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Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway is the inspiration for Michael Cunningham's The Hours, the award-winning novel and Oscar-nominated film.
A 1925 landmark of modernist fiction that follows an the wife of an MP around London as she prepares for her party that afternoon. Direct and vivid in its telling of details, the novel shifts from the consciousness of Clarissa Dalloway to that of others, including a shell-shocked veteran of World War I whose destiny briefly intersects with hers.
The feelings that loom behind such mundane events as buying flowers -- the social alliances, the exchanges with shopkeepers, the fact of death -- give Mrs. Dalloway its texture and richness.
For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer's men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning-fresh as if issued to children on a beach.
What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke winding off them and the rooks rising, falling; standing and looking until Peter Walsh said, "Musing among the vegetables?"-was that it?-"I prefer men to cauliflowers"-was that it? He must have said it at breakfast one morning when she had gone out on to the terrace-Peter Walsh. He would be back from India one o£ these days, June or July, she forgot which, for his letters were awfully dull; it was his sayings one remembered; his eyes, his pocket-knife, his smile, his grumpiness and, when millions of things had utterly vanished-how strange it was!-a few sayings like this about cabbages.
She stiffened a little on the kerb, waiting for Durtnall's van to pass. A charming woman, Scrope Purvis thought her (knowing her as one does know people who live next door to one in Westminster); a touch of the bird about her, of the jay, blue-green, light, vivacious, though she was over fifty, and grown very white since her illness. There she perched, never seeing him, waiting to cross, very upright.
For having lived in Westminster-how many years now? over twenty,-one feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a par-ticular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense (but that might be her heart, affected, they said, by influenza) before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, ir-revocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can't be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people's eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the up-roar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sand-wich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.
For it was the middle of June. The War was over, except for some one like Mrs. Foxcroft at the Embassy last night eating her heart out because that nice boy was killed and now the old Manor House must go to a cousin; or Lady Bexborough who opened a bazaar, they said, with the telegram in her hand, John, her favourite, killed; but it was over; thank Heaven-over. It was June. The King and Queen were at the Palace. And everywhere, though it was still so early, there was a beating, a stirring of galloping ponies, tapping of cricket bats; Lords, Ascot, Ranelagh and all the rest of it; wrapped in the soft mesh of the grey-blue morning air, which, as the day wore on, would unwind them, and set down on their lawns and pitches the bouncing po-nies whose forefeet just struck the ground and up they sprung, the whirling young men, and laughing girls in their transparent muslins who, even now, after dancing all night, were taking their absurd woolly dogs for a run; and even now, at this hour, discreet old dowagers were shooting out in their motor cars on errands of mystery; and the shopkeepers were fidgeting in their windows with their paste and diamonds, their lovely old sea-green brooches in eighteenth-century settings to tempt Americans (but one must economise, not buy things rashly for Elizabeth), and she, too, loving it as she did with an absurd and faithful passion, being part of it, since her people were courtiers once in the time of the Georges, she, too, was going that very night to kindle and illuminate; to give her party. But how strange, on entering the Park, the silence; the mist; the hum; the slow-swimming happy ducks; the pouched birds waddling; and who should be coming along with his back against the Government buildings, most ap-propriately, carrying a despatch box stamped with the Royal Arms, who but Hugh Whitbread; her old friend Hugh-the admirable Hugh!
"Good-morning to you, Clarissa!" said Hugh, rather extravagantly, for they had known each other as children. "Where are you off to?"
"I love walking in London," said Mrs. Dalloway. "Really it's better than walking in the country."
They had just come up-unfortunately-to see doc-tors. Other people came to see pictures; go to the opera; take their daughters out; the Whitbreads came "to see doctors." Times without number Clarissa had visited Evelyn Whitbread in a nursing home. Was Evelyn ill again? Evelyn was a good deal out of sorts, said Hugh, intimating by a kind of pout or swell of his very well-covered, manly, extremely handsome, perfectly uphol-stered body (he was almost too well dressed always, but presumably had to be, with his little job at Court) that his wife had some internal ailment, nothing serious, which, as an old friend, Clarissa Dalloway would quite understand without requiring him to specify. Ah yes, she did of course; what a nuisance; and felt very sisterly and oddly conscious at the same time of her hat. Not the right hat for the early morning, was that it? For Hugh always made her feel, as he bustled on, raising his hat rather extravagantly and assuring her that she might be a girl of eighteen, and of course he was coming to her party to-night, Evelyn absolutely insisted, only a little late he might be after the party at the Palace to which he had to take one of Jim's boys,-she always felt a little skimpy beside Hugh; schoolgirlish; but attached to him, partly from having known him always, but she did think him a good sort in his own way, though Richard was nearly driven mad by him, and as for Peter Walsh, he had never to this day forgiven her for liking him.
