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Born in 1882 to the eminent scholar Leslie Stephen (founding editor of the Dictionary of National Biography) and his wife, Julia Duckworth Stephen. With children from previous marriages, the family was an extended one of seven children, growing to eight (the same size as the Ramsay family in To the Lighthouse) with the subsequent birth of another child, Adrian. Like Mrs. Ramsay, Julia Stephen died young (1895), when Woolf was a teenager. Woolf's grief over her mother's death led to her first bout with the mental illness that would return several times during her life and eventually lead to her suicide in 1941.Most of Woolf's education came from private tutors rather than formal instruction. She extensively used her father’s library. When her brother Thoby attended Cambridge, Virginia began to interact with his circle of friends. It is this group of artists and writers (and miscellaneous other professionals) that became known as the Bloomsbury Group, named for the neighborhood in which the friends lived and met for conversation J. M. Keynes, E. M Forster, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, who proposed marriage to her, etc.). Virginia's sister Vanessa, a painter, married one of Thoby's friends, Clive Bell, in 1906; Virginia married Leonard Woolf, another writer from the same circle, in 1912. She also maintained a series of close, romantic relationships with women throughout her life, of which her bond with Vita Sackville-West is the most famous.
Woolf's first published works were articles and reviews. In 1915 she launched her literary career with the publication of The Voyage Out, a novel that combines conventional elements with hints of the experimentation which would later become her hallmark. She refined her writing style with Mrs. Dalloway, published in 1925, and went on to perfect it in her most famous work, To the Lighthouse. In 1917 the Woolfs started a small press from their home, The Hogarth Press, which they used to publish their own writing as well as many interesting works of the period, including translations of Russian literature and the work of Sigmund Freud.Although Woolf was a well-known writer during her own time, it was only with the emergence of feminism in the 1970s that she achieved the status she now enjoys as a major literary figure. In particular Woolf is considered the patron saint of literary femininity by lay readers and scholars alike because of her 1929 essay, A Room of One's Own.
Novels:The Voyage Out (1915)Night and Day (1919)Jacob's Room (1922)Mrs. Dalloway (1925)To the Lighthouse (1927)Orlando (1928)The Waves (1931)Flush (1933)The Years (1937)Between the Acts (1941)Short Fiction:Kew Gardens (1919)Monday or Tuesday (1921)A Haunted House and Other Short Stories (1943)
Essays:Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown (1923)The Common Reader: The First Series (1925)A Room of One's Own (1929)Letter to a Young Poet (1932)The Common Reader: Second Series (1932)Three Guineas (1938)The Death of the Moth (1942)The Moment and Other Essays (1947)The Captain's Deathbed and Other Essays (1950)Granite and Rainbow (1958)Other Writing:Roger Fry: A Biography (1940)A Writer's Diary (1953)Freshwater: A Comedy (1976)
This novel centers around two characters - Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith - who never meet, but who are both connected and set in opposition to each other by the ways they perceive and experience life. The reader learns about these characters and their experiences through a series of interior monologues.The action of the novel encompasses a single day leading up to an evening party hosted by Mrs. Dalloway. The events are set against the backdrop of postwar London's social elite.At 10:00 am, Mrs. Dalloway ventures out into the city to buy flowers for her party. There is a flutter of excitement as a car containing someone of importance passes by. A young couple, Septimus Smith and his wife Lucrezia, also notices the car. The couple strolls and sits in the park to pass the time before the husband's 12:00 appointment with a psychiatrist. Mrs. Dalloway walks home to find a message that her husband has gone to lunch at Lady Bruton's house. Mrs. Dalloway is upset she has not been invited. She mends her dress for the party and is visited by an old friend, her first love, Peter Walsh, whom she has not seen in years.
