Saying Farewell to Mrs. Dalloway

Before we say goodbye to Mrs. Dalloway, I want to tell you something fun I did: I had a strand in the very front of my hair on both sides colored red a couple of days ago. For Victorine. I don’t want to let her slip away from me as I journey into other worlds. I want to keep her close.

Privileging the inner person, the interior self, Mrs. Dalloway reminds us that what is within is more important and richer than the outer manifestation. What we see is mere set dressing in comparison to our inner life, even from those who, upon first glance, seem the most surface of people. A woman might be mending a dress wishing she could mend a heart.

Thoughts stream into more thoughts. Images bring to mind events from the past, or people long absent.

We see the interconnectedness of everyone, and how our casual observations can be woefully incorrect: a man and woman arguing could be not a harmless disagreement, but a woman trying to pull her husband back from the brink of crippling PTSD.

Those are the overarching themes, swiftly shifting POV’s which lends even more to the sense of one person being all people, all of a piece. And yet also not.

As much as it pains me to say this, I think having read Lighthouse first has forever spoiled me. I enjoyed and greatly admired Mrs. Dalloway, but it’s not Lighthouse. That’s up next. Soon, in the next few days. Read it with me?

In the meantime, here’s a piece I wrote for a creative writing class years ago. It was published by Woolf Zine, which I now believe to be sadly defunct. If you see references to both Mrs. Dalloway and Lighthouse in it, you’re correct, so it ends up being a bit of a bridge between the two novels.

                                                                     “Looking for Virginia”

                “What are you looking for?”

I tip the bookshelf, leaking words onto the puddle of papers, papers, papers that are all that hold me in this house.  Answers, answers he will never understand tinge my tongue.  “Virginia.”

                Now he will dig and delve into the hallowed dalloways of my mind and. He cannot. He crabs my hands with his frigid old man no sympathy hands, hairs on their sides like my stepbrother’s. Stepbrothers. Men with minds to hurt and hands to halt the galloping growth of might haves.

                “Leonard, don’t touch me.” The icicle of me uvulas in the word winds. Doctors voodoo a nothing for me.

They loose the mother inside me, the sanity scrap bag; knitting a shawl of should haves I cover the mirror of beauty which is reality but not truth, opened the door that ate my muse. 

Mrs. Ramsey will not take it — she dies for beauty. Scarcely is she adjusted…Leonard…did I write that?  No? 

                Words, my waifish children, load empty hobo sacks onto heavy burdened backs and don’t wave. I sing them a lullaby of the crawdad, cavefish, cravefish.  Gravefish.

                I wanted something once, didn’t I, Leonard? Leonard?

                I suck the soul from my sister and knit it to my own, but it always goes home, unknotted by her own lazy susan heart that twirls in the direction of the man with the predilection… 

I children my pockets with stones, write my memories goodbye and

Leonard?  Leonard?


                Just swim. Go.

Thanks again for joining me on this journey into Mrs. Dalloway! Happy Reading Lighthouse.

The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman

Our “Dallodays” are almost over, alas, How’d the month go so fast? I simply cannot let it go by without pointing you to yet another book of my heart whose structure borrows bits beautifully (while also remaining entirely original) from Mrs. Dalloway.

This book is engrossingly and beautifully written!

The Fountain of St. James Court or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman deserves all of the love and affection I am about to heap on it. However, I feel the need to be transparent and also tell you that I know and adore its author, Sena Jeter Naslund. It was in her novel writing workshop that I first dared present an early draft of Victorine.

Her double novel, the story of writer Kathryn Callaghan who has recently completed a draft of a novel about artist Élisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, is not only doubled in the sense that it tells the stories of both women, but it also “doubles” in showing how two incredibly gifted women overcome major life change and challenges. That doesn’t really have anything to do with Woolf, but I think it’s cleverly done.

While I have read the book numerous times, I don’t trust that I will be able to count all of the ways Mrs. D. permeates the book, so forgive me in advance. This is only a sampling.

