Posted by: Sally Ingraham | August 27, 2009

Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dallowayby Virginia Woolf

I’ve been a little nervous about writing something about this book since I don’t have any special insights into it, or opinions. But I have to talk about it, because I have such a deep, wonderful feeling of delight. I enjoyed this book on so many levels. The writing is incredible, and distinctively different. From the description on the back I was led to believe that the book followed the events in a day of Clarissa Dalloway’s life, which it does. However the other people she encounters, and the way the threads of the story flow from them to still other people, made the short book seem like a huge experience. I was caught up in it in a way I haven’t encountered before. I wanted to read it all in one sitting, but at the same time wanted it to last as long as possible. I thought about it frequently when I wasn’t reading it. I was intrigued by the headlong rush of the storytelling, which was at the same time a leisurely meander through a warm June day in London.

I think that is what fascinated me most about the book – the steady passing of physical time, and the internal, often hectic, passage of time as shown by the variety of characters. The book offered me a visual (oddly enough) of the incredible internal dialogue that accompanies every aspect of our lives, and is often more real than the physical world around us. The events in a day, and the internal events ought to provide a constant balance, but this book also clearly showed what can happen when one or the other starts to dominate. The book was a brilliant study of that, as well as fulfilling on an emotional and even entertaining level.

I finished it almost a week and a half ago, and I’m still thinking about it frequently. I feel an intense desire to read it again, this time with more attention to detail and with less distractions from my real life interupting me. My original feeling that the book wanted to be read in a quiet, sunny room is even stronger now, and that is definitely where I want to read it for the second time – someone please find me the room and the time! 🙂

I would love to hear anyone else’s thoughts about the book – especially your first time reading it. I just don’t want to let it go yet. 🙂


  1. I read this book about 3 years ago and you reminded me that I have always meant to read it again. I thought Virginia Woolf’s writing was beautiful. I loved how different the story is, not many novels are written in stream of consciousness. I felt closer to Clarissa Dalloway, as if I came to know her better than I would have from a different point of view. I kept forgetting that this was just one day in her life because it seems so much larger.
    I also found the contrast and comparison of physical time and internal time amazing. I wonder if they are really ever balanced or if one or the other is always dominating? Woolf’s ability to put down on paper a realistic rendering of the internal workings of the mind was stunning. I really felt privvy to what these people were thinking and it didn’t bother me when I sometimes needed to read a particular passage a few times to be sure I was getting it all correctly.
    It definitely was a fascinating book and I think I’m going to re-read it again very soon!
    Thank you Sarah!

  2. Amy – That’s the phrase I was searching for – “stream of consciousness”. It’s not told in “first person” or “third person”. The book is written in stream of consciousness – I LOVE that. I definitely agree that Clarissa and some of the other characters felt realer than the majority of book characters I’ve encountered before. Thanks for your thoughts! 🙂

  3. I’m thrilled that you loved it so much! I had just ordered a copy a few days ago and anticipating them next week!! Them, because I also ordered Orlando and The Waves, ha ha. I have To the Lighthouse here on the tbr stack. So that’s four VWs going on my tbr and I haven’t read a single one yet. It seems absurd to purchase multiple books by an author I haven’t sampled, but I feel like I’m going to love her, as I read the first page of The Waves in a bookshop before and wanted to bring the book home, if not for my empty pockets. I plan on reading all four in a month, like a theme. Is it feasible, you think? Or would I get burnt out?

  4. Claire – Four books by Woolf in a month sounds lovely. I have no idea if it’s feasible, but it sounds like fun! Let me know when you do it – maybe I’ll join you. 🙂

  5. Sarah, that would be wonderful if we could read together! I might do it around January or Feb, thereabouts. Definitely next year, as I want to finish all the challenges I signed up for this year first.

    Have you read any other Woolf? Which titles?

    I also plan on adding Leonard Woolf’s The Wise Virgins.

  6. Claire and Sarah – YES! A WOOLF READ-ALONG! She’s my absolute favorite author on earth and I would LOVE to re-read some of her stuff. Mrs. Dalloway is, I think, the most inspiring reading experience I have ever had. In fact, I’d already been thinking of revisiting some of her titles…To the Lighthouse, Orlando, and The Waves are definitely other highlights of her work.

