Mrs. Dalloway

by Virginia Woolf

Hardcover, 1953




New York, Harcourt, Brace & World [1964, c1953]


Fear no more the heat of the sun.' Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf's fourth novel, offers the reader an impression of a single June day in London in 1923. Clarissa Dalloway, the wife of a Conservative member of parliament, is preparing to give an evening party, while the shell-shocked Septimus Warren Smith hears the birds in Regent's Park chattering in Greek. There seems to be nothing, except perhaps London, to link Clarissa and Septimus. She is middle-aged and prosperous, with a sheltered happy life behind her; Smith isyoung, poor, and driven to hatred of himself and the whole human race. Yet bo.

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LibraryThing member Cariola
It must be about 35-40 years since I first read Mrs. Dalloway. I reread it last week for a class that I'm teaching (classic novels paired with more contemporary ones inspired by the originals; we will start Michael Cunningham's The Hours next week). While I loved it the first time, it had an even more powerful effect on me now. It is, after all, a book about the passage of time--a single day, yes, but one that lapses into memories of years gone by and raises questions about the choices we make and the regrets that follow us down the years. Additionally, it demonstrates the dehumanizing effects of war on both the individual and a nation--a message we might do well to heed today.

My students, like some of the LT reviewers, were initially put off by the stream-of-consciousness narration that moves among characters major and minor. Obviously, this isn't a novel with a standard plot line or a lot of action. But Woolf's brilliance is in developing her characters through their internal monologues. Instead of being told how they think and feel, we experience it along with them following the same erratic process in which our own minds work. Added to this, she structures the plot not so much around events (after all, not much happens besides Clarissa preparing for and giving a party, and poor Septimus being driven to suicide) as around a series of carefully selected images, sounds, symbols, and motifs. The genius of Mrs. Dalloway is that it was a literary experiemnt in its day, one that exercises a student of literature's analytic skills; yet that takes nothing away from the experience of reading the novel, if one just gives in and gives up the usual expectations and flows along with Woolf. To me, it is a beautiful, timeless work. Its themes and its deep understanding of the human condition still resonate today.
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LibraryThing member Pummzie
If you are fascinated by internal monologues (indeed, if you spend half of your own life nattering away with yourself, as I do), you will feel very much at home reading Mrs Dalloway. This book is light on plot and light on dialogue. BUT what it has in spades, is a sense of London after the end of the First World War and a faithful rendering of how our minds tend to wander hither and thither -how we rarely complete our thoughts and are often unsure of how we feel about a person or a situation from one moment to the next.

Yes, it is an extended stream of consciousness - jumping in and out of the heads of various characters, some of which are connected by a fairly loose thread. For some this would be maddening, for me it was wonderful!

In case you are unfamiliar with its premise, the novel covers a single day on which Clarissa Dalloway is having a party. But the party is simply a structural device. What matters is what we learn of the leftovers of war, of the reflections of age, the follies of youth, of meanness of spirit and the pursuit of happiness.

i urge you to at least give it a go.
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LibraryThing member figre
About a year and a half ago I took my stab at James Joyce’s Ulysses. I couldn’t make it past 30 pages. I find this a fault in myself, not the book. I just don’t think I was in the frame of mind to take this on. However, after finishing Mrs. Dalloway…Maybe I just don’t like this kind of thing. (What scares me most is that the introduction indicated that Woolf was reading Ulysses “with great resistance.” According to the introductionist [yes, I just made that word up], this was because Woolf felt she was working with more subtlety. Someday, I’ll be able to make that comparison. But for now – this just doesn’t work for me.)

Welcome to a day in the life of Mrs. Dalloway (“I read the book today, oh boy.”) The introductionist states “With what pleasure we read the famous opening sentence…” If it starts with joy, it continues with tedium. Skipping the stylistic experiments, this just moves between different people, telling you a lot about them, but not making you care. Maybe there are beautifully lyrical passages – but they didn’t grab me. Maybe there is great use of short, repetitive sentences to drive home the point – but they just glared as unwieldy to me. Maybe this is a groundbreaking stylistic approach that broadens the mind and expands the….Nope – doesn’t work for me.

