Title: Mrs Dalloway (Goodreads)
Author: Virginia Woolf
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1925
My Copy: Personal Copy
Buy: Amazon, Book Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)
Clarissa Dalloway goes around London preparing to host a party that evening. It’s a nice day and she finds herself being reminded of her youth in the Bourton and wondering about her life and her choice of husband; marrying the reliable Richard Dalloway instead of the mysterious and challenging Peter Walsh, as she never had the option to be with Sally Seton. These conflicts have been reintroduced when Peter pays her a visit.
The novel begins with Clarissa’s point of view and follows her perspective closely, travelling forwards and back in time and in and out of her mind to construct an image of her life. Clarissa is bubbly and lively, caring a great deal about what people think of her, but she is also self-reflective. She is often questioning life and constantly wondering whether happiness is truly possible. Though she is happy with her marriage to Richard she feels both great joy and dread towards her life and struggles to strike a balance between her desire for privacy and her need to connect with others.
Her husband Richard Dalloway is a member of the conservative government and plans to write a history of The Brutons, a great military family. He is a loving husband and father and devoted to social reform while appreciating English tradition. Peter Walsh is a close friend of Clarissa, once desperately in love with her. When she rejected his proposal, he moved to India; though frequently having romantic problems with women throughout the novel he is currently in love with a married woman in India. A socialist and highly critical of people, he is conflicted about everything in his life. Then there is Sally Sutton, a close friend of Clarissa in their youth, she was a wild handsome woman who would say anything. They were sexually attracted to each other as teenagers. Sally now lives in Manchester where she is married and is known as Lady Rosseter.
This is primarily a novel about life and relationships, with Clarissa reflecting on her life and wondering if she has made the right choices when it comes to marriage. There are so other themes that play a big part within this novel as well; some of these include disillusionment towards the British Empire, fear of death, oppression and balancing life between the need to keep up appearances and having some privacy. I won’t go into these themes in any detail, for the simple reason that I feel that Virginia Woolf leaves it very open to interpretation and it is up to the individual reader to make of it what they will.
For me, the major theme that came out was the struggle Clarissa had with trying to play the good hostess by drawing people together through her parties and her introverted nature. I saw Clarissa as an introvert, though she has a bubbly personality, she is often feels shrouded within her own reflective soul and thinks the ultimate human mystery is how she can exist in one room. She likes the idea of being independent and able to spend time to reflect but she is also aware of the inevitable loneliness that comes with a life of self reflection. If you understood something completely different from this novel, please let me know how you read this book in the comments below.
Now that I’ve looked at the themes of this novel, I want to have a quick look at some of the motifs and symbols used in Mrs Dalloway. The most important of them is time, which is so important to the structure, themes and characters of this novel that Virginia Woolf almost called it The Hours. Time keeps order to this novel; with all the thoughts, memories, and encounters within Mrs Dalloway, it becomes a vital element to the book. Also the old woman in the window across from house symbolises the life Clarissa desires; a private life with time to reflect. You also have things like the flowers with all their colour, varieties and beauty being a motif for emotions, Shakespeare and poetry representing these emotions as well and water suggesting the possibility of death.
Virginia Woolf can be a difficult author to read and requires a lot of thought but as I’ve now discovered with Mrs Dalloway, it is worth the effort. I remember reading To the Lighthouse and really struggling, but when I was told it was about sex, I thought I really missed the point. It’s a novel I plan to revisit again but as I mentioned in this review, I think Woolf writes her novels in such a way that you can interpret it anyway you want.
I don’t know if I would call myself a Virginia Woolf fan now, but I was really impressed reading and studying Mrs Dalloway. I will admit that that I’m planning to read A Room of One’s Own and reread To the Lighthouse. Maybe after that I might call myself a fan but I would recommend reading Virginia Woolf for all serious literature readers and studiers and anyone that needs to increase their pretentious levels. For me, Mrs Dalloway was both an interesting book and an interesting endeavour into improving my critical reading skills.