“Mrs. Dalloway” is the first novel I read by Virginia Woolf and I really enjoyed it. I already started reading the book two years ago but never came around to finish it because life was too busy. So I’m glad that I gave it another chance.
Troughout the course of a day we follow the lives of Clarissa Dalloway, her friends, family and the former soldier Septimus Warren Smith who is traumatized from the war. We meet Mrs. Dalloway buying flowers and reuniting with former lovers, we witness her husband at lunch, her daughter having coffee and Septimus struggle with his mental health. At the end of the day the character’s who’ve been roaming through London all day meet at Clarissa’s party.
As trivial as it sounds this glimpse into the everyday lives of the characters negotiates topics as identity, time, perception and society. With “Mrs. Dalloway” Woolf offers a carefully planned narrative in which time and place play an important role. Often our characters or vehicles pass one another in quick meetings which spark reflections and memories and take us onto a journey into the characters’ lives and minds. As in other novels Woolf’s narration creates a difference between the time that passes on the clock and the one that passes within a character’s mind.
This novel also raises questions of identity and perceptions. The characters that appear in “Mrs. Dalloway” all have different perceptions of themselves and others. Their impressions don’t match the reality of other people or even the ones of their own lives. And as readers we eventually ask ourselves: Do we ever see and know people for who they truly are? And how can we know who we are ourselves? Aren’t all our perceptions ultimately flawed? Is there even such thing as a true identity?
Another topic which the novel discusses is society and whom it excludes. This becomes most obvious in the character of Septimus whose trauma and depression have led to suicidal thoughts. As a survivor of the first world war his mental health struggles stop him from building a peaceful life with his wife — It ultimately becomes clear that there is no space within this society for people like him.
But the question of belonging, finding one’s place in society or being an outsider is also reflected in other characters such as Peter Walsh, Elizabeth or even Mrs. Dalloway herself. Clarissa, now a post menopausal socialite, thinks back to her youth, the choices she made and how they shaped her life.
The story is written in a rich and complex language. It definitely isn’t the easiest to read but it is poetic and very beautiful.
Have you read this novel as well? If yes, what did you think about it?
Trigger Warning: Suicide