Elegantly interweaving her characters' complex inner lives in an unbroken stream of consciousness, Virginia Woolf's "Mrs Dalloway" continues to enthral readers with its exploration of the human experience; of time, space, madness and regret. This "Penguin Classics" edition is edited by Stella McNichol with an introduction and notes by Elaine Showalter. Past, present and future are brought together one momentous June day in 1923. Clarissa Dalloway, elegant and vivacious, is preparing for a party while reminiscing about her childhood romance with Peter Walsh, and dwelling on her daughter Elizabeth's rapidly-approaching adulthood. In another part of London, war veteran Septimus Smith is shell-shocked and on the brink of madness, slowly spiralling towards self-annihilation. Their experiences mingling, yet never quite meeting, Virginia Woolf masterfully portrays a serendipitous unity of inner lives, converging as the party reaches its glittering climax. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) is regarded as a major 20th century author and essayist, a key figure in literary history as a feminist and modernist, and the centre of "The Bloomsbury Group". This informal collective of artists and writers which included Lytton Strachey and Roger Fry, exerted a powerful influence over early twentieth-century British culture. Between 1925 and 1931 Virginia Woolf produced what are now regarded as her finest masterpieces, from "Mrs Dalloway" (1925) to the poetic and highly experimental novel "The Waves" (1931). She also maintained an astonishing output of literary criticism, short fiction, journalism and biography, including the playfully subversive "Orlando" (1928) and "A Room of One's Own" (1929) a passionate feminist essay. If you enjoyed "Mrs Dalloway", you might like James Joyce's "Ulysses", also available in "Penguin Classics". "The book's celebrated stream of consciousness is one of the few genuine innovations in the history of the novel." ("New Yorker").
As Clarissa Dalloway walks through London on a fine June morning, a sky-writing plane captures her attention. Crowds stare upwards to decipher the message while the plane turns and loops, leaving off one letter, picking up another. Like the airplane's swooping path, Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway
follows Clarissa and those whose lives brush hers--from Peter Walsh, whom she spurned years ago, to her daughter Elizabeth, the girl's angry teacher, Doris Kilman, and war-shocked Septimus Warren Smith, who is sinking into madness.
As Mrs. Dalloway prepares for the party she is giving that evening, a series of events intrudes on her composure. Her husband is invited, without her, to lunch with Lady Bruton (who, Clarissa notes anxiously, gives the most amusing luncheons). Meanwhile, Peter Walsh appears, recently from India, to criticize and confide in her. His sudden arrival evokes memories of a distant past, the choices she made then, and her wistful friendship with Sally Seton.
Woolf then explores the relationships between women and men, and between women, as Clarissa muses, "It was something central which permeated; something warm which broke up surfaces and rippled the cold contact of man and woman, or of women together.... Her relation in the old days with Sally Seton. Had not that, after all, been love?" While Clarissa is transported to past afternoons with Sally, and as she sits mending her green dress, Warren Smith catapults desperately into his delusions. Although his troubles form a tangent to Clarissa's web, they undeniably touch it, and the strands connecting all these characters draw tighter as evening deepens. As she immerses us in each inner life, Virginia Woolf offers exquisite, painful images of the past bleeding into the present, of desire overwhelmed by society's demands. --Joannie Kervran Stangeland