I don’t use it to be pretentious, but here’s a literary term that fits perfectly: intertextuality. In short, that’s when one book “speaks” to another. (Here’s a secret: my novel Victorine is in a one-sided constant chatter with Naslund’s books, plural. I am either highlighting a concept she has already shared, am exploring a differing viewpoint to see what I think of it or am celebrating her work in various ways.)

Don’t be shocked – all of literature is in conversation with the rest of it, whether writers have read others’ works or not, because any work that has been read and digested by any author makes its way into the literary stream and when we drink of one, we drink of the one before.

Purposeful echoes or discussions or unconscious connections happen all the time.

Okay, that out of the way, let’s get into it.

Fountain certainly is in dialogue with Woolf in terms of style and structure. Not only does the author in the novel, Callaghan, acknowledge that Woolf and Joyce are influences (a subtle, welcome nod from the author of the actual novel), but others (and I agree) have compared Naslund’s writing to Woolf’s with its emphasis on inner character, on elevating daily life, not to mention its lyrical quality.

Here’s her marvelous opening line. I don’t need to tell you what it echoes: “No matter it was almost midnight, she would deliver her manuscript herself. (A lopsided moon hunched high overhead.)”

One thing this line, stacked with all of the other first (and alternative) first lines I have mentioned in previous posts convinces me of: Woolf wasn’t focused on the flowers. It was the agency of Clarissa, her ability and will, after her illness, to go fetch them herself. Clearly she had servants who were more than willing to get them, but she refused. Later, remember, Richard, her husband, brings her some. But no, she wants to be out and about in the world, if even for just a few minutes. (Reminds me of writers, too. Callaghan probably spends tons of time indoors and is likely pleased to be out in the night air. If the weather were nicer today, I’d be outdoors right now.)

In tone, in cadence, this book also reminds of Dalloway. Woolf’s pacing is both casual and unspooling at once. It’s intertwined with the book’s meaning. Same here.

We are given a walking tour of Callaghan’s neighborhood reminiscent of Clarissa’s walk. In fact, Dalloway is referenced directly, as is a day being a metaphor.

Hints of Woolf, heavy doses of Naslund’s artfully crafted historical fiction, exquisite insights into the human condition, and art! So much wonderful art! Even if I didn’t know Naslund (my novel is dedicated to her), I would have read it for the Woolf aspects and the art alone.

Do yourself a favor and read this book. It pairs perfectly with Mrs. Dalloway.

Next up: our very last (for now!) Mrs. Dalloway post.

First Second Impressions

Here are my murky first “second” impressions of Mrs. Dalloway. I was taught by a wise professor to read a novel for the story first, and then go back and really read for the nuances, the language, etc. That method changed my reading forever!

These thoughts are on my first re-reading. I’m doing this because maybe you have a similar process, or maybe it would be helpful for you to realize I, too, see through a glass darkly before the Windex of re-reading. 😊 Nevertheless, I think that first looks can be informative. Consider the first glance to be the drawing beneath the paint.

If I were reading this for the first time ever, I would say:

Here’s a society woman, Clarissa Dalloway, who has been sick but is now out and about, buying some flowers for her party, her return to society, if you will. Later, while she mends her dress for the party she will throw that evening, an old suitor returns from a stint in India, five years I think. Peter Walsh plays with his pocketknife, a habit he’s had since he was a youth. He bursts into tears at one point while talking to the preoccupied hostess-to-be, and one wonders if he has ever gotten over Clarissa, even though he confesses that he’s in love with a married woman who is about to get a divorce.

Out of sequence question: why do you suppose Woolf called the novel Mrs. Dalloway rather than Clarissa or Clarissa Dalloway? I have thoughts.

For one thing, Woolf was trying to show that any life circumstance, even that of a privileged woman with servants, was worthy of exploration. This is not a romance; this is a novel after marriage, delving into the everyday joys and challenges.

