Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mrs. Dalloway

Wikipedia 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. 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.

Review:   "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”

   And so begins the eventful day of Clarissa Dalloway, a middle-aged, upper-class British wife in post-World War I England. It is the middle of June 1923, in Westminster England and Mrs. Dalloway is throwing a party. This is not Mrs. Dalloway’s first time as a hostess, but rather it is merely the most recent one in a life filled with celebrations.  Because what Mrs. Dalloway “liked was simply life.” "Her parties were “an offering. . . . . An offering for the sake of offering, perhaps. Anyhow, it was her gift.”

   The entire novel takes place during the course of this one particular and unusual day.  Because while Mrs. Dalloway performs the usual hostess preparations she encounters people who cause her to review her life.  Mrs. Dalloway is not upset with her choices, but rather is more reflective of the alternate roads she could have taken.  Also during the course of the day other characters are introduced whose lives tangentially intersect with Clarissa’s.  The most prominent of these being Septimus Warren Smith, a World War I veteran, who suffers from what was then known as “shell shock.”

   Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf was a structurally challenging read for me because there are no chapters and most of the action occurs in the characters’ thoughts. Still I persevered on, because the writing was rich and profound. Mrs. Dalloway Woolf touches on the big questions: death, religion, mental illness and the meaning of life.  I also enjoyed the symbolism throughout the novel. For example, when Mrs. Dalloway meets her first love, Peter Walsh, for the first time in decades they are both armed with sharp objects: she with her sewing scissors and he with his ever present pocketknife.  Try pondering that scene for awhile to see what it means.  Moreover, I really liked the heroine Clarissa Dalloway who was a no-nonsense woman who simply enjoyed life with no apologies.

   If you’re up for a challenging, reflective read then Mrs. Dalloway is a perfect tome!

 Review based on personal copy.


  1. I'm embarrassed that I haven't read it yet. Thanks for slogging through it.

  2. Kudos to you for reading this book - I'm not sure I would have stuck with it.

  3. I need to add this to my to-read list. Clarissa Dalloway sounds like a characters I would like.

  4. I think the structure would be challenging for me too. But it's good that you stuck with it and came away with positive thoughts.

  5. I really should read more classics and I do have a plan now. I started listening to Emma on audio and for me classics works better that way :) Plan ahoy

  6. I didn't realize Mrs. Dalloway was a one-day book. I haven't read much Woolf--much as I like her writing I find her exhausting--but I'm encouraged by your review.

    >I really liked the heroine Clarissa Dalloway who was a no-nonsense woman who simply enjoyed life with no apologies.

    I think I would like her too--good review!