She could remember scene after scene at Bourton- Peter furious; Hugh not, of course, his match in any way, but still not a positive imbecile as Peter made out; not a mere barber's block. When his old mother wanted him to give up shooting or to take her to Bath he did it, without a word; he was really unselfish, and as for say-ing, as Peter did, that he had no heart, no brain, noth-ing but the manners and breeding of an English gentle-man, that was only her dear Peter at his worst; and he could be intolerable; he could be impossible; but ador-able to walk with on a morning like this.
(June had drawn out every leaf on the trees. The mothers of Pimlico gave suck to their young. Messages were passing from the Fleet to the Admiralty. Arlington Street and Piccadilly seemed to chafe the very air in the Park and lift its leaves hotly, brilliantly, on waves of that divine vitality which Clarissa loved. To dance, to ride, she had adored all that.)
For they might be parted for hundreds of years, she and Peter; she never wrote a letter and his were dry sticks; but suddenly it would come over her, If he were with me now what would he say?-some days, some sights bringing him back to her calmly, without the old bitterness; which perhaps was the reward of having cared for people; they came back in the middle of St. James's Park on a fine morning-indeed they did. But Peter-however beautiful the day might be, and the trees and the grass, and the little girl in pink-Peter never saw a thing of all that. He would put on his spec-tacles, if she told him to; he would look. It was the state of the world that interested him; Wagner, Pope's po-etry, people's characters eternally, and the defects of her own soul. How he scolded her! How they argued! She would marry a Prime Minister and stand at the top of a staircase; the perfect hostess he called her (she had cried over it in her bedroom), she had the makings of the perfect hostess, he said.
So she would still find herself arguing in St. James's Park, still making out that she had been right-and she had too-not to marry him. For in marriage a little licence, a little independence there must be between people living together day in day out in the same house; which Richard gave her, and she him. (Where was he this morning for instance? Some committee, she never asked what.) But with Peter everything had to be shared; everything gone into. And it was intolerable, and when it came to that scene in the little garden by the fountain, she had to break with him or they would have been destroyed, both o£ them ruined, she was con-vinced; though she had borne about with her for years like an arrow sticking in her heart the grief, the an-guish; and then the horror of the moment when some one told her at a concert that he had married a woman met on the boat going to India! Never should she forget all that! Cold, heartless, a prude, he called her. Never could she understand how he cared. But those Indian women did presumably-silly, pretty, flimsy nincom-poops. And she wasted her pity. For he was quite happy, he assured her-perfectly happy, though he had never done a thing that they talked of; his whole life had been a failure. It made her angry still.
She had reached the Park gates. She stood for a mo-ment, looking at the omnibuses in Piccadilly.
She would not say of any one in the world now that they were this or were that. She felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged. She sliced like a knife through everything; at the same time was outside, look-ing on. She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dan-gerous to live even one day. Not that she thought her-self clever, or much out of the ordinary. How she had got through life on the few twigs of knowledge Fraulein Daniels gave them she could not think. She knew noth-ing; no language, no history; she scarcely read a book now, except memoirs in bed; and yet to her it was ab-solutely absorbing; all this; the cabs passing; and she would not say of Peter, she would not say of herself, I am this, I am that.
Her only gift was knowing people almost by in-stinct, she thought, walking on. If you put her in a room with some one, up went her back like a cat's; or she purred. Devonshire House, Bath House, the house with the china cockatoo, she had seen them all lit up once; and remembered Sylvia, Fred, Sally Seton-such hosts of people; and dancing all night; and the waggons plodding past to market; and driving home across the Park. She remembered once throwing a shilling into the Serpentine. But every one remembered; what she loved was this, here, now, in front of her; the fat lady in the cab. Did it matter then, she asked herself, walk-ing towards Bond Street, did it matter that she must in-evitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely? but that somehow in the streets of London, on the ebb and flow of things, here, there, she survived, Peter survived, lived in each other, she being part, she was positive, of the trees at home; of the house there, ugly, rambling all to bits and pieces as it was; part of people she had never met; being laid out like a mist between the people she knew best, who lifted her on their branches as she had seen the trees lift the mist, but it spread ever so far, her life, her-self. But what was she dreaming as she looked into Hatchards' shop window? What was she trying to re-cover? What image of white dawn in the country, as she read in the book spread open:
Fear no more the heat o' the sun Nor the furious winter's rages.