Also, the title underscores the name stripping of a woman. Not enough Clarissa “takes” her husband, Richard’s, name. By being called Mrs. Dalloway, she becomes a nondescript wife of him; her very “name” doesn’t belong to her but to him. She’s his property. (Argue if you like, but I see real tones of that here, even though I did opt to take my husband’s last name when we married. It makes a great author’s name I’ve been told more than once, so why wouldn’t I?)

Then again, in Lighthouse Mrs. Ramsay is given no first name and I think it’s brilliant because it makes her the universal spouse. Maybe there are shades of this here. I do think Woolf struggled with marriage and domesticity and its place in her own life, in the life of her peers from early on. (For god’s sake, she did write A Room of One’s Own, so there’s that.)

Anyway, why, Clarissa wonders, is her husband invited to Lady Bruton’s luncheon and she is not? I’d be pissed, so I get that. It’s rude and ungenerous, even if Clarissa had previously made some minor social blunder at Lady Bruton’s. (Actually, I have been excluded. A friend of mine invited my hubby out to dinner to “interview” him. But I had been through the same schooling as him, sooo??? I would have been pleased to sit alongside them and have a drink while they talked, just because I enjoyed my friend’s – and hubby’s—company, but I wasn’t asked along. Come to think of it, I’m not sure she ever did anything with that interview. Oh well. If memory serves, I dined with another friend a few restaurants down the street that evening, so there.)

Septimus, a veteran struggling with what we would now call PTSD and his wife, Lucrezia, are introduced in the novel, a contrast to the Dalloways. We pity the newly married pair.

Richard wants to buy his wife jewelry (suspiciously timed after he hears that her old beau is back in town) but suspects she doesn’t enjoy his taste as he had previously brought her a bracelet she doesn’t wear. Wanting to remind her of his love for her but not being one to say so, he brings her flowers. Flowers, flowers, everywhere! (And that not being able to confess love to someone, that is Mrs. Ramsay’s role in Lighthouse. Another of Woolf’s themes.)

And veils and gloves. Birds and flowers. But more on that another time.

So these are my quick, impressionistic thoughts. I really want to talk about the language itself, but that’s not the purpose of this post, so let’s hold off on that as well.

Thoughts? Rebuttals? Questions? Let’s get into it!

A Very Good Place to Start

So far I’ve danced around the edges of this novel, Mrs. Dalloway, because I like to warm up and I wanted to give you plenty of time to get started reading. I know even the best of intentions go sideways in the best of conditions, let alone right now. So if you haven’t begun, go ahead. Pick it up, read a few pages, and you will soon find yourself immersed.

I’m about 70 pages from the end of Mrs. Dalloway this round. Here’s where I like to start when I’m reading a book, which may seem elementary. I pay attention to the title, study it, and ask myself what I expect from the book based on it. (Titles are important! And when I’m reading a novel, I keep an eye out for the title within its pages or for the fitness of it if I don’t spot it.)

Of course I study the cover; that’s important to me. I want it to pair with the title and make me eager to read the book. It’s okay if the cover displays a painting that only nods at the era of the story. It isn’t designed to actually tell the story, but to give hints. I especially love novels that use paintings. If it draws my eye, it’s a winner.

For a classic, I don’t pay as much attention to the front of the book because it likely has had many covers and so none of them is directly connected with the original, not that every author has the luxury of being involved with cover design the way I was allowed to with Victorine.

I’m someone who reads the synopsis on the back of the book, as well as any blurbs. I read the forward, the dedication. Not that I always read these in that order. It just depends.

Do you read with a pen either in hand or nearby ? I do. I like taking notes in the margins, circling things, asking myself and the author questions. I write tidbits in the front of the book as well. Ever since I was a child I have written notes in books, particularly (you may gasp if you were brought up thinking this wasn’t okay) the Bible. I learned that writing was a two-way street way back then.

