Mrs. Dalloway Study Guide

Mrs. Dalloway By Virgina Woolf

In "Mrs. Dalloway", with the exception of a few flashbacks, everything takes place over the course of one day, in June. This is a classic example of "stream-of-consciousness" writing in that every scene closely follows the second-by-second thoughts of a single character. The distinction between direct speech and indirect speech is blurred throughout the novel, with rapid switches between narration, omniscient description, interior monologue both direct and indirect, and pure soliloquy. Woolf skips between at least 20 characters in this fashion, but most of the time is spent with Clarissa Dalloway, and a significant minority with Septimus Smith.

Clarissa Dalloway travels around London in the morning, making preparations for a party that she is going to host that evening. The pleasant day reminds her of Burton, where she spent her youth, and makes her ponder her choice of husbands. She married Richard Dalloway, the reliable one, instead of the enigmatic Peter Walsh. She felt strongly for Sally Seton, but of course there was no option for marriage there. In the middle of all of this, Peter sows some complications by visiting her, having just returned from India.

On the same day, Septimus Smith, World War I veteran, is spending a day at the park with his wife Lucrezia. He hallucinates constantly in a mostly-incomprehensible manner, primarily involving Evans, a dear friend of his who died in the war. Over the course of the day, he is informed that he is to be involuntarily committed, and his response is to kill himself by jumping out of a window.

Clarissa's party takes a while to get started, but is successful. Almost all of the characters in the book attend, including many people from her flashbacks. She hears about the suicide of Septimus and over the course of the evening begins to admire the man and his choice, which he sees as an attempt to preserve 'the purity of his own happiness'.

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