In 1915 she published her first book, The Voyage Out. But, with To the Lighthouse, Woolf established herself as one of the leading writers of Modernism. In these works Woolf developed innovative literary techniques in order to reveal women’s experience and find an alternative to the male-dominated views of reality. As an essayist Woolf was prolific, publishing some 500 essays in periodicals and collections, beginning 1905. Characteristic for Woolf’s essays are dialogic nature of style and continual questioning of opinion – her reader is often directly addressed, in a conversational tone, and her rejection of an authoritative voice links her essays to the tradition of Montaigne.
From July 1940, the Woolfs became afraid of Nazi invasion, because Leonard was Jewish, and they decided to gas themselves with car fumes if the invasion came. They kept enough petrol for this purpose. By 1941, Leonard became increasingly concerned by the deterioration in Virginia’s health. Her depression grew as the fear of madness enveloped her. On 28 March 1941, she loaded her pockets with stones and walked into the River Ouse at Rodmell, Sussex and was drowned.
Virginia Woolf is regarded as a major figure in the Modernist movement, making significant contributions to the development of the novel. She is known as an experimenter and innovator in novel writing, particularly in her use of the techniques of interior monologue and stream of consciousness. Woolf’s “stream of consciousness” technique style allows readers into the minds and hearts of her characters. She also incorporates a level of psychological realism that Victorian novels were never able to achieve. The everyday is seen in a new light: internal processes are opened up in her prose, memories compete for attention, thoughts arise unprompted, and the deeply significant and the utterly trivial are treated with equal importance. She has the very special ability to make the ordinary ebb and flow of the mind sing.
Her novels are noted for their poetic and symbolic quality. The emphasis is not on plot or action but rather on the psychological life of the characters. Her novels are also known for their delicacy and sensitivity of style, their evocation of place and mood, and their background of historical and literary reference. Her writing often explores the concepts of time (its passage and the difference between external and inner time), memory, and people’s inner consciousness, and is remarkable for its humanity and depth of perception. Before the early 1900s, fiction emphasized plot as well as detailed descriptions of characters. Events in the external world, such as a marriage, murder, or deception, were the most important aspects of a story. Characters’ interior, or mental, lives served mainly to prepare for or motivate such meaningful external occurrences. Woolf’s novels, however, emphasized patterns of consciousness rather than sequences of events in the external world. Influenced by the works of French writer Marcel Proust and Irish writer James Joyce, among others, Woolf strove to create a literary form that would convey inner life. In Woolf’s best fiction, plot is generated by the inner lives of the characters. Psychological effects are achieved through the use of imagery, symbol, and metaphor. Character unfolds by means of the ebb and flow of personal impressions, feelings, and thoughts. Thus, the inner lives of human beings and the ordinary events in their lives are made to seem extraordinary. Woolf’s fiction was drawn largely from her own experience, and her characters are almost all members of her own affluent, intellectual, upper-middle class. Woolf was also interested in defining qualities specific to the female mind. She saw female sensibility as intuitive, close to the core of things, and thus able to liberate the masculine intellect from what she viewed as its enslavement to abstract concepts.
Virginia Woolf’s eccentric style is what causes her writings to be distinct from other authors of her time. The unique characteristics of her works such as the structure, characterization, themes, etc are difficult to imitate and cause a strong impression in her literary pieces. Virginia Woolf’s works are strongly idiosyncratic, strange, a surprise to the new reader. Due to the level of peculiarity in Woolf’s works, many consider her writings to be difficult texts. This assumption is misleading; all literature must be approached with an open mind and careful deliberation. The uniqueness of Woolf’s writings can be seen when evaluating the characters in her literary pieces. We have found that Virginia Woolf is concerned with an unconscious level of experience in her characters. In other words, the characters in Woolf’s stories are not always traditional or logical in the way they behave. She uses an untraditional method of writing, in which the characters’ thoughts and speech often contradict their feelings.
Woolf looked for a better way of creating her characters’ inner experiences and wanted to bring their personal, mental and emotional experiences to the surface. However, one author, James Joyce, did influence Woolf’s unique style. After reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, in which Joyce pioneered the style of narrative that tries to represent an apparently irrational and disconnected flow of thoughts and perceptions in the mind. This style is commonly referred to as stream-of-conscious writing. Virginia Woolf found in Ulysses a style which in its restless scintillations, in its irrelevance, its flashes of deep significance succeeded by incoherent inanities, seems to be life itself. The reading of Ulysses helped Woolf form her innovative technique in writing. This technique makes her a notable author of the 20th century because of her unique style, incorporation of symbolism, and use of similes and metaphors in her literature.
Woolf is considered one of the greatest innovators in the English language. In her works she experimented with stream-of-consciousness, the underlying psychological as well as emotional motives of characters, and the various possibilities of fractured narrative and chronology. In the words of E.M. Forster, she pushed the English language “a little further against the dark,” and her literary achievements and creativity are influential even today.
Woolf’s reputation declined sharply after World War II, but her eminence was re-established with the surge of Feminist criticism in the 1970s. After a few more ideologically based altercations, not least caused by claims that Woolf was anti-Semitic and a snob, it seems that a critical consensus has been reached regarding her stature as a novelist: Virginia Woolf is among the greatest of 20th century writers. Her work was criticized for epitomizing the narrow world of the upper-middle class English intelligentsia, peopled with delicate, but ultimately trivial, self-centered, and overly introspective individuals. Some critics judged it to be lacking in universality and depth, without the power to communicate anything of emotional or ethical relevance to the disillusioned common reader, weary of the 1920s aesthetes who seemed to belong to an era definitely closed and buried.
Virginia Woolf’s peculiarities as a fiction writer have tended to obscure her central strength: Woolf is arguably the major lyrical novelist in the English language. Her novels are highly experimental: a narrative, frequently uneventful and commonplace, is refracted—and sometimes almost dissolved—in the characters’ receptive consciousnesses. Intense lyricism and stylistic virtuosity fuse to create a world overabundant with auditory and visual impressions. The intensity of Virginia Woolf’s poetic vision elevates the ordinary, sometimes banal settings of most of her novels (with the exception of Orlando and Between the Acts), even as they are often set in an environment of war. For example, Mrs. Dalloway centers on Clarissa Dalloway, a middle aged society woman’s efforts to organize a party, even as her life is equated with Septimus Warren Smith, a soldier who has returned from the First World War bearing psychological scars.
Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, published in 1925, was a bestseller both in Britain and the United States despite its departure from typical novelistic style. Mrs. Dalloway has generated the most critical attention and is the most widely studied of Woolf’s novels. In Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf discovered a new literary form capable of expressing the new realities of postwar England. Divided into parts, rather than chapters, the novel’s structure highlights the finely interwoven texture of the characters’ thoughts. Woolf develops the book’s protagonist, Clarissa Dalloway, and myriad other characters by chronicling their interior thoughts with little pause or explanation, a style referred to as stream of consciousness. Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway has been called the first wholly successful novel that Virginia Woolf produced by. The action or description of events in the novel has not been narrated in the chronological order – a typical characteristic of stream of consciousness. All the characters have been portrayed by the flow of the streams of consciousness. The action is confined to just a single day.
The novel begins with Clarissa going out of her house for buying flowers in the morning and ends with Clarissa’s party in the evening. But, although the clock time is restricted, yet the psychological time is of much longer duration. Virginia Woolf herself says: “In a novel of subjectivity there is no plot, no character, no tragedy, no comedy and love-interest as in traditional novel.” The action of Mrs. Dalloway takes place during a single day in June 1923 in London, England. This unusual organizational strategy creates a special problem for the novelist: how to craft characters deep enough to be realistic while treating only one day in their lives. Woolf solved this problem with what she called a “tunneling” technique, referring to the way her characters remember their pasts. In experiencing these characters’ recollections, readers derive for themselves a sense of background and history to characters that, otherwise, a narrator would have had to provide. In a sense, Mrs. Dalloway is a novel without a plot. Instead of creating major situations between characters to push the story forward, Woolf moved her narrative by following the passing hours of a day. The book is composed of movements from one character to another, or of movements from the internal thoughts of one character to the internal thoughts of another.
Mrs. Dalloway is a complex and compelling modernist novel. It is a wonderful study of its principal characters. ‘The novel enters into the consciousness of the people it takes as it subjects, creating a powerful, psychologically authentic effect. By featuring their internal feelings, Woolf allows her characters’ thoughts to travel back and forth in time, reflecting and refracting their emotional experiences. This device creates complex portraits of the individuals and their relationships.’
Divided into parts rather than in chapters, the novel’s action seems rather simple:
- Part 1: From the opening scene, in which Clarissa sets out to buy flowers, to her return home. Early morning–11:00 a.m.
- Part 2: From Clarissa’s return from the shops through Peter Walsh’s visit. 11:00 a.m.–11:30 a.m.
- Part 3: From Peter leaving Clarissa’s house through his memory of being rejected by Clarissa. 11:30 a.m.–11:45 a.m.
- Part 4: From little Elise Mitchell running into Rezia’s legs to the Smiths’ arrival on Harley Street. 11:45 a.m.–12:00 p.m.
- Part 5: From Septimus’s appointment with Sir William Bradshaw to lunchtime at half-past one. 12:00 p.m.–1:30 p.m.
- Part 6: From Hugh Whitbread examining socks and shoes in a shop window before lunching with Lady Bruton through Clarissa resting on the sofa after Richard has left for the House of Commons. 1:30 p.m.–3:00 p.m.