But let me turn to this novel. Why did I want to re-read it? To be honest, I read it hurriedly the first time (or two; I believe this is my third reading, but I can’t swear to that) and I thought I owed it better. Because it wasn’t the Woolf book I was most enthralled with (Lighthouse), I must admit to being a bit dismissive about it. Lighthouse was Sgt. Pepper’s; Dalloway was maybe Abbey Road. And yet without Dalloway, there would be no Lighthouse.

Then my writing mother mentioned she believes that Woolf was most successful with Dalloway, though she had long held my opinion of Lighthouse being superior; since obviously I respect her, I was (am) eager to read Dalloway once more to see if I can agree with her. (I’m still forming my opinion.)

Of course this novel was also the basis for a modern-day takeoff Michael Cunningham wrote called The Hours. If that also sounds like a movie title from 2002, you’re correct, it became that as well. The title comes from an alternate title for Mrs. Dalloway that Woolf considered for an awfully long time before using the current title.

While the novel doesn’t have chapters, it does have twelve slight breaks that function as such. (The Hours. Get it?) Anyway, that was another reason I read it to start with.

Why doesn’t Mrs. Dalloway have chapters, you ask?  Ah, my take on it is that she wants to highlight the unbroken nature of life, the interconnectedness: characters weave in and out of one another’s lives and consciousness. Not giving us chapters keeps the stream of consciousness flowing. After all, she is only depicting one day.

Let me share some first (again) impressions of the novel, my sketchy thoughts, and feelings. (Caveat: while I adore Woolf, I am an amateur reader of her work. I don’t know all there is to know about her. I don’t have every date related to her memorized. I may well be “wrong” about her intentions and what she’s done, but I am a passionate reader and I don’t care if I am wrong, because as an author I consider myself of her tribe and therefore qualified to discuss any damned thing I like about her work.)

I also don’t believe there are rights and wrongs when it comes to literature. It’s subjective.

So there. Insert an insolent tongue-sticking-out emoji here. The overly reverent, fearful approach commonly taken with Woolf is why more people don’t read her. But don’t forget that I am someone who wrote notes and questions to God in the margins of my Bible; I’m not likely to be afraid of Woolf. (No nod to Albee intended!)

I will say this: you don’t read her for the plot. Sure, her novels (mostly) have one, but that’s not why you’re there. You’re there to wander in her worlds and see how she’s created them and the immediacy with third person. How she doesn’t over rely on tradition. How she puts forth modern life, domestic life, as fitting subject matter. How she elasticizes language, how she makes writing impressionistic. How she makes a miracle of a meal. And for so much more.

Will you forgive me if I dive into Lighthouse for a moment here? “One wanted, she thought, dipping her brush deliberately, to be on a level with ordinary experience, to feel simply that’s a chair, that’s a table, and yet at the same time, it’s an ecstasy.” It’s a line the painter Lily Briscoe says, and I believe it speaks for itself. If you don’t think that’s a life-changing, gorgeous sentence in all senses, there’s nothing more I can do for you.

I could (and will, later) go on, but that quote has my heart full at the moment.  

Woolf, the Timeline; a Chronological List of Works

It occurs to me some of you might not be familiar with Virginia Woolf. As I suggest with all new subjects, go to Wikipedia and plug her name in for an overview. Once you’ve done that, come back here and read this.

1882 January 25, Adeline Virginia Stephen born at 22 Hyde Park Gate, London, third child and second daughter of Leslie Stephen and Julia (Jackson) Duckworth Stephen. Her sister Vanessa is 2 ½, her brother Thoby is 1 ½, and there are three siblings by her parents’ previous marriages: the Duckworths, George, age, 13, Stella, age 12, and Gerald, age 11; and Laura Stephen, age 11. Her parents will have one more child, Adrian, in October 1883.

In November 1882, Leslie Stephen becomes editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, a position he will hold for the next 9 years, editing the articles of the first 26 volumes (there will be 63 total), writing 378 entries himself (Lee 99).

