Mrs. Dalloway

In the final days of 2011 I set out to read some short novels before embarking on my larger tomes in 2012.  One of the novels I grabbed off of my shelf was Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.  This work is on my 1001 novel list.  She has nine novels on the list and I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t read any of them.

Adeline Virginia Stephen, born in 1882, is an English author.  Her parents brought her up in literate household located at 22 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington.  Her father, Sir Leslie Stephen was a critic, editor, and biographer.  George Henry Lewes, Henry James, and James Russell Lowell were visitors to the family home.  Virginia learned the classics and English literature during her childhood.   At the age of thirteen, her mother died suddenly.  Two years after this, her half-sister Stella died.  These deaths caused Virginia’s first nervous breakdown.  She would have several during her lifetime.  Between 1897 and 1901 she took Greek, Latin, German, and history courses at the Ladies’ Department of King’s College London.  In 1904 her father died leading to one of her most serious collapses.  She was institutionalized for a short period.  Scholars believe that her periods of depression and breakdowns were also a result of the sexual abuse that she and her sister endured during their childhood.  Their abusers were their half-brothers Gerald and George Duckworth.

In 1912 she married Leonard Woolf.  They had a close bond during their marriage.  However, Woolf had an affair with a woman, Vita Sackville-West, a writer.  The affair ended, but they remained friends until Woolf’s death.  Throughout her life, Woolf suffered from depression.  Even though she suffered greatly she continued to write.  On March 28, 1941, she filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself in the River Ouse.  They didn’t find her body until April 18, 1941.

Given her background I’m somewhat surprised that I didn’t think that her novel was overly depressing.  There are sad parts to the novel to be sure, but I would have thought that the novel would have moved from one depressing act to another.  The entire novel takes place on a June day in post-World War I England.  The opening pages introduce Mrs. Dalloway who is running errands in preparation for a party she is hosting in the evening.  Throughout the day, she remembers people from her past and present.  She looks back on her life and wonders what would have happened if she did not marry her husband, but the impulsive Peter Walsh.  Instead she chose the dependable Richard Dalloway.  She also remembers Sally Seton, a childhood friend who was passionate and impulsive, who Mrs. Dalloway loved but could not be with.  Her recollections are beautiful and insightful.

As Mrs. Dalloway is going through the motions of the day pondering her life decisions, there is Septimus Warren Smith.  He and Mrs. Dalloway do not know each and never meet.  However, this novel is just as much about Septimus as it is Mrs. Dalloway.  Septimus is a veteran of World War I who is suffering from shell shock and hallucinations.  His wife Lucrezia (Rezia), a woman he met in Italy, is beside herself since she thinks her husband is going mad.

When I started reading this novel I had no idea what I would think of it.  It took me a few pages to get used to her writing style, which seems more like a stream of consciousness than a structured novel.  To my knowledge, this is the first novel I’ve read that didn’t have any chapters.  Woolf moves seamlessly from one character to another.  And she sucked me in completely.  In fact, I ended up staying up one night till midnight to finish this novel.  And to add some ambiance, my neighbor was having a party and in the background I heard hear people talking, laughing, and holiday merriment.  It was perfect.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American who's recently returned to the US after a seven-year stint in the UK and Ireland. When she isn't writing, she's traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs in New England, or reading. Not necessarily in that order. Her novels have hit Amazon bestseller lists for lesbian fiction and lesbian romance. She cohosts the Lesbians Who Write Podcast (lesbianswhowrite.com) with Clare Lydon. TB also runs I Heart Lesfic (iheartlesfic.com), a place for authors and fans of lesfic to come together to celebrate lesbian fiction.
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29 Responses to Mrs. Dalloway

  1. niasunset says:

    She is one of my favurite names too… The Waves and A Room of One’s own, To The Light House and Orlando, what I remember that I read but I haven’t read this one dear TBM, Thank you for sharing with us, it is always being so exciting to keep your reading list. Have a nice reading and day, with my love, nia

  2. The Hook says:

    Great share – again!

  3. Pingback: Virginia Woolf « photographyofnia

  4. Caroline says:

    I love it and it is one of my favourites of her. I have read them all with the exception of Voyage Out but I “told” you that already. i don’t remember the story bt the style is vivivd. You should read The Hours and watch the movie. I absolutely adore it.
    None of her books is depressing. Some are a bit boring though. I think The Waves and The Years. To the Lighthouse might be the best.

