Mrs. Dalloway Additional Summary

Virginia Woolf


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf’s fourth novel, is the first in which she attained the design she would characteristically impose upon her works of fiction. Rejecting an organization centered on conventional story lines, she focuses upon Clarissa Dalloway, a lady of London high society who is planning a party for her husband’s acquaintances. The action takes place on a Wednesday in June, 1923, between 10:00 a.m. and approximately 3:00 a.m. the next day. In the morning, Clarissa goes out to buy flowers and gives final instructions to her staff. In the afternoon, she receives an unexpected visit from a former suitor named Peter Walsh, talks with her husband, who has brought her flowers, and then takes a nap. In the evening, she entertains her guests as a perfect hostess should. The activities and thoughts of Clarissa during the day provide the core of unity in the book. Other characters and their situations appear when they touch or reflect, ever so slightly or symbolically, Clarissa’s life and its meaning. The reader observes the behavior of her husband Richard at lunch, watches her teenage daughter Elizabeth with her history tutor Miss Kilman (whom Mrs. Dalloway hates), and accompanies Clarissa on a bus ride through London. The reader catches glimpses of unknown strangers who cross Clarissa’s path during the day, among whom figures Septimus Warren Smith, a shell-shocked war veteran who is suffering an episode of insanity.

Clarissa Dalloway represents a rational attitude toward life: She functions well on a day-to-day basis, tends to that which requires attention, and meets the demands made upon her in her situation. She regrets somewhat her marriage to Richard (Peter Walsh seemed to suggest a less predictable and more exciting life) and now realizes that she has lost the sense of...

(The entire section is 766 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Clarissa Dalloway makes last-minute preparations for an evening party. During her day in the city, she enjoys the summer air, the many sights and people, and the general bustle of London. She meets Hugh Whitbread, now a court official and a handsome and sophisticated man. She has known Hugh since her youth, and she also knows his wife, Evelyn, for whom she does not particularly care. Other people come to London to see paintings, to hear music, or to shop, but the Whitbreads come to consult doctors, for Evelyn is always ailing.

Mrs. Dalloway shops. While she is in a flower shop, a luxurious limousine pulls up outside. Everyone speculates on the occupant behind the drawn curtains of the car, and everywhere the limousine goes, it is followed by curious eyes. Mrs. Dalloway, who suspects that the queen is inside, feels that she is right when the car drives into the Buckingham Palace grounds.

The sights and sounds of London remind Mrs. Dalloway of many things. She thinks back to her youth, to the days before her marriage, to her husband, and to her daughter, Elizabeth. Her daughter is a problem, mainly because of her horrid friend Miss Kilman, a religious fanatic who scoffs at the luxurious way the Dalloways live. Mrs. Dalloway hates her. Miss Kilman is not at all like the friend of her own girlhood, Sally Seton, whom Mrs. Dalloway truly loves.

Mrs. Dalloway wonders what love really is. She has loved Sally, but she has loved Richard Dalloway and Peter Walsh, too. She married Richard, and then Peter had left for India. Later, she learns that he had married someone he met on board ship. She has heard little about him since his marriage. The day, however, is wonderful and life is wonderful. The war is over, and Mrs. Dalloway is giving a party.

While Mrs. Dalloway is shopping, Septimus Smith and his wife are 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 frightens her because he acts so strangely and talks of committing suicide. The doctor said that there is nothing physically wrong with him. Septimus, one of the first to have volunteered for war duty, had gone to war to save his country, the England of William Shakespeare. When he got back, he was a war hero and was given a good job at the office. The couple has nice lodgings, and Lucrezia is happy. Septimus begins reading Shakespeare again, but he is unhappy and broods. He and Lucrezia have no children. To Septimus, the world is in such horrible condition that it...

(The entire section is 1041 words.)