A Whole Life in a Single Day
No big plot. No thrilling actions. No heartbreaking romances. Just an entire novel based on one ordinary day in an ordinary woman’s life. This is the premise behind Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway. Explore Woolf’s unique writing style and detailed exploration of the world inside the novel (London in the summer of 1923). Then, brainstorm your perfect “ordinary” day and create cover artwork to reflect its contents.
Drama, Choral Music, Instrumental Music
- paper and pencil
- markers, colored pencils, or access to a design platform, like Canva
STEP 1. EXPLORING DALLOWAY’S COVER ART
- Examine the cover artwork of the attached publications of Mrs. Dalloway.
Discuss as a class or small group:
- Prominent themes
- Similarities and differences between the covers
- Color pallets of individual covers
- Photographic images verses painted/drawn images
Now, discuss the following questions:
- How does the art on the cover of a book inform the reader of its contents?
- What have I learned about the characters of Mrs. Dalloway by looking at only the cover art of the books?
- What have I learned about Virginia Woolf by examining the cover art of the books?
- What do I suspect the plot of the book will be?
STEP 2. EXPLORING WOOLF’S WRITING
Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, published in 1925, heralded its author’s arrival into her own unique voice as a writer. The novel is regarded by many critics as the work in which Woolf refined her style of stream-of-consciousness narration, which then led her to explore this style further in later works. The shifting perspective of the narrative allows readers a deeper look at the world that surrounds Mrs. Dalloway: a singular June day in post-World War I London. The reader jumps from the inner monologue of one character to another with fluidity. This allows the reader to feel completely submerged in the atmosphere of the novel’s world and gives understanding to the motivations of individual characters in the way a more linear narrative would not.
From The Washington Post: “Woolf organizes the action around certain symbolic objects and events—an expensive automobile backfiring, a skywriting airplane, the crowded shopping streets of fashionable London, the Dalloway party—and effortlessly segues from one character’s consciousness to another in a series of subtly interconnected interior monologues.”
STEP 3. EXPLORING MRS. DALLOWAY’S WORLD
Clarissa Dalloway wants nothing more than to throw a party, perhaps to distract herself from the weariness of the post-war world around her, or to avoid contemplating her own mental health. As she goes about the errands of her day, her experience of the world is shaped by who she encounters, and the sights, sounds, and smells of the city are viscerally described. Read some of the quotes below which give detailed insight into Mrs. Dalloway’s mind as well as the world moving all around her:
How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen.
One might fancy that day, the London day, was just beginning. Like a woman who had slipped off her print dress and white apron to array herself in blue and pearls, the day changed, put off stuff, took gauze, changed to evening, and with the same sigh of exhilaration that a woman breathes, tumbling petticoats on the floor, it too shed dust, heat, color; the traffic thinned; motor cars, tinkling, darting, succeeded the lumber of vans; and here and there among the thick foliage of the squares an intense light hung. I resign, the evening seemed to say, as it paled and faded above the battlements and prominences, molded, pointed, of hotel, flat, and block of shops, I fade, she was beginning. I disappear, but London would have none of it, and rushed her bayonets into the sky, pinioned her, constrained her to partnership in her revelry.
One feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air.
STEP 4. DESIGNING YOUR PERFECT ORDINARY DAY
Now it’s time to create a detailed outline of your perfect ordinary day. Read the instructions below and use the “A Perfectly Ordinary Day” sheet to document your answers.
- Keep your day ordinary! Include meals, naps, technology, etc. Anything you do on an average day. Limited exciting action is ok!
- Select an evening event (party, date, concert etc.) to prep for. Include actions throughout your day that support your preparations.
- Make your total day’s events last at least 14 hours, just as Mrs. Dalloway’s does in the book.
- Don’t forget to include other people! Share their parts in your day as well as your own.
STEP 5. COVER ART FOR THE ORDINARY
Now that you have written out the details of your ordinary day, it is time to design a book jacket to go along with your day. Reflect on the class’s discussion about Woolf’s cover art and its effects on the reader. Now, begin designing your cover. You may use paper and pen/markers/pencils or a design platform like Canva. When you have completed your design, share out with the class. Describe how your cover relates to the activities you included in your ordinary day.