    • TBM says:

      I should watch The Hours…great suggestion Caroline. In fact I just requested it. I’ll have to see if the library has a copy of the book. I was shocked that the novel wasn’t overly depressing considering her struggles. Do all of her books utilize the writing style that she used in Mrs. Dalloway?

      • Caroline says:

        Yes, the interior monologue is simliar but some are far more experimental like Between the Acts. To the Lighthouse is as well but there she really achieved what she wanted to achieve and it’s wonderful. But some are a bit boring, too experimental for my taste. Interesting and facsinating but not easy. Jacob’s Room is also great, I just remembered it. I really have read all of her books it seems.

      • TBM says:

        Thanks Caroline. It might be a good idea not to read all of them at once since the style may get tiresome. Hopefully that way I will appreciate her style more.

  5. IsobelandCat says:

    I enjoyed Mrs Dalloway, and the film with Vanessa Redgrave in the title role. But Orlando is far and away my favourite of her novels, and would be on my desert island list if only i could my friend to return it!
    You might enjoy visiting Charleston farmhouse in Sussex where Duncan Grant and others of the bloomsbury group hung out. There’s a nice walk you could do across the Downs that Miles might enjoy too.

    • TBM says:

      Good to know the film is good. I want to watch it since I loved the novel and I love Redgrave. That is high praise for Orlando. I’ll have to track down a copy! I would love to visit the Charleston farmhouse and I’m sure Miles would find it even more exciting. The Bloomsbury group sounds interesting. I wonder if they are a little like the Algonquin Round Table in NYC. Dorothy Parker is my favorite from that group.

  6. Jillian ♣ says:

    Oh, wow. This sounds so good. I RELLY need to read it. Also, Virginia Woolf’s life: I own and MUST read Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf

    • TBM says:

      I think you would like this one Jillian. And I’m excited to hear what you think of Lee’s book. I haven’t read it, but Woolf is a fascinating person.

  7. I vaguely remember a very gloomy tale . . .

  8. I should get around to reading more adult literature this year – was fascinated with the classics during my university years – Woolf and Dickens were staple reading, along with Thackeray, Edgar Allan Poe, Fitzgerald. I’m glad to see that you’re enjoying reading through your lovely list of books. 🙂

    • TBM says:

      For the most part, I’ve enjoyed the books on my list. However, since I’m starting out with 1001 I can select authors that I know I’ll like or at least I think I’ll like them. I’ll be curious to see as I get further down the list how many of them I really liked/hated/or was ambivalent about. I probably should start keeping a list.

      • pagesofjulia says:

        Ah, but this blog is your list, isn’t it? That’s a large part of why I started my blog: to keep track of things. 🙂

      • TBM says:

        The 1001 list is a literary reference book edited by Peter Boxall. However, I review other books that I read. I try to state if the book I am reviewing is on the list or not, but I couldn’t just stick with the list since there are so many good novels out there. And yes, the blog does help me keep track of things.

  9. Tracy says:

    Woolf has long been on my “to-read” list, as well. This month my book club is reading Orlando; your review has me excited to get started!

    • TBM says:

      I would love to know what you think or Orlando. Some people have told me that Orlando is their favorite Woolf novel. I hope you enjoy!

  10. Kristina says:

    It was really interesting to read your review 🙂 Did you ever consider writing yourself? 🙂

  11. I am not much of a reader but I have been following your reviews and feel compelled to read this novel.

  12. pagesofjulia says:

    (Found it!) You make that sounds lovely; and I appreciated the background on Woolf herself. You know A Room of One’s Own is an essay; maybe I’d like this or another of her novels better. And for the record I did enjoy the rather rambling style you mention here. Hmm.

    • TBM says:

      It really was a lovely book…her writing and the character development were fantastic. I’ll have to check out A Room of One’s Own and see how it compares to this one. She has a few books on the 1001 list so by the end of my challenge I’m hoping I will know her works more. If you read Mrs. Dalloway I hope you enjoy it and I look forward to your review on A Room of One’s Own.

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