|Publication date||14 May 1925|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|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, a fictional high-society woman in post-World War I England. It is 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 an image of Clarissa's life and of the inter-war social structure. In 2005, Mrs Dalloway was included on Time magazine's list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923.
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 spent in the countryside in 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. Peter reintroduces these conflicts by paying a visit that morning.
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 to a psychiatric hospital, 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 happiness.
Clarissa Dalloway, the fifty-one-year-old protagonist of the novel. She is the wife of Richard and mother of Elizabeth. She spends the day organizing a party that will be held that night while also reminiscing about the past. She is self-conscious about her role in London high society.
Richard Dalloway, disconnected and haughty husband of Clarissa. He is immersed in his work in government.
Elizabeth Dalloway, seventeen-year-old daughter of Clarissa and Richard. She is said to look "oriental" and has great composure. Compared to her mother, she takes great pleasure in politics and modern history, hoping to be either a doctor or farmer in the future. She would rather spend time in the country with her father than at her mother's party.
Septimus Warren Smith, a World War I veteran who suffers from "shell shock" and hallucinations of his deceased friend, Evans. Educated and decorated in the war, he is detached from society. He is married to Lucrezia from whom he has grown distant.
Lucrezia "Rezia" Smith, the Italian wife of Septimus. She is burdened by his mental illness and believes that she is judged because of it. During most of the novel she is homesick for family and country, which she left to marry Septimus after the Armistice.
Sally Seton, a love interest of Clarissa. She had a strained relationship with her family and spent much time with Clarissa's family in her youth. Sally is married to Lord Rosseter and has five boys. She can be described as feisty as well as a youthful ragamuffin.
Hugh Whitbread, the pompous friend of Clarissa. Like Clarissa, he places much importance on his place in society. He holds an unspecified position in the British Royal household. Although he believes himself to be an essential member of the British aristocracy, Lady Bruton, Clarissa, Richard, and Peter find him to be obnoxious.
Peter Walsh is an old friend of Clarissa. In the past, she rejected his marriage proposal. Now he has returned to England from India and is one of the guests at Clarissa's party. He plans to marry Daisy, a married woman in India; he has returned to try to arrange a divorce for her.
Sir William Bradshaw: Septimus is referred to the famous psychiatrist, Sir William Bradshaw, by his physician, Dr. Holmes. Bradshaw notes that Septimus has had a complete nervous breakdown and suggests spending time in the country as a cure.
Miss Kilman is Elizabeth's history teacher, who has a degree in history and was fired from a teaching job during the war. She has a German ancestry. She wears an unattractive mackintosh coat because she is not sufficiently interested in dressing to please others. She is a born-again Christian. She dislikes Clarissa intensely but she loves to spend time with Elizabeth.
In Mrs Dalloway, all of the action, aside from the flashbacks, takes place on a 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, freely alternating her mode of narration between omniscient description, indirect interior monologue, and soliloquy. The 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 considered one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century (though Woolf herself, writing in 1928, apparently denied this). In her essay "Modern Fiction," Woolf praised James Joyce's Ulysses, saying of the scene in the cemetery, "on a first reading at any rate, it is difficult not to acclaim a masterpiece." The Hogarth Press, run by her and her husband Leonard, had to turn down the chance to publish the novel in 1919, because of the obscenity law in England, as well as the practical issues regarding publishing such a substantial text.
Woolf laid out some of her literary goals with the characters of Mrs Dalloway while still working on the novel. A year before its publication, she gave a talk at Cambridge University called "Character in Fiction," revised and retitled later that year as "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown."
The novel has two main narrative lines involving two separate characters (Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Smith); within each narrative there is a particular time and place in the past that the main characters keep returning to in their minds. For Clarissa, the "continuous present" (Gertrude Stein's phrase) of her charmed youth at Bourton keeps intruding into her thoughts on this day in London. For Septimus, the "continuous present" of his time as a soldier during the Great War keeps intruding, especially in the form of Evans, his fallen comrade.
Mental illness 
Septimus, as the shell-shocked war hero, operates as a pointed criticism of the treatment of mental illness and depression. Woolf lashes out at the medical discourse through Septimus' decline and 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. Rezia remarks that Septimus "was not ill. Dr Holmes said there was nothing the matter with him."
Woolf goes beyond criticizing the treatment of mental illness. Using the characters of Clarissa and Rezia, she makes the argument that people can only interpret Septimus' shell-shock according to their cultural norms. Throughout the course of the novel Clarissa does not meet Septimus. Clarissa's reality is vastly different from that of Septimus; his presence in London is unknown to Clarissa until his death becomes idle chat at her party. By never having these characters met, Woolf is suggesting that mental illness can be contained to the individuals who suffer from it without others who remain unaffected ever having to witness it. This allows Woolf to weave her criticism of the treatment of the mentally ill with her larger argument, which is the criticism of society's class structure. Her use of Septimus as the stereotypically traumatized man from the war is her way of showing that there were still reminders of the First World War in 1923 London. These ripples affect Mrs. Dalloway and readers spanning generations. Shell shock or post traumatic stress disorder is an important addition to the early 20th century canon of post-war British Literature.
