Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

The deepest snowfall happened in Hampshire, some twelve inches outside. A twelve-hour power-cut, no commuter trains, supermarkets emptied by distressed consumers provided a perfect excuse to curl up by a hot fire, drink tea and complete Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway.

The party scene which ends the story is a faultless symphony. In A Writer’s DiaryWoolf writes:

It is a disgrace that I write nothing, or if I write, write sloppily, using nothing but present participles. I find them very useful in my last lap of Mrs. D. There I am now-at last at the party, which is to begin in the kitchen, and climb slowly upstairs. It is to be a most complicated, spirited, solid piece, knitting together everything and ending on three notes, at different stages of the staircase, each saying something to sum up Clarissa. Who shall say these things? Peter, Richard, and Sally Seton perhaps: but I don’t want to tie myself down to that yet. Now I do think this might be the best of my endings and come off, perhaps.

Woolf refined her ending. Richard’s compliment to their daughter, contrasted with his earlier inability to exclaim his love to Clarissa, is an impeccable note.
In Harold Bloom’s Novelists and Novels, he writes:

. . . Mrs. Dalloway , remarkable as it is, is truly Woolf’s starting-point as a strong writer, and not her conclusion.

Where better, then, to begin my own exploration of Woolf’s work.

14 thoughts on “Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

  1. >Thank you for sharing the quote from Woolf's diary…I had meant to go look that up all week while I was reading. The author's mindset while writing adds an extra dimension to the novel, I think.I hope you enjoy The Hours…I read it earlier this year, along with Mrs. Dalloway. The movie adaptation is quite good, too.

  2. >BeccaI read the relevant section of the diary in parallel and found it very insightful.I wrote in another post about The Hours. I did not like it at all. The film on the other hand was quite good, particularly the scenes with Kidman as Woolf.

  3. >I'm glad you bring up Richard's compliment to Elizabeth – the ease and irresistibility of it, as contrasted with not being able to say "I love you" to Clarissa. I very much agree that the final scenes are are a faultless symphony. Thanks for these thoughts.

  4. >I've just read Mrs. Dalloway and posted my thoughts as part of the reading group.A very insightful quote that. Happy to hear she gets even stronger as a writer. I'm looking forward to her other novels. I saw The Hours and enjoyed it a lot, knowing nothing about the real story behind it. I think I will still read The Hours, for comparison. Sorry it was a disapointment to you. I almost always enjoy books more than their filmed versions. I look forward to your insights on To the Lighthouse.

  5. >Emily – Richard's giving the flowers and his inability to say 'I love you' despite all his earlier vows is a perfect piece of writing. Very powerful.Sarah – Woolf's A Writer's Diary, which is a particular selection picked by Leonard Woolf from the five volumes of diaries is outstanding. I will post some thoughts when I get a moment. The ease with which she wrote the party scene compared to the difficulty she had in writing the Septimus scenes are fascinating.Sandra – I think that The Hours is the only time I have preferred a film to a book.

  6. >Also agree on the faultless symphony ending. Richard's compliment to Elizabeth and her inability to tell Clarissa he loved her also impressed on me. It is such a beautiful depiction of the complexity of one's self, how such a simple thing could be so difficult to do. Saying sorry, or I love you, etc.

  7. >I agree with your description of the party scene as "a faultless symphony," and it makes me remark that so many of the scenes in Mrs. Dalloway are carried off just as well. Despite the flowing nature of the stream-of-consciousness narrative the novel is actually very episodic, with Woolf paying out thread and then tying things up rather than leaving us sort of dangling aimlessly for the day.And your note on Richard's compliment to Elizabeth is very helpful…

  8. >Nicole – Mrs. Dalloway was Woolf's first engagement with her stream of consciousness concept. Now I'm stuck into To the Lighthouse I can see how much further she developed it.

  9. I realize this is an older post, but it came up in my feed and I thought I would ask whether you have since read The Voyage Out. It isn’t anything like Mrs. Dalloway, in terms of accomplishment, but it is where VW first envisioned the Dalloways as people and as a couple. They show up in the beginning of The Voyage Out, and I found it remarkable how little they changed between that early novel and when she finally wrote Mrs. Dalloway.

    • Not yet, Michelle, but I will armed with that bit of information; I’ve been picking my way through Woolf’s essays.

      I do apologise that old posts are showing up in your RSS feed. WordPress consider it a feature that when you update an old post it flags as new, and there is no way I have found of stopping it. The posts that transferred from Blogger are full of formatting glitches and I have been working through cleaning them up.

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