Mrs. Dalloway

by Virginia Woolf

Hardcover, 1953





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


Depicts the events, thoughts, and actions of a single day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway.

User reviews

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 rainpebble
I loved this little book though I really feel like I didn't truly understand it very well and want to read it again rather soon. From about the 20th page in, I felt like I was reading poetry. I love how Ms. Woolf puts her words down on paper. Words that had no rhyme at all to them seemed, in my mind's eye, to rhyme. I would have loved to been able to see into Virginia Woolf's mind's eye. What a fascinating woman and what a fascinating book.
The book is very small and is about married couples; some here and some there. Some productive; some not so much. One gentleman is very depressed and I found his story very interesting. Also the way the doctors looked at his illness at that time. This is not an exact quote, but to be in the company of loved ones at a time like this is harmful to the patient. They need to spend months of time in bed away from home and just rest.
I think that Mrs. Dalloway is a very important HUGE little book and would love to hear what a lot of you have to say about it.
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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 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 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 lydiasbooks
Finally finished, after nearly two years. I'm not sorry I made the effort to read this, despite it not being my sort of thing. Woolf's writing style is unlike anyone else's, and I have developed my intellect by reading an act nobody can follow. The stream of consciousness technique is intriguing but I found it tiring to read - because it's so different from the usual things-happen way of things, maybe. For me, deciding to read a book like this is a commitment. A decision is taken to read, and not taken lightly. There are all sorts of lighter books I might have spent this time on instead, and although I alternated this reading journey with hundreds of other books, I continued it to its end. Thank you, Ms. Woolf.… (more)
LibraryThing member jasmyn9
I just couldn't finish this book. I made it up to just after page 100 and had to put it down. The only person I was able to enjoy was the crazy guy. I'll set it aside for now and perhaps take it up again later for another shot.

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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LibraryThing member hamlet61
I will certainly try again, but it is quite possible the most tedious book I have ever picked up
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
I haven't read Joyce's 'Ulysses' but I get the feeling that it spoiled a lot of modern literature for me; maybe it was a necessary evil to get us where we are today, but it also led to the creation of a lot of difficult, unenjoyable works, such as 'Mrs Dalloway'.

No, I didn't enjoy this novel, though I could see why people would think it a classic of the modernist years. The character of Septimus Smith was compelling, with his struggle against madness and war trauma; if he had been the main character I would have made more of the book. It has been left to the likes of Pat Barker to flesh out his tale. Mrs Dalloway herself is hardly of any interest, and I am rather glad that so much else went on in this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member tloeffler
A day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway. This is an interesting, stream-of-consciousness novel that reminded me a lot of James Joyce's "Ulysses" (only shorter). Clarissa is having a party that evening, and it begins in the morning with her going to buy the flowers. The story moves from place to place with her, and as she intersects with other characters, the point of view changes to the other characters. I did like the book, although I think I would have liked it better if I had the leisure to read it in one sitting. There are no chapter breaks, so every time I stopped reading, it was in the middle of something, and I had difficulty getting back to where I was. I am also of the opinion that Woolf used WAY too many semi-colons, and it became distracting to me. Still, it was interesting to see the characters' connections with each other flow as smoothly as they did.… (more)
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 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 catherinestead
In a corner of London, political wife Clarissa Dalloway plans and hosts a party. Meanwhile, her family, friends, acquaintances and neighbours are all going about their daily lives - some cheerfully, others in anguish.

Although I only gave this book a rating of 3/5, I didn't think it was a bad book. I think it is a Marmite kind of book - you either love it or hate it. I pretty much hated it - on pure personal enjoyment, I'd probably give it a 1/5 - but I did think that it was very well written. The realism of the characters and the lyricism of the prose is wonderful, and it's fascinating to see into the characters' every thought - but I really didn't get on with the stream of consciousness style in which the book is written. I didn't dislike the writing - many of the sentences were beautiful - but I could put it down very easily, and regularly felt bored. I could read a page, and at the end have no memory of what was in it. So it gets a rating of three on the basis that it is a piece of great writing but, subjectively, not necessarily great reading.… (more)
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 jeanphilli
Found this book very hard to read, very little plot. By the end I valued the writing much much more. Found Septimus, the poor soul suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, fascinating. Especially in how the mentally ill were treated.


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