Society As Seen Through Woolf’s Keen Lens

Virginia WoolfWhile reading Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf I found myself entrapped by her vivid imagery, her unfailing detail of all objects around her characters and her story of a day in a life. Her keen imagination made me feel like I was the camera and I was panning around London fallowing around people, and going places. She definitely has a way to make you see the big and the very small details. (Although, I must admit, at times I wanted her continue the story and not the description). For this blog post we are to focus on why she gives names to minor characters and places. After days of contemplating and reading, Virginia Woolf names minor characters and places for the purpose of social commentary but also to draw our attention to everyone and everything. Make the reader notice that we are all human and we all have a voice.

Reading Mrs. Dalloway has shifted my view of a prose and the internal monolog. Her focus on every detail of her characters makes the reader have a better understanding of each one but also makes us realize we are all connected. Woolf stressed that we are to “look within” and “examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day” (2155). When the airplane flies overhead and people stop to see what the airplane is writing in the sky, Mrs. Dalloway, Septimus and all the others are connected for a brief moment in time. We stop, look up and see the airplane through everyone’s eyes. We hear their voices and their thoughts and we know everything is connected in our giant world.

Woolf’s narrative shifts from the wealthy and the privileged characters of Jane Austen or Bronte sisters to characters that struggle physically and mentally. She dives into the harsh realities of what is human and ordinary gives them a voice and a story. Her goal was to “criticize the social system and to show it at work, at its most intense”(2156). I truly believe Woolf has done so in Mrs. Dalloway. Long gone are the days of prefect women, in perfect houses and indulgences. Now we get to hear the stories of Septimus and his struggles of posttraumatic stress disorder, or how Mrs. Dalloway has “the oddest sense of being herself invisible” (2161). Her prose makes us see the world “by the sane and the insane side by side”(2155). She pulls the taboo subjects from under a rug and makes them her masterpiece.

This was an extremely hard post to write, since there are so many topics and themes within this novel. So much to analyze and focus on! Mrs. Dalloway is a hauntingly beautiful description of an “ordinary” day. Woolf shines a light on the faults of our society and makes us know we are all connected and we are all human.



Works Cited

Ramazani, Jahan and Jon Stallworthy, eds. “Mrs. Dalloway”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 2155-56. Print.

Woolf, Virginia. “Mrs. Dalloway”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2012. 2155-2264. Print.

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6 Responses to Society As Seen Through Woolf’s Keen Lens

  1. jenniferbist says:


    I just wanted to comment… that I enjoyed reading your post because no one really talked about it yet, but the society Woolf comments on through her characters is something I thought was sort of interesting. I also noticed while reading, but like you said “there are so many topics and themes within this novel” the blog post was hard to write (lol). I agree with you that Woolf takes the reader through both the wealthy/high-class characters to other characters who are just making it by. I liked how Woolf would remind the reader the presence of the house-maid or the cook whistling in the background, it made it seem like nothing was swept under the rug or hidden from view; she tried to show society as it was and bring all characters to the front. Mrs. Dalloway only seems to care about her party, yet meanwhile other things are also going on at the same time–but in the course of an “ordinary day”, who has time to take notice of them, or even wants to? After all, it’s just another day, and no one wants to step out of bounds.

    As a last comment to your post, I liked how you mentioned that even Mrs. Dalloway is not so “perfect” as Woolf goes through her inner thoughts and past. Everyone is a person, and everyone appears to have their own struggles/ideas in life and what is important to them. Septimus is an interesting character, and I liked Woolf’s style of writing to depict everything that he sees and the ideas of mental health in general. Like you say: “She pulls the taboo subjects from under a rug and makes them her masterpiece.”, is very accurate and true. Anyways, good topic and post.

  2. carlyferguson1 says:

    I really enjoyed your post and i was certainty able to agree with your comment on feeling as if you had a camera following people around. I enjoyed that extra detail, but at times i felt so bogged down, and often lost focus in that detail. It is important to remember though, i believe, that is often how we think. Maybe not consciously walking down the school hall thinking about what everyone is thinking, but our thoughts and opinions on people seem to be never ending. Is there a moment where we really arent ever thinking about anything?

    For some reason your post reminded me of the quote “be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”. Like in Mrs. Dalloway, our lives may all be interconnected by things such as airplanes, or other world events, but you don’t often think about events and how they may affect others…

    Just a few thoughts!

  3. thetheresak says:


    I think you wrote a good post. When I was reading Mrs. Dalloway, I too found that I was reading it as a camera on top of a Google Maps car. The characters’ internal monologues and the expressive details were what led my imagination to consume the novel.

