Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf)

Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway depicts a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, an affluent housewife, as she plans to host a party that same evening. Throughout the course of one day, Woolf takes us through Clarissa’s various interactions with other characters, including Septimus Smith, Peter Walsh, and Richard Dalloway. While this subject matter might sound mundane, it emphasizes Woolf’s belief in writing about the “small” things rather than the big things. Woolf reveals the extraordinary within the ordinary.

Mrs. Dalloway seeks to unsettle the conventions of a realist novel by challenging its typical standards. Time and identity are fluid. This novel presents a strong example of the evolution of form and style within the modern novel. Mrs. Dalloway is also considered part of the “literature of aftermath.” Published in 1925, the war affects every aspect of Woolf’s characters. She tells narratives of trauma and survivorship, particularly in the character of Septimus. The text raises several questions. For instance, is there a burden associated with surviving and remembering war?

Woolf’s characteristic stream of consciousness is prevalent in this story. Readers get unmediated access to a character’s mind, which can be both unsettling but reassuring. The text is filled with digressive tendencies, and readers cannot predict where it’ll go next. Woolf achieves this through her inclusion of semicolons and ellipses.

In addition to stylistic elements, Woolf includes several motifs within Mrs. Dalloway. One prominent theme includes the past and present, specifically pre-war and post-war. We notice ideas of reconciliation and romanticizing. A notable moment in the novel is the claim that “the war is over.” Readers realize that the war is over for Mrs. Dalloway, but it certainly isn’t over for Septimus, a veteran. Quite significantly, Mrs. Dalloway displays themes of mental health, particularly the inadequate approaches to treatment in the 1920s.

Mrs. Dalloway is the perfect introduction to Woolf’s writing style. The novel is deliberately mundane, yet shocking in certain areas. Although the story depicts Mrs. Dalloway’s routine on the surface, it delves into topics of far greater significance.