At 11:45, Septimus and his wife leave the park to see Sir William Bradshaw. The interview lasts 45 minutes, at the end of which Sir William arranges for Septimus's admission to one of his asylums. At 1:30, Richard Dalloway and Hugh Whitbread meet at Lady Bruton's house to eat lunch and help her write a letter to the Times. Richard returns home at 3:00 with flowers for Clarissa, who is presently put off by having to invite a boring guest to her party. Elizabeth Dalloway, Clarissa's daughter, leaves for tea with her tutor Miss Kilman, whom Clarissa despises. Miss Kilman unsuccessfully tries to convince Elizabeth not to attend her mother's party and then leaves to pray at Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth takes a refreshing bus ride. Septimus experiences a moment of clarity, free of insanity, as his wife makes a hat. Dr. Holmes arrives at the Smiths' house; Septimus hears him approaching and jumps out the window to his death.The clock strikes six o'clock. Peter Walsh returns to his hotel, hears an ambulance pass, goes to dinner, and then walks to Clarissa's party. Sally Seton, an old friend of Peter and Clarissa, arrives uninvited to the party. The Prime Minister, and other characters who were a part of the day in one way or another, mingle at the party. Sir William and Lady Bradshaw come to the party and share the news of the death of Septimus Smith (whom no one knows).
Edwardians vs Georgian; traditional vs modern (Death of Edward VII in 1910; succeeded by George V)
“Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown” (provoked by Arnold Bennett’s review of Jacob’s Room, in which he criticised her handling of characters)
First published in 1923, enlarged in a lecture and an article: “in or about December, 1910, human character changed”
All human relations have shifted—those between masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children. And when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature”
Woolf's original working title for this novel was The Hours - a title which obviously speaks to the relevance and importance of time in this novel. Her choice of using Mrs. Dalloway instead makes evident her desire to explore individual consciousness and experience.The Dalloways appear in earlier works by Woolf. In The Voyage Out (1915), they are depicted as caricatures of their class, " treated with satiric contempt" (Zwerdling 160). In 1923, Woolf wrote a short story titled "Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street," which was later reworked into the first passage of the novel. In this story, Woolf begins to use interior monologue to reveal some of the inner life of Mrs. Dalloway, yet the emergent character remains satirical; she is first and foremost "loyal to her country, her class, and its leaders" (Zwerdling 160). Other titles Woolf considered using - "The Life of a Lady," "A Lady of Fashion" - allude to Clarissa's position in society. By finally settling on Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf orients the reader toward the individual she wished to explore; yet at the same time, by using "Mrs. Dalloway" rather than "Clarissa," the character remains defined primarily by her husband and social status.
The painter Jacques Raverat wrote in a correspondence to Woolf:"The problem with writing is that it is essentially linear; it is almost impossible, in a sequential narrative, to express the way one's mind responds to an idea, a word or an experience, where, like a pebble being thrown in to a pond, splashes in the outer air are accompanied under the surface by waves that follow one another into dark and forgotten corners" .Woolf felt it was precisely the task of the writer to go beyond a linear representation of reality in order to show how people think and dream. Rather than take her characters from point A to point B, Woolf gives the impression of simultaneous connections: a form patterned like waves in a pond. She reveals what is important about her characters by exploring their minds and the thoughts of those surrounding them. Such explorations lead to complex connections between people, between past and present, and between interior and exterior experience. She establishes these connections through metaphors and imagery.
Sanity and Insanity: On September 16, 1922, Woolf wrote the following in her working notebook: "Suppose it to be connected this way: sanity and insanity. Mrs. D. seeing the truth and SS seeing the insane truth. The pace to be given by the gradual increase of S's insanity on the one side; by the approach of the party on the other." Consider Mrs. Dalloway in juxtaposition with Septimus Smith in terms of sanity and insanity. Are they set in opposition to one another, or do they represent two points on the same continuum? Past and Present: Woolf uses perceived time interwoven with clock time to create a simultaneous experience of past and present. The scene is London after the war, but also Bourton thirty years ago. Notice how in this commingling of time, the past exists on its own and in its relations to the present. Metaphors and Imagery: Woolf's use of metaphor has been compared to that of Shakespeare (Brower). Notice how Woolf builds upon the same metaphors and imagery through repetition and association to give them symbolic value of their own. Watch for the repetition of words such as "life," "feel," "suffer," "solemn," "moment," "enjoy," "creating," "building," and "making" - particularly as they are used in various interior monologues. Also watch for the repetition of key images: water, waves, and sea; webs, ties, and threads; and trees.
