Mrs. Dalloway Summary

Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway

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Mrs. Dalloway Summary

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In the novel Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf follows a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway. Mrs. Dalloway is a high-society woman in post-World War I England. She is busy preparing for a party she will host that evening. As Clarissa goes about her day, she is preoccupied with all the last-minute details required to host a perfect party.

Woolf takes us into Clarissa’s hidden thoughts. Woolf uses a stream of consciousness style to write the flood of Clarissa’s flashbacks. In addition to Clarissa’s remembrances of the past, we learn her thoughts on the realities of the present and her concerns about the future.

Clarissa Dalloway is a 51-year-old, upper-class housewife. Her husband, Richard, works for the government. Her daughter, Elizabeth, is 17-years old.

On a June day in 1923, Clarissa prepares to host a party in her London home in the evening. As she walks outside to buy flowers, she notices a plane sky-writing in the gorgeous summer sky. She and the crowd around her struggle to decipher the plane’s message.

After she returns from her errands, Peter Walsh unexpectedly drops by her house. He has recently returned to England from India. Years earlier, Peter had asked Clarissa to marry him. She had refused the mysterious and demanding man’s proposal. Poor Peter had never quite gotten over her refusal. Peter is about to ask Clarissa if she made the right choice in marrying Richard. But Clarissa’s daughter enters the room interrupting their intimate conversation. Peter leaves to go to Regent’s Park.

Peter’s visit causes Clarissa to ponder her choice of husband. She does not regret refusing Peter. Clarissa considers Richard a reliable choice as a husband. But her true forbidden love interest in her youth in the Bourton countryside had been her friend, Sally Seton.

Woolf then shifts the point of view to Septimus Warren Smith, a decorated World War I veteran. Before the war, he was an educated man, a poet who loved Shakespeare. He enlisted in the war for patriotic reasons. During the war, Septimus was injured in trench warfare. He suffers from shell shock.

Septimus is sinking into madness with regular hallucinations of his deceased friend, Evans. He has lost his will to live and his belief in English society. His Italian wife, Lucrezia, takes him to an appointment with a well-known psychiatrist, Sir William Bradshaw. The psychiatrist prescribes involuntary commitment to a mental institution in the country. Later that day, Septimus commits suicide to save his soul by jumping from a window as one of his doctors, Dr. Holmes, arrives to take him away.

Clarissa’s husband, Richard, is invited to eat lunch with Lady Bruton and Hugh Whitbread, who are both a part of high society. The invitation disturbs Clarissa, who was not invited to join them. Hugh and Richard help Lady Bruton write a letter to the Times, a London newspaper. As a form of apology, Richard returns home to Clarissa with a gift of roses and the intent to tell her he loves her. But he is unable to declare his love as too much time has passed since he last did so.

Elizabeth leaves to go shopping with her history teacher, Miss Kilman. Clarissa and Miss Kilman do not get along at all, as each believes the other is a bad influence on Elizabeth.

As Peter is on his way to Clarissa’s party, he hears the ambulance roar past on its way to pick up Septimus’s body.

At the party that night, most of the characters Woolf has introduced us to throughout the novel are present. The party is a success, but Clarissa is not satisfied and is self-conscious of Peter’s criticisms. Sally Seton, who was a free spirit in her youth, has become more conventional as an older woman. She is married to Lord Rosseter and has five sons. The psychiatrist, Sir William Bradshaw, arrives late with the explanation that one of his patients, Septimus, just committed suicide.

Clarissa leaves her guests to ponder Septimus’ death in privacy. She understands how the stranger’s life must have become intolerable. She admires his efforts to not compromise his soul. As a member of the high society, she feels partly responsible for his death.

The party draws to a close, and guests begin to leave. Peter waits all evening to speak with Clarissa. When she finally enters the room, he gets very excited.

English author Virginia Woolf lived from 1882 until 1941. She is considered one of the most influential authors of the 21st century. She is known for her modernist classics including Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Orlando. Her pioneering feminist works, including A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas, experienced a resurgence of popularity during the feminist movement of the 1970s. In addition to her novels, she was admired for her literary criticisms and wrote short stories, essays, and journals. She suffered from severe depression. In 1941, at the age of 59, she committed suicide by filling her overcoat pockets with stones and walking into the River Ouse.