- Part 7: From Elizabeth telling her mother she is going shopping with Miss Kilman through Elizabeth boarding an omnibus to return home to her mother’s party. 3:00 p.m.–late afternoon
- Part 8: From Septimus observing dancing sunlight in his home while Rezia works on a hat through Septimus’s suicide. Late afternoon–6:00 p.m.
- Part 9: From Peter Walsh hearing the sound of an ambulance siren to his opening his knife before entering Clarissa’s party. 6:00 p.m.–early night
- Part 10: From servants making last- minute party preparations through the end of the party and the appearance of Clarissa. Early night–3:00 a.m.
Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway is the story of a day in June 1923, as lived by a few London citizens. There is calm in the air; people are enjoying a sense of peace and remembering their lives from before the long and bitter World War I. Mrs. Dalloway is a novel about people’s inner lives. It does not possess a vivid plot; the actual events are secondary to what people spend much of their time pondering: memories, regrets, and hopes. Almost all of the main characters wonder about what might have been. The novel is told from the viewpoint of an omniscient and invisible narrator. Most of the characters are well off financially, and have considerable leisure time. Yet they are quite busy with the business of being alive, which includes asking questions of their internal and external worlds. These questions do not always make them happy. On the contrary, most of the characters are unhappy for all or part of their day.
The actions of the novel are simple: Clarissa Dalloway is hosting a formal party. She sees Peter Walsh, who has returned from India, and drops in for a visit. This meeting, and many other moments in the day, makes Clarissa think about the past and the choices she has made. The two have always judged each other harshly, and their meeting in the present intertwines with their thoughts of the past. Years earlier, Clarissa refused Peter’s marriage proposal, and Peter has never quite got over it. Peter asks Clarissa if she is happy with her husband, Richard, but before she can answer, her daughter, Elizabeth, enters the room. Peter leaves and goes to Regent’s Park. He thinks about Clarissa’s refusal, which still obsesses him. Clarissa’s husband, Richard, has meetings and lunches, and their daughter Elizabeth has similar plans herself. Another Londoner, Septimus Warren Smith, is having a bad day, and so is his wife Lucrezia. Septimus is obsessed with his memories of Evans, a friend who was killed in the war. He is also convinced that unseen forces are sending him messages. Lucrezia is taking Septimus to two doctors, neither of whom can do much to cure him. Before the war, Septimus was a budding young poet and lover of Shakespeare; when the war broke out, he enlisted immediately for romantic patriotic reasons. He became numb to the horrors of war and its aftermath: when his friend Evans died, he felt little sadness. Now Septimus sees nothing of worth in the England he fought for, and he has lost the desire to preserve either his society or himself. Suicidal, he believes his lack of feeling is a crime. Clearly Septimus’s experiences in the war have permanently scarred him, and he has serious mental problems. Septimus kills himself later in the day, to escape his doctors, and because he feels he has no other alternative. Clarissa sees off Elizabeth and her history teacher, Miss Kilman, who are going shopping. The two older women despise one another passionately, each believing the other to be an oppressive force over Elizabeth. Meanwhile, Septimus and Lucrezia are in their apartment, enjoying a moment of happiness together before the men come to take Septimus to the asylum. One of Septimus’s doctors, Dr. Holmes, arrives, and Septimus fears the doctor will destroy his soul. In order to avoid this fate, he jumps from a window to his death. Peter hears the ambulance go by to pick up Septimus’s body and marvels ironically at the level of London’s civilization. He goes to Clarissa’s party, where most of the novel’s major characters are assembled. Clarissa works hard to make her party a success but feels dissatisfied by her own role and acutely conscious of Peter’s critical eye. All the partygoers, but especially Peter and Sally Seton, have, to some degree, failed to accomplish the dreams of their youth. Though the social order is undoubtedly changing, Elizabeth and the members of her generation will probably repeat the errors of Clarissa’s generation.
Clarissa’s party is a success. The Prime Minister arrives, and this is considered a great honor. In the midst of her success as a hostess, she hears of Septimus’ suicide. Although she never met him, the news moves her to the core of her being. Clarissa retreats to the privacy of a small room to consider Septimus’s death. She understands that he was overwhelmed by life and that men like Sir William make life intolerable. She identifies with Septimus, admiring him for having taken the plunge and for not compromising his soul. It becomes very clear toward the end that death, which most characters have dreaded throughout the book, is a communication, means of preserving one’s soul. That is when Clarissa and Septimus converge.
She felt somehow very like him [Septimus]—the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away. The clock was striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun. But she must go back. She must assemble.
This quotation occurs at the day’s end, when Clarissa is at her party and receives news of Septimus’s death from Lady Bradshaw. Clarissa retreats to the small room where the prime minister sat to reflect on the young veteran. She had never met him and does not even know his name, but she experiences a moment of clarity, or “moment of being,” in the small room when she identifies strongly with him and his dramatic action. Woolf created Septimus as Clarissa’s double, and throughout the book he has echoed her thoughts and feelings. In this scene, Clarissa realizes how much she has in common with this working-class young man, who on the surface seems so unlike her.
Everything converges in this one moment, and this scene is the climax of the book. The narratives of Clarissa and Septimus finally meet. A wall separates the public sphere of the party from Clarissa’s private space, where her soul feels connected to Septimus’s soul. The clocks that have been relentlessly structuring the passing day continue to chime. Despite the sounding clocks and the pressures of the party outside, however, Clarissa manages to appreciate that Septimus has preserved his soul through death. Clarissa began her day by plunging metaphorically into the beautiful June morning, and Septimus has now literally plunged from his window. An effort and commitment to the soul is necessary to plunge into life or death, and Clarissa, who has reached middle age and is keenly aware of the compromises she has made in her own life, respects Septimus’s unwillingness to be crushed by an oppressive power like the psychiatrist Sir William. Clarissa repeats the line from Cymbeline, “Fear no more,” and she continues to endure. She will go back to her party and “assemble.” In the postwar world, life is fragmented and does not contain easy routes to follow, but Clarissa will take the fragmented pieces and go on trying to make life up as best she can. The party nears its close as guests begin to leave. Clarissa enters the room, and her presence fills Peter with a great excitement.
Virginia Woolf began writing Mrs. Dalloway in June 1922 during the post-war years and while a considerable amount of human suffering was still affecting millions. The cause of human suffering, Woolf seemed to feel, was the battle between uncivilized or barbaric human beings, for political, economic, religious or social reasons. She felt that these battles were the explanation for a chaotic, uncivilized society, which she portrayed in the novel Mrs. Dalloway. Woolf uses the novel as a vehicle for criticism of the society of her day. Through Mrs. Dalloway Woolf explores superficial society in which she felt lacked depth in human relationships. To describe the different aspects of this society Woolf uses certain characters symbolically. ‘The main characters, both aspects of Woolf herself, raise issues of deep personal concern: in Clarissa, the repressed social and economic position of women, and in Septimus, the treatment of those driven by depression to the borderlands of sanity.’
Hugh Whitbread represents that which is most detestable in English middle-class life. He is a man who has read nothing, thought nothing and is a great snob. “This ‘admirable Hugh’…becomes symbolic of mental servility to plumed authority and of unnatural loyalties”. Woolf used the Queen Prince and the Prime Minister as the symbol of the state. These powerful people in English society are symbolic of the distorted values which lead to ‘unnatural loyalties’, which is one of the causes of war and destruction. Unnatural loyalties are the loyalties English citizens supposedly have for those unelected officials in power. Woolf questioned this loyalty of the rich and the English government officials. Another symbolic character in Mrs. Dalloway is Miss Kilman. She represents possessive love and corrupt religious values. Bitter and burning, Miss Kilman had turned into a church two years three months ago…Miss Kilman is insincerely using religion not for a means of worship, but she is using religion as a means of escape from her anger and hatred. She wants to have control over others and subdue them. In Miss Kilman’s misplaced religious fervour she not only wants to humiliate and ruin Mrs. Dalloway, but also wants to possess and dominate Elizabeth. Miss Kilman represents repulsive qualities, such as she is domineering, cruel and has selfish love. In Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf used Hugh Whitbred to represent the uneducated, rich snobs unwilling to benefit society, the powerful Queen Prince and Prime Minister to represent unnatural loyalties, and Miss Kilman to represent to the corrupt, selfish, and cruel. The way in which Woolf uses symbolism to voice her dislike for those citizens that add to selfishness to society makes her an influential author because it caused others to reevaluate the society in which the lived.
Mrs. Dalloway is Virginia Woolf’s expression of the “moments of being” she held so dear. There are moments in a person’s life when everything comes together in a pinnacle of perfect happiness, as in the kiss between Clarissa and Sally. These moments, however brief they are, affect the emotional fabric of a person’s life and therefore live on in the influence they exert. Thus for Woolf a moment of being is a moment when an individual is fully conscious of his experience, a moment when he is not only aware of himself but catches a glimpse of his connection to a larger pattern hidden behind the opaque surface of daily life. Unlike moments of non-being, when the individual lives and acts without awareness, performing acts as if asleep, the moment of being opens up a hidden reality. These are often moments of intense power and beauty. Unlike Joyce’s epiphanies, these moments do not lead to decisive revelations for her characters. But they provide moments of energy and awareness that allow the character who experiences them to see life more clearly and more fully, if only briefly. And some of the characters try to share the vision that they glimpse, making the work of art that is life visible to others.
The novel begins with Clarissa’s point of view and follows her perspective more closely than that of any other character. As Clarissa prepares for the party she will give that evening, we are privy to her meandering thoughts. Clarissa is vivacious and cares a great deal about what people think of her, but she is also self-reflective. She often questions life’s true meaning, wondering whether happiness is truly possible. She feels both a great joy and a great dread about her life, both of which manifest in her struggles to strike a balance between her desire for privacy and her need to communicate with others. Throughout the day Clarissa reflects on the crucial summer when she chose to marry her husband, Richard, instead of her friend Peter Walsh. Though she is happy with Richard, she is not entirely certain she made the wrong choice about Peter, and she also thinks frequently about her friend Sally Seton, whom she also once loved.
