Posted by: Sally Ingraham | January 15, 2010

Woolf in Winter: Mrs. Dalloway

Woolf in WinterToday marks the beginning of our first conversation about Virginia Woolf and the words that she sometimes felt she ought to ‘sink to the bottom of the sea, probably, and live alone with‘. To all who are participating, please write whatever you would like to about the book on your own blog – I’ll be running round gathering up everyone’s links as they appear – or simply come here and join the conversation in the comments. I can’t promise that, as host, I will have anything particularly inventive to say about the book, but I hope that others do, and will be willing and eager to step forward and share with us!


DSC00344Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. 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 veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drinking their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, 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 aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.

I love how involved Clarissa Dalloway feels here, how caught up she is in the sights and sounds of the bustling morning, how pleased she is with herself and her errand – to buy flowers for her evening party. And I love, too, how at the next moment, as she walks down the street and looks in shop windows and encounters acquaintances, her mind constantly moving from thought to thought, she drifts away from the bright June day:

She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.

This shows clearly one of the things I love about Woolf’s style – her ability to capture the flow of the mind’s workings, and show how we try, moment to moment, to hold it all together and get on with living, even as the world jumbles by in confusion, and Life and Death are constantly glimpsed out of the corners of our eyes.

I find this to be an uplifting book, even though for one young man the clocks of London tick through what will be his final day on earth. Clarissa, making an art out of her social efforts and drawing all the separate lives around her together, to her party, is somehow wonderful. She recognizes something of her own struggle in the death, in the plunging leap of Septimus, and yet it makes her ‘feel the beauty‘ all the more strongly.

I loved reading this for a second time – very slowly, going back and re-reading passages over and over again, savoring the language and imagery.

Quiet descended on her, calm, content, as her needle, drawing silk smoothly to its gentle pause, collected the green folds together and attached them, very lightly, to the belt. So on a summer’s day waves collect, overbalance, and fall; collect and fall; and the whole world seems to be saying “that is all” more and more ponderously, until even the heart in the body which lies in the sun on the beach says too, That is all. Fear no more, says the heart. Fear no more, says the heart, committing its burden to some sea, which sighs collectively for all sorrows, and renews, begins, collects, lets fall. And the body alone listens to the passing bee; the wave breaking; the dog barking, far away barking and barking.


I am excited to see what others think of the book, especially those coming to Woolf for the first time through Mrs. Dalloway. I am happy to spend this bright, cold day in January discussing them with you! And please join us again at the end of the month for a discussion of To the Lighthouse, hosted by Emily at Evening All Afternoon. 🙂


Please be sure to visit these other thoughts and insights:

Amy at New Century Reading
Andi at Estella’s Revenge
Anthony at Times Flow Stemmed
Becca at Bookstack
Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza
Care at Care’s Online Book Club
Christy at Lil Bit Brit Lit
Claire at Kiss a Cloud
DS at third-storey window
EL Fay at This Book and I Could Be Friends
Emily at Evening All Afternoon
Eva at A Striped Armchair
Frances at Nonsuch Books
Jason at Moored at Sea
JoAnn at Lakeside Musing
Julia at A Number of Things
Karen at BookBath
Kaye at Kaye’s Book Review Page
Kristine at BasBleuBookshelf
Lena at Save Ophelia
Lindsey at Sparks’ Notes
Lu at Regular Rummination
Martine at Silencing the Bell
Melissa at The Betty and Boo Chronicles
Nicole at Bibliographing
Nina at J’adorehappyendings
Paula at Blogging Woolf
Rebecca at Rebecca Reads
Richard at Caravana de recuerdos
Sandra at Fresh Ink Books
Simon at Savage Reads
Sissy at A Strange and Beautiful World
uncertainprinciples at anothercookiecrumbles
Victoria at Views from the Page and the Oven
Violet at Still Life With Books

