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.)