Mrs. Dalloway is a novel by Virginia Woolf that explores the internal lives of several characters, including wealthy Clarissa Dalloway and war veteran Septimus Smith.
Clarissa runs errands for her party and reflects on her youth. She wonders if she made the right choice in rejecting the passionate Peter Walsh, who has recently returned from India, in favor of the wealthy, conventional Richard Dalloway.
- Septimus suffers from "shell shock" as a result of his wartime experiences. In order to avoid being institutionalized, he commits suicide.
- Upon hearing of Septimus's suicide, Clarissa is upset, but she comes to admire the "purity" of the act.
Last Updated June 27, 2023.
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf recounts the experiences of several Londoners over the course of a single day in June 1923. During this time, a peaceful atmosphere prevails and individuals reflect on their pre-World War I memories.
Mrs. Dalloway is a book that focuses on the inner experiences of its characters, rather than an action-packed storyline. The events that occur in the story take a back seat to the characters' contemplation of their memories, regrets, and aspirations. Many of the key figures in the novel reflect on what could have been. The narrative is presented by an omniscient and imperceptible narrator.
A large portion of the characters in the story are financially prosperous and have ample free time. However, they are constantly occupied with the everyday demands of existence, such as exploring their internal and external environments by asking questions. The answers to these questions do not always bring them joy. Instead, the majority of the characters experience unhappiness, either intermittently or constantly throughout the day.
Woolf's fascination with psychology is reflected in the novel through the theme of sexuality. The characters' conflicting emotions towards love create a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty.
The plot of the novel is uncomplicated: Clarissa Dalloway is organizing a formal gathering. While preparing for it, she unexpectedly encounters Peter Walsh, who has recently arrived from India, and invites him to come over. Throughout the day, this encounter, along with other events, prompts Clarissa to reflect on her past and the decisions she has made. Meanwhile, Clarissa's husband, Richard, has scheduled meetings and lunches, and their daughter Elizabeth has her own plans for the day.
Septimus Warren Smith, a resident of London, is having a difficult day along with his spouse Lucrezia. His thoughts are consumed by his deceased friend from the war, Evans, and he strongly believes that he is receiving messages from invisible entities. Lucrezia is taking him to see two different doctors, but unfortunately neither can provide much help to alleviate his condition. Septimus ultimately decides to take his own life later that day, as a means of avoiding further medical treatment and because he believes he has no other recourse.
Clarissa's party is going well and is deemed a triumph, especially as the Prime Minister makes an appearance, which is regarded as a significant honor. However, while basking in her achievement as a gracious hostess, she receives word about the suicide of a man named Septimus whom she has never met before. Despite their lack of acquaintance, the news deeply affects Clarissa on a profound level.
Clarissa Dalloway: The novel's protagonist, an upper-class woman who is preparing to host a party. The novel follows her thoughts and actions over the course of a single day.
Septimus Warren Smith: A World War I veteran suffering from shell shock (what would now be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder). His story provides a counterpoint to Clarissa's narrative.
Peter Walsh: An old flame of Clarissa's, who has returned to London after being away in India. He still harbors strong feelings for her.
Richard Dalloway: Clarissa's husband, a Conservative Member of Parliament who is less introspective and emotional than his wife.
Sally Seton: A close friend of Clarissa's youth, with whom she shared a kiss that she still remembers. Sally is a symbol of sexual and personal freedom.
Lucrezia Smith (Rezia): Septimus' Italian-born wife who struggles to understand her husband's mental illness and feels helpless to assist him.
Dr. Holmes: The doctor treating Septimus. He does not understand the seriousness of his patient's condition.
Elizabeth Dalloway: Clarissa and Richard's 17-year-old daughter, who is on the brink of adulthood.