Study Guide

Mrs Dalloway Car and Airplane

By Virginia Woolf

Car and Airplane

The car and the airplane (ahem, aeroplane) that Mrs Dalloway sees toward the beginning of the novel seem to be kind of a big deal. Why is that? Well, in a country so obsessed with tradition and the past, machines still seem like an amazing innovation.

The car – much more than the plane – is an impressive ride, all blinged out with royal associations. The "dove-grey" upholstery, the male hand, and a vague symbol all suggest that the car might be giving a ride to the prime minister. What’s interesting is that at the end of the scene, the car gets trumped by the airplane, whose skywriting ultimately seems cooler to the people than the car does. Woolf writes:

Suddenly Mrs Coates looked up into the sky. The sound of an aeroplane bored ominously into the ears of the crowd. There it was coming over the trees, letting out white smoke from behind, which curled and twisted, actually writing something! making letters in the sky! Every one looked up. (1.50)

These days, airplanes aren't anything exciting, but back then, they were a total spectacle. To the many bystanders, the plane (and especially the skywriting) is an exciting piece of technology and a wonderful sight. Woolf suggests its associations with modern travel and the rise of the advertising age – after all, the plane is advertising a product. What does Woolf suggest by having the commercial plane distract from the royal car? Talk amongst yourselves.

The car and plane also serve as a reference to the recently ended war. The backfiring of the car sounds like a pistol being fired and frightens everyone around. The plane is also a reminder of the war: World War I was the first time that planes played a big role in modern warfare. Basically, in Mrs Dalloway, the war is always around – even in the form of a car driving down the street.