The Individual

In Mrs Dalloway, we are given views of Clarissa from many different viewpoints. We understand that her identity is not fixed, but changes when she is with Peter, Miss Kilman, Elizabeth, and her husband. Peter best summarizes the paradox that is Mrs Dalloway: "She had a sense of comedy that was really exquisite, but she needed people, always people, to bring it out, with the inevitable result that she frittered her time away, lunching, dining, giving these incessant parties of hers, talking nonsense, saying things she doesn’t mean, blunting the edge of her mind, losing her discrimination." We agree with Peter that Clarissa is indeed a social chameleon, twisting and turning so as to catch the light of her admirers’ glances in the most flattering way. When she is alone and looking in the mirror, she compares herself to a diamond, solid and valuable (pp34-35).

Mrs Dalloway works as a novel through holding a mirror up to its characters and asking them to scrutinise themselves. We, the readers, are then invited to scrutinise this scrutinizing. Peter is there to cast light on Richard Dalloway. Although Richard is at first presented – mainly through Peter’s references to him – as a busy and uncaring husband, we come to learn that actually Richard is a source of love and stability in Clarissa’s life and that it is actually the financially and romantically unsuccessful Peter who is to be pitied. Similarly, Clarissa admires the old woman who lives across the road because she has kept her integrity despite the ravages of time. Clarissa worries that she has lost her integrity and is actually the way that Peter describes her: shallow and unfulfilled; "a thing there was that mattered; a thing wreathed about with chatter, defaced, obscured in her own life, let drop every day in corruption, lies, chatter". Note the poetic rhythm and rhyme in this section. Like Shakespeare, Woolf uses heightened poetic language and rhyme to indicate sections of emotional intensity. The individual in Mrs Dalloway is lonely and made up of disparate, fluctuating elements, all of them desperately trying to maintain or regain the integrity of the old woman over the road.

Social Life

The novel attacks the values of bourgeois society in the post-war world. Woolf is holding up a mirror to the upper middle classes in the guise of Septimus and asking whether they can carry on attending the same old frivolous parties and social functions when the whole fabric of existence has shifted so radically. Peter and Sally appear in the novel to remind us that Clarissa once cared for things other than dinner dates and lunch parties – that she too once had a social conscience. Clarissa’s rejection of the values of her youth is exemplified by her refusal to let the story of Septimus’ suicide ruin her party: "What business had the Bradshaws to talk of death at her party? A young man had killed himself. And they talked of it at her party – the Bradshaws talked of death."

Clarissa’s snobbishness is exaggerated by Woolf to show the instability and lack of profundity inherent in the British upper classes after the war. Clarissa looks down upon her cousin, Ellie Henderson, because she lacks the sufficient social airs and graces (and wealth) to allow her to mix in the society that Clarissa keeps. Similarly Clarissa despises the lesbian Miss Kilman (note the name) because Elizabeth accepts her despite her working-class status. Sally complains that Clarissa has never come to visit her in Manchester because she married a miner’s son. Woolf’s main point here is that in the new post-war world, where the sons of lords fought alongside the sons of greengrocers, there is no place for this type of snobbery.


The city is a lonely place; whose random acts of tragic consequence are only heightened by the attention that Woolf pays to geographical detail in this novel. Each of the characters is tied to a specific part of London, and this locational characterisation helps us to understand and relate to the characters better. The Dalloways are linked to affluent and political Westminster, and Woolf’s indictment of the frivolous life of Clarissa is by association an indictment of the Westminster politicians.

We get a distinct sense of Clarissa living within a world whose limits are very distinct – she lives in Westminster, shops in Bond Street and Piccadilly, she rarely leaves the world of comfortable affluence. The Smiths,

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.