This late age of the world's experience had bred in them all, all men and women, a well of tears. Tears and sorrows; courage and endurance; a perfectly upright and stoical bearing. Think, for example, of the woman she admired most, Lady Bexborough, opening the bazaar.
There were Jorrocks' Jaunts and Jollities; there were Soapy Sponge and Mrs. Asquith's Memoirs and Big Game Shooting in Nigeria, all spread open. Ever so many books there were; but none that seemed exactly right to take to Evelyn Whitbread in her nursing home. Nothing that would serve to amuse her and make that indescribably dried-up little woman look, as Clarissa came in, just for a moment cordial; before they settled down for the usual interminable talk of women's ail-ments. How much she wanted it-that people should look pleased as she came in, Clarissa thought and turned and walked back towards Bond Street, annoyed, be-cause it was silly to have other reasons for doing things. Much rather would she have been one of those people like Richard who did things for themselves, whereas, she thought, waiting to cross, half the time she did things not simply, not for themselves; but to make peo-ple think this or that; perfect idiocy she knew (and now the policeman held up his hand) for no one was ever for a second taken in. Oh if she could have had her life over again! she thought, stepping on to the pavement, could have looked even differently!
She would have been, in the first place, dark like Lady Bexborough, with a skin of crumpled leather and beautiful eyes. She would have been, like Lady Bexborough, slow and stately; rather large; interested in politics like a man; with a country house; very digni-fied, very sincere. Instead of which she had a narrow pea-stick figure; a ridiculous little face, beaked like a bird's. That she held herself well was true; and had nice hands and feet; and dressed well, considering that she spent little. But often now this body she wore (she stopped to look at a Dutch picture), this body, with all its capacities, seemed nothing-nothing at all. She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible, unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only this astonishing and rather solemn progress with the rest of them, up Bond Street, this being Mrs. Dalloway; not eve Clarissa any more; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway.
Copyright 1925 by Harcourt, Inc.
Copyright renewed 1953 by Leonard Woolf
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address:
Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.
|General Editors' Preface|
|2||Figures of Desire: Narration and Fiction in To the Lighthouse||33|
|3||Mrs Dalloway: Repetition as Raising of the Dead||45|
|4||Repression in Mrs Dalloway's London||57|
|5||Hume, Stephen, and Elegy in To the Lighthouse||71|
|6||Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Feminist readings of Woolf||87|
|8||'Cam the Wicked': Woolf's Portrait of the Artist as her Father's Daughter||112|
|9||Mothers and Daughters in Virginia Woolf's Victorian Novel||130|
|10||Thinking Forward Through Mrs Dalloway's Daughter||142|
|Notes on Contributors||162|
Posted May 10, 2006
Mrs. Dalloway is a difficult book to read, especially if you do not enjoy reading or you are not a very apt reader. I've read several reviews on Virginia Woolf's books, and I have to say that the main reason behind the bad reviews is ignorance. It is a day, and in this single day in a person's life Woolf makes the closest representation of love in writing I have ever read. Simply genius, however difficult the book is for you, I assure you that the ending makes it worth it. However, if by the time you finish it you feel like Woolf failed and did not 'make sure something happened', go watch an action film that's not too clever for you. :)
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Posted June 28, 2010
I will admit, when I first attempted to read this novel, I was intimidated by Woolf's complicated, dense prose and lack of plot substance. I now can say that it is one of my favorite novels not for its plot (which is admittedly nothing more than one day in the life of a simple woman setting up for an evening with friends) or escapism in setting or fantastic characters but for the symbolism throughout. The characters are shattered, fragmented (because of WWI, in my opinion) and seem to represent facets of society. I found, in them, bits and pieces of my own self; I was forced to look upon the unpleasant and questioned the supposed "good" qualities. The style of writing is quite virtuosic and needs a steady mind from the reader for interpreting the stream of thought and exit and entrance of each character. It is for this reason that I would feel apprehensive in choosing this book for a readers group or class discussion. Woolf's prose is very filling and consuming: not something many casual readers would like when indulging in a book (which is also the reason I hesitate suggesting Mrs. Dalloway for literature classes unless they are advanced students who are taught the significant aspects of literature analysis). On the whole, Mrs. Dalloway is quite a wonderful read, delving into the psychological and social aspects of what could be any given day in anyone's life.
