to preserve the purity of his own happiness.


In Mrs Dalloway all of the action, excepting flashbacks, takes place on a single day in June. It is an example of stream of consciousness storytelling; every scene closely tracks the momentary thoughts of a particular character. Woolf blurs the distinction between direct and indirect speech throughout the novel, alternating her narration with omniscient description, indirect interior monologue, direct interior narration follows at least twenty characters in this way, but the bulk of the novel is spent with Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Smith.

Because of structural and stylistic similarities, Mrs Dalloway is commonly thought to be a response to James Joyce's Ulysses, a text that is often hailed as one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century. Woolf herself derided Joyce's novel. The Hogarth Press, run by her and her husband Leonard, had to turn down the chance to publish the novel because of the obscenity law in England.



As a commentary on inter-war society, Clarissa's character highlights the role of women as the proverbial "Angel in the House" and embodies both sexual and economic repression. She keeps up with and even embraces the social expectations of the wife of a patrician politician, but she is still able to express herself and find distinction in the parties she throws[2].

Her old friend Sally Seton, whom Clarissa admires dearly, is remembered as a great independent woman[2]: she smoked cigars, once ran down a corridor naked to fetch her sponge-bag, and made bold, unladylike statements to get a reaction from people. When Clarissa meets her in the present day, she turns out to be a perfect housewife, having married a self-made rich man and had five sons.


Clarissa Dalloway is strongly attracted to Sally at Bourton -- 34 years later, she still considers the kiss they shared to be the happiest moment of her life. She feels about women "as men feel" (from "Mrs Dalloway", Penguin Popular Classics 1996, page 36 OR Harcourt, Inc. (2005), Page 35), but she does not recognize these feelings as signs of homosexuality.

She and Sally fell a little behind. Then came the most exquisite moment of her whole life passing a stone urn with flowers in it Sally stopped; picked a flower; kissed her on the lips. The whole world might have turned upside down! The others disappeared; there she was alone with Sally. And she felt that she had been given a present, wrapped up, and told just to keep it, not to look at it - a diamond, something infinitely precious, wrapped up, which, as they walked (up and down, up and down), she uncovered, or the radiance burnt through, the revelation, the religious feeling! (Woolf, 36)

The relationship between Doris Kilman and Elizabeth Dalloway demonstrates that the older may have certain lesbian feelings towards Clarissa's daughter.

Similarly, Septimus is haunted by the image of his dear friend Evans. Evans, his commanding officer is described as being "undemonstrative in the company of women." Woolf describes Septimus and Evans behaved together like "two dogs playing on a hearth-rug" who, inseparable, "had to be together, share with each other, fight with each other, quarrel with each other..." Jean E. Kennard notes that the word "share" could easily be read in a Forsteran manner, perhaps as in Forster's Maurice which testifies as to the word's use in this period to describe homosexual relations. Furthermore, Kennard is one to note Septimus' "increasing revulsion at the idea of heterosexual sex", abstaining from sex with Rezia and feels "the business of copulation was filth to him before the end."[3] Other critics contend that Septimus and Evans are intended as parallels for T.S. Eliot and his dear friend Jean Verdenal, whom Eliot mourned greatly.[4]

Mental illness

Septimus, as the shell-shocked war hero, operates as a pointed criticism of the treatment of mental illness and depression[2]. Woolf lashes out at the medical discourse through Septimus' decline and ultimate suicide: his doctors make snap judgments about his condition, talk to him mainly through his wife, and dismiss his urgent confessions before he can make them.

There are similarities in Septimus' condition to Woolf's own struggles with bipolar disorder (they both hallucinate that birds sing in Greek, and Woolf once attempted to throw herself out of a window as Septimus finally does)[2]. Woolf eventually committed suicide by drowning.

Existential issues

When Peter Walsh sees a girl in the street and stalks her for half an hour, he notes that his relationship to the girl was "made up, as one makes up the better part of life." By focusing on character's thoughts and perceptions, Woolf emphasizes the significance of private thoughts, rather than concrete events, in a person's life. Most of the plot points in Mrs Dalloway are realizations that the characters make in their own heads[2].

Fueled by her bout of ill health, Clarissa Dalloway is emphasized as a woman who appreciates life. Her love of party-throwing comes from a desire to bring people together and create happy moments. Her charm, according to Peter Walsh who loves her, is a sense of joie de vivre, always summarized by the sentence, "There she was." She interprets Septimus Smith's death as an act of embracing life, and her mood remains light even when she figures out her marriage is a farce.

Film adaptation

A film version of Mrs Dalloway was made in 1997 by Dutch feminist film director Marleen Gorris. It was adapted from Woolf's novel by British actress Eileen Atkins and starred Vanessa Redgrave in the title role. The cast included Natascha McElhone, Lena Headey, Rupert Graves, Michael Kitchen, Alan Cox, Sarah Badel and Katie Carr.

Mrs Dalloway was a key element of the plot of both the Michael Cunningham novel The Hours and its subsequent screen adaptation. Cunningham's title was derived from Woolf's original title for Mrs Dalloway.

Other appearances

Mrs Dalloway also appears in Virginia Woolf's first novel, "The Voyage Out", as well as four of her short stories, in which she hosts dinner parties to which the main subject of the narrative is invited:

  • "The New Dress" - a self-conscious guest has a new dress made for the event.
  • "The Introduction" - whose main character is Lily Everit
  • "Together and Apart" - Mrs Dalloway introduces the main protagonists
  • "The Man Who Loved His Kind" in which her husband Richard invites a school friend who finds the evening uncomfortable in the extreme.
  • "A Summing Up" - a couple meet in her garden.

The stories (except for "The Introduction") all appear in the 1944 collection A Haunted House and Other Short Stories, and also in the 1973 collection Mrs Dalloway's Party.[5]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e Donald Childs, ENG3320: Modern British Literature, Winter 2008, University of Ottawa
  3. ^ Kennard, Jean E. "Power and Sexual Ambiguity: The Dreadnought Hoax, The Voyage Out, Mrs Dalloway and Orlando" Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Winter, 1996), pp. 149-164.
  4. ^ Steinberg, Erwin R. "Mrs Dalloway and T. S. Eliot's Personal Waste Land." Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Mar., 1983), pp. 3-25.
  5. ^

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