(Since I am the host of this portion of Woolf in Winter, I want to mention that I am definitely trying to get round to everyone’s posts to comment – however, if I don’t seem to show up it is simply because some Blogger formats eat my comments and I haven’t been able to discover why. I am reading and LOVING all of the posts I’ve collected thus far however. 🙂 )


  1. My first Woolf novel… and, for me, it seemed to be a matter of timing. Looking forward to a reread of Mrs. Dalloway one day soon. But first, I’ll try To The Lighthouse. My post:

    • Thanks for the link! I’m super excited about reading new to me Woolf next. 🙂

  2. […] bloggers also read the book and are posting about it today, as the first part of Woolf in Winter (Sarah is the host for this book), and I’ve loved reading all of the posts. It amazes me how differently we can […]

  3. Here’s my post!

    And I loved reading your post. 🙂 I agree that it’s an uplifting book, and I think it’s insane how perfectly Woolf captures how our thoughts work!

    • Thanks for the link! Insane is an odd word to use, considering Woolf’s history with mental illness, but it is also so fitting. The way she wrote was certainly coming from a different place.

  4. A lovely review. Odd that I got so much more from those quotes on reading them here than in the book. I really do need another time -or two- through the story. Several have suggested it and it seems they’re right. Every one of the posts have taught me something and now I’m actually keen to start again. I can’t believe how much I missed. I’m so glad I joined this group and finally read this book. It’s not my first experience with Woolf but it has been the most unrewarding, which surprises me. But nowI look forward to the time I am ready for a second reading.

    • This whole group read idea came about after I read Mrs. Dalloway for the first time last summer. I was completely befuddled – loved it, didn’t understand it – and I definitely wanted to re-read it right away. Claire, who had never read Woolf, suggested a group read as a way for her to leap into the waters and I was beyond excited – it’s the perfect way to approach a book like this. I haven’t read the other three books, so I’m just as eager to share them with the group, and am sure that the experience will be just as rewarding!

  5. I hadn’t thought about whether Mrs. Dalloway was uplifting, but now I think you’re right. As for what makes it uplifting, it’s not so much her handling of themes (love, life, the preparations for the party, etc.) as it is her language. The introduction I read includes this explanation (with a snippet from Woolf’s diary): “Virginia Woolf has the strong, acute, precise perception that there is something which exceeds the realistic dimension of language. She does not know how to catch it, but ‘for the love of it’ she writes…. ‘It is poetry I want now … I want the concentration and the romance, and the words all glued together, fused, glowing – have no time to waste any more on prose.'”

    Thanks for hosting! Not sure whether I will ever reread Mrs. Dalloway, but I do firmly believe that at least a second reading is necessary to getting a really good hold on a book.

    • Every time someone quotes from Woolf’s diary or letters I am completely mesmerized. I MUST read them! They seem to be full of beautiful insights about writing and everything else too. I think I agree with you, that it is the language that is so full and rich that you can’t help feeling uplifted after finishing it, even if the story itself wasn’t cheerful.

  6. Sarah, as you know, I find Mrs. Dalloway to be uplifting as well, and I love the points you make: Clarissa’s involvement with her sensory environment, and Woolf’s ability to depict the movements of minds through time and space. Thanks for hosting this round, and for your lovely post!

    • Thanks for helping out by gathering that first batch of links, which I was pleased to copy from your post! I can’t wait to read To the Lighthouse and read your thoughts on that.

      • Heh, I was trying to make things easier for myself come two weeks from now. Glad you found it useful, too. 🙂 I’m curious for To the Lighthouse, since a few people are saying they’re finding it more difficult than Mrs. Dalloway – something I wouldn’t have expected.

  7. Exquisite! Both your thoughts here as well as Mrs. Dalloway of course. I think Emily and I have both remarked today about what a collection of personal reactions everyone is having to the book. Emotional reactions. Emotional attachments. Sarah, I feel like we are setting sail on a two month Woolf love fest!

    Also appreciate your comment about this being an uplifting book as it is. How beauty arises from something that could be bleak, depressing.