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Posted May 23, 2010
I was assigned this book several times in high school and college and turned to Monarch notes rather than finishing, because words can not express how tedious and boring I found this book. Hated it. Recently, I wanted to read Cunningham's "The Hours" because I was intrigued by the film. I knew that Mrs Dalloway was one source for the novel, so wanting to get more out of my reading I returned to this novel, thinking, well, maybe being more of a sophisticated reader I'll enjoy it now. I can't say I did.
The novel is written with the stream of consciousness technique and has no chapters and few section breaks. Woolf's sentences are famously long and complex. Sometimes this makes for lyrical, sinuous prose; I especially remembered one passage about the flowers looking like starched laundry striking me as beautiful. It was easier to take in such sentences early in the book, but the prose became more and more numbing because of the its unrelieved density. There are many paragraphs and sentences I reread more than once trying to make sense of them. The narrative often comes across as rambling and incoherent. Given one of the characters is mentally ill, I think some of the narrative is deliberately mad. Different point of views mix throughout the novel without clear cut edges. This is also one of those novels that's feels abstruse, dated, because of many contemporary references are hard to get as a 21st century American without constantly turning to the notes.
There's little discernable plot. We follow various characters--mostly related to Mrs Dalloway--through one mid-June day in London, but the events feel disjointed. Besides there being no plot to absorb me, there was not one character I found likable--I found Mrs Dalloway herself and almost all the characters vapid and shallow. This isn't an accessible story like those of a Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte or EM Forester--its very interior and page after page is filled with character's thoughts. There is a structure and technique of historic importance, but not a read I'd call enjoyable and filled with the melancholies of middle age. A formative classic for good reason, so I'd give it a shot if you haven't read it--but I finished it more frustrated than moved.
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Posted September 28, 2009
What a waste of time. I was not drawn into the story enough to care about any of the characters. Now I know why I didn't read this "classic" earlier.
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Posted April 13, 2000
I unknowingly just picked out a book for my English Honors class independant reading assignment, I saw that the author was Virginia Woolf, and I thought, what the heck? I've at least heard of her, so I'll read it. That was a mistake. The book takes place over one day, is about a lady giving a party and a crazy man. It is hard to keep track of who is telling the story, for it changes often, and there are no chapters. I don't really reccommend the book unless you have a lot of time and patience.
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Posted February 3, 2013
Not My Style of Writing
Reading Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf reminded me of why many of these books I have pledged to read are considered challenges. I was really looking forward to reading this book because I was under the impression that other people liked it. As I found out later, this is not necessarily the case and I can understand why. It’s not that Mrs. Dalloway is a bad book and, in fact, it gets better as it goes along and even has some profound quotes, such as, “Nothing exists outside us except a state of mind.”
The book is incredibly detailed and vivid in its descriptions, and Woolf does a great job of really getting inside of the heads of various characters. The problem is the stream of consciousness writing made it difficult to recognize transitions from one person to the next. No matter what page I was on, I felt like I was having aha moments about two pages before. I was always reading a few pages of my comprehension. The result is that I can look back on the book with some fondness, but I remember the difficulties I encountered. My favorite parts were those pertaining to Septimus and Rezia (even more so than Mrs. Dalloway herself). Theirs was a palpable and tragic story that I could have read an entire book about.
To be fair to the book, I skipped the Introduction. It was more or less a play-by-play of the entire book and I thought that reading it would ruin the story for me. Instead, I read it after I finished the book and it put things into better context for me. If I were to do it over again, though, I still don’t think I would have read the Introduction first. I don’t like knowing everything that’s going to happen in a book, even if it makes it “easier” to get through. The book has a great quote that says, “It is a thousand pities never to say what one feels,” and so, I will be honest….. I could have just read the Introduction and skipped reading the book altogether and come away with the same amount of comprehension. But that’s neither here nor there and I am left feeling ambiguous about the book. I enjoyed it after the fact, but not as much while reading it.
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Posted January 21, 2013
I am not sure what I think about this book. The writing is an interconnected stream of conscienceness among all the characters in the book. You almost feel like you are floating from one characters mind to the next. I don't think anyone could say that the author is not extremely talented but I did not find the book that enjoyable. There is really not much plot more of portraits of each character. Glad I read it though, I love to be exposed to different writing styles and ideas.
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Posted October 12, 2013
What a self-indulgent piece of muck!!! I have rarely been so bored by a book.
