The Classic: Virginia Woolf’s, Mrs Dalloway

One day in June 1923.  A hostess, Clarissa Dalloway, prepares for a party.  

‘Turning her head from side to side among the irises and roses and nodding tufts of lilac with her eyes half closed, snuffing in, after the street uproar, the delicious scent, the exquisite coolness. And then, opening her eyes, how fresh, like frilled linen clean from a laundry laid in wicker trays, the roses looked; dark and prim the red carnations, holding their heads up; all the sweet peas spreading in their bowls, tinged violet, snow white, pale… roses, carnations, irises lilac glows; white, violet, red, deep orange; every flower seems to burn by itself, softly, purely in the misty beds; and how she loved the grey white moths spinning in and out, over the cherry pie, over the evening primroses!’.  This was one of my favourite passages in Mrs Dalloway.  It was the crescendo of colour, the mere simplicity of beauty that it portrayed.

Clarissa reminisces about her younger self and the opportunities she was presented with, in the same instance, thinking about herself in the present and what will become of her for the future. She feels that at the tender age of fifty-two she is no longer required, barren, a redundant woman. 

Throughout the day Big Ben strikes the hour or half the hour, it jolts you back from the reminiscing to the present day. 

An old lover, Peter Walsh, has travelled back from India to seek a divorce on behalf of his love. Before he calls on his lawyer he decides to call in and see Clarissa. They have not seen each other for about thirty years and it’s like no time passes between them. Peter always the same, in love and with his incorrigible habit of playing with a pen knife, which irritates Clarissa. 

The intricate way Woolf weaves the stories of the characters together is very subtle sometimes, you need to re-read a paragraph to double check how it happened!

Septimus Warren Smith what a poor lost fellow. Your heart goes out to him in many ways because, in today’s society, it is quite clear he is suffering from PTSD. Woolf portrays these episodes extremely well, you are there with Septimius seeing what he sees. It is quite clear that Woolf is bringing this issue to the forefront of the readers. Not only do you have Septimus and his episodes you have the doctor Sir William Bradshaw trying to pass the Bill in the house of commons for veterans such as Septimus, I’m assuming as it is not spelt out. 

We briefly meet Elizabeth, Clarissa’s daughter, she is coming of age and has realised that she will soon be tasked with ‘becoming a woman’ but does not relish the opportunities she has being a woman, as there are few. It would seem she is teaming to break the barrier and become a professional, of what she is unsure, but she does not want to become like her mother, a hostess. 

It’s not a book that I ever thought I would read, but, I’m glad I have.  

In the mist of the 212 pages I got lost on more that a few occasions and had to reread passages in order to figure out who’s thoughts or memories I was reading at the time!

It just goes to show just under 100 years women are still fighting for equality and our voices to be heard.

Virginia Woolf has done an exceptional job in portraying how the women felt, how they are portrayed and what the ‘modernists’ women were capable of. 

Mrs Dalloway (Penguin Modern Classics); Paperback – 25 May 2000 by Virginia Woolf  (Author), Stella McNichol (Editor), Elaine Showalter (Editor, Introduction) , 212 pages


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