Book Review: "Mrs. Dalloway" by Virginia Woolf

cover image of Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Reading Mrs. Dalloway involved learning a lesson that I didn’t expect.  I went into it flippantly, even though I had been warned that Virginia Woolf was difficult.  But I have read authors that some consider difficult and made it through…  I thought I knew more than I did.  I mean, it is a small book, and I assumed it would be a quick read no matter what.  I knew some people loved Woolf, and I hoped I would find an enjoyable story in it.  After all, it was a day in the life of a woman planning a party… how difficult could it really be?

Yes.  I thought that.  Can you see me cringing with that admission?  I can’t believe that I tried to debase Woolf, not to mention women in general (and I am a woman!) to that level.  I am not even going to get into all the terrible things that I’m thinking about myself right now, for thinking so simply.  For not realizing the scope of what that initial assumption could mean in a general sense.  Like I said, I am a woman (though I’ll safely assume that this applies to men as well) and I am perfectly aware of how much and how often my mind wanders throughout any given day…. subject to subject, to the past, and curious wonderings about strangers I see on the street….  I guess I never expected that true mind stream of thought could be captured so eloquently on the page.

It takes some getting used to; and I certainly had a hard time with it at first.  Thankfully, I received some great advice which really helped me let loose my usual reading style and ride the stream of consciousness flow of thoughts and ideas.  (Read the post and comments linked HERE if you are interested in the discussion)  The two hardest concepts for me to wrap my head around were that there isn’t much plot and that not every little detail matters.  It also helped to read some passages aloud, so I could grasp where the point of view changed.  While this is a day in the life of Mrs. (Clarissa) Dalloway, we also see into the minds of different people in her life or at least touch her life and day and thoughts in some manner.  I’d say that the first quarter of the book is an exercise in adjusting to this literary writing style.

And this style is extraordinary.  It is innovative.  Simple and complex all at once.  You don’t have to like it or enjoy it to see and appreciate the importance of it.  I’d imagine that re-reading this would be almost necessary to pick up on the subconscious thoughts embedded in the stream of consciousness…  It is going to take me a bit before I will be able to do that though.  This was so far out of my comfort zone that I am going to need to be gentle to my mind for a bit and read something light (and with more plot!).  I am not put off by Woolf though, and I still have Orlando on my Classics Club list.  But I will be better prepared to give her and her writing a proper go from the start next time.  I should also add that an annotated edition might have been helpful in my case!

Mrs. Dalloway
by Virginia Woolf
Harcourt, 1998.  Originally published 1925
194 pages
Source:  Purchased Used
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14 thoughts on “Book Review: "Mrs. Dalloway" by Virginia Woolf

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  1. Great review! I have this in my TBR pile but haven't gotten to it yet because, to be honest, it sounded a bit… boring. Isn't that terrible? But you've made it sound definitely worth a read. What advice were you given about reading it?


  2. I read Mrs Dalloway a long time ago, when I wasn't quite a mature enough reader to appreciate all its little quirks I think- I more or less treated it as an accompaniment to The Hours, which is one of my favourite books. So, a re-reading is in order, I think! Probably, like you say, with an annotated version too!


  3. I read this with my book club a while back and so many members struggled, but we had the best discussion ever – mostly about our reading experience.

    What makes Mrs. Dalloway so special to me is how alive the novel feels. I know most think the story is slow and tedious, but Woolf's novel is so much more than story. The construction of the sentences do just as much telling as the words – short, choppy sentences during the hustle and bustle of street scenes, long, winding complexities when we enter someone's mind. Amazing.

    These kinds of novels rely upon slow, deliberate reading. I find that reading them while in a bubble bath helps me relax and more easily enjoy the slower pacing.

    I'm glad you were able to conquer Woolf and hope that you'll continue to read her!


  4. I've read bits and pieces of Woolf before for my Lit courses in college, The Lighthouse and Three Guineas, but I've never completed a novel by her before because I really struggled with her style…and I have three of her books on my TBR pile! Your post makes me feel a lot better about my struggles though, and I'll definitely be checking out those comments for the helpful tips you got. Every little bit helps. Thanks for the review!


  5. I love the discovery you made about your impression of Mrs. Dalloway's day. I think that's what it's all about: having our preconceptions challenged, and being able to face what we thought we knew and learn from the author's words — to realign our own thinking. It sounds like you got a lot out of this first read of Dalloway!

    Have you read A Room of One's Own? It's absolutely incredible and not so difficult to follow. I love Woolf's essay voice. It's so strong and intelligent.


  6. I had been struggling through Mrs. Dalloway for the first 10 pages. So I googled to see if anyone else had difficulties, and your blog came up.

    I read your before and after posts on Mrs. Dalloway and all the comments, and they have helped me immensely. Since I have changed the purpose of my reading, it is a completely different experience now. Thanks!


  7. I'm glad you were able to enjoy this book. It is an amazing piece of writing and worth going back to more than once. I found that the switches in point of view were easier to follow if I pictured them like a movie since many of them shift with a vision (narrator sees a man across the lawn, then we are seeing her from man's point of view — this is not in the novel, I made it us as an example)


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