JMRL Brown Baggers met to discuss Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway August 18th at the Central Library. Written in 1925, the book takes place over one day in June, 1923, London. Clarissa Dalloway is buying the flowers herself for a party she is throwing that evening. In a stream of consciousness style, readers are “put in the picture” as Clarissa goes through her day, meeting the various characters whose paths she crosses and her remembrances of times past. The other significant character in the story is Septimus Smith, a shell shocked WWI veteran.
Our readers either really liked or disliked this particular Woolf title (though we had one reader who “thought the writing was brilliant, but hated the book”). Some felt that To the Lighthouse is a better choice if you are only going to read one Woolf title.
Debates in our discussion included whether Mrs. Dalloway had regrets about her life choices; did she waste her life? Mrs. Dalloway herself states that “she knew nothing; no language, no history; she scarcely read a book…Her only gift was knowing people almost by instinct, she thought…” This is her talent; she connects people.
Was Mrs Dalloway a feminist?
Female characters were more fleshed out and included more of a cross section of the period’s society and classes. Who was the male lead? Peter Walsh? Septimus Smith or Richard Dalloway? Our readers agreed that the male characters were all of the same general class/kind.
Themes and symbolism included the passage of time, with Big Ben tolling throughout the day, and a fear of death. “She always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.” In addition to the aftermath and devastation of WWI, Woolf herself and Mrs. Dalloway, the character, were both survivors of the Spanish Flu of 1919. Life is continually passing and we are nearing death.
Apparently there are alternate ending/versions of Mrs. Dalloway and our group found it remarkable that we’ve read two books this summer that reference suicide by jumping out a window. (See Passing by Nelle Larsen).
Virginia Woolf: writing death and illness into the national story of post first World War Britain
Why Anxious Readers Under Quarantine Turn to “Mrs. Dalloway”
Additional titles mentioned:
Ulysses by James Joyce
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
- The Postman Always Rings Twice by James Cain (October 20, 2022)
- The Paris Library by Janet Charles (November 17, 2022)