Mrs. Dalloway

  • by Virginia Woolf
  • Narrated by Annette Bening
  • 7 hrs and 31 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Mrs. Dalloway, perhaps Virginia Woolf’s greatest novel, follows English socialite Clarissa Dalloway as she prepares for a party in post-World War I London. Four-time Oscar nominee Annette Bening (American Beauty, The Kids Are All Right) performs Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness style of storytelling brilliantly, exploring the hidden springs of thought and action in one day of a woman’s life.
When we first meet Clarissa Dalloway, she is preoccupied with the last-minute minutiae of party-planning while being flooded with memories of long ago. Clarissa then examines the realities of the present as the story travels forwards and back in time and in and out of different characters’ minds.
Mrs. Dalloway is daring not only in its stream-of-consciousness form, but also in its content. Woolf’s depiction of Septimus Warren Smith brings to light the ugly and often ignored truth of how the brutality of war can drive men mad. We also get to see in depth how our main protagonist, Clarissa Dalloway, suffers from her own form of psychological damage: the more subtle, everyday oppression of English society.

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What the Critics Say

“Bening's work here is fine…her tone offers its characteristic grace…both this narrator and this novelist offer tremendous gifts.” (AudioFile)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Do you really want to be in these people's heads?

This is possibly the most annoying book I have ever listened to.

Annerte Bening is great as the narrator of this audiobook: she catches the stream-of-consciousness voices of the characters perfectly. The problem is that listening to these voices is exactly like listening to someone's interior monologue as they natter to themselves about every detail they observe going throughout their day.

I haven't read James Joyce's Ulysses, but apparently the writing style in Mrs. Dalloway is often compared to that book. I can't say it makes me eager to tackle Joyce. There isn't really a plot in this book, just character studies. Clarissa Dalloway is a high-society woman planning a party; we follow her throughout her day starting with a walk along Bond Street. She meets an old flame who's just returned from India, prompting reflection about why she married her stodgy, reliable husband Richard Dalloway instead of the more interesting but less stable Peter Walsh. Then the narrative switches to Walsh's point of view, as we follow him going about London, reflecting on Clarissa and her refusal of his marriage proposal and the married woman he's now hooked up with.

The book drifts in and out of viewpoints, shifting perspectives and threads of narrative. Mrs. Dalloway is the main character whose head we get into, but we are also treated to the thoughts of Septimus Warren Smith, a traumatized, suicidal veteran of the Great War, whose Italian wife can't understand why he keeps acting ill when the doctors say nothing is wrong with him.

The prose is elegant and pretty and Woolf is quite artful in the way she gets us thoroughly into the characters' heads, telling us all about their hopes, fears, secrets, and entire life histories in snippets of rambling internal monologue. It's one of those "literary" novels whose craft I can appreciate while making me never want to read it again. I can see why Woolf is studied by graduate students, but nothing here spoke to me or interested me, and listening to Clarissa Dalloway go on and on and on and on, treating every precious thought she has like a precious little diamond, listening to self-involved Peter Walsh go on and on and on about his love lives past and present and his failure to "make a success" of himself, listening to Septimus Smith go on and on and on about his dead friend who haunts him and how detached he is from society, made me feel like someone trapped on a bus between people talking on their cell phones.

A snarkier review of this book could legitimately be hashtagged with #firstworldproblems, aside from Septimus's PTSD, which I'll grant that Woolf treated with a fair degree of nuance and sympathy for the time this was written. There's also a hint of a past lesbian infatuation and a lot of ruminating on the basic dissatisfaction of upper-class married life, which I guess is why this book is supposed to be an early "feminist" work.

It was not to my taste. Virginia Woolf may have been a genius, but I suspect you have to have your head somewhere like where Clarissa's or Septimus's heads are at to love this book. Maybe I'd have found the stream-of-consciousness prose more interesting and less annoying in print.
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- David "Indiscriminate Reader"

Surprisingly enjoyable

Haha! Am I the only one who liked Annette Benning? I thought her dead pan tone fit this book perfectly. Especially when speaking for Septimus.

A friend of mine is discovering classics that he's never read, and keeps suggesting books to me. He gave me an assignment to read this book, and then use Sparknotes to better understand the underlying ideas. I must say, I think I got more out of this book because of it. If I hadn't read the spark notes, I probably would have thought it was boring and dull, just as the other reviewers did.

Something that I find very interesting about this book is the way Virginia Woolf talks about mental illness. Not many people who are mentally ill themselves can describe the thoughts and feelings they have as precisely and eloquently as she does in this book. She rationalizes Septimus' feelings in such a profound way because she had those feelings (or some very much like them) all her life. I felt like I could see very clearly why she and Septimus both had to do what they did, and how it was the only way.

Ugh. That got very dark all of a sudden.

Overall, I thought this book was very much like Seinfeld. A lot about nothing. The plot...well, there isn't one. It is more a study on human character and death. It clearly captures the stream of consciousness movement that was happening when this book was written. I am a visual artist, so I was more familiar with works by Dali and Breton than I was of Woolf. I enjoyed this book as much as I would have enjoyed sitting in front of a Dali. It made me think harder than I wanted to, or than I am required to on a daily basis.
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- january

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-04-2012
  • Publisher: Audible Studios