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Virginia Woolf: Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway has left her mark on subsequent literature. Two interesting and direct homages are Robin Lippincott’s Mr. Dalloway and Michael Cunningham‘s Hours. This is indicative of the impact this novel has had and how important it is in the history of English literature. It is one of the earlier stream of consciousness novels and simply gives an impressionistic account of one day in the life of a woman – Clarissa Dalloway. Though Mrs. Dalloway is the key character and a lot of what we see and hear is seen and heard through her, Woolf brings in the thoughts and feelings of others – her husband, her friends/lovers, her daughter, the shell-shocked soldier, Septimus Smith. At times these characters are clearly delineated; at others, they seem to merge into one another and it is not always clear who is speaking/thinking/musing.

But this novel is also a feminist novel, in that it seeks to show that, despite the fact that Clarissa Dalloway, as the title so clearly implies, is seen by many as a wife and mother, and only those two roles, and, despite the fact that she carries out these two functions during the course of the book, she also has other, equally important roles. She has friends, lovers (past and, maybe, present); more importantly she has an imagination and an intellect which she can and does use to the full. In her role as a wife and mother, she clearly feels repressed by the social conventions that make up her life and, as Woolf herself will do, sees the suicide of Septimus Smith as one possible way out of these conventions.

Sadly, too many readers reading this novel have said that they are unable to comprehend why it has the reputation it does and have brushed it off. Its apparent simplicity conceals what remains a major achievement – a novel that explores new forms and creates a wonderful impressionistic portrayal of a woman’s life while, at the same time, validating that woman as a woman.

Publishing history

First published in 1925 by Hogarth Press