Clarissa Dalloway struggles constantly to balance her internal life with the external world. Her world consists of glittering surfaces, such as fine fashion, parties, and high society, but as she moves through that world she probes beneath those surfaces in search of deeper meaning. Yearning for privacy, Clarissa has a tendency toward introspection that gives her a profound capacity for emotion, which many other characters lack. However, she is always concerned with appearances and keeps herself tightly composed, seldom sharing her feelings with anyone. She uses a constant stream of convivial chatter and activity to keep her soul locked safely away, which can make her seem shallow even to those who know her well. Constantly overlaying the past and the present, Clarissa strives to reconcile herself to life despite her potent memories. For most of the novel she considers aging and death with trepidation, even as she performs life-affirming actions, such as buying flowers.
Though content, Clarissa never lets go of the doubt she feels about the decisions that have shaped her life, particularly her decision to marry Richard instead of Peter Walsh. She understands that life with Peter would have been difficult, but at the same time she is uneasily aware that she sacrificed passion for the security and tranquility of an upper-class life. At times she wishes for a chance to live life over again. Clarissa experiences her moments of being while in the middle of what appear to be trivial acts, indicating that it is not the action, but her awareness that sets a moment of being apart from her other experiences. For example, as Clarissa watches taxi cabs pass by she finds them absolutely absorbing. Her thoughts reveal that ‘what she loved was this, here, now, in front of her…’
Later in the day Clarissa walks into Miss Pym’s flower shop, closes her eyes and smells the flowers. She opens her eyes, and in a single remarkable sentence Woolf indicates Clarissa’s intensity. Images are not neatly arranged, but spill forth unstoppable as one image leads to another and another. Because moments of being are immediate, they often do not allow a character to reflect or assign meaning to them. Clarissa experiences a moment of clarity and peace when she watches her old neighbor through her window, and by the end of the day she has come to terms with the possibility of death. Like Septimus, Clarissa feels keenly the oppressive forces in life, and she accepts that the life she has is all she’ll get. Her will to endure, however, prevails.
Clarissa is analyzed in terms of her life, personality, and thought process throughout the book by the author and other characters. She is viewed from many angles. Clarissa enjoys the moment-to-moment aspect of life and believes that a piece of her remains in every place she has visited. She lacks certain warmth, but is a caring woman who is touched by the people around her and their connection to life in general. Clarissa feels that her parties are her gift to the world and is proud to share herself with others. She loves to be accepted but has the acuity of mind to perceive her own flaws, especially since her recent illness. Clarissa is a representative of an uppity English gentry class and yet, defies categorization because of her humanity and her relation to her literary double, Septimus Warren Smith. She is superficially based on Woolf’s childhood friend, Kitty Maxse. The reader learns of Clarissa Dalloway through the thoughts of other characters, such as her old passion Peter Walsh, her husband Richard, and her daughter Elizabeth. Septimus Warren Smith, driven insane by witnessing the death of his friend in the war, acts as Clarissa’s societal antithesis; however, the reader learns that they often are more similar than different.
Thus, Virginia Woolf examines the human personality in two distinct methods: ‘she observes that different aspects of one’s personality emerge in front of different people; also, she analyzes how the appearance of a person and the reality of that person diverge. By offering the personality in all its varying forms, Woolf demonstrates the compound nature of humans. Woolf makes it difficult to receive any single dominant impression of any of the characters.’ This fact, that no character leaves any distinct predominant impression upon the reader, forms the essence of the understanding of Woolf’s novel.
Clarissa proves to be the most complex character of the novel for several reasons. Woolf compares and contrasts her with all of the other major characters, and also, Woolf analyzes the appearance of Clarissa Dalloway versus the reality of Clarissa Dalloway. In front of Sally, whose daring amazes Clarissa, she feels austere, especially considering that she was reared in a removed, Victorian atmosphere. To Sally, Clarissa absolutely and exclusively gives her heart and soul, and treasures her kiss throughout her life. Only with Sally does Clarissa ever open herself, and this is a direct contrast to her relation with her own husband, Richard. Because of Clarissa’s obsession with preserving her intimacy, she hesitates in daring to love her husband. Now, she shows her defensive property, one that didn’t even exist in her association with Sally. Yet another side of Clarissa Dalloway reveals itself when she is with Peter. Although she declines him for her privacy, Peter is the only character in the novel who appeals to Clarissa’s spirit. When thinking of his audacious qualities she so opposes, she feels herself carried away, if only for an instant, by her spontaneous side. Thus, ‘the dignified gentlewoman, so involved in the societal scene, finds that she isn’t as orderly as she wishes, acts, and believes. Clarissa and Septimus, who never meet in the novel, aren’t directly compared and contrasted, but by creating these two extreme characters, Woolf lets the reader see that even the most converse personalities coincide.’ We compare and contrast main characters among themselves as well as with minor characters in order to provide more background in their life.
The largest comparison in the novel is between Septimus and Clarissa. These are the two most important separate stories, and they are the main characters of those stories. Septimus is the opposite of Clarissa, but at the same time the same as her. All of Clarissa’s fears and desires are acted out by Septimus. Clarissa worries so much about what other people think of her, while Septimus doesn’t care at all. He does things in his own way, whereas Clarissa does what people expect of her. Septimus knows what he wants out of life and does it, but Clarissa can’t decide on much of anything. Even though, they represent the two sides of a single coin. They both love Shakespeare and fear oppression. They both grow up under the same social institutions although social classes are drawn upon wealth; it can be conceived that two people may have very similar opinions of the society that created them.’ Clarissa and Septimus share the quality of expressing through actions, not words. Through these basic beliefs and idiosyncrasies, both characters mimic each other through their actions and thoughts, even though they never meet. Clarissa feels sadness and death around her. There is much routine and habit around her but she still seems dissatisfied. At her late age of fifty she sees herself as Mrs. Dalloway, not even Clarissa. She portrays her sense of happiness as something rather quite simple. She can be happy throwing a party, she can escape reality. Every time she gave a party she had this feeling of being something not herself, and that everyone was unreal in one way; much more real in another.
The other major character that can be compared to Clarissa is Sally. She is much more extreme than Clarissa’s calm nature, but this might be why Clarissa was attracted to her. Clarissa saw everything that Sally did and heard everything she said, and inside she wished she could do that. When she sees Sally at the party at the end, she is disappointed that her life isn’t much better when she used to think so highly of her. Sally affected Clarissa’s life in many ways, but mostly in the physical sense. She made Clarissa see a side of herself that she may have never experienced, her sexuality. For them to marry would be out of the question, but Woolf showed how their relationship was more intimate than merely friends. ‘Then came the most exquisite moment of her whole life passing a stone urn with flowers in it. Sally stopped; picked a flower; kissed her on the lips. The whole world might have turned upside down! The others disappeared; there she was alone with Sally ‘. To describe this as the most exquisite moment of her life is the answer to why she never felt that kind of satisfaction with Richard.
Mrs. Dalloway is not a simple person. She is most complex. She is fascinating in that she realizes that her ‘self’ changes, that it modifies to a certain degree, depending on whom she is with. With Richard, she is a little different than she is with Elizabeth; and she is different in another way when she is with Hugh Whitbread. Unlike Clarissa, most people think that they are always the same, regardless of whom they are with. In truth, few people remain constant: we all change, reacting with different parts of our personality to the many different people we spend time with.
Virginia Woolf creates interesting contrast within the character of Clarissa Dalloway using stream of consciousness narration in her novel Mrs. Dalloway. ‘Clarissa’s inner thoughts reveal a contrast between her lack of attraction to her husband due to her lesbian feelings and her fear of loosing him as a social stepping stone. These contrasts and many others can be seen throughout the novel using the literary device of stream of consciousness narration.’ Virginia Woolf uses many of her characters as additions to her other characters and as separate people. Most of the characters in the novel help Clarissa have more depth and personality, but some of the characters, including Clarissa, help give the other characters the same depth and personality. Woolf’s complementary characters give a new meaning to the story that she wouldn’t be able to achieve any other way.
Septimus Warren Smith
Septimus Warren Smith is a World War I veteran suffering from shell shock, married to an Italian woman named Lucrezia. He is lost within his own mind. He feels guilty even as he despises himself for being made numb by the war. His doctor has ordered Lucrezia to make Septimus notice things outside himself, but Septimus has removed himself from the physical world. Instead, he lives in an internal world, wherein he sees and hears things that aren’t really there and he talks to his dead friend Evans. He is sometimes overcome with the beauty in the world, but he also fears that the people in it have no capacity for honesty or kindness. Woolf intended for Clarissa to speak the sane truth and Septimus the insane truth, and indeed Septimus’s detachment enables him to judge other people more harshly than Clarissa is capable of. The world outside of Septimus is threatening, and the way Septimus sees that world offers little hope.
Woolf handles characters’ situations with dignity and respect. As she studies Septimus and his deterioration into madness, we see a portrait that draws considerably from Woolf’s own experiences. Woolf’s stream of consciousness-style leads us to experience madness. We hear the competing voices of sanity and insanity. Woolf’s vision of madness does not dismiss Septimus as a person with a biological defect. She treats the consciousness of the madman as something apart, valuable in itself, and something from which the wonderful tapestry of her novel could be woven. Septimus is the character who is, besides Clarissa, most receptive to the moments of being. He experiences similar intense moments of vision. As he sits on a park bench and looks at the trees he feels:
Happily Rezia put her hand with a tremendous weight upon his knee so that he was weighted down, transfixed, or the excitement of the elm trees rising and falling, rising and falling with all their leaves alight and the color thinning and thickening from blue to the green of a hollow wave, like plumes on horses’ heads, feathers on ladies’, so proudly they rose and fell, so superbly would have sent him mad.