    I’m just gushing, but I completely relate to your feeling of delight, Sarah. Reading Mrs. Dalloway for the first time opened up new vistas of possibility to me – it was amazing that books could work that way. So many moments are indescribably precious to me – the hat scene with Rezia and Septimus! The first exchange between Clarissa and Peter, when she’s mending her dress! Elizabeth on the omninus! I could go on and on. I just LOVE this novel. I’m so glad you did, too.

  7. Emily, what other works by her do you recommend? It would be interesting if we could do a read-along.. with you rereading, and me experiencing her for the first time..

  8. I’m in too! Yay, yay, yay! Have been intending some re-reads for so long, and never seem to get there, but you have inspired me. Mrs. Dalloway is one of my favorite books and my absolute favorite Woolf book. The beauty of small moments. The internal monologue that manifests itself sometimes so oddly in our actions. The things not said. If you have not already read it, how about The Hours now right after this read. Great timing.

    Orlando is my other Woolf favorite, and her diaries are the most compelling read. Someone make a plan – quick! I feel so happy. And what great company!! Even if know one else joined us, the four of us would be more than enough. But more would be better of course. Rambling…

  9. Frances! This is so exciting! Being that I know nothing about Woolf, I would be so privileged to have you three as company, sort of like my guides. 🙂 I’m planning January. Would that be good? The Hours sounds like a good plan, too.

    Would you all rather we read the same book at the same time or just go with whatever Woolf we prefer over the course of the month?

  10. Claire, I loved the whole shared read thing. Think that is why I have enjoyed 2666 read along more than the usual challenges where everyone is reading something different. But if you decide otherwise, I’m still in. January it is. Shall we do a button? 🙂

  11. Hurray, you’ve got the read-along practically all planned! It’s going to be great.

    Frances and Emily – Thanks for sharing my excitement. It is a book worth “gushing” about. I’ll try to wait until January before reading it again!!

  12. Frances, a button would be great! I’d love to do the read along as well.

    I hope everyone is okay with Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Orlando, The Waves, and The Wise Virgins? Those are the five I intend to read in a month, but you may add if you like. I’m okay with The Hours as well, but prefer her letters or journals over that.

    I think the 4 is a perfect number as we will have time to read and comment on one another’s posts without feeling stressed! What do you think? Although I’m open to more if you’d like that better. I’m so excited! Keep the suggestions coming! 🙂

  13. P.S. Should we read in order of publication?

  14. Claire – I love your book choices. I am excited to read them with you and everyone else. I like the idea of a small group – and reading in order of publication. I like it all!!

  15. Those five sound great to me as well – in order of publication. One a week through first week of February? And if I were to do a button and we pulled others in, what should we call this and what should the button say? BTW, our friend Richard (2666 fellow reader) wants to read with us as well.

  16. Whoa, sorry to drop off the face of the earth there, but I am back from vacation and PSYCHED for a Woolf read-along with you ladies! And Richard! Excellent!

    I second (or third?) the suggestion that everyone read the same novels; comments can get so much more comprehensive that way. I think the five books suggested are some real Woolfian highlights (I’ve not read any Leonard Woolf, and would be curious to do so), and I might also suggest a few of her essays. I have a particular soft spot for “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown.”

    YAY! Woolfy January! (I might also suggest extending this over maybe January + February? The Waves is a pretty long, and challenging, book. We don’t want to burn out on Woolf.)

  17. I’d love to join in!! Reading 2666 together has been unbelievable and I’ll need something to fill that void after it’s gone! 🙂

  18. Oh yay! Richard’s amazing and that would be so wonderful! I think (from Frances’s Sunday Salon post) that Lu would love to join as well! 🙂

    I’m good with Jan + Feb, most definitely. Don’t want to rush, too.

    I’m extremely curious about The Wise Virgins as it is semi-autobiographical.

