This extraordinary novel with its profound contemplation upon the nature of the passing of time takes place during the space of one day in June 1923. It was published in 1925. Woolf captures in the events of this single day the malaise that gripped post-war Britain through a marvellous attention to detail and the interrelationship between individuals in the metropolis. Although many of the characters’ lives are steeped in tragedy, this is the most optimistic of Woolf’s novels with the brilliance of the appearance of Elizabeth during the final party representing a resolutely positive view of the future. Woolf has a double vision of the working of time – there is an external time and an internal time which function alongside, but not always in tandem with each other. Through being party to the internal as well as external lives of the characters in Mrs Dalloway, we are made aware of the functioning of these two types of time.

Like most Modernist novels, the plot of Mrs Dalloway - as far as this can be defined – is extremely simple. It traces the footsteps and thoughts of Clarissa Dalloway, the wife of an MP, Richard Dalloway, as she prepares for a party she is holding that evening. Woolf’s mastery is the way that she shows Mrs Dalloway from others’ viewpoints and traces the random thought patterns, which give coherency to the individual elements of Mrs Dalloway’s day. Like the traces left by the aeroplane in the sky, it is only once we decipher these arbitrary thoughts that we come to understand Mrs Dalloway and that which she represents.

Peter Walsh, an ex-lover of Clarissa’s, has returned from India to arrange his marriage to Daisy, who is at present married to a Major in the army in India. Peter observes the changes that Clarissa has gone through – she seems weaker and more given over to frivolities. We not only learn about Clarissa through Peter’s reactions to her, we also learn about Peter. His feelings for Clarissa are ambiguous. He sees himself as more profound and moral than the people with whom Clarissa mixes. However, because of his past fondness for her, he is forgiving and avoids overtly criticizing her, even within his own mind. The overall picture we get of Peter is a weak, vain, self-absorbed man, who never quite got over Clarissa’s rejection of him.

In contrast to the affluent lives of Clarissa and Peter, with their bourgeois concerns, are Septimus and Rezia Smith. Rezia is an Italian, caring and delicate, who looks after her husband, Septimus, who is suffering from shell shock. His closest friend, Evans, was killed during the war, but as a result of his illness Septimus often sees him. Evans appears in the novel to remind the reader that were it not for heroes such as him, the cosy urban life of Mrs Dalloway would be very different indeed.

Rezia, out of profound concern for the worsening condition of her husband, takes him to the renowned neurologist Sir William Bradshaw. The surgeon is deeply unhelpful. Later that day, Septimus’ GP, Dr Holmes, calls by to check on his condition. Septimus, in a deep state of paranoia, throws himself from a window.

Sir William Bradshaw attends Clarissa’s party that evening and the tale of Septimus’ suicide casts a momentary pall over the festivities. Mrs Dalloway, however, refuses to let the story unduly unnerve her, and the novel ends with Clarissa’s realization that her daughter has grown into a beautiful young adult – ready to face an optimistic future.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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