1895 May 5, Julia Stephen dies, aged 49. Virginia’s first breakdown is that summer.

1897 Stella Duckworth marries Jack Hills April 10, dies of peritonitis July 19, aged 28.

1899 Thoby Stephen enters Trinity College, Cambridge, where he becomes friends with Lytton Strachey, Saxon Sydney-Turner, Clive Bell, and Leonard Woolf (all first-year students).

1904 Feb 22 Sir Leslie Stephen dies of cancer (he had been knighted in 1902). Virginia has her second breakdown that summer, and is ill the rest of the year. Vanessa, Thoby, and Adrian move into 46 Gordon Square (Bloomsbury).

1905 Thoby starts “Thursday Evenings” for his Cambridge friends and others (beginning of “Bloomsbury Group”), and Vanessa organises “Friday Club” for painters. Virginia begins writing book reviews and articles for various journals (30 essays in 1905 alone), including the Anglo-Catholic clerical paper the Guardian, Cornhill Magazine (which her father had edited), and most significantly the Times Literary Supplement (TLS). Woolf’s published works during her lifetime included seven volumes of essays.

1906 Vanessa, Virginia, and Violet Dickinson meet Thoby and Adrian in Greece in September. When they return, Thoby and Vanessa are sick, and Thoby dies of typhoid fever on November 20, aged 26. On November 22 Vanessa agrees to marry Clive Bell.

1907 Feb 7 Vanessa marries Clive Bell; they continue to live in 46 Gordon Square, and in April Virginia and Adrian move into 29 Fitzroy Square (not a successful move).

1911 Virginia moves into shared housing at 38 Brunswick Square, with Adrian, Duncan Grant, Maynard Keynes, and Leonard Woolf (all members of Bloomsbury group).

1912 Leonard proposes to Virginia in January, she is ill in February and March, accepts his proposal May 29, and they marry August 10; she is 30, he is 31.

Virginia has a major breakdown in the summer, attempts suicide in September, and is not fully restored to health until 1915.

1914 War declared (WWI)

1915 Virginia and Leonard move to Hogarth House, Richmond (near London) and decide to buy a printing press. The Voyage Out is published in March by Gerald Duckworth’s publishing house.

1916 Vanessa and her household move to Charleston, Firle (in Sussex).

1917 April The printing press is delivered to Hogarth House. Their first publication is Two Stories: “A Mark on the Wall” [by VW] and “Three Jews” [by LW]. Later that year Virginia begins the diary she will keep the rest of her life.

1918 Nov 11 Armistice Day (end of WWI).

1919 September Virginia and Leonard move to Monk’s House, Rodmell (in Sussex). Night and Day is published in October by the Hogarth Press, which will publish all of her subsequent books (16 total, plus The Voyage Out).

1922 Jacob’s Room published. Virginia meets Vita Sackville-West in December.

1924 March Virginia and Leonard move to 52 Tavistock Square.
“Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” published.  Mrs. Dalloway in progress.  Friendship with Vita Sackville-West becomes more important.  From 1924 till Woolf’s death, the Hogarth Press publishes all of Sackville-West’s fiction.

1925 The Common Reader published in April, Mrs. Dalloway in May. Virginia collapses at Charleston in August and is unwell for four months.   In December, Woolf spends three nights at Vita’s home Long Barn, and Vita wrote her husband Harold Nicolson: “I have gone to bed with her.”  (This is Woolf’s only documented sexual relationship with a woman.)  Woolf begins writing To the Lighthouse. 

1926  Writing To the Lighthouse.  Vita gives the Woolfs a dog (Pinker), later the model for Flush.

1927 To the Lighthouse completed in January, published in May.

1928 Orlando published in October. Virginia, accompanied by Vita, delivers the two lectures at Cambridge women’s colleges that will become A Room of One’s Own. Vita begins an affair with Mary Campbell; the relationship with Virginia cools,

1929 “Women and Fiction” published in a journal in March, then much revised as A Room of One’s Own, published in October.