Look, it’s a nice enough story, and I could occasionally get engrossed in some of the tale. But overall, it is just too much minutia followed by “and-I-care-because-why” moments for the payoff of slight enjoyment to be worth it. (No pressure Mr. Joyce.)
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LibraryThing member jnwelch
Mrs. Dalloway is easily my favorite Virginia Woolf I've read so far. It all takes place on one June day in 1923, starting with 50ish Clarissa Dalloway preparing to give a party that night. An old unconventional flame, Peter Walsh, appears in town, and she reminisces about her younger life and her thirty year marriage to staid, reliable Richard Dalloway. She also remembers her passionate friendship with rebellious Sally Seton, with whom she shared a kiss. The second major storyline involves a shell-shocked WWI veteran, Septimus Smith, who has lost the ability to feel emotion, and is becoming delusional. There are many other well-drawn characters. Clarissa's party brings most of the principal characters together, and illuminates various dissatisfactions and shortcomings they have, even as the party seems to be a cacophonous success. Beautifully written, with skillful weaving of different time elements, and a bevy of characters the reader understands and develops strong feelings about. Reminded me a bit of Joyce's famous short story, "The Dead", but I liked this much more.… (more)
LibraryThing member kambrogi
I read [Mrs. Dalloway] as a companion to [The Hours], as the latter is a shout-out to the former. It is a slow and delicious read, a psychological novel that is purely character-driven and dense. It was especially interesting to read right after The Hours, as there is much overlap in character, plot and even language. It is a brilliant psychological work, and I am glad I read it, but would not recommend it to someone who is looking for a fast-paced reading experience.… (more)
LibraryThing member baswood
Just a few thoughts on one of my all-time favourite novels that I re-read for my book club meeting today. Ever since I saw the film "The Hours" I just can't get Meryl Streep out of my head as the perfect Mrs Dalloway, even though in the film she was Clarissa Vaughn a well to-do American Woman based in modern New York. It is because Streep has that amazing facility to suggest that an awful lot more is going on in her head than would appear to be from the actions she is performing, like when she is on her way to buy some flowers.

One of the stars of Woolf's Mrs Dalloway is London itself, especially for me because I used to work in the Westminster district where Clarissa Dalloway set out to buy those flowers and I could so easily imagine the sights and sounds as she walked through St James' Park. The passage in the novel where Woolf flits inside the heads of her characters as they pass unknowingly by in the Park is a superb example of the stream of conscious technique. This is one of my all-time favourite sequences and it was a joy to read it again.

I have been reading H G Wells early novels and stories recently, written at the turn of the century and the difference in writing styles between them and Woolf's novel written in the 1920's is immense. Books that seem worlds apart.

Mrs Dalloway is a short novel it could almost be a novella and yet it can be a tricky read, because it is not always clear where or in whose head the story is taking place, however I think there is enough here to delight even the first time reader, not familiar with the modernist style (of which Woolf was one of the leading exponents). If ever a novel deserved five stars it is this one, I'm already looking forward to my next re-read.
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LibraryThing member RavRita
This is an excellent book when you read it the first time. A much harder book to pace along with when you are reading it the third time. I already know what happens in the end so I as a return reader, I am trying to unfairly rush Mrs. Dalloway through her day the same as I tried to rush through the book.

If you are looking for a Summer book and have never read it before - this is the one that will leave you thinking about your own pace of life, loves lost and loves untested.… (more)
LibraryThing member brianinbuffalo
I realize this borders on blasphemy, but I found this book tedious and easily forgettable. I was inclined to give it an even lower rating, but I feared there might be some law in Literary Land that bars a "1 star" rating for any work by Virginia Woolf :)
LibraryThing member bookworm_naida
First off, I need to start by saying that my review could not possibly do justice to Mrs Dalloway. This was both a complex and beautiful novel.
I've been meaning to read Virginia Woolf for quite a while now since I am particular to the classics. I didn't know what to expect when I picked up this book, but what I found here was a poetic and lyrical read.

The book is told by an invisible narrator and as you read you get a glimpse into the thoughts of the characters within the story. It is a story about old regrets and old dreams. There are no chapter breaks and the book is a series of free flowing thoughts from one character to the next.
The writing is disjointed, and though it was a short book, it's not one that can be read quickly.

In Mrs Dalloway, we get a glimpse into a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a middle-aged society woman, as she plans a party. The book takes place in June during post-World War I England.

As Clarissa prepares for her party that will take place that night, she has flashbacks and memories of her past. She remembers her love affair with a woman named Sally. Her ex-beau Peter Walsh stops in for a visit and tells Clarissa he is in love with a married woman. She finds herself sad at this confession and wonders what would have been if she had married Peter herself. Peter is actually still in love with Clarissa and has many regrets about losing her.

