Mrs. Dalloway (Woolf)

Mrs. Dalloway 
Virginia Woolf, 1925
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
216 pp
ISBN-13: 9780156628709



Summary 
Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway is the inspiration for Michael Cunningham's
The Hours, the award-winning novel and Oscar-nominated film.

A 1925 landmark of modernist fiction that follows an the wife of an MP around London as she prepares for her party that afternoon.

Direct and vivid in its telling of details, the novel shifts from the consciousness of Clarissa Dalloway to that of others, including a shell-shocked veteran of World War I whose destiny briefly intersects with hers.

The feelings that loom behind such mundane events as buying flowers—the social alliances, the exchanges with shopkeepers, the fact of death—give Mrs. Dalloway its texture and richness.

Heralded as Virginia Woolf's greatest novel, this is a vivid portrait of a single day in a woman's life. When we meet her, Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway is preoccupied with the last-minute details of party preparation while in her mind she is something much more than a perfect society hostess.

As she readies her house, she is flooded with remembrances of faraway times. And, met with the realities of the present, Clarissa reexamines the choices that brought her there, hesitantly looking ahead to the unfamiliar work of growing old. (From Houghton Mifflin Harcourt edition, cover image, top right.)



Author Bio 
Birth—January 25, 1882 
Where—London, England, UK 
Death—March 28, 1941
Where—near Lewes, East Sussex, England
Education—home schooling and studies at Cambridge


Born in 1882, the daughter of Julia Jackson Duckworth and Victorian scholar Sir Leslie Stephen, Virginia Stephen settled in 46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, in 1904. This house would become the first meeting place of the now-famous Bloomsbury Group—writers, artists, and intellectuals such as E. M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, and Lytton Strachey who, along with Virginia and her sister Vanessa, shared an intense belief in the importance of the arts and a skepticism regarding their society's conventions and restraints.

Woolf's first novel, The Voyage Out, appeared in 1915 and was followed by Night and Day (1919), Jacob's Room (1922), Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928), The Waves (1931), and The Years (1937).

Woolf is also admired for her contributions to literary criticism in general and to feminist criticism in particular, with A Room of One's Own (1929) and Three Guineas (1937) reflecting the full range of her intellectual vigor, insight, and compassion for the role cast for female artists in the modern world. Additionally, Woolf s diary and correspondence, published posthumously, provide an invaluable window into her world offer-flung relationships and interests, imaginative depth, and creative method.

The victim of a lifetime of mental illness, Woolf committed suicide in 1941. She left behind her a literary legacy, including The Hogarth Press, established with Leonard in 1917, which published not only Woolf's own work but that of an increasingly influential group of innovative writers—including T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, and Katherine Mansfield.

More
Virginia Stephen married writer Leonard Woolf in 1912, referring to him during their engagement as a "penniless Jew." The couple shared a close bond; in 1937, Woolf wrote in her diary: "Love-making—after 25 years can’t bear to be separate.... You see it is enormous pleasure being wanted: a wife. And our marriage so complete." The two also collaborated professionally, in 1917 founding the Hogarth Press, which subsequently published Virginia's novels along with works by T.S. Eliot, Laurens van der Post, and others.

The ethos of the Bloomsbury group discouraged sexual exclusivity, and in 1922, Virginia met the writer and gardener Vita Sackville-West, wife of Harold Nicolson. After a tentative start, they began a sexual relationship that lasted through most of the 1920s. In 1928, Woolf presented Sackville-West with Orlando, a fantastical biography in which the eponymous hero's life spans three centuries and both genders. It has been called by Nigel Nicolson, Vita Sackville-West's son, "the longest and most charming love letter in literature."

After their affair ended, the two women remained friends until Woolf's death in 1941. Virginia Woolf also remained close to her surviving siblings, Adrian and Vanessa; Thoby had died of an illness at the age of 26.

After completing the manuscript of her last (posthumously published) novel, Between the Acts, Woolf fell victim to a depression similar to that which she had earlier experienced. The onset of World War II, the destruction of her London home during the Blitz, and the cool reception given to her biography of her late friend Roger Fry all worsened her condition until she was unable to work.

On 28 March 1941, Woolf committed suicide. She put on her overcoat, filled its pockets with stones, then walked into the River Ouse near her home and drowned herself. Woolf's body was not found until 18 April. Her husband buried her cremated remains under a tree in the garden of their house in Rodmell, Sussex. In her last note to her husband she wrote:

I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier 'til this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that—everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been. (Author bio from Wikipedia and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.)



Book Reviews 
Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? A lot of us. Despite her fragile elegance, Woolf is no quaint Edwardian. She's very much of the 20th-century: a writer who can be ferociously intellectual and sometimes downright intimidating.