As he continues to sit on the bench, he recognizes a connection between himself and the natural world. It is true that he suffers from shell-shock, but his delusions do not prevent him from experiencing moments of exquisite awareness. Indeed they seem to make him more receptive to the facts of the natural world that most people fail to see. And this awareness does not appear particularly crazy or delusional when compared to Clarissa’s own fascination with the physical world around her.
On the surface, Septimus seems quite dissimilar to Clarissa, but he embodies many characteristics that Clarissa shares and thinks in much the same way she does. Both Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Smith are viewed superficially as two completely different people with no relation. However, after analyzing the behaviors and mannerisms of both, the reader discovers that both characters are more similar than they appear to be. Because both characters grow up under the same social rules, they both have very similar opinions about the society that set the guidelines for their lives. The thoughts and actions of both Septimus and Clarissa parallel each other throughout the novel, despite the fact that the two never meet. He is the other side of the coin in this study of sanity and insanity. Septimus went to war, he tried to defend his country, and he attempted to become a ‘man.’ He lost. Clarissa did not do battle; she withdrew and married a safe man who would not dare her to be more of a woman than she believed herself capable of being. And she lost. She believed that marriage would destroy both herself and Peter. She considered consequences; Septimus did not.
Septimus and Clarissa both have beak-noses, love Shakespeare, and fear oppression. More important, as Clarissa’s double, Septimus offers a contrast between the conscious struggle of a working-class veteran and the blind opulence of the upper class. His troubles call into question the legitimacy of the English society he fought to preserve during the war. Because his thoughts often run parallel to Clarissa’s and echo hers in many ways, ‘the thin line between what is considered sanity and insanity gets thinner and thinner .Though he is insane, Septimus views English society in much the same way as Clarissa does, and he struggles, as she does, to both maintain his privacy and fulfill his need to communicate with others. He shares so many traits with Clarissa that he could be her double.’
Before the war he was a young, idealistic, aspiring poet. After the war he regards human nature as evil and believes he is guilty of not being able to feel. Although Clarissa and Septimus have different opinions about the inability of individuality in the society (Septimus feels the only way out is to die whereas Clarissa gets out by conformity in her marriage to Richard), the fact remains that they both feel dissatisfied. Though Clarissa and Septimus are not of the same wealth or background, they both have a very similar prospective about things around them. Septimus believes death is an answer to his constant torture from society. Clarissa relates to his suicide as a way for him to finally communicate to everyone.
Yet despite their similarities, Clarissa and Septimus do differ. Septimus is concerned that he cannot feel and care for another person; he is horrified that he is unable to feel as, say, Peter Walsh might feel. Clarissa is afraid of “feeling too completely.” Rather than succumb to the society he abhors, Septimus commits suicide. This dramatic and tragic gesture ultimately helps Clarissa to accept her own choices, as well as the society in which she lives. Even as their lives mirror, parallel and cross, Clarissa and Septimus take different paths in the final moments of the novel. Both are existentially insecure in the worlds they inhabit- one chooses life, while the other commits suicide. However, the reader learns that they often are more similar than different.
Thus, Virginia Woolf examines the human personality in two distinct methods: she observes that different aspects of one’s personality emerge in front of different people; also, she analyzes how the appearance of a person and the reality of that person diverge. ‘By offering the personality in all its varying forms, Woolf demonstrates the compound nature of humans. Septimus’s complex character reveals itself when Woolf analyzes the appearance of Septimus Smith versus his reality. On the surface, as he appears to the world, Septimus is a maniac who speaks to thin air and converses with his dead friend from the war, Evans. Even when Woolf narrates Septimus’s thoughts, the reader beholds the sad beauty of his psychotic world; time, setting, and circumstance are all distorted.’
So, in appearance, this man acts as the complete opposite of Clarissa Dalloway, and so it is ironic that in reality, Septimus, a lunatic, and Clarissa, a cultured lady, are more similar than anyone else in the novel. Both value the possession and privacy of their souls more than anything else: Mrs. Dalloway attempts to keep her most serious thoughts, hopes, and reflections to herself, because no else would treasure them as she does; similarly, but in a more intense manner, Septimus wishes to keep his soul, his essence which makes him an individual, to himself. Just as Miss Kilman, Elizabeth’s controlling tutor, frightens Clarissa, Septimus feels that his doctors invade the privacy of his soul by demanding too much of him. Just as Clarissa feels that Miss Kilman hates her and fancies her soul, Septimus, in his insane way, believes that Dr. Holmes and Dr. Bradshaw wish to invade his most private depths. So Clarissa and Septimus are complete opposites in terms of appearance to society, but in reality, on the psychological level, both toil to preserve their privacy.
Woolf shows that even the insane can’t be labeled by one word or phrase; they, too, are similar to others, and in this manner, she portrays the many sides of Septimus’s personality. In this novel Virginia Woolf includes flaws and impurities in her major characters so that human nature, and not metaphors, is revealed.
Peter Walsh is a close friend of Clarissa’s, once desperately in love with her. Clarissa rejected Peter’s marriage proposal when she was eighteen, and he moved to India. He has not been to London for five years. He is highly critical of others, is conflicted about nearly everything in his life, and has a habit of playing with his pocketknife. Often overcome with emotion, he cries easily. He frequently has romantic problems with women and is currently in love with Daisy, a married woman in India.
Peter Walsh’s most consistent character trait is ambivalence: he is middle-aged and fears he has wasted his life, but sometimes he also feels he is not yet old. He cannot commit to an identity, or even to a romantic partner. He cannot decide what he feels and tries often to talk himself into feeling or not feeling certain things. For example, he spends the day telling himself that he no longer loves Clarissa, but his grief at losing her rises painfully to the surface when he is in her presence, and his obsession with her suggests that he is still attracted to her and may even long for renewed romance. Even when he gathers his anger toward Clarissa and tells her about his new love, he cannot sustain the anger and ends up weeping. Peter acts as a foil to Richard, who is stable, generous, and rather simple. Unlike calm Richard, Peter is like a storm, thundering and crashing, unpredictable even to himself. Throughout the novel, the reader subconsciously drives Peter and Richard against each other because these are the two most significant love interests in Clarissa’s life.
Peter Walsh, is more complex than Richard because Woolf shows his different sides by comparing and contrasting how he appears to three other characters: Sally, Richard, and Clarissa. Sally Seton, Clarissa’s friend, knows the fearing and apprehensive side of Peter as he vies for the hand of Clarissa. Sally sees that Peter, usually a secure individual, is intimated as easily as anyone else; she witnesses him in his most desperate state. However, Peter’s character seems much less troubled when compared with the more withdrawn Richard Dalloway. In front of Clarissa’s conservative husband, Peter Walsh, a man who travels the exotic ends of the world, seems much more adventurous and free-spirited. Finally, in Clarissa’s thoughts, Peter is described as downright dangerous, but not dangerous in the typical way. To her, a relationship with Peter means an end of her intimacy, and marrying him implies surrender; it suggests a loss of balance and control of her own life. Although her rationality rejects Peter, she realizes her spirit responds to Peter, and so he appears that much more vibrant. So, the same character, Peter Walsh, seems intimidated, free-spirited, and even dangerous when compared and contrasted with Mrs. Dalloway’s other characters.
Peter’s unhealed hurt and persistent insecurity make him severely critical of other characters, especially the Dalloways. He detests Clarissa’s bourgeois lifestyle, though he blames Richard for making her into the kind of woman she is. Clarissa intuits even his most veiled criticisms, such as when he remarks on her green dress, and his judgments strongly affect her own assessments of her life and choices. Despite his sharp critiques of others, Peter cannot clearly see his own shortcomings. His self-obsession and neediness would have suffocated Clarissa, which is partly why she refused his marriage proposal as a young woman. Peter acquiesces to the very English society he criticizes, enjoying the false sense of order it offers, which he lacks in his life. Despite Peter’s ambivalence and tendency toward analysis, he still feels life deeply. While Clarissa comes to terms with her own mortality, Peter becomes frantic at the thought of death. He follows a young woman through the London streets to smother his thoughts of death with a fantasy of life and adventure. His critical nature may distance him from others, but he values his life nonetheless.
Clarissa Dalloway and Peter Walsh are defined by their memories. Virginia Woolf creates their characters through the memories they share, and indeed fabricates their very identities from these mutual experiences. ‘Mrs. Dalloway creates a unique tapestry of time and memory, interweaving past and present, memory and dream. The past is the key to the future, and indeed for these two characters the past creates the future, shaping them into the people they are on the June day described by Woolf.’
Peter and Clarissa’s memories of the days spent at Bourton have a profound effect on them both and are still very much a part of them. These images of their younger selves are not broad, all-encompassing mental pictures, but rather the bits and pieces of life that create personality and identity. Peter remembers various idiosyncrasies about Clarissa, and she does the same about him. They remember each other by “the colors, salts, tones of existence,” the very essence that makes human beings original and unique: the fabric of their true identities. Through the relationship between Clarissa and Peter, Woolf explores one of the themes of the novel and that is the conflict between conventionality and unconventionality. Clarissa chooses conventionality, rather than following her true feelings, and is left empty and unsure of herself. Peter Walsh chooses unconventionality, and is left feeling aimless and unsuccessful.