    • This group read has so far exceeded my expectations. It’s a really wonderful experience, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it! I struggled a bit with my feeling that the book was uplifting, because it is so very sad, really – and not just because of Septimus. There’s a lot of unhappy people in it. But I cannot ignore the feeling of release that I get from reading it!

      • I am feeling grateful as well. Who would have thought? I was afraid we would be begging people to read with us.

  8. Thank you for your thoughts. They add a dimension to my own reading of this sublime book.

    The use of language in the book is masterful, poetic. I am not sure I found it uplifting but perhaps exhilarating. There is great humour, unusual in a book so suffused with death.

    It is exhilarating to read a writer who so successfully enables us to see how life looks from her characters’ (hers, of course) eyes. It is rare to get such an opportunity. Elsewhere Woolf calls this her tunnelling process, a perfect description. In the diary she writes of this tunnelling:

    “. . . how I dig out beautiful caves behind my characters: I think that gives exactly what I want; humanity, humour, depth. The idea is that the caves shall connect and each comes to daylight at the present moment.”

    As a study of insanity, suicide, the role of society women, its themes were of utmost importance to Woolf. I think that’s why she is so successful at giving us this insight.

    This is my first Woolf novel, though I’ve read some of her essays. I’m fascinated and looking forward to “To the Lighthouse”.

    I made a post on completing Mrs. Dalloway:

    • Exhilarating is a perfect description, and I think that ties back in to what Julia said here earlier, about the uplifting feeling coming from Woolf’s use of language. I can’t help recognizing and being excited by truly great writing, so upon finishing the book I had to open myself to a tremendous feeling of ‘YES, this was a WONDERFUL experience’, even though it is a difficult and sad one too. Thanks very much for the link to your post!

  9. This was my second read of Mrs. Dalloway within a year, and I was surprised by how new it seemed. The book sparks a myriad of emotions and feelings – exhiliration, sometimes exasperation, exhaustion, sadness- all these feelings swirl through the time and tide of Clarissa Dalloway’s day.

    Thanks for hosting this discussion! I was glad to have the impetus for re-reading, because I think it was more meaningful to me the second time around 🙂

    My post is here:

    • Thanks for the link! This is definitely an emotional read, and that becomes even more apparent when you can witness the reaction of a whole group of people at the same time. This group read has already been amazing in that aspect.

  10. I think this is a book that bears repeated readings–one or two simply isn’t enough. And not just because there’s so much to be gleaned from it–it’s just a beautiful read.

    • I feel that this may be a book that I want to read about once a year! If the next three books are anything similar, I may spend the rest of my life cycling through Woolf’s work! 🙂

  11. Sarah, I had a blast. ALthough, I admit everything wasn’t clear to me at first, but getting clearer by every post I read, thanks to all the participants.

    I also found this an uplifting read, which is surprising, given the bit about Septimus. Still, in the end there was more hopefulness than remorse.

    Thanks for hosting this round where so many are participating! Thought you might need a little help rounding the posts up. More links:
    Savidge Reads
    Kaye’s Book Review Page

    • Thank you, thank you Claire for the help with the links!! I had to take a break for work, but I’m back to round up more. It’s immensely exciting, isn’t it? Getting the view point of so many people makes for such an expansive reading experience.

      • Oh, and since I’m still having trouble with comments getting sucked away into internet space, I’ll reply to your lovely post here!

        Thanks for that quote from the intro of your copy. This bit was particularly great: ‘People are the product of their past as well as their present, the sum of multiple perspectives upon them, the ways that a variety of others perceive them.’ So true of the characters and the way Woolf is examining them in this book. Wonderful.

  12. I have just finished reading Mrs Dalloway and am about to do my own post on the book soon but I do have to say, this being my very first reading of Woolf – WOW! I can’t believe I haven’t read any of her work before this – now I know what I have been missing! I’m not sure if I just lucked out with Mrs D being the first book on our read along list but I really connected with this book – the style, the writing, the setting and the characters themselves in many ways. Can’t wait to read more Woolf!