Independence of the Soul: Notice the importance Woolf places on the independence of one's soul. Dr. Holmes, Sir William Bradshaw, Lady Bruton, and Peter Walsh are each depicted as having a lack of respect for the privacy of the soul. Septimus's death becomes the ultimate purity of soul, as he chooses death over allowing the doctors to confine him.English Society: Consider the manner in which Woolf depicts elite English society in the novel. Be aware of how this class responds to emotions and to the realities of the postwar period. Woolf often uses a mocking, satirical tone when describing some of the more reprehensible aspects and characters of this class.
Relationships: Throughout the novel, Woolf raises troubling questions about relationships between men and women, parents and children, love and friendship, reason and passion, life and death.
The opening scene of the novel revolves around Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway, aged fifty-two and wife of a conservative MP. When Mrs. Dalloway leaves for Bond Street to buy flowers for a party she is giving that evening, it is 10:00 a.m. on a fresh morning in the middle of June in 1923 - five years after the war has ended. As she walks, she notices the vibrancy of public life in London. "In people's eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, the motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some airplane overhead was what she loved; life; London this moment of June" (5).Mrs. Dalloway loves life. She loves it as action. Her understanding of "living" is entering in to the process of action and active perception, being absorbed in successive moments."For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the various frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can't be dealt with, she felt positive, by acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life" (5).
The above passage presents a subtle critique of conventional masculine values, in particular the desire to impose a mechanical form upon the natural fluidity of life. Highlighted here in terms of parliamentary activities, it is later exhibited in the actions of Sir William Bradshaw, Dr. Holmes, and Lady Bruton.
The sense of being absorbed in the process of action (life) is inseparable from the fear of being excluded from it and from the dread that the process is going to be interrupted. The metaphor of the "interrupter" and the solemn pause, indicating a fear of being interrupted, are developed throughout the novel.
Mrs. Dalloway's mind begins to drift back to Bourton, where she was raised. She recalls Peter Walsh, a man whose love she rejected. Peter has been in India since the beginning of the war and is expected to return some time soon. On her way through Green Park she runs into an old friend, Hugh Whitbread, who was "almost too well dressed always" and had a way of making her feel "schoolgirlish" (7). Seeing Hugh brings her thoughts back to Peter, as Peter strongly disliked Hugh. Peter had once called her "the perfect hostess" and said she would marry a Prime Minister and stand at the top of a staircase (8).Clarissa contemplates her decision not to marry Peter and realizes she was correct in turning him down: "[ . . . ] with Peter everything had to be shared; everything gone into. And it was intolerable" (9).Independence of the Soul: Mrs. Dalloway perceives Peter as having a lack of respect for the privacy of the soul, and this, she believes, would have destroyed them both, for one cannot live without privacy of the soul.
While in the flower shop, choosing flowers, Mrs. Dalloway and the shop-owner are startled by a loud noise of a passing motorcar. The royal car has just passed down the street and an exhilarated crowd has gathered outside of Buckingham Palace, the symbol of England's greatness. There is much stir surrounding the car. Is it the Queen's? The Prime Minister's? A crowd observes an airplane flying above that spells out the word "Toffee."[Notice how Woolf draws attention to city life and the English admiration for royalty simultaneously; the proximity of these images suggests the omnipresent ruling class, just as the image of the airplane links technological advancement or mechanization with consumption.]