Virginia Woolf was born in 1882. Her father Leslie Stephen was an eminent Victorian man of letters. So she grew up in a literary and intellectual atmosphere and her education consisted of private Greek lessons and access to her father's library, where she read whatever she liked. The death of her mother, when Virginia was only thirteen, affected her deeply and brought about her first nervous breakdown. She began to be in revolt against her father’s aggressive and tyrannical character. In this period tried her first suicide: she tried to commit suicide several time in her life. Certainly her depressive periods were also influenced by the sexual abuse to which she and her sister Vanessa were subjected by their half-brothers, as Virginia recalls in her autobiographical essays. After her father’s death she decided to move to Bloomsbury and, together with her sister Vanessa, she became a member of the Bloomsbury Group, a group of avant-garde that rejected traditional artistic convention, where he met her future husband, Leonard Woolf. Then she published her most popular works like Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Orlando and A Room of One's Own, that supported the feminist movement. The Second World War increased her anxiety and fears, she became haunted by the terror of losing her mind and finally, at the age of 59, she drowned herself in the river Ouse, like Shakespeare's Ofelia. For Virginia, water represented two things: on the one hand, it represented what is harmonious, feminine; on the other hand, it stood for the possibility of the resolution of intolerable conflicts in¬ death.
Mrs Dalloway is a novel without a traditional plot, that is set in only one day, when Clarissa Dalloway, the protagonist, goes to Bond Street to buy some flowers for a party she is giving the evening at her house. While she is in the flower shop, a car drives noisily past and shifts the attention to the street, where Septimus and Lucrezia Warren Smith are walking: he is a shell-shocked veteran of the war and she is an Italian girl. Clarissa walks back home and there she receives an unexpected visit from Peter Walsh, the man she used to love in her youth, who is just come back from India and still loves her. While the party is taking place, Septimus commit suicide and the news strikes Clarissa: she doesn't know Septimus, but their lives have both shared that same day some events, like an airplanes flying in the London sky.
The plot and structure of this novel are unusual: there isn't division into chapters, each external event is connected with the party, but a simple voice, accident or sound are enough to give rise to a mental process. A division into chapters would break the continuity of time: the stream of impressions, emotions, memories and recollections hasn't pauses or divisions, but flows without interruption. Woolf adopts only a motif, the striking of Big Ben and of clocks in general, to remind the reader of the temporal grid which organizes the narrative, of the passing of the time in life and of its flowing into death.
Besides each characters isn't introduced by his or her external appearance, but through his or her inner life: the narration shifts from one point of view to another, from present to past, without an omniscient narrator.
The protagonists of the novel, Clarissa and Septimus, share more than it seems. The plot does not connect Clarissa and Septimus, apart from the news of his death at her party, but they are similar.
Clarissa is a London society lady of fifty-one and the wife of a Conservative member of Parliament, that she married in preference to Peter, for affordability. She is characterized by opposing feelings: her need for freedom and the desire to fulfill the social conventions . She needs to make her home perfect, to become an ideal human being but she imposes severe restrictions on her spontaneous feelings.
Septimus is a young poet and lover of Shakespeare who, when the war broke out, enlisted for patriotic reasons. He is an extremely sensitive man and he is a character used to explain the consequences of the War.
Both depend upon their partners for stability and protection: she for economic security and he because, after the war, is weak. His psychic paralysis leads him to suicide whereas Clarissa, in the end, recognizes her deceptions, accepts old age and the idea of death, and is prepared to go on.