Commonplace-Book Entry: “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf, The Effects of Decisions in the Past

“Now of course, thought Clarissa, he’s enchanting! perfectly enchanting! Now I remember how impossible it was ever to make up my mind–and why did I make up my mind–not to marry him? she wondered, that awful summer?”

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Harcourt, Inc, 1925, page 40.

Looking at Peter Walsh now, Clarissa starts to think of decisions that she has made in the past and tries to remember how she came upon those decisions. She does this because as she is reflecting on her life now, she realizes that she has become unhappy with it and by looking on these decisions in the past and thinking of different paths that she could have chosen, such as wondering why she hadn’t chosen to marry Peter Walsh instead of Richard Dalloway, she thinks that by taking those different paths, her life could have been different than how it is now and perhaps she would have been more happy during this point in her life.

Woolf, “Mrs Dalloway” – Feeling Invisible

“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” (10).

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. 1925. Harcourt Inc, 2005.

Clarissa is deindividuated and powerless as “Mrs. Richard Dalloway.” The only fulfilling or interesting parts of her life, finding a husband and having children, are now gone. She has lost any sense of personal identity that comes with her first name, undertaking her husband’s full name instead.

Mrs. Dalloway Commonplacing

“She felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged. She sliced like a knife through everything; at the same time was outside, looking on. She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day” (Woolf Loc. 936)*Kindle Edition.

Woolf, Virginia, and Bonnie Kime Scott. Mrs. Dalloway. A Harvest Book, Harcourt, Inc., 2005.

Even though Mrs. Dalloway is a well-off, sophisticated woman in society, she feels alone and exposed to the ridicule of her peers. On top of that, her husband seems to be the type of man that would rather have her be pretty and mute than educated and opinionated.

Mrs. Dalloway Blog Post

“‘Lord, Lord!’ he said to himself out loud, stretching and opening his
eyes. ‘The death of the soul.’ The words attached themselves to some scene,

to some room, to some past he had been dreaming of. It became clearer; the
scene, the room, the past he had been dreaming of.”

Here we see Peter still deals with his past trauma and “death of the soul” as he calls it. Like his counterpart, Clarissa, they both have a habit of diving into the past about their feelings.

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Harcourt, Inc, 2005, page 61-62

Mrs. Dalloway #1

“But often now this body she wore (she stopped to look at a Dutch picture), this body, with all its capacities, seemed nothing — nothing at all. 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” (Woolf 35).

Mrs. Dalloway as a character reminds me a bit of Miss Brill, from the short story “Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield (though without the self-delusion). She seems to lose herself to her thoughts, both those of the past and the present, and suggests that she finds diversity and vitality in her life by walking about and observing people.


Woolf, Virginia. Everyman’s Library. Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.

eISBN: 978-0-307-55807-7

Blog 3 — Mrs. Dalloway

“The compensation of growing old, Peter Walsh thought, coming out of Regent’s Park, and holding his hat in hand, was simply this; that the passions remain as strong as ever, but one has gained — at last! — the power which adds the supreme flavour to existence, — the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it round, slowly, in the light”.

The two main protagonists, Clarissa and Peter, both seem to live heavily in the past and reflect often. The only thing that seems to bring Peter true happiness is looking back at his younger experiences and wondering what could have been.

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Harcourt, Inc, 2005, page 77.

Mrs. Dalloway: Past in Present (In People & Places, Too)

“There was Regent’s Park. Yes. As a child he had walked in Regent’s Park– odd, he thought, how the thought of childhood keeps coming back to me– the result of seeing Clarissa, perhaps; for women live much more in the past than we do, he thought. They attach themselves to places; and their fathers– a woman’s always proud of her father. Bourton was a nice place, a very nice place, but I could never get on with the old man, he thought. There was quite a scene one night– an argument about something or other, what, he could not remember. Politics presumably.”

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Harcourt, Inc, 2005, page 54.

Mrs. Dalloway, past entering the present

“But he had never got on well with old Parry, that querulous, weak-kneed old man, Clarissa’s father, Justin Parry.

‘I often wish I’d got on better with your father,’ he said.

‘But he never liked any one who — our friends,’ said Clarissa; and could have bitten her tongue for thus reminding Peter that he had wanted to marry her.”

-Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Harcourt, Inc, 2005, page 41

Joyce: Art & Artistry

Her image had passed into his soul forever and no word had broken the holy silence of his ecstasy. Her eyes had called him and his soul had leaped at the call. To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life! A wild angel had appeared to him, the angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory. On and on and on and on!

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Dover Thrift Editions) (p. 123). Dover Publications. Kindle Edition.


This moment in chapter 4 comes after Stephen realizes that the virgin Mary, no longer has the same effect on him as she once did. After hiding from the Christian Brothers and being teased by some of his peers, Stephen encounters a girl bathing and makes eye contact with her. He compares her to a wild angel of youth and beauty.

Joyce, Art and Artistry

“Now, at the name of the fabulous artificer, he seemed to hear the noise of dim waves and to see a winged form flying above the waves and slowly climbing the air. What did it mean? Was it a quaint device opening a page of some medieval book of prophecies and symbols, a hawklike man flying sunward above the sea, a prophecy of the end he had been born to serve and had been following through the mists of childhood and boyhood, a symbol of the artist forging anew in his workshop out of the sluggish matter of the earth a new soaring impalpable imperishable being?” (Joyce, 78).

At this moment Stephen imagines himself as Daedalus, the figure of Greek myth. Similar to how Daedalus attempted to escape the labyrinth by forging wings, Stephen imagines himself being reborn by building his own “wings”. He wishes to escape the religious fervor which has been imprisoning him. Like the artist “forging anew”, Stephen wants to become an artist in his own way, forging “wings” with his writing.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, Oxford University Press, Oxford,2000, pg 78.

