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Points to Ponder

The form of Mrs. Dalloway is, of course, something to ponder. It was deemed "experimental" in its day, and Woolf believed that with it she had made a major contribution to the modern reinvention of the novel. Woolf wanted the novel's form to reflect and also recreate what she considered to be a uniquely modern experience of the world. How does it do this, and what is that experience like? (You might begin thinking along these lines: Though the "stream of consciousness" passages and the lack of traditional chapter divisions can give the novel a formless feel, it does have formal unity. For example, Woolf observes, to some extent, the classical unities of time and place, and she establishes patterns of images, phrases, and events that connect the different parts of the narrative to each other and also emphasize connections among the characters.)

Think about how Woolf develops her characters in Mrs. Dalloway. Here is one place to start: Woolf once described her technique as a "tunnelling process": "I dig out beautiful caves behind my characters," she wrote. "[And] I tell the past in installments, as I have need of it." In other words, Woolf's characters reveal their depths gradually and piecemeal; fragments of thought and memory emerge as they respond to and interact with their surroundings and other characters, and from these fragments we piece together each character's past and a tentative idea of his or her "whole being."

Clarissa's insight that Septimus "was somehow like her" both is and is not startling. Though they never meet, and though they move in entirely different social spheres and have had radically different life experiences, Clarissa is the only person who "hears" the message Septimus sends via his suicide. Why is this? How are the two characters related? Some readers find a spiritual likeness between them. Some emphasize instead their functional roles in the novel, arguing, for instance, that Septimus symbolizes and embodies England's war trauma while Clarissa represents the very ideal of "Englishness" that the War put into question.

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Section 1
Section 2
Section 3
Section 4
Section 5
Section 6
Section 7
Section 8
Section 9
Section 10
Section 11


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