Woolf does a tremendous job at addressing the serious human problem of appearance versus reality, contrasting intrapersonal attitudes. This novel exposes many of the character’s thoughts in opposition to what they appear to the outside world. Woolf’s characters can be seen repressing their true feelings and hiding behind the “masks” of approved social code. These hidden desires or concealed thoughts can be seen in Peter Walsh as well as in Clarisa Dalloway. Peter Walsh maintains hidden feelings that are unapparent to the outside world. Clarissa is his former love, but this feeling is hidden by the fact that he decides to tell Clarissa that he has fallen in love. Peter deliberately tries to provoke a response from Mrs. Dalloway because he is trying to conceal the fact that she is actually the woman that he is in love with. He is, as well as the other characters, so caught up in trying to be something he is not, that almost forgets the importance of being individual.
Sally Seton is a close friend of Clarissa and Peter in their youth. Sally was a wild, handsome ragamuffin who smoked cigars and would say anything. She and Clarissa were sexually attracted to one another as teenagers. Now Sally lives in Manchester and is married with five boys. Her married name is Lady Rosseter. Sally Seton exists only as a figure in Clarissa’s memory for most of the novel, and when she appears at Clarissa’s party, she is older but still familiar. Sally Seton was the most influential character in the book for Clarissa. In her younger years she was a free spirit; Clarissa admired this and wished she could be as sure of herself as Sally was. When she appears at Clarissa’s party, it is almost a disappointment because she has become the exact opposite of what she was, and has conformed to the ways of a traditional female of that time.
Though the women have not seen each other for years, Sally still puts Clarissa first when she counts her blessings, even before her husband or five sons. As a girl, Sally was without inhibitions, and as an adult at the party, she is still effusive and lacks Clarissa’s restraint. Long ago, Sally and Clarissa plotted to reform the world together. Now, however, both are married, a fate they once considered a ‘catastrophe’. Sally has changed and calmed down a great deal since the Bourton days, but she is ‘still enough of a loose cannon to make Peter nervous and to kindle Clarissa’s old warm feelings.’
Both Sally and Clarissa have yielded to the forces of English society to some degree, but Sally keeps more distance than Clarissa does. She often takes refuge in her garden, as she despairs over communicating with humans. However, she has not lost all hope of meaningful communication, and she still thinks saying what one feels is the most important contribution one can make to society. Clarissa considers the moment when Sally kissed her on the lips and offered her a flower at Bourton the ‘most exquisite moment of her whole life.’ Society would never have allowed that love to flourish, since women of Clarissa’s class were expected to marry and become society wives. Sally has always been more of a free spirit than Clarissa, and when she arrives at Clarissa’s party, she feels rather distant from and confused by the life Clarissa has chosen. The women’s kiss marked a true moment of passion that could have pushed both women outside of the English society they know, and it stands out in contrast to the confrontation Peter remembers between Sally and Hugh regarding women’s rights. One morning at Bourton, Sally angrily told Hugh he represented the worst of the English middle class and that he was to blame for the plight of the young girls in Piccadilly. Later, Hugh supposedly kissed her in the smoking room. Hugh’s is the forced kiss of traditional English society, while the kiss with Clarissa is a revelation. Ultimately, the society that spurs Hugh’s kiss prevails for both women.
The personality of Sally Seton, varies depending on whom she is with. Woolf reveals Sally from Peter’s thoughts as well as those of Clarissa. Although both recognize her fundamental character, each views Sally differently. To Clarissa, Sally is the admirable rebel who did the unexpected, and all of her memories of Sally reflect this: Sally broke all the rules, sat on the floor, propped up her knees, smoked cigars, and once, even ran unclothed out of the bathroom to fetch something. On the other hand, Peter, who discerns Sally’s impulsiveness, still remembers her as the girl who acted as his link to Clarissa when he loved her. She consoled his aching heart, offered support, and befriended him in his worst hour. So, Sally Seton is not just a mischievous rebel, as Clarissa sees her, or a considerate friend, but a combination of these two qualities as well as numerous others.
Richard Dalloway is Clarissa’s husband. A member of Parliament in the Conservative government, Richard plans to write a history of the great English military family, the Brutons, when the Labor Party comes to power. He is a sportsman and likes being in the country. He is a loving father and husband. While devoted to social reform, he appreciates English tradition. He has failed to make it into the Cabinet, or main governing body. Richard’s simplicity and steadfastness have enabled him to build a stable life for Clarissa, but these same qualities represent the compromise that marrying him required.
Richard is a simple, hardworking, sensible husband who loves Clarissa and their daughter, Elizabeth. However, he will never share Clarissa’s desire to truly and fully communicate, and he cannot appreciate the beauty of life in the same way she can. At one point, Richard tries to overcome his habitual stiffness and shyness by planning to tell Clarissa that he loves her, but he is ultimately too repressed to say the words, in part because it has been so long since he last said them. Just as he does not understand Clarissa’s desires, he does not recognize Elizabeth’s potential as a woman. If he had had a son, he would have encouraged him to work, but he does not offer the same encouragement to Elizabeth, even as she contemplates job options. His reticence on the matter increases the likelihood that she will eventually be in the same predicament as Clarissa, unable to support herself through a career and thus unable to gain the freedom to follow her passions.
Richard considers tradition of prime importance, rather than passion or open communication. He champions the traditions England went to war to preserve, in contrast to Septimus, and does not recognize their destructive power. Despite his occasional misgivings, Richard has close associations with members of English high society. He is critical of Hugh, but they revere many of the same symbols, including the figure of the grand old lady with money, who is helpless when it comes to surviving in a patriarchal society. Richard likes the fact that women need him, but sometimes he wrongly assumes they do. For example, he does not recognize that a female vagrant may not want his help but may instead enjoy living outside the rules of his society. For Richard, this sort of freedom is unimaginable.
Richard and Peter are often driven against each other because these are the two most significant love interests in Clarissa’s life. Whenever Clarissa recalls her decision to marry Richard over Peter, she points out differences in their personalities, and so Woolf generally presents these two men as converses. Compared to Peter Walsh, Richard Dalloway seems a reserved and bashful individual. Unlike Peter, Richard doesn’t expect Clarissa to concede her intimacy to him, and so he seems extremely timid because of his less demanding nature. Not extremely sheepish at all, Richard nevertheless appears this way for a long part of the novel because Woolf indirectly forces the comparison of Richard with the more fantastic Peter. However, the personality of Richard alters when Woolf presents his relationship with Clarissa. Suddenly, he appears much less inhibited. True, Richard’s insecure nature emerges here, too, when he chooses mere flowers as a gift for Clarissa instead of a more personal token of his love. Still, Richard seems a different person in his relationship with his wife than with Peter. Now, he appears more of the strong, silent type as opposed to just the silent type. This is because the reader respects him more as the man Clarissa preferred over Peter Walsh. Even in Clarissa’s thoughts, Richard seems more secure because although he dearly loves her, both he and Clarissa realize that she chose him over Peter Walsh, and thus he seems more confident. Virginia Woolf illustrates the different aspects of Richard’s nature by comparing and contrasting his relationship with both Peter Walsh and his wife, Clarissa Dalloway.
The picture of English society
The social critique
Whatever else may be said about Mrs. Dalloway, it is clearly intended as criticism of English society in the year 1923, as Virginia Woolf herself has said. The social critique is presented in bits and pieces, woven in rather than painted on, and the aggregate effect of this strategy is one of a subtle ironic aporia, since the otherwise intelligent and well-intentioned observers are frequently—like Richard Dalloway and Peter Walsh or even Sally Seton—not only representatives but agents of the social order that they observe. Clarissa is no exception. In her one moment of true moral insight, she empathizes abstractly with Septimus and his suicide and what she interprets as his gesture of defiance and his attempt to communicate, and she sees such people as Sir William Bradshaw as truly evil people who “force the soul” and make life intolerable. Yet Sir William and his wife are guests, of course, at Clarissas party, and she would not dream of their not being there. And Septimus and his foreign bride would not have been invited under any circumstances. In her thoughts Clarissa repudiates Sir William and all that he stands for, but in her actions she collaborates in his social authority. By extension she reinforces what she thinks of as his “obscurely evil” power over the lives of the uninvited. This discontinuity between thought and deed makes historical Change seem hopeless.
The social critiques presented at random intervals in Mrs. Dalloway through the thoughts of Richard or Peter or Sally Seton or Ellie Henderson at the party are all accurate, often biting and satiric, but fleeting. Virginia Woolf has contextualized them in such a way as to add another level of political critique. She shows that privilege, or even mere association with privilege, is too seductive not to ensure that subversive thoughts remain unspoken and un-acted upon. The novel could be named Mrs. Dalloway not because Clarissa offers a traditional heroine’s alternative social vision but because she epitomizes the best and the worst of the one that prevails. Her idea of having her life over again – of an alternative life – is to have had a different body, a larger more imposing one like Lady Bexboroughs, a darker complexion, an interest in politics (as if this, too, were simply something one were born with), and a country house. It is Lady Bexborough whom she admires for having bravely opened a bazaar while holding in her hand the telegram bringing news of her favorite son’s death. English society at its best. Clarissa herself is reserved, averse to intimacy or displays of emotion—like Peter s—however animated her own inner life may be. She likes to picture herself at social gatherings at the head of the stairs, as opposed to mingling. What political attitudes she has are unreflectively Tory. She assumes a pose of “extreme dignity” when she imagines that she is in the presence of the Queen (“the enduring symbol of the state”) in the mysterious car on Bond Street. The British middle classes – “sitting sideways on the tops of omnibuses with parcels and umbrellas” – she considers “ridiculous, more unlike anything there has ever been than one could conceive.” She admires Hugh Whitbread for having been able to stay “afloat on the cream of English society for fifty-five years.”
