Mrs. Dalloway: Novel by Virginia Woolf - Summary

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      Mrs. Dalloway is Virginia Woolf's successful experiment in the stream of consciousness technique published in 1925. It shows the mingling of present experience with memory in the mind of the fashionable, middle-aged Mrs. Dalloway. All action occurs on one day in June.

      Mrs. Dalloway is a cleverly written book. The author has used the stream of consciousness method, encompassing within a single day the activities of Clarissa Dalloway’s life and the lives of other people as well. There is little action but much intense probing of memory.

Mrs. Dalloway is Virginia Woolf
Mrs. Dalloway

      Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway went to make last minute preparation for an evening party. During her day in the city she enjoyed the summer air the many sights, and people, “the general bustle of London. She met Hugh Whitbread, now a court official, a handsome and sophisticated man. She had known Hugh since her youth, and she knew his wife, Evelyn, as she did not particularly care for Evelyn. Other people came down to London to see paintings, to hear music, or to shop. The Whitbreads came down to consult doctors, for Evelyn was always ailing.

      Mrs. Dalloway went about her shopping. While she was in a flower shop, a luxurious limousine pulled up outside. Everyone speculated on the occupant behind the drawn curtains of the car. Everywhere the limousine went, it was followed by curious eyes. Mrs. Dalloway, who had thought that the queen was inside, felt that she was right when the car drove into the Buckingham Palace grounds.

      The sights and sounds of London reminded Mrs. Dalloway of many ‘things. She thought back to her youth, to the days before her manage, to her husband, to her daughter Elizabeth. Her daughter was indeed a problem and all because of that horrid Miss Kilmar who was her friend. Miss Kilman was something of a religious fanatic who scoffed at the luxurious living of the Dalloways and felt sorry for Mrs. Dalloway. Mrs. Dolloway hated her. Miss Kilmar was not at all like the friend of her own girlhood. Sally Seton had been different. Mrs. Dalloway had really loved Sally.

      Mrs. Dalloway wondered what love really was. She had loved Sally, but she had loved Richard Dalloway and Peter Walsh, too. She had married Richard and then Peter had left for India. Later she learned that he had married someone he met on shipboard. She had heard little about his wife, since his marriage. But the day was wonderful and life itself was wonderful. The war was over and she was giving a party.

      While Mrs. Dalloway was shopping, Septimus Smith and his wife were sitting in the park. Septimus had married Lucrezia while he was serving in Italy and she had given up her family and her country for him Now he frightened her because he acted so queerly and talked of committing suicide. The doctor said that there was nothing wrong with him nothing wrong physically. Septimus, one of the first to volunteer for war duty, had gone to war to save his country, England of Shakespeare. When he got back, he was a war hero and he was given a good job at the office. They had nice lodgings and Lucrezia was happy. Septimus began reading Shakespeare again. He was unhappy; he brooded. He and Lucrezja had no children. To Septimus the world was in such horrible condition, hat it was unjust to bring children into it.

      Septimus began to have visitations from Evans, a comrade who had been killed in the war, Lucrezia became even more frightened and he called in Mr. Holmes. Septimus felt almost completely abandoned by that time. Lucrezia could not understand why her husband did not like Dr. Holmes for he was so kind, so much interested in Septimus. Finally, she took her husband to Sir William Bradshaw, a wealthy and noted psychiatrist. Septimus had had a brilliant career ahead of him. His employer spoke highly of his work. No one knew why he wanted to kill himself Septimus said that he had committed a crime, but his wife said that he was guilty of absolutely nothing. Sir William suggested a place in the country, where Septimus would be by himself without his wife. It was not, Sir William said a question of preference. Since he had threatened suicide, it was a question of law.

      In the meantime, Mrs. Dalloway returned home. Lady Bruton had invited Richard Dalloway to lunch. Mrs. Dalloway had never liked Millicent Bruton; she was far too clever. Then Peter Walsh came to call, and Mrs. Dalloway was surprised and happy to see him again. She introduced him to her Elizabeth. He asked Mrs. Dalloway if she were happy; she wondered why. When he left, she called out to him not to forget her party. Peter thought, Clarissa Dalloway and her parties. That was all life meant to her. He had been divorced from his life and had come to England. For him, life was far more complicated. He had fallen in love with another woman, one who had two children, and he had come to London to arrange for her divorce and to get some sort of a job. He hoped Hugh Whitbread would find him one, something in the government.

      The night Clarissa Dalloway’s party was a great success. At first, she was afraid that it would fail. But at last, the prime minister arrived and her evening was complete. Peter was there, and Peter met Lady Rossetter Lady Rossetter turned out to be Sally Seton. She had not been invited, but had just dropped in. She had five sons, she told Peter. They chatted. Then Elizabeth came in and Peter noticed how beautiful she was.

      Later, Sir William Bradshaw and his wife entered. They were late, they explained, because one of Sir William’s patients had committed suicide. For Septimus Smith, feeling altogether abandoned, had jumped out of a window before they could take him into the country. Clarissa was upset. Here was death, she thought. Although the suicide was completely unknown to her, she somehow felt it was her own disaster, her own disgrace. The poor young man had thrown away his life when it became useless. Clarissa had never thrown away anything more valuable than a shilling into the serpentine. Yes, once she had stood beside a fountain while Peter Walsh, angry and humiliated, had asked her whether she intended to marry Richard. And Richard had never been prime minister. Instead, the prime minister came to her parties. Now she was growing old. Clarissa Dalloway knew herself at last for the beautiful, charming, inconsequential person she was.

      Sally and Peter talked on. They thought idly of Clarissa and Richard, and wondered whether they were happy together. Sally agreed that Richard had improved. She left Peter and went to talk with Richard. Peter was feeling strange. A short of terror and ecstasy took hold of him, and he could not be certain what it was that excited him so suddenly. It was Clarissa, he thought. Even after all these years, it must be Clarissa.

      The novel is structured in time and space. It either stands still and moves in space, or stands still in space and moves in time. Clock time symbolized by the recurring chimes of Big Ben is not the reality. The truth is subjective. At our given moment, we may be living in the past, present or future.

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