Book review: Mrs Dalloway

Mrs Dalloway- Virginia Woolf
Ever since reading Virginia Woolf's essay, A Room of One's Own, I've been meaning to try some more of her work. Heading to the classics section of the charity bookshop, buoyed by my enjoyment of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, I spotted this really pretty copy of Mrs Dalloway. It was actually published in 1996, but I think it was a 50-year anniversary of Penguin Books, hence the older appearance. 

I think I can best sum up my feelings towards this book by saying it felt never ending! I just found it incredibly dull which is odd, as it's actually heavily character-based, rather than plot-based, and this is the way I write. I'm obsessed with characters and will happily write endless character descriptions without ever putting them into any form of story.
Mrs Dalloway tells the story, if you could call it that, of wealthy Clarissa Dalloway, a politician's wife, holding one of her many parties. As she prepares for the evening, her old flame Peter Walsh arrives to attend the party. That's it. That's the plot. I'm serious.

The downfall of Mrs Dalloway is that I had no understanding of why Peter and Clarissa were ever attracted to each other. Were they a couple? Did they just have a thing for each other? What is at the heart of this relationship? For a book so reliant on exploring characters' feelings, these questions weren't really answered (or maybe they were and I just lost focus as I ploughed doggedly on!).

In fact, I was much more interested in the sub-plot, although that's not really the correct term, of Rezia and her husband Septimus, who suffers from mental health problems. Their relationship and lives seemed to have more substance than those of the other characters, and made for much more engaging reading. 
The most striking feature of Woolf's novel is the way the characters' internal monologues feed into each other without warning. At first, I found this jarring as I wasn't sure whose perspective we were reading from, but it soon became more natural. This fluid movement between characters gave the impression of flowing and winding down the streets of London. Due to this fluidity, there is no formal structure to the book so there are no chapters and very few line breaks. Although this works well given the structure of the novel, it does make it very difficult to find a good place to stop and I found it very difficult to pick up where I left off.

There is no denying that Woolf's writing is beautiful and her ideas innovative. I just wish there had been a bit more substance to it. 


  1. I've not read Mrs Dalloway but I did read To The Lighthouse for uni, and my goodness that was dull as well. I know what you mean that Woolf rights beautifully, but it's not for me I don't think x

    Claire | AgentSmyth

  2. I remember reading this for uni and hating every long drawn out page of it. I have no problem at all with 'classic' literature but something about the rhythm of this book just put me to sleep!

    1. I think the only thing worse than choosing to read this would be having to read it for uni!

  3. Thanks for entering this, Becky - really enjoyed reading it. You're right about Mrs Dalloway though, it's a tricky book. I found I understood it a lot better when I watched the film featuring Vanessa Redgrave, she plays Clarissa so well.

    Thanks again, enjoyed reading this


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