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Posted March 9, 2013
Posted July 14, 2012
Who wants a good book? Wait let me refrase that who wants a teenage book, with magic flying back and forth in each battle that consistes of life or death, with romance, betrayl, mystery magic, stubbonness, and heart stolen love. Eden Mathews is a 16 year girl who beleives she is a reguler girl who has shut down 3 other schools on''acsudental'' and has yet to figure out why until resentle at her new school Kingsley after just having a fight with 5 men that she beleive she killed. Now on top on that she just finds out shes not normal she is a super-human and finding out that all the schools she closed down could have resisted. And on top of the school roof in the middle of a fight agianest 5 men to save the man of her love life who is also the crowned prince then all of a sudden BOOM Eden has deen knocked off the 3 story high roof. If you think I just gave away the whole story your wrong I didn't. The books called Reckless Magic and the author is Rachel Higginson she has 3 other books in the series this is a must read book. Lets just say that I'm not someone to be mean but I just have to say that you are a *** ***** if you don't fall in love with her books!
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Posted June 8, 2011
Posted March 27, 2010
My AP English class has to read this book, so we can analyze The Hours, which is heavely based off this terrible read. There is I think maybe two or three people in our class that are actually reading it, everyone else has given up the torture. Okay, Woolf does have a brilliant writing style, but she forgot the most important thing in a novel...THE STORY! This story is absolutley boring. I read forty-five pages, but I could not focus on any of them without thinking of an actual good story that I'd rather be reading right now. Why can't books like this remember to make the story gripping and entertaining. I don't believe she is that great of a writer just because she writes in stream of consciousness well. If a writer can't remember to make the reader want to keep reading then they do not deserve to be published.
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Posted October 25, 2008
Mrs. Dalloway chronicles a single day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway. The novel itself reveals the thoughts and ruminations of Clarissa and her friends. I found the book to be dull and lifeless. None of the characters were interesting with the exception of Sally Seton who is a very minor character. They seemed shallow and boring. The only thing that was at least mildly appealing was the language itself. At times the sentences ran on and were tedious but some of the time the language was very enjoyable. I do like the first sentence. It really draws the reader in. "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself." Mostly I was relieved to be finished with Mrs. Dalloway!
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Posted November 27, 2006
Each character comes to life through Woolf's stream of consciousness technique. Their motivations become reasonable and clear. It left me breathless and awed up to the last scene at Mrs. Dalloway's party.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 21, 2006
This book is like some movies that you want to watch again and again and everytime you find something new, you understand more... Everything becomes clearer(!) For some might not be easy to read but if you slow down and take your time it's so worth it! ENJOY!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 2, 2006
With 'Mrs. Dalloway', Virginia Woolf accomplishes the near impossible: she makes the mundane and ordinary seem profound and complex. Only the most talented of writers can succeed in telling a story that doesn't rely on an elaborate plot or an exciting premise. 'Mrs. Dalloway' works so well precisely becase of the simplicity of its premise: to tell the story of one day in the life of a woman preparing to host a party. It's refreshing to read a novel that is neither contrived nor trying too hard to impress us as readers. By the end of the novel, one feels a real connection with the characters because they seem so real and tangible. With rich and textured characterizations, Woolf is able to explore themes that directly relate to the complexity of the human soul. This is a beautifully written work of art. It's the kind of novel that really makes you appreciate great literature. Although this is a very challenging novel, I'm sure most experienced readers will find it immensely satisfying.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 28, 2005
If you don't enjoy reading complex novels, be afraid... be very afraid. Woolf's MRS. DALLOWAY is one of the most eloquent and challenging novels in existence. Those who cannot appreciate such narrative brilliance should a) not give it a meaningless and inane review of 'it's too hard!' with one star on bn.com, or b) avoid the novel entirely. MRS. DALLOWAY is not for the faint of heart or the easily-bored. It IS for readers who like something challenging, who are visual (the imagery she uses is just incredible!), and who can appreciate one of the finest novels produced by one of the finest authors of the last century. One of my favorites, highly recommended!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 28, 2005
What I liked most about Mrs. Dalloway was its complexity of every single character and the lack of a cliched conflict that would usually involve a passionate love between two characters and the inability to solve this conflict. Woolf did an excellent job in portraying each character, giving each an individual and distinctive voice. Many people who have read Mrs. Dalloway usually would ask 'That's it? What's going on?' because the book ends as the day ends. Like a realistic painting, Woolf painted the lives of these people in one day, and leaves the readers with these colorful and vivid images.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 14, 2005
I didnt like this book as much as I liked ''THE HOURS''but it was still ok to read.Its before the hours came along and tells the story of Ms.Dalloway.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.