1931 The Waves published in October.

1932 Jan 21 Lytton Strachey dies

1933 Flush published in October.

1934 Sept 9 Roger Fry dies.

1936 Virginia finishes The Years and collapses in April, is unwell until May and again from June to October.

1937 The Years published in March. Julian Bell (Vanessa’s older son) leaves in June to drive an ambulance in the Spanish Civil War; dies on July 18, aged 29.

1938 Three Guineas is published in June.

1939 Britain declares war on Germany. Virginia and Leonard move to their Sussex home (Rodmell) permanently (Vanessa moves permanently to Charleston).

1940 Roger Fry published in July. Blitz of London begins in July: in September, Vanessa’s studio in Fitzroy St. is destroyed by a bomb, and Virginia and Leonard’s apartment in Mecklenburgh Square is severely damaged.

1941 Virginia finishes Between the Acts, becomes ill in March with anxiety and depression. Drowns herself in the River Ouse on 28 March. Her body is found three weeks later and cremated 21 April.

1961 7 April Vanessa Bell dies at Charleston.

1969 Leonard Woolf dies

1996 Quentin Bell dies

All but The Voyage Out and Night and Day are from the Hogarth Press in England. After Night and Day, Woolf’s U.S. publisher is Harcourt Brace.  This list includes primarily works published during Woolf’s lifetime.  See also the list of biographies and published letters and diaries.

The Voyage Out (26 March 1915, Duckworth; U.S. pub. by Doran, May 1920)

    Woolf’s first novel, begun in 1908 and heavily revised after about 1912.  Manuscript editions of the earlier version (1909-12) have been compiled and published by Louise DeSalvo as Melymbrosia (1982), Woolf’s working title for the book.

Two Stories (1917)

     “The Mark on the Wall” by VW and “a story” by Leonard Woolf. The book was published  by subscription only, mainly to friends and acquaintances, and was the Hogarth Press’s first publication.

Kew Gardens (12 May 1919)

     Ten pages of text by VW, with illustrations by her sister, Vanessa Bell.

Night and Day (20 Oct 1919, Duckworth; U.S. pub. Doran, 1920)

     VW considered this her “traditional” novel, in the manner of the nineteenth-century novelists she admired.

Monday or Tuesday (7 April 1921; U.S. pub. Harcourt Brace, Nov. 1921) – stories

     Includes “Kew Gardens,” “The Mark on the Wall,” “An Unwritten Novel” and five previously  unpublished sketches.

Jacob’s Room (27 Oct 1922; U.S. pub. Harcourt Brace, 1922)

     Her first truly experimental novel and the Hogarth Press’s first large-scale work, Jacob’s Room begins Woolf’s reputation as “difficult” or “highbrow.”  Critics compare her to James Joyce and Dorothy Richardson.  Jacob is based on Woolf’s older brother Thoby Stephen, who died of a fever in 1906, when he was in his mid-twenties.

Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown (1923)

     A response to Arnold Bennett’s criticism that she “can’t create or didn’t in Jacob’s Room, characters that survive” (Woolf paraphrasing Bennett, Writer’s Diary). First version was published  in the U.S. and then in England. A later, better-known, version was written as a lecture to the Cambridge Heretics on 18 May 1924, then published in the Criterion under the title   “Character in Fiction,” and then published by Hogarth Press as Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown.   Critically, “the essay became a key document, not only in the assessment of Virginia Woolf’s work, but  in relation to twentieth-century fiction generally” (Critical Heritage 17).

The Common Reader (First Series, 23 Apr 1925)

    The Common Reader was Woolf’s title for two series of critical essays she published (the second series was published in 1932), mostly focused on her responses to reading and literature.  It includes biographical sketches of many writers and such now-famous essays as “On Not Knowing Greek” and “How it Strikes a Contemporary.”