Another character in the story is Septimus Warren Smith, who is a severely depressed veteran and is contemplating suicide. Although Clarissa never meets him, he is a main character in the book and his depression is taking over his life. I did feel bad for Septimus and Woolf does an excellent job at getting the reader into his head, to really see what his illness makes him feel like. His thoughts are frightening and sad.

I found him the most touching character in the story, I felt bad for Septimus. I think sadly enough, Woolf may have written a manic depressive so well, since she suffered from mental illness and ultimately committed suicide herself.

The story all comes together in the end at Clarissa's party, where friends from her past and as well as her present are gathered at her home.

I have to mention, the final lines in this book are among my favorite of any book I've read.

Like I said, I really enjoyed Woolf's style of writing. I think Mrs Dalloway is a book to be read slowly and to be savored. I bought this book at a library sale for about 25cents. Don't you love when you find gems like that?
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LibraryThing member xicanti
MRS DALLOWAY is a stream-of-consciousness look at one day in the life of a society matron and the people she comes into contact with. While Clarissa Dalloway is at the centre, Woolf devotes equal care to those who surround her. The point of view flits from character to character with the speed of thought, and the result is a beautiful, unconventional novel in which plot takes a backseat to character development.

I adore good characterization, and Woolf's is lovely. She gives us a real feel for who each of these people is as she invites us to ride around inside their heads and view the world through their eyes. Over a very short period of time, we learn a great deal about each and every one of them. And we don't just see how they view themselves; Woolf also shows us how those around them perceive them. I'll tell you up front, I'm an absolute sucker for anything that invites me to consider its characters in this way. The contrast between each character's view of herself and the way others see her is one of the novel's strongest qualities.

The prose is equally good. Even though Woolf deals with the minutia of everyday life, I found the story strange and dreamlike. I think this is due, in large part, to the sudden shifts in POV. One moment, we're hard into Clarissa's perspective; the next, we're deep in Peter Walsh's mind. From him, we jump to someone else... and then to someone else again... and again... and again... Even though the story is grounded in reality, the storytelling makes it feel as though it isn't. It's nicely done.

It does, however, make the book a bit difficult to sink into, especially if you've put it down for a while. I had some troubles in that area, and occasionally found that I just couldn't go back to it. I'd read a few lines and decide I needed another break. It's for this reason, more than anything else, that I've decided to pass it along to someone else. I enjoyed it, and I think I'll likely want to read it again, but I doubt I'll return to it any time soon. And when I do, I'm sure there'll be an obliging library or book market ready and waiting to provide me with another copy.

(A slightly different version of this review originally appeared on my blog, Stella Matutina).
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
2010, Naxos Audiobooks, Read by Juliet Stevenson

I read Night and Day several months ago, quite enjoyed it, and wanted to follow it with another of Woolf’s novels. I chose Mrs. Dalloway because it is the best known and most widely acclaimed. Juliet Stevenson, narrator of this Naxos Audiobook edition, is fabulous – an exquisite reader.

Mrs. Dalloway is the story of a day in June 1923, as lived by Clarissa Dalloway and several other London citizens. The eponymous protagonist is a wealthy, middle-aged socialite who is planning an evening party. Running parallel to Clarissa’s story is the story of Septimus Warren Smith, a shell-shocked veteran of WWI; he is withdrawn, delusional, possibly on the brink of madness. The two stories intersect at the conclusion of the novel. Themes in Mrs. Dalloway include existentialism, madness, loneliness, and fear of death.

The entirely of the novel is written in stream of consciousness, which for me is both its strength and its atrophy. Woolf’s prose is beautiful, and I can appreciate her genius in fusing third person omniscient point of view with first person interior monologue; but I do not enjoy this style of writing. Fleeting transitions between characters make the prose difficult to follow, and there are no breaks in the writing, chapter or otherwise. The audiobook consisted of one track of over seven hours. In addition, the novel has no discernible plot; it explores its various themes through the musings and meanderings of characters’ thoughts. And, truthfully, I did not find any of the characters particularly likeable. Septimus Warren Smith promises to be at least relatable, but even he is somehow blank.