    Frances, as you suggested her diaries, and they’re rather long (a few volumes?), what do you think would be best? I saw a Vintage Classics edition of her selected diaries. Comprehensive enough? Anybody else would like to read her diaries or no?

    Can’t think of a title for the button at the moment.

  19. Hello Sarah and the rest of the gang! I just got back from three days at beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire (note: “beautiful” means beautiful + no internet for me!), and it’ll be easier to face work tomorrow seeing all this enthusiasm for the Woolf readalong in Jan. Thanks for letting me join in on all the fun!

  20. Hi all – Phew, I’m back too from my weekend adventures in Baxter State Park (hiking and camping and whatnot). It’s great to escape from the ‘net sometimes, but there’s always catching up to do!

    It’s so exciting to see this readalong coming together. I definitely vote for Jan.-Feb. I’m just not that fast of a reader – the book a week pace might overwhelm me. 🙂

    Lu – Sorry it took me awhile to make your comment appear here – please do join in!

  21. I would love to join in a Virginia Woolf read a long. I have always meant to read several of her books but it’s so much better when there are other readers with whom to discuss the books. Jan & or Feb is great for me. I’m not that fast a reader either and especially not when it’s a book worth taking some time over

  22. Oh, I’m not inviting myself, sorr about that I meant to ask & sent my message too soon – is it okay if I join you? I haven’t done a reading challenge or read a long yet but I haven’t been around here very long!

  23. Amy – Yes, please join! It looks like Frances and Claire are the power behind the planning (thanks guys!) but no one has come up with a title for the button or anything so ideas are welcome! I’m very excited about discussing Woolf with so many great minds. 🙂

  24. Richard, I can’t believe you were at Winnepesaukee! I was just at Squam for a week! I swear I am not stalking you around the country.

    Re: buttons, since we’re reading Leonard Woolf as well as Virginia, maybe the button should say something about “The Woolves”? That’s what their clever Bloomsbury friends & relations called them. As Virginia Woolf was born on January 25, we could also go in the “Happy 128th Birthday, Virginia” direction. Or, you know, there’s always riffing off Edward Albee with the “Who’s Afraid…” angle.

    I don’t know about reading her ENTIRE diaries or letters, but selections might be interesting…since we’re reading Orlando, which is basically an elaborate love letter to Vita Sackville-West, some of the Woolf/Sackville-West letters might be fun. Vita’s letters to Virginia are anthologized in their own book as well. It always feels a bit salacious to me to obsess on this angle of Orlando, but I have to admit to having a soft spot for the Vita/Virginia relationship!

  25. Emily and Richard – Haha, that’s so odd – I was at Lake Winnepesaukee around the 20th of August. We should have arranged to meet! 🙂

    Emily – I like the idea of reading a selection of Woolf’s letters as a way to expand and add depth to the overall reading experience. I’m glad we have someone like you to help pick out some good ones.

  26. Sarah, I’d be happy to put a little letters/diaries-as-reading-guides thing together, but I’m not sure how to go about it without violating copyright…like, I wouldn’t want to just scan a bunch of pages and make it into a PDF. I guess I could assume that my editions of the letters & diaries have similar pagination to everyone else’s library/purchased copies? Or just indicate dates, maybe, as in “the letter to Lytton Strachey dated March 4, 1924”? I’ll muse on it between now and January.

  27. Let’s go with The Woolves? Catchy and I am sure we would all love to catch some future Woolf lovers in our nets?

  28. I vote for ‘The Woolves’ as well. 🙂

    Emily – I wonder if they have any of the letters online somewhere? I’ll check. Otherwise, I think your idea of indicating dates would work pretty well.

  29. I like the sound of The Woolves!

    I might just get the Vintage Classics Selected Diaries and Selected Letters, if we DO decide to include some.

    Btw, I know it was initially my idea to read these books together, but I would really appreciate if I don’t host? Anyone can step up. Frances and Emily seem to know much about VW so maybe you can? OR if you want, we could just not have a host. Any way, I’m fine as long as I don’t host, ha ha. Sorry! 😀

  30. P.S. Have you noticed this comes right after our Kristin L read-along? Perfect timing eh?

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