    • Yay!! I’m so glad you liked it. I too feel like I lucked out with this one, but I am super excited about reading more Woolf and do feel like it will be equally rewarding.

  13. It’s early in the morning of the 16th here. I haven’t had time to read any posts yet, but I will, when I’m awake! Here’s my post on Mrs Dalloway:

    • Thanks for the link! I’m off to see what you thought. Hurray for group reads! 🙂

  14. This was my first reading of any Woolf and what I way to start! Here’s my thoughts

    • Ooo, sounds like you’re excited about it. Thanks for the link!

      • Bah, that same old problem with Blogger eating my comments…so I’ll reply to your post here. Thanks for it! I love your comparison to Seinfeld. So brilliant. I really identify with the idea that it is the seeming nothings of life that really build life, and that today you are the product of all your vague, meandering thoughts from yesterday. Something like that. 🙂

  15. I have a bit left to read but hope to post my own thoughts by weekend’s end. Really loving this book so far, and I can’t wait for a re-read of The Hours after all is said and done. I keep realizing all that I missed reading The Hours before I ever got to Mrs. Dalloway.

    • I look forward to your post, and I need to read The Hours for the first time, it seems, after spending today being reminded on all sides that it is a good one!

  16. Given how lame two other 1920s “classics” I read last year turned out to be, Sarah, Mrs. Dalloway struck a great blow for giving the decade another chance! Not sure I’d agree it was “uplifting” in terms of the content but I definitely agree in terms of the style. Look forward to reading everybody else’s reviews–thanks for being the hostess with the mostess this round!

    • Glad you liked it Richard. I’m actually relieved! 🙂 I think I’ve begun to establish in my own head, thanks to the conversation here so far, that my ‘uplifted’ feeling did definitely stem from the style and language of the book and not the content.

      Off to collect your link! (Wipes sweat off brow…!)

  17. I seem to be in the minority in my opinion that the book is depressing, not uplifting! I still enjoyed it though, and did appreciate the language and style much more than I expected.

    • This book, more than many others I have read, seems to draw as much from your own life and experiences as the authors – perhaps more so. That makes the widely differing opinions and responses part of the uniqueness of the book, I think.

  18. I wanted to leave comments on some people’s Blogger sites, but as I don’t have a Blogger account or Open ID etc, I am unable to. And Blogger ate my comments on other sites 😦 I’m happy about the fact that so many people were excited to read Woolf for the first time! And it’s great to see the variety of different meanings people have made from the text. I don’t know if anyone else has mentioned it, but I read somewhere that Septimus Smith was so-named because Woolf was the seventh child in the blended Stephen/Duckworth family. I think he is the closest Woolf comes to writing publicly about her own experience of mental illness.

    • That’s very interesting about Septimus’ name. I hadn’t heard that before.

  19. Thank you for hosting this part of the Woolf in Winter. I hadn’t re-read the book since university and I was glad to do it – to make myself sit down with it and live in that world for a few days.

    My post is finally up. I guess I’ll say I was fashionably late to this one. I had to sit with the book for a day and think about it before I could sit down to write about it.

    • I finished the book yesterday morning, and I definitely felt the need to sit and think about it – but my duty as hostess called! Thanks for the link. So glad you enjoyed the book!

  20. It was so wonderful to read the book. I never heard of Woolf before and thanks to the challenge that you and the three other ladies are hosting I am now loving her writing.

    • I think it’s so cool that you found us and were introduced to Woolf! Even better that you liked her and Mrs. Dalloway of course. Thanks for the link. I look forward to your thoughts on the rest of the books.

  21. You say “her ability to capture the flow of the mind’s workings, and show how we try, moment to moment, to hold it all together and get on with living, even as the world jumbles by in confusion, and Life and Death are constantly glimpsed out of the corners of our eyes.” So beautifully said! that’s what I liked too. I’m looking forward to more Woolf next week!