Peter and Sally agree that Clarissa has the rare quality of being extraordinarily generous to her friends, but she is also insincerely attentive to people of status whom she dislikes (and should dislike) and yet wishes to cultivate. She frets constantly over what people in society must think of her, and this anxiety underlies her concern over the success of her party. Clarissa thinks of her parties as what she calls “an offering,” an expression of her love of life, bringing people together; but the people who attend the parties are, for the most part, tediously self-important bores: the unctuous Hugh Whitbred with his beautiful socks; Sir William Bradshaw and his wife; Lady Bruton, the woman warrior of the Empire, who detests illness in the wives of politicians; Aunt Helena, not dead yet, still promoting her book on the orchids of Burma and reminiscing about being “carried on the backs of coolies in the ‘sixties over solitary peaks”; Sir Harry, who is rich from painting cattle “standing absorbing moisture in sunset pools” and who forms lewd thoughts about Clarissa; the aloof and priggish Professor Brierly, who lectures on Milton; the prime minister in his gold lace; Lord and Lady Lexham, bantering about her wearing furs to garden parties. The disconnection between what the parties are in Clarissa’s mind and what they are actually like—and the odious people they are given for—is profoundly saddening.
Among the persons who know Clarissa and form opinions of her. Miss Kilman is wholly unmoved by the prevailing social ethos, and her analysis of Clarissa therefore has a sharper political edge. She dislikes and fears Clarissa not only for who she is (and for being the competitor for Elizabeth’s allegiance) but for the attitudes of the class she represents. She is Clarissa’s true antitype in the novel: unattractive, sullen, ungifted socially, dowdy, poor, passionate, un-English, politically radical, and religious. Ironically, given everything else she has going against her, Doris Kilman is the one character Woolf has situated in the novel who embodies and enunciates feminist principles. Doris Kilman is not often taken seriously by Clarissa’s partisans among literary critics, but the mere fact that she is unattractive and also the heroine’s antithesis does not mean she is also wrong about Clarissa. On the contrary she can be clearheaded about Clarissa because she is not under her spell. We do not learn anything about Clarissa and her social world from Miss Kilman that we should not already know. At one point in this episode, however, Woolf has Miss Kilman encapsulate it, so that we won’t miss the point: “When people are happy, they have a reserve… upon which to draw, whereas she was like a wheel without a tire… jolted by every pebble.” This is a harsh truth that Woolf broods upon in Mrs. Dalloway incessantly. The juxtaposition between Doris Kilman’s life and Clarissa Dalloway’s incarnates it. The problem then becomes. What are we to make of it? The novel gives us no answers. Certainly it is not that life must be affirmed if Clarissa is to be the paragon of that view, for Clarissa hardly knows what life is and seems not to care to know more of it than she does. Her horizons do not seem to her to need widening. Empathy does not come naturally to her. She makes symbols of people—like the lady across the way, or Doris Kilman, or Septimus—so that they can be accommodated to the narrative of her own life. She is shielded from the harshness of the world by her wealth and beauty and by her lyrical sensibility. What she thinks of as life is the excitement of going for the flowers herself rather than sending servants for them or the hustle and bustle of the city streets on her way there or being good to and being adored by her servants or giving parties. But the novel shows us that Doris Kilman is life, also. The effects of the war upon both Septimus and his pathetically trapped wife are life. The grotesqueness and carnage of the Great War that no one speaks of are life. The massacred Armenians are life. Colonial exploitation, from which everyone here prospers, is life.
Identity in the stream-of-consciousness novel is never a stable construct, as Virginia Woolf tirelessly pointed out in her prose and illustrated in her fiction. It is more like a lava lamp than a structure. This may account for the strange sadness, the sense of loss or of absence that pervades all of her work. Her characters are never wholly alive to themselves because they can never be complete in the way they had expected to be. The same transience and mutability that rule in the outer world rule in the inner world as well, from one hour, from one day, to the next. This is why neither Clarissa nor anyone else in Mrs. Dalloway can be converted into a version of ourselves or of our own ideologies. Sally Seton, Lady Rosseter, has it right for this context: it is our feelings, not a structure of ideas, that keep us at one with the flow of our humanness in process.
A feminist perspective on the patriarchal English society
At Woolf’s time, people were affected by the collapse of the old concepts and values that influenced the entire conceptual world. Virginia Woolf had acute awareness of the ravage and demolition of the contemporary life. The human nature underwent a change in her writing after the shock of the First World War. She criticized the authoritarian power that made autocrats of husbands and fathers. Being aware of the importance of the need for all women to rebel against the patriarchal system, Woolf examined the literary works and biographies of women writers such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Mary Wollstonecraft, Russell Mitford and others. She examined their lives and the way they translated their resentment of males’ dominance in literature. She discovered that killing the stereotyped feminine, “the angel of the house”, as Woolf called her, was a part of the occupation of women writers. These women writers maintained their integrity, and insisted upon their own identities against patriarchal society. She believed that the artist needs shared goals, tradition and continuity.
Virginia Woolf dedicated her major novels to analyze the patriarchal English society. She portrayed different types of women in various contexts. She opened women’s eyes on their inferior status and provided them with a female tradition to rely on. She strived to provide women with the proper clues for having a meaning in life. She believed that such meaning would lead to a purpose in life, and thus it would create a modern and normal life. Woolf portrays the impact of the patriarchal society of England on women’s lives. She portrays the loneliness and frustration of women’s lives that have been shaped by the moral, ideological and conventional factors.
The most important love-story of Clarissa’s life was that with Peter. Whenever she thinks of the past, of Bourton, the town where Clarissa lived with her parents before marriage, she thinks of Peter. She loved Peter when she was a young girl and still loves him. Memories of Peter keep coming to her mind throughout the novel. After she had refused Peter’s offer of marriage, he went to India, and married another woman, but that marriage didn’t turn out to be a happy one. At the age of fifty-two, he fell in love with a married woman. The relationship between Clarissa and Peter starts with love, but it has been marked with a sense of tension. Clarissa’s soul craves for love and to be loved, but also wants privacy and independence of her own. In her relationship with Peter, her soul underwent a constant tension between love and individual freedom. Clarissa wants to preserve her virginity. She equates virginity with freedom as a result of an aggressive social structure where women were snubbed and despised. Peter is portrayed as a male dictator who believes that he has the right to dictate to her how she should live and what she should do. Clarissa thought that if she had married Peter, he would have engulfed her and forced her soul.
Clarissa feared intimacy with Peter, and was unwilling to share him her feelings and thoughts. She was attracted and frightened at the same time. The reason behind not marrying Peter was her apprehension that he would not give her the kind of freedom that she thought essential for her happiness. On the other hand, Peter thought that she was cold and lacked female sympathy. He couldn’t understand the importance of her emotional need. Peter is unconventional and visionary in society. He can’t fit into the conventional society of London. He is able to see the worldliness, hypocrisy and insecurity of his society. In his youth, he aspired to be a brilliant poet. He was deeply interested in the affairs of the world. Clarissa is not a visionary in society like Peter. She gives parties and likes to bring people together. She regards her parties as an offering, though she doesn’t know precisely to whom. She compensates her need of warmth by giving parties and seeking the warmth that other people offer. Clarissa vacillates between her need of love and her need of independence. She lacks depth of feelings and understanding, and can’t see the inward troubled soul of society. She only sees the world’s glittering body, but she knows nothing about social problems. This tendency in Clarissa seems to Peter to be excessive, and has made him say that she would prove to be the perfect hostess. He thinks that she cared for rank and society. He sees through Clarissa the hypocrisy and insecurity of the society of London. He always scolded her and said sarcastically that she would marry a Prime Minister and stand at the top of a staircase.
In “Mrs. Dalloway”, Clarissa’s relationship with her husband hasn’t proved to be successful. Throughout Virginia Woolf’s presentation of Clarissa-Richard marital relationship, she emphasizes that marriage is not a guarantee of a happy relationship and mutual understanding between a husband and a wife in patriarchal society, even while living under the same roof. Clarissa rejected Peter because his love was too possessive and domineering while Richard’s is not. In her decision to marry Richard, she chose privacy over passion. But whenever she thinks of Richard, she automatically thinks of Peter. Clarissa tries to feel convinced that she acted wisely in rejecting Peter, but the virtues she attributes to Richard as a husband are obviously representing a pathetic attempt to view her married life as a total success.
Sally was anti-patriarchal woman. She asserted herself as a woman and demanded equal rights for women Sally was Clarissa’s inspiration to think beyond the walls of Bourton, read and philosophize. Clarissa broke the authorial patriarchal voice as uniting with women results in equal relationship. This kind of relationships was a reaction against patriarchy and for the creation of a society for women. Though Clarissa was attracted to Sally, she was stifled by the traditions of society. Sally Seton represented the forbidden in patriarchal society, and her vision was not shared and accepted by the narrow-minded people of the world. People like Sally aren’t welcomed by society, and they are compelled to conform and resign. Her acceptance of the social roles and constraints of respectability prevented her from following her union with Sally. Her defeat and acceptance of these roles are clear in her reaction to the thought of a woman becoming pregnant before marriage.
