On Virginia Woolf and Mrs Dalloway

Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway was published on this day, 14 May, in 1925. In honour of this, we thought we’d offer a few little facts about this novel, and about Woolf herself.

The action of the book takes place over just one day – a ‘moment of June’ in 1923 – although there are flashbacks to events that occurred in the characters’ lives over the previous five years, in the immediate wake of WWI. The original title of the book was ‘The Hours’, a title that Michael Cunningham would go on to use for the title of his novel about Woolf, which weaves together events from Woolf’s own life and events from Mrs Dalloway. The book was filmed, in 2002, starring Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman (the latter of whom famously wore a prosthetic nose to portray Woolf).

Woolf stampMrs Dalloway wasn’t the only novel Woolf wrote the action of which takes place on just one day. Her lesser-known last novel, Between the Acts (1941), also takes place over 24 hours, on the day when a village pageant is performed. The shadow of the coming war – this time, the Second World War – hangs over the novel, as it hung over the final months of Woolf’s life. Focusing on just one day was something that modernists like Woolf were especially fond of doing – compare James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), the action of which takes place on 16 June 1904 – because it allowed them to explore the mundane and everyday, and the ways in which characters’ thoughts, often random and inconsequential, come and go in the course of that day.

Nor was Mrs Dalloway the first novel to feature Mrs Dalloway: a character named Clarissa Dalloway had appeared ten years earlier in Woolf’s very first novel, The Voyage Out (1915). This novel, and Woolf’s second, Night and Day (1919), are much more conventional in style and structure than Mrs Dalloway and Woolf’s other ‘mature’ fiction, such as To the Lighthouse and The Waves. By the time she wrote Mrs Dalloway, she was using the famous ‘stream of consciousness’ technique that would characterise much of her fiction.

As a child, Woolf was nicknamed ‘the Goat’ by members of her family. Woolf was, of course, not a Woolf from birth: it was her married name. But nor was she born Virginia – at least not as her first given name. Her first name was Adeline, her middle name Virginia. She was born Adeline Virginia Stephen – daughter of respected man of letters Sir Leslie Stephen – in 1882.

There is only one surviving recording of Virginia Woolf’s voice. It’s from a BBC radio broadcast of 29 April 1937 and can be listened to here.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Viola van de Sandt’s Five Fascinating Facts about Virginia Woolf.

Image: Virginia Woolf, Romania stamp (2007), public domain.

12 thoughts on “On Virginia Woolf and Mrs Dalloway”

  1. Excellent essay! But whoever designed that Romanian stamp is a terrible artist. We all know the famous photo of the young Virginia Woolf looking delicate and ethereal….but it seems as though the Romanian artist had been working from a photo of Patti Smith with her hair done up. Shame on Romania for botching a famous face.

  2. Thanks. When I read this book in college, my professor quoted Woolf as saying that she sought to do away with superfluous stuff like plot in her books. That has always stuck with me. Cheers!

  3. Reblogged this on 1WriteWay and commented:
    In a time long ago, I fancied myself an amateur Woolf scholar. I had volumes of her letters and journals; her novels and essays; any biography I could find; and kept all close to my bed, within arm’s reach. My interest in Woolf started while I was in high school and continued, fairly strong, through my grad degree in English. I still fancy Woolf although it’s been a long time since I’ve (re)read anything by her. I no longer claim to be a Woolf scholar, amateur or otherwise, but like a moth to a brilliant light, I fly to her whenever I see her name.
    In this blog post, Interesting Literature not only provides an interesting tribute to Mrs. Dalloway (published on May 14, 1925), but also includes a clip of Virginia Woolf talking about writing. I had never heard her voice before. Her accent is much what you would expect from a well-educated, well-to-do British citizen of that time. Her obvious love of language, her philosophy that words should tell us the truth or create beauty, tugs at my heart given that she left this world too soon and too young.

  4. Mrs. Dalloway is the book that introduced me to Virginia Woolf and was a pivotal moment in my life. Before then I had always dismissed ‘modernist’ literatury offhandedly as ‘too pretentious’ and too complicated for me. So seeing it on a required reading list at Uni made my heart sink a little. That is, until I read the first page and was hooked. No one has the power to absorb me so completely into a book as Virginia Woolf, and I’ll always have a soft spot for good old Clarissa Dalloway!

  5. Thank you for this well-written post! I have read only one book of her’s and now plan to read the others listed by you. The recording is amazing! “…. words exist in the mind “. How true.


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