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Mrs Dalloway (1925) is a novel by Virginia Woolf detailing one day in protagonist Clarissa Dalloway's life in post-World War I England.
The novel follows Clarissa Dalloway throughout a single day in post-Great War England in a stream of consciousness style narrative. Constructed out of two short stories that Woolf had previously written ("Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street" and her unfinished "The Prime Minister") the basic story is that of Clarissa's preparations for a party she is to host that evening. Using the interior perspective of the novel, Woolf moves back and forth in time, and in and out of the various characters' minds to construct a complete image, not of just Clarissa's life, but of inter-war social structure.
Because of structural and stylistic similarities, Mrs Dalloway is commonly thought to be a response to James Joyce's Ulysses, a text that is commonly hailed as one of the greatest novels of the Twentieth Century. Woolf herself derided Joyce's masterpiece, even though Hogarth Press, run by her and her husband Leonard, initially published the novel in England. Fundamentally, however, Mrs Dalloway treads new ground and seeks to portray a different aspect of the human experience.
Mrs Dalloway is possibly Woolf's most well-known novel, owing in part to the recent popularization by Michael Cunningham's novel, The Hours, and Stephen Daldry's movie of the same name.
A film version of Mrs Dalloway was made in 1997 by Dutch feminist film director Marleen Gorris. It was adapted from Woolf's novel by British actress Eileen Atkins and starred Vanessa Redgrave in the title role. The cast included Natascha McElhone, Rupert Graves, Michael Kitchen, Alan Cox, and Sarah Badel.
The novel itself is preoccupied with a number of issues. Foremost are certainly, feminism and madness, in the paired characters of Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith. As a commentary on inter-war society, Clarissa's character highlights the role of women as the proverbial "Angel in the House" and embodies both sexual and economic repression. Septimus, as the shell-shocked war hero, operates as a pointed criticism of the treatment of insanity and depression. Woolf lashes out at the medical discourse through Septimus's decline and ultimate suicide. Similarities in Septimus's condition to Woolf's own struggles with manic depression (they both hallucinate that birds sing in Greek, and Woolf once attempted to throw herself out a window as Septimus finally does) lead many to read a strongly auto-biographical aspect into Septimus's character. Ultimately, though, the novel serves as commentary on a wide array of issues, from colonialism (in Peter Walsh), commercialism, and medicine to feminism, sexuality (Sally Seton), and politics.
Adopting the plot device used by James Joyce in Ulysses, the narrative present of Mrs Dalloway is patterned as the sequence of a single day in June. The novel opens conventionally enough with the sentence, 'Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself' (3). This is the exterior event, to borrow Eric Auerbach's terminology in his famous essay on Woolf, 'The Brown Stocking' (first published in 1946) which presents her as a modernist writer, par excellence, in that it that mobilises the story to follow. What follows, however, is a plunge into Clarissa Dalloway's past and into her memories of the open air at Bourton where she spent her adolescence long before she became Mrs Dalloway. Her recollection of that time leads her to think of Peter Walsh as he was then: she recalls his words 'Musing among the vegetables?', or something like that, she can't be exact. But she also thinks of him in the present: 'He would be back from India one of these days, June or July, she forgot which' (2-3). A paragraph later, she is back on the kerb, waiting for Durtnall's van to pass so that she can cross the road to go and buy the flowers. It is already apparent from these opening paragraphs that the past is intimately involved with the present. The past is not just background to the present, it becomes a part of it by virtue of Clarissa's association of the freshness of the June morning with Bourton and Peter. The fluidity of movement between past and present, which softens and blurs the lines of their traditional opposition, is emphasised by the equal vagueness of Clarissa's recall of Peters's words spoken at Bourton: 'Musing among the vegetables?'--was that it?--I prefer men to cauliflowers'--was that it?' and her indecision over the month of his return from India, 'June or July, she forgot which'.
- Project Gutenberg Australia hosts a free eBook of Mrs. Dalloway; note that copyright may apply in countries other than Australia - Zip file, Text file, HTML file
- Mrs. Dalloway at the Internet Movie Database