215. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf is an author I've heard of but have not read. Her books are on several Top 100 lists. When I chanced upon her book Mrs. Dalloway (Harcourt, 1925;197) I wasn't going to pass it by.

Mrs. Dalloway is a lifetime of events told over the period of a day through the point of view of Mrs. Dalloway as she goes about planning to hold a party for friends. The story was written in a very conversational manner, with repeated words and phrases for emphasis. The narrative takes place both within the minds of the characters and also outside of it so that we know what the other is think in addition to what is taking place externally. The third person limited narrative style combined with the omniscient voice was handled exquisitely so that transitions were very difficult to point out. Virginia Woolf zooms in on a character, describes him or her, talks about the person and then zooms out to include others and then before the reader is aware her lens is on another person. This is one way she handled her transitions. Sometimes the turning point also takes place in the conscious mind, where a character's thoughts could lead to the development of an entirely new character.

Virginia Woolf captures the thinking-mind as it goes through the day, the very things we think about, which usually isn't a smooth flow of thoughts like molten magma. She captures this on paper like no other, for how many of us always has complete control of the things that pass through our minds? As Mrs. Dalloway goes through the day she sees things that she has opinions of but which she doesn't voice out; but as the mind works on this, it leads to other events which leads to others in that circuitous path. 
Love and religion! thought Clarissa, going back into the drawing-room, tingling all over. How detestable, how detestable they are! For now that the body of Miss Kilman was not before her, it overwhelmed her - the idea.
Though there were repeated words or phrases for emphasis, there was also the economical use of words. It was as if Virginia Woolf wanted to teach the art of writing with this very book. Several amazing things exist in  it. As Clarissa Dalloway was preparing for her party, her past relationship with Peter Walsh was also playing on her mind; Peter who had failed in every aspect of love, Peter whom she rejected for Richard; and then suddenly Peter comes from India and into her drawing-room.

Then playing on the other end was the life of Septimus and his wife Lucrezia. Septimus is haunted by the death of his friend Evans during the European War and he could hear Evans talking to him. Septimus is almost like Clarissa's doppelganger. Each haunted by a series of thoughts but each choosing a different end. The power of Mrs. Dalloway is not in the plot but in the prose. Her use of punctuation is also unique.

In all it was an interesting read, though I almost missed this beauty due to lack of concentration for the long-sentences this book is fraught with. The conversational tone of the narrative is real and there is little dialogue. Another thing this book does is, it provides an insight into the lives of women of different social status and age groupings. Woolf understands the worries of Lucrezia, an Italian in London, the changes that took place in Sally Seton, the weird life of Kilman, and the arrogance of Lady Bradshaw and others.

If you enjoy beautiful prose, you'll enjoy Mrs. Dalloway.


  1. I have Mrs. Dalloway on my shelf. Your excellent review has whet my appritite.

  2. Good to see you writing about this - especially the point about Woolf's transitions, where she is a master. It is a highly original and complex book.

    1. Thanks Tom, from you this is a huge compliment.

  3. I studied it last year in English Lit, and since then, have been in love... Just the way Woolf captures the thought process of her characters to naturally and freely, is absolutely a pleasure to read. She is my inspiration. I recently wrote a post about Mrs D on my blog, if you are interested to read it, it is here: http://beautybehindapaneofglass.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/mrs-dalloway-you-have-made-me-see.html Thanks


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