Study Guide

Mrs Dalloway Society and Class

By Virginia Woolf

Society and Class

Section 1
Mrs Dalloway (Clarissa)

Year in year out she wore that coat; she perspired; she was never in the room five minutes without making you feel her superiority, your inferiority; how poor she was; how rich you were; how she lived in a slum without a cushion or a bed or a rug or whatever it might be, all her soul rusted with that grievance sticking in it, her dismissal from school during the War – poor embittered unfortunate creature! (1.21)

Miss Kilman is defined by feeling rejected by society. She considers herself to always be on the outside – resentful, impoverished, and inferior.

She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible; unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only this astonishing and rather solemn progress with the rest of them, up Bond Street, this being Mrs Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more; this being Mrs Richard Dalloway. (1.18)

Clarissa feels that as she’s aged, that she has become invisible. Youth is behind her and now she’s known as the wife of Richard Dalloway and not as Clarissa.

[…] Hugh, intimating by a kind of pout or swell of his very well-covered, manly, extremely handsome, perfectly upholstered body (he was almost too well dressed always, but presumably had to be, with his little job at Court) […]. (1.9)

Hugh takes Britishness to the extreme. He embodies the absurdities of making his identity all about the customs. Basically, he tries too hard. We all know the type.

[…] she, too, loving it as she did with an absurd and faithful passion, being part of it, since her people were courtiers once in the time of the Georges, she, too, was going that very night to kindle and illuminate; to give her party. (1.6)

Clarissa identifies very closely with all of the material objects – the "stuff" of British society. The fact that her family has been important for generations is something she thinks reflects well upon her.

The King and Queen were at the Palace. And everywhere, though it was still so early, there was a beating, a stirring of galloping ponies, tapping of cricket bats; Lords, Ascot, Ranelagh and all the rest of it […]. (1.6)

The British people find comfort in royalty and all the traditions of the British Empire. As the novel goes on, Woolf suggests that these associations have a dark side, too.

The motor car with its blinds drawn and an air of inscrutable reserve proceeded towards Piccadilly, still gazed at, still ruffling the faces on both sides of the street with the same dark breath of veneration whether for Queen, Prince, or Prime Minister nobody knew. (1.42)

The official car causes a stir with everyone on the street. The very idea of being near royalty makes everyone feel proud.

Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. (1.1)

Though this sentence comes across as hardly striking, it in fact opens up some of the important themes of class in the novel. The fact that Clarissa is going herself, instead of sending a servant, is a big deal. Note, however, that she’s "Mrs Dalloway" here – that’s her proper identity out in the world.

Section 2
Mrs Dalloway (Clarissa)

Sally it was who made her feel, for the first time, how sheltered the life at Bourton was. She knew nothing about sex – nothing about social problems. (2.12)

Sally Seton changes Clarissa’s life by making her aware that there’s more going on than tea parties at Bourton. Before Sally, Clarissa was very sheltered. Do you think she's any different after her relationship with Sally?

Section 3
Peter Walsh

[…] he was an adventurer, reckless, he thought, swift, daring, indeed (landed as he was last night from India) a romantic buccaneer, careless of all these damned proprieties, yellow dressing-gowns, pipes, fishing-rods, in the shop windows; and respectability and evening parties and spruce old men wearing white slips beneath their waistcoats. He was a buccaneer. (3.13)

To make himself feel better, Peter likes to think of himself as something of a wild man. Knowing that he’ll never be a member of British high society, Peter defines himself as being <em>against</em> conformity, and so thinks of himself as much more interesting than stiffs like Hugh.

Section 4
Mrs Dalloway (Clarissa)

Then somebody said – Sally Seton it was – did it make any real difference to one's feelings to know that before they'd married she had had a baby? (In those days, in mixed company, it was a bold thing to say.) He could see Clarissa now, turning bright pink; somehow contracting; and saying, "Oh, I shall never be able to speak to her again!" (4.12)

Sally’s views are shocking to Clarissa’s family – and to Clarissa. When she hears that someone has had a baby out of wedlock, Clarissa vows never to speak to that person again.