Mrs Dalloway | Sunday Observer

Mrs Dalloway

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf revolves around a day in the life of a middle aged woman named Clarissa Dalloway who is preparing to host a party that evening. The novel is set in post First World War London, England in the early 1920s.

The novel begins with a description of Clarissa going out to buy flowers for her party, and while walking Clarissa has a flashback about her childhood in the country in Bourton. This flashback is a feature of the stream of consciousness narrative technique employed by Woolf in the novel, which is also explored by James Joyce in his novels such as Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.

The stream of consciousness technique explores the inner thoughts of the mind of an individual and moves back and forth in time and memory.

Clarissa reflects on her marriage to Richard Dalloway who is a respected civil servant, and her refusal of Peter Walsh's marriage proposal. Clarissa and Richard have one child, a daughter named Elizabeth. Clarissa and Richard are not unhappily married but their marriage is rather frigid and lacks a strong emotional bond. Clarissa refers to this distance between herself and Richard as the ‘privacy of the soul’. Clarissa is incapable of forming strong emotional attachments, perhaps due to a bad childhood experience in her past which causes her to be cold and frigid.

The novel has autobiographical elements of Woolf’s own childhood and life. Virginia and her elder sister Vanessa were victims of incest who were sexually abused by their two elder half brothers George and Gerald Duckworth, which could perhaps explain Virginia’s frigidity and Vanessa’s promiscuity.

The parallel plot focuses on Septimus Warren Smith, a former soldier in the First World War who is suffering from shell shock and has hallucinations and eventually commits suicide. Septimus is thought by critics to be Clarissa’s alter ego.

Woolf deliberately leaves the novel open ended which invites readers to form many perspectives.

Reviewed by Hannah William