Places: Mrs. Dalloway

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1925

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: 1923

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*London

*London. Mrs. DallowayCapital of Great Britain whose diversity of life is characterized by the city’s commercial life, its social order, and national politics. As characters walk through the streets of London, they encounter famous locations and monuments–Whitehall, Westminster, the parks, Big Ben, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. London’s diversity suggests the potential for harmony in society on at least two levels: a union between public and private, epitomized in the characters of Clarissa and Septimus, and among all the diverse social and political factions found in English society.

*Westminster

*Westminster. This upper-class London neighborhood houses many government officials and politicians. The Dalloways’ life in Westminster symbolizes their upper-class social status. Richard Dalloway is a member of Parliament and Elizabeth considers the possibility of membership in Parliament as a career.

*Whitehall

*Whitehall. Section of London stretching from Trafalgar Square to the Westminster Bridge that gives its name to the area where the Houses of Parliament stand. Downing Street, the official address of the British prime minister, is off Whitehall, as are many government offices. In the 1920’s, Whitehall was associated with war and government. In Whitehall, Peter Walsh is overtaken by a parade of boys marching to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph, a World War I memorial erected in 1920. Septimus Smith, a soldier, encounters the glory of war heroes’ statues and government sites, and questions the patriotism and nationalism that promoted the death and destruction of World War I. Ultimately Walsh’s musings and Smith’s devastating reflections contrast with the privileged existence of Clarissa.

*Bourton-on-the-Water

*Bourton-on-the-Water. Gloucestershire town in the heart of the Cotswolds, west of London, close to the River Windrush, Bourton epitomizes country living; its quaint village atmosphere exudes luxury of the upper middle class. The fact that Clarissa’s family home is located here suggests expectations for her future in the upper class. Throughout the novel Clarissa recalls a summer at Bourton more than thirty years earlier, during which she decided not to marry Peter Walsh and shared confidences with Sally Seton. The freedom of youth at Bourton is contrasted with the social protocols of adult society in London.

*Regent’s Park

*Regent’s Park. Large London park with gently undulating hills with a steep rise in the north from which Westminster and the city can be viewed. Predominantly open parkland with numerous benches, it is a place of rest and relaxation for all Londoners. Regent’s Park reinforces the novel’s theme of creating harmony amid diversity; it provides a place where all the social classes come together: Septimus and Reiza Smith, Maisie Johnson, Mrs. Dempster, an elderly nurse, children, and Peter Walsh. This park is also the location where Septimus Smith hallucinates about his witnessing the death of a friend in battle. The contrast between the idyllic setting and the horrors of war symbolizes the conflicted position of British society at this time.

*Big Ben

*Big Ben. Great bell in a Westminster clock tower that is one of London’s best-known landmarks. Big Ben acts as an organizing device as it chimes throughout Mrs. Dalloway signaling the passing of time. Bloomsbury, the neighborhood where Septimus and Reiza Smith live, where Dr. Holmes’s office is located, and where Peter Walsh stays at Bedford Place, is associated with artists, intellectuals, and a bohemian lifestyle. The British Museum, London University, and the Slade School of Art are located in the Bloomsbury area.

*St. Paul’s Cathedral

*St. Paul’s Cathedral. Late seventeenth century church that is mentioned as a hallowed place in London. Its historical value rests in its being the first English cathedral built after the creation of the Church of England in 1534. It is not merely a religious site but also the site of numerous tombs and memorials that speak of heroism and bravery and the tragedy of war. Elizabeth Dalloway ventures by bus, then on foot, toward the cathedral after tea with Miss Kilman. Though she never makes it to the cathedral, she is drawn to it, feeling that it will provide a sense of direction in her life.

BibliographyAbel, Elizabeth. “Narrative Structure(s) and Female Development: The Case of Mrs. Dalloway.” In Virginia Woolf: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Margaret Homans. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1993. Analysis of Mrs. Dalloway as a “typically female text” that hides its “subversive impulses,” which resist the typical narrative structure. Points out that Clarissa’s real passion was not for Peter but for Sally, whose kiss gave Clarissa “a moment of unparalleled radiance and intensity.”Blackstone, Bernard. Virginia Woolf: A Commentary. London: Hogarth Press, 1949. An older but excellent essay on Woolf’s use of time, “the insistent hours pressing on,” to create a sense of the pressures felt by Septimus and Clarissa. Blackstone claims that the characters’ loneliness and the pity they evoke are keys to Mrs. Dalloway.Brower, Reuben Arthur. “Something Central Which Permeated: Virginia Woolf and Mrs. Dalloway.” In The Fields of Light: An Experiment in Critical Reading. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1951. Excellent analysis of Woolf’s use of metaphor to convey a sense of suspense and interruption. Woolf creates a sense of the “terror of entering the sea of experience and of living life,” so that the reader feels both the loveliness and the frightening truths of reality.Daiches, David. “Virginia Woolf.” In The Novel and the Modern World. Rev. ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960. Revels in the rhythms of Woolf’s style, with repetitions and qualifications of impressionistic “patterns of meaning” that are almost “hypnotic.” Focuses on time, death, and personality as key themes and compares Woolf favorably to James Joyce in her stream-of-consciousness technique, which limits space and time to reveal individual consciousness and memory.Harper, Howard. “Mrs. Dalloway.” In Between Language and Silence: The Novels of Virginia Woolf. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982. Harper reveals the genesis of Mrs. Dalloway and its characters, who are based on Woolf’s own friends and family members. Discusses the absence of a mother, Clarissa’s own ambivalence about her life, the imagery of sea and wind, and the work’s parallels in Night and Day (1919), The Voyage Out (1915), and To the Lighthouse.Henke, Suzette A. “Mrs. Dalloway: The Communion of Saints.” In New Feminist Essays on Virginia Woolf, edited by Jane Marcus. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1981. Discusses Mrs. Dalloway as a “scathing indictment of the British class system and . . . patriarchy,” focusing on her use of Greek tragedy and Christian doctrine to create a symbolic story of good vs. evil, art vs. war, privacy vs. passion, homosexuality vs. heterosexuality, sacrifice vs. revelation.Homans, Margaret, ed. Virginia Woolf: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1993. Many of the articles in this collection connect Mrs. Dalloway to Woolf’s other works. One essay focuses on the web created in Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse to explain Woolf’s images of space, darkness, and affirmation. In another essay, the structure of the novel is analyzed as it relates to female development. Mirroring and images of death are also examined as a key to understanding the novel.Minow-Pinkney, Makiko. Virginia Woolf and the Problem of the Subject. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1987. An examination of five of Woolf’s novels in terms of her “feminist subversion of conventions.” The chapter on Mrs. Dalloway explains how Woolf deliberately confuses past and present thoughts and actions to diminish the “linear progress” of the narrative to blur the identity of the subject, thus producing a feeling of fluidity, spontaneity, and sensibility.Warner, Eric, ed. Virginia Woolf: A Centenary Perspective. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984. Includes some of the best available articles on Woolf’s symbolism and purpose. The images of reflections in glass, sight, and mirroring are key to her sense of being and to the creation of continuity between people. One article deals with the paradoxes of love and silence, duality and time. Another discusses Woolf’s concern with the self and with consciousness.
Categories: Places