Mrs Dalloway, published in 1925, is widely accepted as a major work of 20 th century English literature, because it introduced new stylistic approaches to writing and set basic aesthetic standards for the further development of literary modernism, thereby establishing Virginia Woolf as its leading female representative. Besides, the novel offers a subtle insight into the atmosphere in postwar London society, which was characterized by a feeling of overall destabilization and increasing isolation.
Due to various causes, Great Britain’s political, economic, and social spheres had undergone fundamental changes during the previous decades: the rapidly increasing industrialization had completely transformed the working sphere, caused high unemployment rates and further fragmented class divisions, which culminated waves of political and social unrest; revolutionary findings in the natural and medical sciences put the traditional view of man into question and brought about a crisis of faith; beyond, the recent experience of the First World War and its aftermaths added considerably to an ‘atmosphere of gloom and doom’ in Great Britain.
Altogether, the loss of belief into progress, the rise of scientific knowledge and the decay of traditional moral values resulted in a ‘disenchanted’ world view; the individual suffered from the growing atmosphere of coldness in society; he was “more isolated than ever before because he [could not] come in under an umbrella of common social forms, and thus escape from his sense of isolation” (Marder 64).
Victorian guiding lines offered no adequate solutions for the demands of modern society anymore, and Virginia Woolf “was in accord with many of her contemporaries in rejecting Victorian values. The social code, she felt, had degenerated in most cases into mere formalism. She regarded Victorian morality as unrealistic and suspected those who professed it of hypocrisy” (Marder 47).
Furthermore, her living at “a time when the hard-won victories of the suffragettes and women war workers were slowly being translated into law and affecting social attitudes” (Dowling 105) made her particularly interested in the emancipation’s cause, and in many of her essays and articles, Virginia Woolf questioned the traditional, socially constructed gender roles. Repeatedly, she expressed the want of a specifically female language and literature, because, unlike many contemporary feminist writers, she was not attempting to “minimize the difference between the sexes; all er writings stress the fact that men and women are different” (Marder 35) and aimed at the conveyance of her ‘female’ view to the world. In reaction to the falling apart of the outside world, modernist literature increasingly shifted its focus of attention from a depiction of real events to the illustration of the inner world of human emotions, psychological tensions and sensory impressions, thereby stressing the fact that ‘reality’ can only be perceived in a subjective way. Mrs Dalloway is a sophisticated example of this writing technique.
The plot spans twelve hours in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, an upper class woman in her fifties, but the fragmented, non-linear story-line distorts the real time frame. In employing the stream-of-consciousness techniques, Virginia Woolf confronts the reader with a flash of insight into the characters’ reflections, associations and memories, while outside events retreat to the background. All this allows for an intimate insight into the characters’ feelings, attitudes and desires. In the novel, Virginia Woolf refers to diverse personal relationships, including friendship, love attachments and familiar relations.
The question of love is central to the story: “Missed declarations, and being or having been in love or not in love, are persistent themes of Mrs Dalloway” (Bowlby 184). In order to illustrate various kinds of love as presented in the novel, each of the following chapters deals with the analysis of a particular personal relationship of Clarissa to another person. The first chapter starts with an examination of the romantic love attachment between Clarissa Parry and Peter Walsh, and their lasting affection for each other.
The next chapter is concerned with the friendship between Clarissa and Sally Seton, where special attention will be given to their homoerotic attraction to each other and the reasons for their estrangement from each other. Chapter 2. 3. is dedicated to the presentation of the positive and negative aspects of Clarissa and Richard Dalloway’s marriage. Finally, the first part of the last chapter gives a short introduction to Clarissa’s familiar background, while the second part inquires into the relationship between Clarissa and her daughter Elizabeth.