NEH Grant EX-20049-01


Mrs. Dalloway



Mrs. Dalloway was published in 1925, Woolf’s fourth novel. The action takes place during one day in mid-June, as Clarissa Dalloway prepares for a party she is to give that evening.  As Clarissa walks around London, she first encounters Hugh Whitbread, a pompous and self-important old friend. Whitbread represents tradition and the maintenance of illusion. Peter Walsh, a childhood friend of Clarissa’s who once asked her to marry him, represents emotion, impulse, and spontaneity. Clarissa is charmed by him, but preferred to marry Richard, whose stability and emotional distance allows her a safe if sterile life. Richard adores their daughter, Elizabeth, who is a free and independent modern woman, and the object of an emotional fixation by the unappealing Miss Kilman. Elizabeth and Clarissa have a bond that is strong but distant; Clarissa cannot influence her. Septimus Smith, Clarissa’s “double,” is a war veteran whose dissociative response to seeing his friend Evans’ death is disintegrating into delusions and hallucinations. His wife Rezia tries to help him, and there are moments of happiness, but finally, in reaction to the insensitive and psychologically brutal invasions of his doctors, Septimus commits suicide by leaping to his death, impaled on the points of an iron fence. Clarissa, hearing about the death at her party, withdraws temporarily, considering his action with understanding and approval. She then returns to the party, happy with her day.

Essay Questions & Paper Topics

1.      Discuss the recurring image of the “leaden circles.”

2.      In what ways are Clarissa and Septimus “doubles”?

3.      Explore Clarissa’s relationship to Richard. Why does she prefer Richard to Peter?

4.      Why is Dr. Bradshaw an unsympathetic character?

5.      Why does Septimus kill himself? Discuss Clarissa’s reaction to his death.


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DeMeester, Karen. “Trauma and recovery in Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs. Dalloway.’” Modern Fiction Studies Fall 1998 v.44:3

Guth, Deborah. “Rituals of self-deception: Clarissa Dalloway’s final moment of vision.” Twentieth Century Literature Spring 1990 v.36:1

Hoff, Molly. “The pseudo-Homeric world of Mrs. Dalloway.” Twentieth Century Literature Jan 1999 v.45:2

Hoff, Molly. “Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.” The Explicator Fall 2001 v.60

Littleton, Jacob. “’Mrs. Dalloway’: portrait of the artist as a middle-aged woman.” Twentieth Century Literature Spring 1995 v.41:1

Lackey, Michael. “Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.” The Explicator Summer 1999 v.57:4

Monte, Steven. “Ancients and moderns in ‘Mrs. Dalloway.’” Modern Language Quarterly Dec 2000 v.61:4

Viola, Andre. “’Buds on the tree of life’: a recurrent mythological image in Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs. Dalloway.’” Journal of Modern Literature Winter 1996 v.20:2

Young, John. “Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.” The Explicator Winter 2000 v.58:2

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