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–First World War 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 addresses Clarissa's preparations for a party she will host that evening. With an interior perspective, the story travels forward 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 October 2005, Mrs Dalloway was included on Time's list of the 100 best English-language novels written since Time debuted in 1923
Mrs. Dalloway covers one day from morning to night in one woman's life. Clarissa Dalloway, an upper-class housewife, walks through her London neighborhood to prepare for the party she will host that evening. When she returns from flower shopping, an old suitor and friend, Peter Walsh, drops by her house unexpectedly.
Adeline Virginia Woolf (25 January 1882 – 28 March 1941) was an English writer, considered one of the most important modernist 20th-century authors and also a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device.
Woolf was born into an affluent household in South Kensington, London, the seventh child in a blended family of eight. Her mother, Julia Prinsep Jackson, celebrated as a Pre-Raphaelite artist's model, had three children from her first marriage, while Woolf's father, Leslie Stephen, a notable man of letters, had one previous daughter. The Stephens produced another four children, including the modernist painter Vanessa Bell. While the boys in the family received college educations, the girls were home-schooled in English classics and Victorian literature. An important influence in Virginia Woolf's early life was the summer home the family used in St Ives, Cornwall, where she first saw the Godrevy Lighthouse, which was to become central in her novel To the Lighthouse (1927).
Woolf's childhood came to an abrupt end in 1895 with the death of her mother and her first mental breakdown, followed two years later by the death of her half-sister and a mother figure to her, Stella Duckworth. From 1897 to 1901, she attended the Ladies' Department of King's College London, where she studied classics and history and came into contact with early reformers of women's higher education and the women's rights movement. Other important influences were her Cambridge-educated brothers and unfettered access to her father's vast library.
Encouraged by her father, Woolf began writing professionally in 1900. Her father's death in
1905 caused another mental breakdown for Woolf. Following his death, the Stephen family moved from Kensington to the more bohemian Bloomsbury, where they adopted a free-spirited lifestyle. It was in Bloomsbury where, in conjunction with the brothers' intellectual friends, they formed the artistic and literary Bloomsbury Group.
In the spring of 1924, Virginia Woolf, then in her 40s, gave a famous lecture, later published as the essay Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown, in which she declared that "we are trembling on the verge of one of the great ages of English literature". She might have been speaking about herself. In the next 15-odd years, before her suicide, Woolf would transform the English literary landscape forever. She would innovate (To the Lighthouse); she would flirt (Orlando); she would provoke (A Room of One's Own) and, privately, would dazzle herself and her friends with a stream of letters (and diaries), all of which reveal a writer's mind at full tilt.
Woolf is one of the giants of this series, and Mrs Dalloway, her fourth novel, is one of her greatest achievements, a book whose afterlife continues to inspire new generations of writers and readers. Like Ulysses (no 46 in this series), it takes place in the course of a single day, probably 13 June 1923. Unlike Joyce's masterpiece, Woolf's female protagonist is an upper-class English woman living in Westminster who is planning a party for her husband, a mid-level Tory politician.
As Clarissa Dalloway's day unfolds, in and around Mayfair, we discover that not only is she being treated in Harley Street for severe depression, a familiar subject to Woolf, but she also conceals a troubled past replete with unarticulated love and suggestions of lesbianism. Equally troubled is the novel's second main character, explicitly a "double", a Great War veteran who fought in France "to save an England which consisted almost entirely of Shakespeare's plays". Septimus Warren Smith is suffering from shell shock and is on his way to a consultation with Clarissa's psychiatrist. Mingled with the preparations for the party, the stream-of-consciousness exploration of Mrs Dalloway's inner state is broken by an irruption of senseless violence when Septimus, who is waiting to be taken to an asylum, throws himself out of a window. News of Septimus's suicide becomes a topic of conversation at Mrs Dalloway's party, where Woolf indicates Clarissa's deep sympathy for the dead man's suffering. The novel ends unresolved, but on a note of suspenseful menace. "What is this terror?" writes Woolf. "What is this ecstasy?" Her mature work would be devoted to exploring these questions.
A note on the text
Mrs Dalloway, published by the Hogarth Press with a striking Vanessa Bell dust jacket on 14 May 1925, was a novel that grew out of two previous short stories, Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street and The Prime Minister. The latter makes his appearance at the party at the end of the novel. Clarissa also appeared in Woolf's first novel, The Voyage Out, as well as in five of her short stories.
Mrs Dalloway's literary influence can be seen in Michael Cunningham's The Hours and perhaps also in Ian McEwan's novel Saturday, which takes place on a single day, 15 February 2003.
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