I much preferred Night and Day to this later novel; the characters were decidedly more likeable and relatable, and the plot of the novel had some structure. I can appreciate Mrs. Dalloway but will not reread. I also do not widely recommend the novel, but I do recommend it to those who read strictly to observe literary form and genre.
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LibraryThing member MarysGirl
A tour de force! Although the stories and lives are ordinary, the telling was revolutionary at the time. Woolf weaves the storyline through a number of people as they meet, interact and move on. She's inside the head of one character and passes effortlessly into the next as they shake hands or inhabit the same park. Her insight into the human condition from the wasted life of a society matron to the blasted one of a WWI vet is stunning. Highly recommend this one.… (more)
LibraryThing member Smiler69
All the action within this novel takes place during one day and evening as Mrs Clarissa Dalloway, an upper class woman, is first preparing for, then throws a party in the evening. While still at home before she sets out to run her errands, she is visited by Peter Walsh, a man she's known since she was a young girl and who once asked her to marry him. For the whole of the novel, we wander from one stream of thoughts to another, with Clarissa's mind wandering from the moment's happenings and backwards into the past, then without preamble we are following Peter's thoughts, then Clarissa's husband and so on, with the author's focus wandering between every person encountered in the novel. Clarissa thinks about the life choices she has made. Peter has just come back from India and is seeking a divorce from his wife now that he has fallen in love with a much younger married woman. Clarissa's husband has bought her flowers and intends to tell her he loves her, something he presumably hasn't said in a very long time. There is Doris Kilman, the teacher of Clarissa's daughter Elizabeth, who, while she venerates the young girl to a degree that borders on desire (or as much desire as a religious fanatic will make allowances for), despises her mother Clarissa for all she stands for as a society woman living a life of ease and luxury. We meet Septimus Warren Smith, sitting in the park with his wife; he is a war veteran suffering from a very bad case of shell-shock who is being treated for suicidal depression. His wife is concerned because he talks to himself and to his deceased army friend Evans, who may have been much more than just a buddy, and together they are waiting to meet a psychiatrist who will suggest a course of treatment for the young man.

I had a couple of false stars with this book over the years, never making it past the first couple of pages, and must say one needs to be in the right frame of mind to fully appreciate this short, yet very profound novel. Having just finished reading A Room of One's Own I found myself in the right mood for more of Woolf's deep reflections on life and how we are affected by circumstances and the people we are surrounded by, whether by choice or happenstance. Once one gets accustomed to the flow of words, which doesn't follow a traditional narrative style with chapters and commentary, but pours forth in an organic way meant to mimic a real-life experience, one is transported by the portraits Woolf paints of these people, whom we get to know from the inside out, as opposed to the other way round. Because of this, there is a timeless quality to this novel, even though the events it alludes to are very much fixed in the London of the 1920s.
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LibraryThing member pennwriter
Woolf goes deep-sea diving into the depths of human character. What is REALLY going on in people's minds? She brings back treasure unlike any I have ever seen.But this book is difficult. The floating points of view, the sentences that must be read VERY carefully, the absence of chapter breaks -- all added up to a serious amount of work for the reader. At times I did not feel up to it, especially at the end of the day.… (more)
LibraryThing member jddunn
Dense and foreboding. Some of the best and most subtle writing about the social and the melancholic that I've yet seen. A chronicle of the small things we do to build bulwarks against time, death and despair, and of how sometimes they're not enough.
LibraryThing member queencersei
Mrs. Dalloway relates the day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, an English high-society matron during post-World War I. The novel deftly weaves together snippets of several characters in a stream of consciousness style as Mrs. Dalloway prepares for a party she is hosting that evening. Some of the characters who flit in and out include Clarissa's old flame Peter Walsh. Peter was jilted by Clarissa in their youth. He had moved to India to pursue a career and several failed love affairs and seems out of step with his peers. Septimus Smith is a WW I veteran suffering from shell shock, who is cared for by his Italian wife Rezia. Elizabeth is Clarissa's 17 year old daughter, who seems destined to follow her mother's footsteps, despite not being all that interested in society. Sally Seton is an old friend of Clarissa's who she may have had a lesbian affair with in their youth.

