Mrs. Dalloway Summary and Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 35-page guide for “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Isolation Within the Social Classes and The Power of Memory.
Mrs. Dalloway, one of Virginia Woolf’s best-known novels, was published in 1925. The entirety of the novel takes place over the course of one day in London, in June of 1923. At the start of the novel, in the morning, Clarissa Dalloway, the protagonist, makes last-minute preparations for her party scheduled for that evening. As the day progresses, readers meet various characters, major and minor, and learn about their thoughts and feelings about the past, present and future. The novel finishes late that night at the Dalloway residence, at Clarissa’s party. Throughout the novel, tragic and desolate discussions of mental health and loneliness weave in and out of quotidian concerns like buying flowers and repairing torn clothes; in Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf somehow makes these seemingly-incompatible topics perfectly sensible and poignant.
From an early age, Virginia Woolf enjoyed a life of the mind. Her father, Leslie Stephen, an author, critic, and biographer, fostered her love of reading as a child. As Woolf became older, she became a steadfast member of the Bloomsbury Group, a precocious set of young artists and intellectuals who gave her the support she needed to become a writer. She married Leonard Woolf, whom she knew from the Bloomsbury Group, and she was devoted to him throughout their life together, though many scholars describe Woolf’s extramarital affair with poet Vita Sackville-West as her greatest love affair. Woolf’s own knowledge of how it feels to be attracted to women, and her understanding of the futility of such feelings, are identifiable in Mrs. Dalloway, in the friendship between Clarissa Dalloway and Sally Seton.
Woolf’s choice to depict and describe in detail the experience of one character’s descent into a mental health crisis is also noteworthy. This character, a veteran of World War I, suffers from shell-shock, but his doctors are unable to comprehend the depth of his suffering. Woolf presents his situation with veracity as she herself suffered from what would today be diagnosed as a kind of bipolar disorder. From an early age, Woolf experienced breakdowns and bouts of depression that eventually led to her suicide by drowning at the age of 59 in 1941, just at the start of World War II. Woolf’s own acute understanding of insecurity, anxiety and other human frailties is reflected in her precise and sensitive rendering of her characters.
Scholars widely consider Mrs. Dalloway to be a landmark work of the Modernist movement thanks to Woolf’s use of the stream-of-consciousness technique, as well as her choice to focus the content of the novel on the interior lives of her characters. Woolf rejected realist approaches in her writing, approaches that were popularized in the Edwardian age preceding World War I; she chose instead to depict the lives of her characters in a deeper, more psychologically and emotionally sensitive way. Woolf incorporates techniques contemporary readers will recognize as characteristic of film productions; for example, flashbacks illuminate memories while scenes pan from one character’s perspective to another’s and montages compress time into brief but informative moments. Woolf had been reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, another paragon of Modernist prose, when she began writing Mrs. Dalloway; Ulysses is a novel set on one day in…