Sally Seton was also compelled to yield and accept the patriarchal forces. She got married to a rich industrialist and resigned to be a conventional mother. Both Clarissa and Sally were defeated because the only accepted female identity was the one that was accepted by patriarchy. We are introduced to Miss Kilman who has a grudge against the world. She lost her job as a school-teacher when the war came because she was suspected of having German sympathies. She felt that she had been cheated, and wanted to have revenge against the whole world. The cruelty of life drove her to seek solace in the church. Religion for her is a choice of despair. She failed to get that solace because the church didn’t help her in mastering the raging passion of hatred. While religion teaches love, it could not fulfill its purpose of anchorage. She felt that she would have triumphed on this grim reality only by humiliating Clarissa. In humiliating Clarissa, she wants to humiliate the cruel world that knows nothing about her suffering and poverty. Under the pretext of religion, she is obsessed with the thought of possessing Elizabeth’s soul. Miss Kilman hates Clarissa because she views her as a product of the patriarchal society by which she was victimized.
An example of the unconventional woman is portrayed through the character of Elizabeth Dalloway. Elizabeth has ambitions to have a career and a professional life. She has planned to be a doctor, farmer, or to go into Parliament. The disintegration and lack of mutual understanding which mark her parents’ relationship have their impact on her own life. Her father fails to recognize her at the party. When he does, he accepts her as a decorative object- a part of the trivial feminine world. Her mother feels shocked, and helpless on finding her daughter under Miss Kilman’s influence all the time. Elizabeth has to choose between participating in the trivial feminine society of her mother or taking part in the male dominated society. None of these choices is adequate example for the creation of a modern woman. But blending the emotional side of Clarissa with the ambitions of the professional life of Miss Kilman gives a promise for the birth of a new identity for women.
In Mrs. Dalloway, the dark picture of patriarchal society is portrayed through Septimus-Rezia relationship. Septimus had gone to war with a sense of total dedication to the ideal of freedom which was seriously threatened by the German hordes. The grim experience of war has given him a new vision of the truth. He is able to see the painful reality of English society and wouldn’t accept the world as different from what he actually sees it. This vision of Septimus makes him an insane person through his doctors and people’s eyes. He married Rezia without loving her because he couldn’t stay alone at night. Rezia suffers silently and alone. Her husband rejects to have a child because he rejects to join patriarchy by becoming a father himself.
The consequences of the World War I
It can be said that Modernity emerged from British society’s repulsion of four years of brutal trench warfare on the Western front during the First World War. New innovations such as mustard gas, tanks, and heavy artillery fuelled a maelstrom of death and destruction on massive scales, leading to hundreds of thousands of casualties on both the Entente and Central Powers’ sides. As the historian Derek Fraser notes, the ‘First World War had a profound influence upon British society, for quite simply it swept away a whole world and created a new one.’ Fraser also argues that the war radically altered the course of British social policy, though reforms in post-war social policy ultimately failed to secure the welfare of soldiers who suffered from war-induced psychiatric disorders upon their return from the Western Front. Advancements in the psychiatric treatment of these mental conditions, such as shell-shock, lagged behind whilst the majority of British society remained oblivious and indifferent to the difficulties that these illnesses imposed on their veteran victims. This generally unsympathetic attitude toward the soldiers’ wounded minds inspired Virginia Woolf to write Mrs. Dalloway, a novel in which she addresses society’s attitude towards mental illness by focusing on the plight and torment of a shell-shocked veteran named Septimus Warren Smith. Woolf uses mental illness as a metaphor to describe the ills of a progressive society that ironically fails to understand how deeply the roots of the Great War extend.
Dalloway‘s main objectives is to forge a link between mental illness and society’s failure to ultimately acknowledge the severity of this condition, there is an underlying parallel that connects Septimus and Clarissa. The former, a misunderstood war veteran, and the latter, a politician’s wife condemned to fulfill the role of the ‘perfect hostess’, both suffer from varying degrees of subordination and unhappiness. In this regard, the scope of one defines the other.
Woolf’s depiction of illness as a metaphor is not just an attempt to shed light on the ailments of post-war society; rather, she is expressing that the true illness lies in the fact that shell-shock is not recognized as a legitimate, war-induced medical condition by her contemporaries. The majority of physicians believed that ‘shell shock resulted from physical damage to the brain by the shock of exploding shells, but prolonged exposure to stress was the real cause. Since the root of shell-shock is psychological and not physical in nature, the true illness lies in society’s failure to sympathize with those whose psychological welfare was compromised during the war. The First World War was not a war of annihilation but one of attrition, one that witnessed both the Entente and Central Powers’ ruthless attempts to destroy one another’s resources in order to reign victorious. Attrition, or total war, manifested itself in the accumulation of enormous body counts; a war in which Britain alone suffered 740,000 casualties. Although Modernism sprung from society’s disdain that such ruthless barbarism was unleashed over a civilized continent, a movement accompanied by countless new technologies, modes of thought, and genres of art, progressivism in psychiatric medicine straggled.
In 1920, Sir Philip Gibbs, one of Britain’s primary reporters during the First World War, noted in Realities of War that there was a disease and insanity in our present state, due to the travail of the war, and the education of the war. Woolf’s October 16, 1920 diary entry parallels Gibbs’s concerns in that her emphasis on juxtaposing ‘sanity’ and ‘insanity’ is part of her overarching view that society’s treatment of mental illness is an ailment within itself. That Septimus’s death at the end of the novel ushers in the climax of Mrs. Dalloway is a testimony to the fact that the obscurity of mental illness is of paramount importance to the author: ‘A young man had killed himself. […] Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them […] But this young man who had killed himself- had he plunged holding his treasure?’ It is as though the events of the day have converged toward the moment during which Clarissa learns of Septimus’s suicide during her party. The novel’s motif, time, the temporal variable which binds the story together, has stopped and has thus disrupted the flow of the novel’s events. Septimus’s suicide abruptly throws Clarissa’s life into focus as she sees his tragic end as a means of communication and renewal, and as a way of placing her own life’s regrets into perspective:
We can only speculate that Septimus’s sacrificial gift includes a demonstration of Clarissa’s alternatives: to preserve the intensity of passion through death or to accept the changing offerings of life. Through Septimus, Woolf recasts the development impasse as a choice between development or death. By recalling to Clarissa the power of her past and the only method of eternalizing it, Septimus enables Clarissa to acknowledge and renounce its hold, to embrace the imperfect pleasures of adulthood more completely.
Throughout the nineteenth century, the British Empire seemed invincible. It expanded into many other countries, such as India, Nigeria, and South Africa, becoming the largest empire the world had ever seen. World War I was a violent reality check. For the first time in nearly a century, the English were vulnerable on their own land. The Allies technically won the war, but the extent of devastation England suffered made it a victory in name only. Entire communities of young men were injured and killed. In 1916, at the Battle of the Somme, England suffered 60,000 casualties—the largest slaughter in England’s history. Not surprisingly, English citizens lost much of their faith in the empire after the war. No longer could England claim to be invulnerable and all-powerful. Citizens were less inclined to willingly adhere to the rigid constraints imposed by England’s class system, which benefited only a small margin of society but which all classes had fought to preserve.
In 1923, when Mrs. Dalloway takes place, the old establishment and its oppressive values are nearing their end. English citizens, including Clarissa, Peter, and Septimus, feel the failure of the empire as strongly as they feel their own personal failures. Those citizens who still champion English tradition, such as Aunt Helena and Lady Bruton, are old. Aunt Helena, with her glass eye (perhaps a symbol of her inability or unwillingness to see the empire’s disintegration), is turning into an artifact. Anticipating the end of the Conservative Party’s reign, Richard plans to write the history of the great British military family, the Brutons, who are already part of the past. The old empire faces an imminent demise, and the loss of the traditional and familiar social order leaves the English at loose ends.
Although the post-war era witnessed countless innovative inventions and groundbreaking discoveries, too little was known about First World War-induced psychological disorders to properly treat shell-shocked veterans like Septimus. It was not the presence of shell-shock that ailed society, however, but that physicians and civilians alike failed to grasp the legitimacy and severity of the disease. From this reality emerged a masterpiece of Modernist literature, a novel in which Virginia Woolf sets out to juxtapose the ‘sane’ and the ‘insane’ in an attempt to express her repulsion of society’s indifference and obliviousness towards those who share her psychological plight. Although Clarissa Dalloway is partially developed by being compared and contrasted with Septimus, Woolf’s ingenious use of stream of consciousness, juxtaposition, modernity, and the war’s crippling psychological side effects allow her to portray mental illness as a metaphor in order to describe the ills of a progressive society that ironically fails to understand how deeply the roots of the war extend. As one of the most important characters in Mrs. Dalloway, Septimus embodies some of the conventions that eventually become defining characteristics of Modernist Literature. However, movements such as Modernism are ephemeral and often fuse into others. What makes Mrs. Dalloway so timeless is that Woolf’s social and psychological commentaries transcend all eras and always remain relevant and universal.
His late age of the world’s experience had bred in them all, all men and women, a well of tears. Tears and sorrows; courage and endurance; a perfectly upright and stoical bearing.
This quotation occurs directly after Clarissa reads lines from Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline in a bookshop window. The lines “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun / Nor the furious winter’s rages” come from a hymn sung at a funeral and suggest that death is a release from the hard struggle of life. The words speak very directly to Clarissa’s own time period, the years after World War I. England is still in shock after having lost so many men in battle, the world now seems like a hostile place, and death seems like a welcome relief. After Clarissa reads the words from Cymbeline, she considers the great amount of sorrow every person now bears. Everyone, regardless of class, has to some degree been affected by the war.
