Full title Mrs. Dalloway
Author Virginia Woolf
Type of work Novel
Genre Modernist; formalist; feminist
Time and place written Woolf began Mrs. Dalloway in Sussex in 1922 and completed the novel in London in 1924.
Date of first publication May 14, 1925
Publisher Hogarth Press, the publishing house created by Leonard and Virginia Woolf in 1917
Narrator Anonymous. The omniscient narrator is a commenting voice who knows everything about the characters. This voice appears occasionally among the subjective thoughts of characters. The critique of Sir William Bradshaw’s reverence of proportion and conversion is the narrator’s most sustained appearance.
Point of view Point of view changes constantly, often shifting from one character’s stream of consciousness (subjective interior thoughts) to another’s within a single paragraph. Woolf most often uses free indirect discourse, a literary technique that describes the interior thoughts of characters using third-person singular pronouns (he and she). This technique ensures that transitions between the thoughts of a large number of characters are subtle and smooth.
Tone The narrator is against the oppression of the human soul and for the celebration of diversity, as are the book’s major characters. Sometimes the mood is humorous, but an underlying sadness is always present.
Tense Though mainly in the immediate past, Peter’s dream of the solitary traveler is in the present tense.
Setting (time) A day in mid-June, 1923. There are many flashbacks to a summer at Bourton in the early 1890s, when Clarissa was eighteen.
Setting (place) London, England. The novel takes place largely in the affluent neighborhood of Westminster, where the Dalloways live.
Protagonist Clarissa Dalloway
Major conflict Clarissa and other characters try to preserve their souls and communicate in an oppressive and fragmentary post–World War I England.
Rising action Clarissa spends the day organizing a party that will bring people together, while her double, Septimus Warren Smith, eventually commits suicide due to the social pressures that oppress his soul.
Climax At her party, Clarissa goes to a small room to contemplate Septimus’s suicide. She identifies with him and is glad he did it, believing that he preserved his soul.
Falling action Clarissa returns to her party and is viewed from the outside. We do not know whether she will change due to her moment of clarity, but we do know that she will endure.
Themes Communication vs. privacy; disillusionment with the British Empire; the fear of death; the threat of oppression
Motifs Time; Shakespeare; trees and flowers; waves and water
Symbols The prime minister; Peter Walsh’s pocketknife and other weapons; the old woman in the window; the old woman singing an ancient song
Foreshadowing At the opening of the novel, Clarissa recalls having a premonition one June day at Bourton that “something awful was about to happen.” This sensation anticipates Septimus’s suicide.