Mrs. Dalloway (14 May 1925; simultaneously in England  and U.S.; first time for simultaneous publication in U.S. and England)

     A novel that takes place entirely in the space of one day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, with a parallel plot about a shell-shocked World War I veteran, Septimus Smith.  The setting is London.

To the Lighthouse (5 May 1927)

     Woolf’s most famous and most autobiographical novel.   The novel takes place chiefly at a family summer house based on Woolf’s own family’s house in Cornwall (though the novel is set in the Hebrides), during two visits, seven years apart, with events in between described abstractly in a middle section called “Time Passes.”  The “Time Passes” section had been published in French in Dec. 1926.

     See also the original holograph draft / transcribed and edited by Susan Dick
     (Toronto; Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1982).

Orlando (2 Oct 1928)

      Her most successful novel up to then, in terms of sales (even though publishing it as a “biography” confused booksellers), Orlando traces the life of an English nobleman, Orlando, from the Renaissance to the very moment of publication.  Orlando, based on Woolf’s friend Vita Sackville-West, lives 400 years and changes into a woman in the 18th century.

A Room of One’s Own (24 Oct 1929)

    Woolf’s first major feminist criticism, originating in two lectures given in October 1928 to students at the two women’s colleges of Cambridge University (Newnham and Girton, here fictionalized as “Fernham”).  First published as a short essay on “Women and Fiction”  in Forum (March 1929), it was thereafter heavily revised to the present six chapters.

     See also a study of extant manuscripts edited by S.P. Rosenbaum, Virginia Woolf/Women & Fiction: The Manuscript Versions of A Room of One’s Own (Oxford : Blackwell, 1992).

The Waves (October 1931)

     This novel is generally considered Woolf’s masterpiece, though it is also her most experimental (some say most difficult) work.

NOTE: The first book-length criticism of VW appeared in 1932, Winifrid Holtby’s biography and Floris Delattre’s Le Roman psychologique de Virginia Woolf. Delattre writes on VW’s use of time (quality vs. quantity).

The Common Reader (Second Series, 1932)

   This collection includes both new and revised critical essays, including biographical sketches of Mary Wollstonecraft and Dorothy Wordsworth, and the now-famous essay “How Should One Read a Book?”

Flush (5 Oct 1933)

     A comic novel written from the point of view of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel Flush.

The Years (13 March 1937]

     A bestseller, popular with critics and readers, this novel traces the life of a Victorian family, the Pargiters, from 1880 to the “Present Day.”  Begun as a sequel to A Room of One’s Own, Woolf originally intended to alternate nonfiction essays with the Pargiter’s story (which illustrates the essays).  Woolf ultimately extracted the nonfiction and changed the working title from “The Pargiters” to The Years.  Mitchell A. Leaska has edited the extracted portions and published them as The PargitersThe Novel-Essay Portion of The Years (1977), which also includes the earlier version of the 1880 section of the novel.

Three Guineas (4 June 1938)

     These feminist essays function as a sequel to A Room of One’s Own, including a critique of patriarchy (illustrated with photographs of public figures) and an argument for pacifism in the face of the growing threat of another world war.  The  illustrations are not printed in modern editions.

Roger Fry (25 July 1940)

    A biography of Woolf’s friend, the art critic and painter (1866-1934), who had introduced post-impressionism (Picasso, Cezanne) to England in the years before World War I.  

Between the Acts (17 July 1941)

   Woolf’s last novel, published after her death.  She had changed her mind about publishing it just days before her death (see letter to John Lehmann).   Like Mrs. Dalloway, the action takes place in a short span of time in June and is focused on a social event, here a community pageant rather than a party.  The setting is June 1939  in the English countryside at a house called Pointz Hall (the working title of the book), home of the Olivers, and in the nearby village, where Miss LaTrobe is in charge of the pageant.   The pageant concerns English history, and parts of it are part of the narrative.  