Fortunately, we don't have to be all that intimidated by Mrs. Dalloway. On one level, it is accessible as a novel about class, unrequited love, and madness. On another level, though, the book is a more adventuresome read.
LitLovers LitPick - Oct. 2006


One day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a June day in London, punctuated accurately, impersonally, unfeelingly, by the chimes of Big Ben and a fashionable party to end it, is the complete story of Mrs. Woolf's new novel, Mrs. Dalloway, yet she contrives to enmesh all the inflections of Mrs. Dalloway's personality, and many of the implications of modern civilization in the account of those twenty-four hours.... Virginia Woolf stands as the chief figure of modernism in England and must be included with Joyce and Proust in the realization of experiments that have completely broken with tradition.
John W. Crawford - New York Times (5/10/1925)


Most of my reading is rereading. Last night I opened Mrs. Dalloway to look up something (I thought I remembered a reference to Wagner, whom I've been thinking a lot about lately) and started to read and couldn't stop. I read until two in the morning and woke at eight to read until eleven...something I had no intention of doing. I first read Mrs. Dalloway when I was sixteen; and each time—this was the fourth—it has seemed like a different book. This time I thought it more extraordinary, more original, even stronger than I remembered.
Susan Sontag - author


Mrs. Dalloway was the first novel to split the atom. If the novel before Mrs. Dalloway aspired to immensities of scope and scale, to heroic journeys across vast landscapes, with Mrs. Dalloway Virginia Woolf insisted that it could also locate the enormous within the everyday; that a life of errands and party-giving was every bit as viable a subject as any life lived anywhere; and that should any human act in any novel seem unimportant, it has merely been inadequately observed. The novel as an art form has not been the same since. Mrs. Dalloway also contains some of the most beautiful, complex, incisive and idiosyncratic sentences ever written in English, and that alone would be reason enough to read it. It is one of the most moving, revolutionary artworks of the twentieth century.
Michael Cunningham - author 



Discussion Questions 
1. In Mrs. Dalloway Virginia Woolf combines interior with omni-scient descriptions of character and scene. How does the author handle the transition between the interior and the exterior? Which characters' points of view are primary to the novel; which minor characters are given their own points of view? Why, and how does Woolf handle the transitions from one point of view to another? How do the shifting points of view, together with that of the author, combine to create a portrait of Clarissa and her milieu? Does this kind of novelistic portraiture resonate with other artistic movements of Woolf's time?

2. Woolf saw Septimus Warren Smith as an essential counterpoint to Clarissa Dalloway. What specific comparisons and contrasts are drawn between the two? What primary images are associated, respectively, with Clarissa and with Septimus? What is the significance of Septimus making his first appearance as Clarissa, from her florist's window, watches the mysterious motor car in Bond Street?

3. What was Clarissa's relationship with Sally Seton? What is the significance of Sally's reentry into Clarissa's life after so much time? What role does Sally play in Clarissa's past and in her present?

4. What is Woolf s purpose in creating a range of female characters of various ages and social classes—from Clarissa herself and Lady Millicent Burton to Sally Seton, Doris Kilman, Lucrezia Smith, and Maisie Johnson? Does she present a comparable range of male characters?

5. Clarissa's movements through London, along with the comings and goings of other characters, are given in some geographic detail. Do the patterns of movement and the characters' intersecting routes establish a pattern? If so, how do those physical patterns reflect important internal patterns of thought, memory, feelings, and attitudes? What is the view of London that we come away with?

6. As the day and the novel proceed, the hours and half hours are sounded by a variety of clocks (for instance, Big Ben strikes noon at the novel's exact midpoint). What is the effect of the time being constantly announced on the novel's structure and on our sense of the pace of the characters' lives? What hours in association with which events are explicitly sounded? Why? Is there significance in Big Ben being the chief announcer of time?

7. Woolf shifts scenes between past and present, primarily through Clarissa's, Septimus's, and others' memories. Does this device successfully establish the importance of the past as a shaping influence on and an informing component of the present? Which characters promote this idea? Does Woolf seem to believe this holds true for individuals as it does for society as a whole?

8. Threats of disorder and death recur throughout the novel, culminating in Septimus's suicide and repeating later in Sir William Bradshaw's report of that suicide at Clarissa's party. When do thoughts or images of disorder and death appear in the novel, and in connection with which characters? What are those characters' attitudes concerning death?

9. Clarissa and others have a heightened sense of the "splendid achievement" and continuity of English history, culture, and tradition. How do Clarissa and others respond to that history and culture? What specific elements of English history and culture are viewed as primary? How does Clarissa's attitude, specifically, compare with Septimus's attitude on these points?

10. As he leaves Regent's Park, Peter sees and hears "a tall quivering shape,... a battered woman" singing of love and death: "the voice of an ancient spring spouting from the earth" singing "the ancient song." What is Peter's reaction and what significance does the battered woman and her ancient song have for the novel as a whole?

11. Clarissa reads lines from Shakespeare's Cymbeline (IV, ii) from an open book in a shop window:

Fear no more the heat o' the sun
Nor the furious winter's rages.
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone and ta'en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

These lines are alluded to many times. What importance do they have for Clarissa, Septimus, and the novel's principal themes? What fears do Clarissa and other characters experience?

12. Why does Woolf end the novel with Clarissa as seen through Peter's eyes? Why does he experience feelings of "terror," "ecstasy," and "extraordinary excitement" in her presence? What is the significance of those feelings, and do we as readers share with them?
(Questions issued by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt edition.)

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