There are similarities in Septimus' condition to Woolf's 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 does). Woolf had also been treated for her condition at various asylums, from which her hatred of doctors developed. Woolf eventually committed suicide by drowning.
Woolf's original plan for her novel called for Clarissa to kill herself during her party. In this original version, Septimus (whom Woolf called Mrs. Dalloway's "double") did not appear at all.
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 characters' thoughts and perceptions, Woolf emphasizes the significance of private thoughts rather than concrete events in a person's life. Most of the plot in Mrs Dalloway is realizations that the characters subjectively make.
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 though she hears about it in the midst of the party.
As a commentary on inter-war society, Clarissa's character highlights the role of women as the proverbial "Angel in the House" and embodies sexual and economic repression and the narcissism of bourgeois women who have never known the hunger and insecurity of working women. 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.
Her old friend Sally Seton, whom Clarissa admires dearly, is remembered as a great independent woman: 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 given birth to 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 Sally "as men feel," but she does not recognize these feelings as signs of homosexuality.
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." The narrator describes Septimus and Evans behaving 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 shows the word's use in this period to describe homosexual relations. Kennard is one to note Septimus' "increasing revulsion at the idea of heterosexual sex," abstaining from sex with Rezia and feeling that "the business of copulation was filth to him before the end."
Film adaptation 
A film version of Mrs Dalloway was made in 1997 by Dutch 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. A more recent adaptation is The Hours, a film made in 2002 by Stephen Daldry starring Meryl Streep as Clarissa, Julianne Moore as Laura, and Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf. The screenplay for The Hours, written by David Hare, was based on the 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same title written by Michael Cunningham.
Auction Record 
On 1 October 2009, Swann Galleries auctioned a first edition in the scarce dust jacket of Mrs Dalloway, London, 1925, for $18,000—a record price for the book at auction.
Other appearances 
Mrs Dalloway also appears in Virginia Woolf's first novel, The Voyage Out, as well as five 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 Hours is a novel of 1998, and a film released in 2002, portraying Virginia Woolf while writing Mrs Dalloway, and its impact in women's lives in the 1950s and the present day.
- Whitworth, Michael H. (13 January 2005). Virginia Woolf (Authors in Context). Oxford University Press. p. 15. ISBN 9780191516566. Retrieved 14 May 2013.
- Grossman, Lev; Richard Lacayo (16 October 2005). "All-Time 100 Novels: The Complete List". Time.
- Woolf, Virginia (2009), Mrs Dalloway (print), Oxford University Press, p. 31, "She had just broken into her fifty-second year".
- Dowling, David (1991). Mrs Dalloway: Mapping Streams of Consciousness. Twayne Publishers. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-8057-9414-4.
- 1928 essay by Woolf
- Rainey, Lawrence S. Modernism: an anthology Wiley-Blackwell, 2005 at Google Books. Retrieved 2010-08-04
- ""Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown" - Modernism Lab Essays". Modernism.research.yale.edu. 2009-04-06. Retrieved 2012-08-17.
- Donald Childs, ENG3320: Modern British Literature, Winter 2008, University of Ottawa
- Woolf, Virginia. “Mrs Dalloway.” Oxford University Press. 2009. Print.
- Joyes, Kaley. "Failed Witnessing in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway." Woolf Studies Annual vol 14 (2008) pp. 69-87
- Guth, Deborah. "What A Lark! What a Plunge! Fiction as Self-Evasion in Mrs Dalloway." University of Tel Aviv 19-25.
- Lord, Catherine M. "The Frames of Septimus Smith: Through Twenty Four Hours in the City of Mrs. Dalloway, 1923, and of Millennial London: Art is a Shocking Experience." parallax 5.3 (1999): 36-46.
- "Virginia Woolf - Modernism Lab Essays". Modernism.research.yale.edu. Retrieved 2012-08-17.
- from Mrs Dalloway, Penguin Popular Classics 1996, page 36 OR Harcourt, Inc. (2005), Page 35
- 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.
- John Mepham (Kingston University) (2001-07-07). "Literary Encyclopedia | Mrs Dalloway". Litencyc.com. Retrieved 2012-08-17.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Virginia Woolf|
- Project Gutenberg Australia hosts a free eBook of Mrs. Dalloway; note that copyright may apply in countries other than Australia - Zip file, Text file, HTML file
- Mrs. Dalloway at the Polyglot Project
- Mrs. Dalloway e-book, in 105 pages, at "grabafreebie.com"
- Mrs Dalloway at the Internet Movie Database
- Analysis of Characters in Mrs Dalloway: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/dalloway/canalysis.html