    What I liked most about your post was the idea of revealing what is under a rug. That is modernism. Woolf allowed for everything in her characters’ realities to have a role in the story as they do in our lives, everyday. Woolf is great at what she does as we look at “an ordinary mind on an ordinary day” (2155).  I think it is something that we forget often. That the little ‘ordinary’ things are what led us throughout our day. And, like you suggest, those everyday things are what connect us all. When I post this blog, you will receive an email. My comment influences your day, even as a piece of the internet, as your post influenced mine.

    I will admit that I was a little lost when you compared her narrative to that of Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. Maybe I just read it wrong. But I did find it confusing since all five of those authors had different choices of characters and narratives in their works – Jane Austen focused on the  middle-class Georgian woman; the Brontës focused on more working-class, romanticised, Victorian, and Gothic characters like Heathcliff, Agnes Grey, and Bertha Mason; Virgina Woolf focused on the twentieth-century and how the war was shaping the world around her. I think it is important to note that most of these 5 writers had physical and mental struggles addressed or at least suggested in some of their novels. And honestly, I think there are great distinctions between each writer – they cannot be summed up or made holistic.

    But back to the ‘everyday-ness’ of the novel, I think you, Jennifer, and Carly are all right. The interconnectedness and the presence of the little details are what give the novel its greatness. Because Woolf gives names to minor characters and places, the little things and roles that give us direction in our life are finally noticed.

    Again, good post!


  4. mdrvodelic says:

    I thought about the question, and I think you are right. I think by naming all the characters, it reminds us that everyone has a purpose and no one should be overlooked. I like that you mentioned that it exposes how connected we are. Everyone is connected somehow, and it reminds me of the Six Degrees of Separation. As for naming places, it’s the same token. Every place is significant for someone out there. I think it’s interesting that Woolf does this because I think we get so caught up in our own lives that we often overlook things. We don’t pay attention to the person standing next to us at the bus stop or a stranger at the same party as you, but should we? I think Woolf is attempting to make us realize that although we have our own paths and courses, they often intertwine and it is important to take a step back and appreciate this. That person standing next to you at the bus stop could become a future friend for example.
    I agree, I got a tad lost with the Bronte and Austen references because even in Bronte, for example, Catherine and Heathcliff struggle mentally I believe, but I see your point. She does “pull the taboo subjects from under a rug” and does so successfully.
    I think you did a great job addressing the question!

  5. jcdegner says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post! I especially liked the point that you made when you said, “We are all human and we all have a voice.” I completely agree with this statement. Each individual notes details about the world around them depending on the person that they are. I may notice something about a landscape that another individual will not even consider. In many ways, I think that Woolf’s novel is portraying her personal voice. The details that she describes in Mrs. Dalloway’s head are perhaps things that Virginia Woolf herself would have noticed.

    I also found it completely fascinating that each character has distinctly different impressions of the details that they observe. For instance, when the ambulance drives past Peter near the end of the novel, he considers it for a short period of time before moving on to thoughts of Clarissa. After all, to him it is merely a passing ambulance, and Mrs. Dalloway is a much more important topic to consider. To Septimus’ wife, on the other hand, the ambulance will forever be a memory burned in her mind because it was directly involved with her husband. Both characters observe the same detail, but have different thoughts regarding its significance.

  6. daynaaasen7 says:

    My favourite line from your post was that Woolf’s writing makes “the reader notice that we are all human and we all have a voice”. I’ve honestly thought about this absent-mindedly (is that a word?) a lot in the past, but once I read Mrs. Dalloway it all came to the forefront in my mind. When I walk down the street, the amount of thoughts running through my head are endless. Some are pointless, some are note-worthy, but regardless… I am having them. No one is ever not thinking. It is actually freaky to stand in a crowd or stand waiting for the train and just look around you and think about how everyone else there is also thinking. It’s overwhelming that there are so many thoughts being had at once, and never ending! For Virginia Woolf to capture even a portion of that is incredible to me. The way she writes with a flowing stream of consciousness, going person to person, really affected me in the way I live my day now. We all wait on the same platform for the same train, but everyone has a different motive for being there and that intrigues me. I want to know people’s stories. You never know what is going on underneath the surface, like we see with both Septimus and Clarissa. I just loved getting to see in other peoples’ minds through Woolf’s writing and it made me kind of wish that I could have her narrating everyone else’s lives around me. She is blunt and truthful. I know if I knew the hardships some strangers around me were going through it would help me be a bit kinder and a little more patient… and it sure would make waiting half an hour for a bus more interesting, that’s for sure.

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