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Libraries & Collections > MRBR > Exhibitions > Online Exhibitions > A Pen and a Press of Her Own

Woolf in the World: A Pen and a Press of Her Own
Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. DallowayMrs. Dalloway traces the thoughts, memories, and emotions of one character through the course of a single day in the middle of June 1923. Woolf’s fourth novel, originally entitled “The Hours,” is set in London. The main character, Clarissa Dalloway, prepares for a party while in a parallel narrative Septimus Warren Smith, a shell-shocked soldier, commits suicide. Mrs. Dalloway marks Woolf’s first attempt to center an entire novel within the consciousnesses of its various characters. In her introduction to the Modern Library edition, Woolf says that in the first version “Mrs Dalloway was originally to kill herself, or perhaps merely to die at the end of the party” and “Septimus, who later is intended to be her double, had no existence.” Woolf drew upon her own experiences with mental illness to write the so-called “mad scenes” in the novel.

Virginia Woolf. Mrs. Dalloway. London: Hogarth Press, 1925. Dust jacket designed by Vanessa Bell.

Mrs. Dalloway (American)Woolf first wrote about Mr. and Mrs. Dalloway in her novel The Voyage Out (1915). Woolf continued her fascination with the society world of the Dalloways in Mrs. Dalloway and in a series of short stories, such as “The New Dress,” which was published in the Forum (May 1927). Woolf’s self-consciousness about her appearance and her fear of doctors—explored in the novel and short stories—are illustrated in two letters to Margery Olivier (1886-1974), who was the eldest daughter of the Fabian Socialist Sir Sydney Olivier and his wife Margaret. The letters were written after Woolf’s breakdown in 1915. Margery’s sister Noel was training to be a doctor, a profession Margery was considering as well. Woolf writes: “Even without hearts, you have appearances, and one can get within speaking distance of you, which is quite impossible with the ordinary male doctor.” In the later letter, Woolf thanks Margery for a beautiful yellow evening jacket: “If you knew how I detest facing the black satin women in shops you could judge of my gratitude.”

Virginia Woolf. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: The Modern Library, 1928.

Woolf letters to Margery Oliver Woolf letters to Margery Oliver Woolf letters to Margery Oliver Woolf letters to Margery Oliver
Virginia Woolf. Letters to Margery Olivier, 13 & 21 January [1916].

Presented by Frances Hooper ’14.
Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College

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