Art and Torment James Joyce A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

“A brief anger had often invested him but he had never been able to make it an abiding passion and had always felt himself passing out of it as if his very body were being divested with ease of some outer skin or peel. He had felt a subtle, dark and murmurous presence penetrate his being and fire him with a brief iniquitous lust: it too had slipped beyond his grasp leaving his mind lucid and indifferent. This, it seemed, was the only love and that the only hate his soul would harbor” (Joyce 126)

The vivid language and style paints the bitter internal struggle between Steven’s desires and his strict piety. Desire is portrayed as an ominous presence that always seems to get past his piety which makes Steven intensely ashamed for. He tries to fight desire but it is useless—his soul allows it to enter and leave which he remains bitter over. To him, his desire and passion and lust are seen as sinful yet his heart allows it which only makes him more resentful towards it even though it is implied that he secretly wishes for it (for him to let passion take over.)

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, Oxford University Press, Oxford,2000, page 126.

Art & Artistry in A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man

“The tiny flame which the priest’s allusion had kindled upon Stephen’s cheek had sunk down again and his eyes were still fixed calmly on the colourless sky. But an unresting doubt flew hither and thither before his mind. Masked memories passed quickly before him: he recognised scenes and persons yet he was conscious that he had failed to perceive some vital circumstance in them. He saw himself walking about the grounds watching the sports in Clongowes and eating chocolate out of his cricketcap. Some jesuits were walking round the cycle- track in the·company of ladies. The echoes of certain expressions used in Clongowes sounded in remote caves of his mind.” (Joyce, 182)

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man. New York: B.W. Huebsch Inc., 1916. Print.

Stephen’s recalling of these vivid memories shows his artistic mind, and the creativity he holds in while studying and trying to be a good Christian boy. It shows the struggles he faces as an artist, and as a young man, ultimately relating again to the school novel genre.

Art and Artistry in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

“Their piety would be like their names, like their faces, like their clothes and it was idle for him to tell himself that their humble and contrite hearts, it might be, paid a far richer tribute of devotion than his had ever been, a gift tenfold more acceptable than his elaborate adoration.”

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000, page 140.

Stephen’s Fulfillment; Art and Artistry

“He felt his cheeks aflame and his throat throbbing with song. There was a lust of wandering in his feet that burned to set out for the ends of the earth. On! On! his heart seemed to cry. Evening would deepen above the sea, night fall upon the plains, dawn glimmer before the wanderer and show him strange fields and hills and faces” (Joyce 122).

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Dover Publications, 1994

Stephen’s urge to sing emphasizes how much more he wants from his life. He is trying to force himself to live a life of intense piety, relying on religion as a sole means of fulfilling his needs. However, it is only causing him to feel deep resentment for religion itself and those around him. Art is a motivator for him; a way to explain and understand life, and to feel he has a purpose within it. When he can begin to accept the fact that he does not need to be solely defined by God or by restrictive and oppressive behaviors, he can begin to heal and grow as a person, and truly contribute his talent to the world.

Joyce, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”: Art and Artistry

“He was destined to learn his own wisdom apart from others or to learn the wisdom of others himself wandering among the snares of the world” (175).

Stephen decides that he is going refuse to conform to the organized forms of society or religion and forge his own path. He’s beginning to embrace his desire to become a great artist.

James, Henry. “The Middle Years.” H. James Complete Stories 1892-1898, The Library of America, 1996, page 337.

Emerging as an Artist; Stephen in Dublin

“All the leisure which was his school life left him was passed in the company of subversive writers whose gibe and violence of speech set up a ferment in his brain before they passed out of it into his writings.

The essay was for him the chief labour of his week and every Tuesday, as he marched from home to the school, he read his fate in the incidents of the way, pitting himself against some figure ahead of him and quickening his pace to outstrip it before a certain goal was reached or planting his steps scrupulously in the spaces of the patchwork of the foot path and telling himself that he would be first and not first in the weekly essay (Joyce 83).”

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Oxford University Press, 2000.

Stephen’s competitive spirit and insecurity compared to his peers drives him to pour gobs of effort into the weekly essays. He goes on to have an encounter with Heron and his goons where they bully him over his opinion on who the greatest poet of prose is. Tennyson, who according to heron is simply a poet for common uneducated people, is the poet Stephen lists. This harkens back to the “Pull out his eyes, Apologize” rhyming tendency that Stephen has always had an affinity for.


Joyce, “Artist”

“He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and wilful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the seaharvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight and gayclad lightclad figures of children and girls and voices childish and girlish in the air.”

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Oxford University Press, 2000.

Here, art is used to fill the imagination with the sorrows of loneliness. As a reader, I can breathe the waste of wild air and feel the brackish waters as if I’m the young, wilful lonely man. I can even hear the voices of children filling the air. It’s details like this that allow the reader to not only immerse themselves into the world but to actually fill the shoes of the character(s).

Joyce, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”, Art and Artistry Within Prose

“The phrase and the day and the scene harmonised in a chord.
Words. Was it their colours? He allowed them to glow and fade, hue
after hue: sunrise gold, the russet and green of apple orchards, azure
of waves, the greyfringed fleece of clouds. No, it was not their
colours: it was the poise and balance of the period itself. Did he then
love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations
of legend and colour? Or was it that, being as weak of sight as he was
shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing
sensible world through the prism of language many coloured and
richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world of
individual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic
prose?” (Joyce 140).

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Oxford University Press, 2000.

In his religious devotion, Stephen still focuses on artistry and the imagery behind each word of a phrase. From a single phrase he reads, Stephen extrapolates its meaning and how it serves to create a world within its reader’s imagination.