Classic Corner: Mrs. Dalloway


Name: Mrs. Dalloway

Author: Virginia Woolf

Year: 1925

Genre: Psychological Fiction

Mrs. Dalloway is the short 1925 novel by Virginia Woolf that details the life of Mrs. Dalloway, a high society woman in 1920s London and is part of the series of short classic books that I planned to read in 2022.

The book’s plot is essentially a day in the life of Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway, a high society woman and housewife to Richard Dalloway, who is planning one of her lavish parties for the great and the powerful of London for that evening. The novel is written in a stream of consciousness style and occasionally switches between perspectives of characters she meets and what they are thinking and feeling as she goes about the days preparations.

The sunny day reminds her of her youth at Bourton and she is further surprised when she bumps into Peter Walsh, a man she knew was once in love with her before she chose to marry Richard and he then decided to runaway to India but has recently returned. Clarissa also remembers her friend Sally Seton and it is implied the two were in a relationship with Clarissa recalling kissing her as one of the most passionate moments in her life. 

She also mentions problems she is having with her daughter Elizabeth, she believes her daughters Governess, Miss Kilman, a born-again Christian is in lover with her daughter when in fact Elizabeth dislikes her mother and wants to forge her own path as a doctor or nurse. She also talks about regrets that she has in her life now that she is older and married to Richard.

Throughout the novel the characters also intersect with Septimus Warren Smith and his wife Rezia. Septimus is suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in World War One – hallucinating about a friend of his named Evans who died in the war and is implied to also have been in love with him. Though Rezia takes him to see a Dr. Holmes later that day he gets tired of people around him and commits suicide.

Sir William Bradshaw is a psychiatrist Holmes refers Septimus too and is one of the guests at Clarissa’s party and he recommends Septimus spends time in the countryside as a cure which is what drives him to suicide. 

It is at the party where Septimus’ story and Clarissa’s intertwine – the party itself is a success and Clarissa contemplates what Septimus did, eventually coming to admire the act and thinking it was the right thing for him to do to maintain his happiness.

In a similar way to The Old Man and The Sea, this was another of the books in my challenge I struggled to get into though there are some merits to this book that I did find interesting.

The book is one of the oldest I have read which actually contains pretty modern themes, especially around mental illness and homosexuality and it is fascinating to read something written about these in fiction at a time when the former was largely misunderstood and the latter still illegal in the UK (only being made legal 40 years later in 1967).

In my edition of the novel, it also contained a biography of Woolf’s life at the end and reading about her history of mental illness and breakdowns made it easy to understand what her inspiration was and actually made me reevaluate the book to give it a higher score than I was going to.

Woolf’s stream of consciousness style is also interesting and does help to make Clarissa feel like a real person and helps you understand her character, her feelings, her passions and also her regrets. In fact thematically this did make it similar to The Old Man and The Sea and the lavish parties hosted by Gatsby in The Great Gatsby. The intertwining characters in the story is also interesting from a thematic point of view in how each character touches another in the story, especially Septimus and Mrs. Dalloway who never meet in the novel yet their stories touch one another.

However the stream of consciousness style did have a problem for me in that it was hard to understand what was going on as Woolf often writes very long paragraphs about a very specific thought someone is having and sometimes I didn’t understand what was happening and some things I simply missed (the synopsis above I had to pull together from various websites).

Also the character switches are sometimes very jarring to the point where I forgot who characters were and then they would suddenly appear, or a new character would come up and I feel like I missed something.

Overall for it’s thematic points and as a character study it is interesting but I do find it quite hard to recommend as it was very difficult to follow for me.

If you have read this review and disagree with it then I would love to hear your thoughts! Let me know in the comments down below.

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2 thoughts on “Classic Corner: Mrs. Dalloway”

    1. Thank you and this was my first Virginia Woolf book as well though I’m not sure if I will read any more as I found some interesting parts but it was very hard to follow what was going on.

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