A Writer’s Diary (UK 1953)

    Moments of Being (US 1976, ed. Jeanne Schulkind)

   Timeline and Chronological List of Works from:

The Evocative Original Mrs. Dalloway Cover Art

Photo via:

Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf’s artist sister, painted many of Woolf’s book covers, including Mrs. Dalloway. The simple but not simplistic cover uses a white background and, of course, only black and yellow otherwise to entice a would-be reader. Works beautifully for me.

The dust jacket reveals a window with, outside it, a balcony. The balcony rail also resembles a crown, hinting to the main character, Clarissa Dalloway’s, privileged life. Curtains frame the window, bringing to mind a theater balcony box.

Flowers and possibly a fan are on the windowsill. (I’m thinking dear sister read the novel first? Good job!) They appear to be tulips — my favorite flower.

From the uneven script to the minimalistic, purposefully imperfect shapes that make up the cover, I find Bell’s artwork charming. It’s a shame any other cover was ever used, since clearly Woolf would have been intimately involved with the creation of this one. What are your thoughts on it?

In other news, I will be doing a reading of Victorine next Friday for ICEA’s (Indiana College English Association) virtual conference. It’s nice to have events begin to be rescheduled at last, even if virtually.

Mrs. Dalloway Would Buy the WHAT Herself?

Okay, I promised to talk more about the opening line of Mrs. Dalloway: “Mrs. Dalloway said would buy the flowers herself.”

Would you believe Woolf wrote a short story called “Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street” with a similar but different first line? “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the gloves herself.” (It’s so similar I suspect either it was written as a precursor to the novel or it was reworked from it.)

Gloves? Gloves? Really? That’s interesting…

1920’s gloves, the Metropolitan Museum of Art

How do you think that would change the novel if it opened with gloves instead of flowers?

I suppose we have to consider what the flowers might mean and then possibly throw all of our thoughts about them away in light of the interchangeable nature of the flowers with the gloves.

On the one hand (ha, an unintentional glove pun), it might point to the fact that Woolf wanted to emphasize that Clarissa, newly recovered from influenza, wants a reason to take a walk on a nice day, and not necessarily emphasize the flowers.

Gloves cover hands, can keep them warm and clean. They are prophylactic, protecting one from the world. And yet what a pleasure it must have been to pick them out – material, color, style, trimmings… practical items to purchase and yet much more, items of fashion.

Then again, Woolf chose flowers for the novel’s opening, not gloves. (My senior thesis has a large section about gloves in Lighthouse, so of course gloves are meaningful to me when I see them in a novel. And yet we have to consider authorial intent, right?)

In Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa Dalloway’s husband Richard brings her roses. We are told he shows his love for her by giving her these rather than telling her. (Woolf’s characters sometimes have trouble expressing their love openly for one another; it happens in Lighthouse as well.) (BTW, by now you know that Clarissa Dalloway is the titular character of the book, right?)

Here’s the link to the short story if you’d like to read it.

Flowers are a theme throughout the book, but it seems early to get so deep. Let’s read on and talk more about that later. Where are you now in the book? Are you as excited as I am about the gloves/flowers discovery? What do you make of it?

Here’s another teaser: these are not the only two places where we’ll see the Dalloways in Woolf’s writing.

Mrs. Dalloway and the Pandemic

Photo by Raphael Brasileiro on

“Mrs. Dalloway said would buy the flowers herself.” If you know anything at all about the novel, you know its opening line. But have you ever paid attention to the early lines that reveal that Clarissa was sick with influenza and possible heart damage as a result? Just what “influenza” are we talking about?

There’s a fabulous article by Elizabeth Winkler that talks about WHY it would be a treat for Mrs. Dalloway to buy the flowers herself, a timely article in the Times Literary Supplement well worth the read during this pandemic that reveals more.

So much more to be said of that opening line (and a possible alternative…just a teaser for you.)

More from me on that later….