    • I’m super excited about more Woolf as well, since it’s all new to me from here out!

  22. We were linked from Blogging Woolf.

  23. thanks for stopping by and your kind comments, I did enjoy reading everybody’s posts and hearing their perspective on the book. I will try the next book and give Virginia another chance 🙂 The group reading experience has been most rewarding. I loved reading the participants evaluations and thoughts on the book.

    • I’m so glad you’re going to give Woolf another go. I can’t vouch for the other books, as they will be new to me, but hopefully you’ll find something more to your taste. Or not! Either way, it will be another good group read experience.

  24. I’m afraid I didn’t have anything too profound to say about Mrs. Dalloway either, much as I loved it. I think I drained all my words for Woolf on the essay I did on The Waves in college, which I’ll be posting on that book’s discussion day.

    But one thing I keep coming back to is, like you noted too, the link between Septimus and Clarissa. In The Waves Woof shows us how friends – who, of course, will have many things in common – are bound to one another in their thoughts and lives. Here, however, she undertakes the more difficult task of demonstrating the same thing with two complete strangers. And she succeeds brilliantly.

    • It’s crazy to think that we all probably have a bound with someone we don’t know and are unlikely to ever meet! I bet it’s true. I’m really looking forward to your thoughts about The Waves!

  25. Enjoyed your thoughts, and thanks for hosting this. It’s my first group read, I think, and it’s turning out to be a very good experience.

    • I’m so pleased that you’ve gotten something out of the experience. When the four of us came up with the idea we had no idea it would impact so many people. It’s been amazing so for – and we still have three more books to go!

  26. Hi
    Am very much enjoying other people’s thought about Mrs Dalloway. I agree with the person above who says they did not find it uplifting. I found it incredibly hard work and approach the next one with not a little trepidation. I like a challenge and this certainly fit the bill. I finished reading it before new year and my review is here:
    thanks to everyone for sharing

    • Glad that, even though you didn’t necessarily like the book, you’re willing to give Woolf another shot. Thanks for the link!

  27. Thank you for hosting! I think this can be both uplifting and depressing; that’s the beauty of much of this book that Woolf could so easily present the two sides of a situation or perspective.

    • Exactly – the fact that depending on your own experiences and tastes you can take many different responses to the book is pretty neat.

  28. Thanks for your hosting of the Mrs. Dalloway portion of Woolf in Winter-I was so excited to find it (just in early January), but since Mrs. D is not new to me, I knew I could plunge right in). It’s amazing to me that I still love this novel more than 20 years after reading it for the first time. I look forward to posting again for the next 3 books !


    • It’s really cool how this book seems to keep up with you – whenever you read it, at whatever age you are, it can offer you something, or perhaps open itself to you for the first time. Thanks for the link!

  29. […] have been greatly impacted by the insights of so many others. I am still adding posts to my list (found here) so I recommend checking back a few more times! See you at Emily’s blog on the 29th of […]

  30. I’m horribly late with my post (put it up yesterday), but thanks so much for hosting this first stop! It was just the push I needed to read Mrs. Dalloway.

    • Thanks for the link Andi! I’m glad you got through it – hopefully enjoyed it. I’m off to check your post out.

  31. […] was made very clear through the conversations across many blogs two weeks ago that reading a book is an experience effected by far more than the content wrapped between two […]

  32. […] Mrs. Dalloway discussion, led by Sarah, which took place Jan. 15 with a Jan. 18 update here. […]

  33. […] recent reviews of Mrs. Dalloway, because a lot of bookbloggers read it for the Woolf in Winter read-along. Do go and read at least some of them, because they’re all great reviews from which I learned […]

  34. […] life has developed in the past year: my busiest day ever on this blog was Jan. 15th, the day the discussion for Mrs. Dalloway began as part of the Woolf in Winter project. What fun that was! Hosted by Emily, […]

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