Mrs Dalloway’s Party – a short story sequence by Virginia Woolf

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The back cover blurb provides an excellent synopsis and rationale for including this as a text in Advanced English classes in Year 10, particularly if your senior pattern of study includes Advanced Module A: Comparative Study of Texts and Contexts Elective 1 Intertextual Connections.

Mrs Dalloway’s Party is a forgotten classic, and an enchanting piece of work by one of our most acclaimed twentieth century writers. A sequence of seven short stories that were written by Woolf in the same period as Mrs Dalloway – the opening story in the collection was originally intended to be the first chapter of the novel they beautifully showcase the author’s fascination with parties and with all the emotions and anxieties which surround these social occasions. In ‘The New Dress’ a nervous young woman frets that her fellow guests are laughing at her yellow silk dress while ‘Together and Apart’ explores what happens to two people meeting for the first time in Clarissa Dalloway’s drawing room.

In this collection of stories Virginia Woolf created a microcosm of society out of the excitement, the fluctuations of mood and temper and the heightened emotions of the party.

The introduction, written by Stella McNichol, explores Woolf’s pre-occupation with the idea of ‘the party’ as a social occasion, and suggests that “[u]nder its glare and because of its stresses people became more vulnerable” (p 9). She further indicates that it is not necessary to have read the novel Mrs Dalloway to appreciate these stories, but McNichol has named this sequence as an explicit link with the novel to “… enlarge one’s understanding and appreciation of Virginia Woolf’s work as a whole.” (p. 10). The stories are:

  1. Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street
  2. The Man Who Loved His Kind
  3. The Introduction
  4. Ancestors
  5. Together and Apart
  6. The New Dress
  7. A Summing Up

McNichol quotes from Woolf”s diaries, relevant biographies and some stories in the sequence to further illustrate the notion of connectedness. Indeed, the Berg manuscript contains Woolf’s notes for Mrs Dalloway:

 Oct. 6th, 1922. Thoughts upon beginning a book to be called, perhaps, At Home: or The Party: this is to be a short book consisting of six or seven chapters, each complete separately. Yet there must be some sort of fusion! And all must converge upon the party at the end.

In Stage 5, these stories could be studied as a whole, perhaps analysed in small groups and then shared with the whole class. Students should develop an insight into one writer’s process for drafting and creating a final text, and the role of a unifying theme or idea in that process. This would be of benefit to those who are considering studying Extension English as a Preliminary course.

As an important development in the historical evolution of the short story, this sequence stands alone without the need to make an explicit link to future senior texts. Indeed, it is important to share a wide range of texts with students, as well as being careful to program a Preliminary course that does not directly mimic a specific HSC course. Students must develop a thorough knowledge and understanding of the metalanguage of English, including a broad range of features, forms and structures.

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2 responses to “Mrs Dalloway’s Party – a short story sequence by Virginia Woolf

  1. Firstly, I’ d like to say thanks for adding this to my list of holiday reading. I was doing a bit of background research and I came across the idea of ‘party consciousness’ as well as ‘frock consciousness’. You’ve got to love that…
    It would be great to use in the Adv.year 11 classroom as a Comparative study with an old friend, namely Albee’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’. It seems much more accessible than the complex and polemical, ‘A Room of One’s Own'(which I think is still on the HSC prescriptions list for 2015 anyway) Pretty good preparation and it would certainly sort out who the serious HSC students are!!!!

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