Despite the upright and courageous attitudes many people maintain, they all carry a great sadness, and people cry constantly in Mrs. Dalloway. Peter Walsh bursts into tears at Clarissa’s house. Clarissa’s eyes fill with tears when she thinks of her mother walking in a garden. Septimus cries, and so does Rezia. Tears are never far from the surface, and sadness lurks beneath the busy activity of the day. Most people manage to contain their tears, according to the rules of society, or cry only in private. Septimus, the veteran, is the only character who does not hesitate to cry openly in the park, and he is considered mentally unstable. People are supposed to organize bazaars to help raise money for the veterans. People are supposed to maintain a stiff upper lip and carry on. Admitting to the horrors of the war by crying is not acceptable in English culture, though as Clarissa points out, a well of tears exists in each of them.
Virginia Woolf reminds us dramatically how great imaginative fiction unites social history and the truths of reality in memorable, enduring ways, conjoining moral intensity and civilized sensibility. To read the text of Mrs. Dalloway is to re-experience the full violence of war inflicted on body and soul and mind; to comprehend the ravages of cruel history; and, above all, to rediscover how disenchantment swept over the human personality and the state of humanity in a time of un-alleviating tragedy. That we are, it appears, at the beginning of a new age, a new social order, underlies the prophetic truths that great imaginative literature reveals to us in pensive words and voices that do not necessarily seek to define the phenomenon of disenchantment, but instead to render the experience in prose and in poetry, and in effect to reflect, in the more subtle tones of a growing awareness, the jarring rhythm of disintegration in modern existence.
Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway portrays the acute physical and psychic effects, and the sundry ramifications of disenchantment in the post-1918 years. It shows in the most vivid and heartbreaking of ways how the experience and suffering of the battlefields of the European War wreaked havoc; how the combatants who survived the holocaust then struggled wearily to understand their civilian surroundings; how, in short, they “coped,” or failed to cope, with the realities and the demands of civic society. Even if the late War and the Armistice were now simply a memory, painful memories of the war resonated among those survivors seeking to go about the business of human existence in peacetime. Woolf’s novel has as one of its primary reference points the life and fate of a psychologically maimed soldier who has returned from the Western Front. Years after the cessation of the war, he is seen struggling frantically to come to terms with and then to overcome his experience of war and death, and then of disenchantment and madness. His name is Septimus Warren Smith, whom we see in
the final day of his life on a Wednesday in June 1923; he is drawn in direct and tangential relation to the other central and secondary figures in the novel, as well as to the chain of events transpiring on a “hot June day, with the bees going round and about and the yellow butterflies.”
Indeed, his character is dominant both in the overall consciousness of the novel’s fictive world and in the personal histories of the figures who appear in the events of the novel, as these are enacted in the city of London, in the district of Westminster, in which Big Ben (and Saint Margaret’s) tolls with precision and regularity: “There! Out it booms. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable.”
Clarissa Dalloway is the substantive character and center of Woolf’s novel, but Septimus Warren Smith is its fictive coadjutor (or “double”) without whom neither the role of Clarissa nor the full significance of the novel can be completely grasped. Indeed, as one critic observes, Septimus “is more closely identified with Woolf herself than is Clarissa.” In fact, Septimus unifies the novel in its parts and whole; consummates the burden of its vision; extends and rarefies its rendition; and, in sum, attenuates a “gradual drawing of everything to one centre.”
In Mrs. Dalloway, the complexity of English society is something that each of characters must struggle with to find acceptance. Woolf uses the structure of the Post war societal and political values to create the problems and interactions the characters face, and make the knowledge of that society key to understanding the motives and responses of those characters.This novel also tells us much about the war and the postwar years, about human feelings and relationships, and about the malaise that would afflict individual and collective life in the era between the two world wars. In this novel the reader is able to gauge the mood of the times, in terms of both the human personality and the historical situation, as these were inevitably intertwined. What we recognize above all is a broken world and broken sensibilities impelled by the annihilative effects of war on both the human consciousness and the human soul. And, too, we witness the human condition in crisis in an epochal context of debasement and deterioration.
History in life and life in history are irreducible phenomena in these years of crisis. The English novelist focused on a tragic vision of a society and culture not only under violent physical attack but also in moral disarray and dissolution. The men and women we meet in Mrs. Dalloway are casualties of their time, physically and emotionally wounded, and badly paralyzed by the power of might that is beyond comprehension. Disillusionment is akin to a sentence of death that has no surcease and that pervades their thoughts and actions, from “sickness unto death.” The raging battles of the war were to extend far beyond trench warfare and to become a battleground for the minds and souls of those who were to find themselves trapped in a situation over which they lacked the capacity to exert control.
Mrs. Dalloway is a novel about what Virginia Woolf has termed in one of her celebrated essays, “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown”, “the spirit we live by, life itself.” In the more immediate context of the novel’s story line, it is about “this hot June day,” “this moment in June,” with its “myriad impressions.” In a deeply metaphysical sense, however, it is a novel that transports us into the kingdom of enmity and that, simultaneously, contemplates the horror of evil: its sensations, motions, forms, enticements, consequences; its dynamic of oppressive brutality and violence and death. Its contemplation of evil makes Mrs. Dalloway a modern classic that speaks in a universal language and has universal meaning, known to and felt by humankind in all countries and climes.
No one is fully whole in Woof’s England, but Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Smith are especially broken and disconnected. Both have been made weak and susceptible by society, and both confront societal oppression on some level. Septimus has been traumatized by the world’s brutality and thereby cannot connect with a society based on such evil and stupidity. However, his staunch belief that the world is inherently lovely enables him to find the courage to flee from the societal aspects that ruin it. He escapes in the only way he can knows how and tragically commits suicide. Clarissa, on the other hand, is damaged because she is lonely and empty. While she views life as charming, she also realizes that, for the most part, her life and the upper-class world she lives in is meaningless. Unlike Septimus, Clarissa pushes her knowledge of an oppressive society out of her consciousness, choosing to live with the illusion of peace and purpose rather than embrace herself and her place in the world and face the responsibility that comes with it.
- Abel, E. Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.
- Bell, Q. Virginia Woolf: A Bieography, London: Pimlico, 1996.
- Bell, Vereen M. Misreading “Mrs. Dalloway.” Sewanee Review; Winter 2006, Vol. 114 Issue 1.
- Dalsimer, Katherine. Virginia Woolf: Becoming a Writer. New Haven, CT: Yale, 2001.
- Filkins, P. “Virginia Woolf’s Dalloway,” British Writers Classics, Vol. II, New York, 2004.
- Fraser, D. The Evolution of the British Welfare State, London: Macmillan, 1973.
- Goldman, Jane. The Feminist Aesthetics of Virginia Woolf: Modernism, Post- Impressionism and the Politics of the Visual. Cambridge, U.K., New York, NY: Cambridge, 1998.
- Guiguet, Jean. Virginia Woolf and her Works. London: Hogart, 1965.
- Howard, M. The First World War, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
- “Perception is Reality in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.”, http://www.123HelpMe.com/view.asp?id=3952
- Poresky, L.A. Elusive self: Psyche and Spirit in Virginia Woolf’s Novels, Newark, University of Delaware Press, 1981.
- Rose, P. Woman of Letters: A Life of Virginia Woolf, London: Pandora Press, 1986.
- Shihada, Isam M. A Feminist Perspective of Virginia Woolf’s Selected Novels Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, IJAES, vol.6, 2005: pp. 15-34.
- SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Mrs. Dalloway.” SparkNotes LLC. 2004. http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/dalloway/
- Topham, James, Notes on Style: Mrs. Dalloway, available at: http://classiclit.about.com/od/mrsdalloway/fr/aa_mrsdalloway.htm
- Urquhart, Nicole L. Moments of Being in Virginia Woolf’s Fiction, http://writing.colostate.edu/gallery/matrix/urquhart.htm
- Woolf, V. Mrs. Dalloway, 1925. http://mattviews.wordpress.com/2009/03/27/194-mrs-dalloway-virginia-woolf/
 Bell, Q. Virginia Woolf: A Bieography, London: Pimlico, 1996
 Topham, James, Notes on Style: Mrs. Dalloway, available at: http://classiclit.about.com/od/mrsdalloway/fr/aa_mrsdalloway.htm
 Poresky, L.A. Elusive self: Psyche and Spirit in Virginia Woolf’s Novels, Newark, University of Delaware Press, 1981
 Goldman, Jane. The Feminist Aesthetics of Virginia Woolf: Modernism, Post- Impressionism and the Politics of the Visual. Cambridge, U.K., New York, NY: Cambridge, 1998.
 Dalsimer, Katherine. Virginia Woolf: Becoming a Writer. New Haven, CT: Yale, 2001.
 SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Mrs. Dalloway.” SparkNotes LLC. 2004. http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/dalloway/
 Woolf, V. Mrs. Dalloway, 1925. http://mattviews.wordpress.com/2009/03/27/194-mrs-dalloway-virginia-woolf/
 Guiguet, Jean. Virginia Woolf and her Works. London: Hogart, 1965.
 Urquhart, Nicole L. Moments of Being in Virginia Woolf’s Fiction, http://writing.colostate.edu/gallery/matrix/urquhart.htm
 “Perception is Reality in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.”, http://www.123HelpMe.com/view.asp?id=3952
 Bell, Vereen M. Misreading “Mrs. Dalloway.” Sewanee Review; Winter 2006, Vol. 114 Issue 1.
 Shihada, Isam M. A Feminist Perspective of Virginia Woolf’s Selected Novels Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, IJAES, vol.6, 2005: pp. 15-34.
 Fraser, D. The Evolution of the British Welfare State, London: Macmillan, 1973.
 Rose, P. Woman of Letters: A Life of Virginia Woolf, London: Pandora Press, 1986.
 Howard, M. The First World War, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
 Abel, E. Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.
 Filkins, P. “Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway,” British Writers Classics, Vol. II, New York, 2004.
 Woolf, V. Collected Essays, Vol. I, New York, 1967.