Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

 Mrs Dalloway cover

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf was first published in 1925 and I never really intended to read it as I’m not a big fan of the stream of consciousness style of writing, but surprisingly I did like it. A friend had had to study it for her degree and she loaned me her copy of the book, however it wasn’t to her taste at all.

The story takes place within one day when Mrs Dalloway (Clarissa), who is an upper-class middle aged woman married to a politician and living in London, is busy getting ready to host a party in her home, it’s just a few years after the end of World War 1.

Clarissa loves walking around Westminster, it’s a lovely day which reminds her of being at Bourton, her childhood home and as she goes to buy flowers for her party her mind wanders back to those days and her past lover Peter Walsh whom she had refused to marry. She thought he would be coming back from India soon, retired. He had had so many plans but in the end had done nothing much with his life. Surprisingly when Clarissa gets back home Peter Walsh is waiting for her. It’s not a successful meeting, Clarissa was obviously correct to turn him down. On the other hand, Peter had always said that Clarissa would be a wonderful society hostess and she seems to have fulfilled that expectation, but perhaps it’s Clarissa’s talents in that direction that have contributed to her husband’s success as a Member of Parliament.

The focus switches to Septimus Warren Smith and his wife Rezia. They’re in London to visit a well known doctor, Sir William Bradshaw. Septimus is suffering from shell-shock due to his wartime experiences and Rezia is hopeful that he can be cured. Their own doctor keeps saying that there is nothing wrong with Septimus, but his behaviour alarms his wife and the servant and Septimus shouts for his dead friend Evans and has conversations with him. It’s not going to end well.

It’s an odd book to write about, but I did enjoy it, unexpectedly, and the party? Well, in the end it was a success of course.

8 thoughts on “Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

  1. I’m a fan of Mrs Dalloway and have read it several times. Each time I get something new out of it. This summer I re-read it, newly aware that Clarissa, as she prepares for her party, is not long recovered from Spanish Flu. Interesting strand in the light of our own pandemic. It isn’t laboured in the book because readers at the time would have been very aware of their pandemic, just as we are of ours. I wonder what literature will arise from 2020?

    • Sandra,
      Yes I realised it must have been the Spanish flu she had had, there seem to have been so many mentions of pandemics and plagues in lots of books I’ve picked up and on TV. It’ll be interesting to see what has been written during the periods of lockdown. I suppose some will be about the experience of lockdown and others will be far from that and veer towards fantasy or exotic travel – anything to get away from the reality of the pandemic!

  2. I’m not a fan of stream of consciousness either and I didn’t get on very well with To the Lighthouse. I’m not sure if I would like this one any better, but you’ve made me think it might be worth giving it a try.

  3. I don’t know much at all about Mrs. Dalloway, thus did not know that it was stream of conciousness style, which does not sound appealing. But since you say you liked it anyway, I will keep it in mind for some day.

    • tracybham,
      I believe it is mentioned by Hugh Grant in the film Bridget Jones – or maybe it was Love Actually and at the time I thought, I really should read it. If you ever fall across a copy of it it would be worth giving it a go.

  4. Hi Katrina,
    Years ago, I struggled with the book Mrs Dalloway, and then found the film, made in 1997, starring Vanessa Redgrave as Clarissa (and Natascha McElhone as the young Clarissa). I thought it captured a lot of the early post WW1 ambience. I re-watch it every couple of years. Vanessa has become Clarissa for me.

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