Despite several of the characters coming from vastly different backgrounds and some of them never even meeting Mrs. Dalloway, the author does a very good job of knitting these differing points of view together in a coherent and intelligent way.
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LibraryThing member hamlet61
I will certainly try again, but it is quite possible the most tedious book I have ever picked up
LibraryThing member TheWasp
Mrs Dalloway is wealthy, happy and over 50. Her husband is well connected. The book relates the events of a day in her life, a day where a party is planned. We meet the people whose lives come in contact with hers, directly or indirectly and we learn about them, from them.
Virginia Woolfs writing is fluid and you need to pay attention as she moves between characters. The further I read the more I was able to appreciate the art in the book.… (more)
LibraryThing member jedisluzer
Hard to get into at first because I thought I hated the style, but this is one of those books where by the end I was floored.
LibraryThing member mattviews
Out of a gnawing curiosity after reading The Hours, I found my way to Mrs. Dalloway. The novel unfolds over one sultry day in London as Clarissa Dalloway is preparing for a party she will give in the evening. Smith has battled against mental illness from his experiences in World War II. Clarissa kicks off the day buying flowers for the party. As the day unravels, narration begins to shift to different characters. Clarissa reminisces of her entangled love relationships at Bourton. During her earlier years, Clarissa caught herself between her fiancé, Peter Walsh, her sensual female friend Sally Seton, and her husband Richard Dalloway. Much to Clarissa's surprise (as well as mine) is when all these old-time lovers reunion at the evening party in the presence of the Prime Minister. Peter Walsh shows up at Clarissa's doorstep right before the party after running off to India for some 25 years. The voluptuous Sally Seton also makes her entrance as Lady Rosseter. Present among the London elite are Sir Septimus Warren Smith and his wife. Smith has struggled with mental illness from his experiences of World War I. Incidents that lead to convergence of these characters is what makes the book a legacy (you have to read and find out).
The book overall does not manifest a structure. Virginia Woolf has told the story through the multiple point of views from the different characters. The book also explores the hidden thoughts, feelings, and actions and relies on which to tell the story. At the end the story is seamlessly woven together with the party being the meeting points of all her characters. The pleasure of reading this book stems from seeing how these characters have gone their own separate and unpredictable ways, headed off in their own directions, pinned by memory, and cross path again at the evening party. If you find reading The Hours somewhat confusing, Mrs. Dalloway is even more so, between the shifts of characters. For a tiny book Woolf has written prose that is packed with figurative language, poetic expressions, vivid details and provocative tones. The sensual affair between Clarissa and Sally is hinted at in a stifling manner. Michael Cunningham graciously makes that affair come into fruition by putting Clarissa and Sally in the same bedroom in The Hours. The book is simple in plot, but rich in language. That is, certain level of attentiveness is required for reading. I'm convinced that Michael Cunningham must have inherited Woolf's idiosyncratic language and long sentences! And I think this is what many fellow reviewers refer as the "stream-of-consciousness" approach. But don't let that the big term turn you off and miss this great novel. A crafted work.
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LibraryThing member stacey2112
4.5 difficult to read much at a sitting, for me, because it's so much like an exploded poem (peppered with parentheses & enormous run-on sentences...sort of like this review!) but incredibly beautiful due to the same poetic handling - felt almost T.S. Eliot-esque to me in fact, & no one handles language like that man! Enough moments of soul-stabbing poignancy to give it more than a 4. Absolutely lovely, all in all.… (more)
LibraryThing member dreamingtereza
One of the most perfectly written works I've encountered. Exquisite!
LibraryThing member littlebookworm
I'd love to study this novel. There is so much depth to it. Virginia Woolf delves deep into the human psyche, interconnecting all of her characters in meaningful ways. The novel may only take place over a day, but at the same time it expresses the lives of all the characters and just how they got there. And somehow, the ending swept me away; I doubt it would a normal person, but I felt it. Essentially nothing happens throughout the novel, so if you're looking for that, stay away, but for someone like me who loves atmosphere, humanity, strong themes, this is a must.… (more)
LibraryThing member joshrothman
Obviously one of the greatest novels of the 20th c. If, like me, you haven't read this in a while, it rewards repeated readings as few other short novels do.
LibraryThing member strandbooks
This was the second time I read Mrs. Dalloway. It took longer for me to get into it. The first time I read it I was immersed in my college lit classes so I think it was harder to read the stream of conciousness. I still rate this as one of the top books I've ever read. Yes, it all happens in one day, and there isn't much plot but that is not the purpose of Woolf's works. I feel that she really captures the way we think.

The two central themes I found involved the web imagery that connect us all and that we really are unable to know anyone. When I read it in college I did a whole paper just on time in the novel and how the characters dealt with time/aging. There is so much in this novel. I'm sure if I read it again in 10 years I'll focus on something else.
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