Mrs Dalloway


Virginia Woolf

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Mrs Dalloway Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf was born into a literate, wealthy family in London, the second to last among several siblings and half-siblings. Her mother and half-sister died in her youth, leading to Woolf’s first nervous breakdown. Woolf was educated and extremely well-read, but she was never given the university opportunities her brothers were. Her father’s death and her subsequent sexual abuse by her half-brothers contributed to Woolf’s mental illness. She became friends with several notable intellectuals including John Maynard Keyes, Clive Bell, and Leonard Woolf, and this social circle was soon known as the Bloomsbury Group. Woolf married Leonard Woolf in 1912, but she also had an influential affair with the writer Vita Sackville-West. Woolf was a prolific writer, producing essays, lectures, stories, and novels until the year of her death. Her works helped shape modernist literature, psychology, and feminism, and she is considered one of the greatest lyrical writers of the English language. Woolf committed suicide at age 59.
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Historical Context of Mrs Dalloway

Mrs Dalloway takes place in June of 1923. World War I ended in 1918, and though the United Kingdom was technically victorious in the war, hundreds of thousands of soldiers died fighting and the country suffered huge financial losses. In 1922 much of Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom, and many of Britain’s colonies would reach independence in the decades following, including India, where Peter Walsh returns from. Mrs Dalloway critiques the conservatism and traditionalism of the upper classes at the time, while also portraying the tragedy of the “lost generation” following World War I, like Septimus as a victim of PTSD.

Other Books Related to Mrs Dalloway

A work that parallels and possibly influenced Mrs Dalloway was James Joyce’s Ulysses, which was another famous modernist text that follows several characters’ streams of consciousness over the course of one day. Woolf was studying classical Greek works like the Odyssey while she composed Mrs Dalloway, and she especially saw Antigone as an important work of feminine protest. Woolf’s most famous female predecessors in English literature were Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, and George Eliot.
Key Facts about Mrs Dalloway
  • Full Title: Mrs Dalloway
  • When Written: 1922-24
  • Where Written: London and Sussex
  • When Published: 1925
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Modernist Fiction
  • Setting: London, England
  • Climax: Clarissa learns of Septimus’s suicide
  • Antagonist: Dr. Holmes, Sir William Bradshaw
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient, free indirect discourse

Extra Credit for Mrs Dalloway

Other Mrs. Dalloways. Characters named “Mrs. Dalloway” also appear in Woolf’s first novel The Voyage Out and in five of her stories, though they don’t all seem to be the same woman.

The Hours. One of Woolf’s original titles for the novel was “The Hours,” and Michael Cunningham wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel with this title in 1998. This book, which concerns three women whose lives are affected by Mrs. Dalloway, was then made into an Oscar-winning movie of the same name.