Virginia Woolf and her masterpiece Mrs Dalloway – an attempt to uncover the disparity between appearance and reality (part two)


This is a follow-up of my latest blog post published a week ago – Virginia and her masterpiece “Mrs Dalloway” – an attempt to uncover the disparity between appearance and reality.

The novel is titled “Mrs Dalloway”, naturally, the fact that Clarissa is presented as the wife to Richard Dalloway, a gentleman who holds a government post should be the main concern of the story. But is Mrs Dalloway satisfied being “Mrs Dalloway”? We´re told that Clarissa, very rationally, chose to break off her relationship with Peter Walsh and, very rationally, to become Mrs Dalloway. Why did she make such a choice if her heart was with Peter and is still with him almost thirty years later? Why did she prefer the quiet and composed Richard to the passionate and dramatic Peter? The reason is Clarissa is terrified by the idea of sharing, which for her, is the same as to surrender. Had she married Peter, Clarissa believes, he would insist on sharing intimacy with her, not only intimacy on a sexual sense but the kind of intimacy which exists between soulmate like friends. Peter would have demanded to know all private thoughts and feelings that Clarissa possesses. This kind of exchange, and this absolute possession of each other´s innermost secrets frightened her.

In fear of losing her balance and identity, she married Richard who guaranteed her the security and safety, yet her feelings for Peter is still alive and intense. These feelings are so carefully concealed that even Peter is unaware of it.


A few scenes have made great impression, these seemingly ramble scenes are actually carefully set up. They seem disconnected but are linked by motif of water – the sea and the waves, and the changes of time – the strokes of Big Ben.

One of the dramatic scenes is Peter´s unexpected visit to Clarissa that morning, after she has returned home from the flower shop. She is the hostess of the party which is to be given late in the evening. Thrilled by his visit, she even attempts to hide the dress she is sewing. Then she calms down, composure is regained. Again, appearance deceives, no one, and not even Peter would guess what is happening in her mind. As the conversation goes on, the disparity between what they think about themselves and each other and what they actually say to each other becomes apparent. When Peter sits beside Clarissa announcing his plan to marry Daisy, we realise, not that he is in love with Daisy but his continuing love for Clarissa. And at the same time, we hear Clarissa silently crying for him to take her away while she continues to sew, working her needle mechanically. She is capable of keeping a composed facade despite her desperate longing for love. Peter feels inferior to Clarissa and she to him, yet neither knows. It would be too painful for them to make their continuing affection for the other explicitly. We, the readers are the witnesses of the struggles beneath their talk.


It is a novel with two main characters and two stories happening simultaneously. The two characters: Clarissa and Septimus Smith – a shell-shocked soldier never meet in the novel but they are linked with each other through other characters and ultimately, their shared value – the soul. Both Clarissa and Septimus value the privacy of their souls to such a high level that they would guard it, at any cost.

Clarissa married Richard to protect her soul, and she has built boundaries around it. Septimus is a tragic casualty of the Great War (WW1) and can no longer defend his soul. Septimus went to war with the belief that it would turn him into a man, a hero. Tragically, the war destroyed him, he could no longer care what happened to him or anyone else.

Virginia has described the terrifying sense of what is like to be insane – a clear lucid mind at one moment and complete madness the next. She is bitter in portraying the doctors who are supposed to give Septimus treatment, it very likely reflects the treatment she received during her break-downs over time. Dr Holms and Bradshaw are not primarily concerned with Septimus´mental state, to them, Septimus is an experiment. They have come to invade his soul, his most private depth. Septimus´last words before he jumps out of the window, “I´ll give it you” are powerful and ironic. He gives his body, but his soul is left intact. Through death, he has succeeded to preserve it.


Clarissa and Septimus are eventually linked to each other at the end of the novel – in the party. The news of Septimus´suicide is brought to the dinner-table. Clarissa is the only one in the room who immediately understands why Septimus killed himself – that he has kept his soul through death, the ultimate weapon against fate.

Virginia offered us, according to literary critics, the human personality in its most disciplined sanity (in the case of Mrs Dalloway) and in its most chaotic insanity (in the case of Septimus).

At the end, who is Mrs Dalloway then? Instead of creating a fictional character with distinguishing characteristics, Virginia takes a multidimensional approach. Clarissa´s “self” changes, and it modifies to a certain extent, depending on whom she is with. To get a true sense of Clarissa, we need to piece the bits together – the way she considers herself and the impressions she has left behind (in the eyes of other characters). These impressions are separated yet all valid if we want to get a real picture of Clarissa.


It seems to be one of the messages Virginia intended to convey, as human beings, we have an idea of our identity which is based on our beliefs, values and emotions. However, through the eyes of other people, we are “highly likely” considered differently. And even “worse”, different people might have different interpretations of our “identity”.

Perhaps we should be less judgemental and give ourselves more time to get to know other people. By doing so, we also give them the “sufficient” time to have a better understanding of us. We might be surprised by what is beneath the surface, it could be anything – compassion, kindness, passion or love.

Interested in Mrs Dalloway and Virginia´s life? The film “The hours” (2002) provides  us with a deeper insight into some of the main themes of the story. The plot concerns three different women living in different periods of time, their lives are interconnected by the novel “Mrs Dalloway”. Nicole Kidman received Golden Globe award for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf.


Again, thank you for taking time to read this lengthy post and I hope you liked it 😊

Author: Isabelle

Content writer / editor & Language advisor

7 thoughts on “Virginia Woolf and her masterpiece Mrs Dalloway – an attempt to uncover the disparity between appearance and reality (part two)”

  1. In Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf showed her incredible writing skills, the way she linked thoughts to words, the way she pieced words together, the way she presented different characters was just amazing. “Steam of consciousness” at its most intense. Wishing you a lovely day! 😊


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