Mrs. Dalloway by Virginna Woolf -- Re-imagined | Skillshare Projects



Mrs. Dalloway by Virginna Woolf -- Re-imagined

This is the paperback cover of Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf that I bought in the early 1970’s. Its publication date says 1953 (by Leonard Woolf) but I don’t think it’s really that old. Everybody in my class had this version. The reason why I chose this book for my redesign is because I always felt that this was a poor cover that didn’t suggest what the book was about.

As I began research on cover versions of this book, I discovered that an additional benefit of choosing this book was that it is now in the public domain, so there are lots of covers to look at.

[From Wikipedia] The novel addresses [Clarissa Dalloway’s] preparations for a party she will host that evening. With an interior perspective, the story travels forwards and back in time and in and out of the characters' minds to construct an image of Clarissa's life and of the inter-war social structure.

This is a stream-of-consciousness novel that includes the significant presence of an old suitor, the slight memories of a long-ago lesbian kiss, a major sub-story about a hallucinating World War I soldier and his Italian war-bride, brief views of Mrs Dalloway’s daughter and husband,  several appearances of the doctor treating the troubled soldier, various friends at the party, and finally the prime minister himself.

It was made into a rather smarmy 1997 movie starring Vanessa Redgrave as Mrs Dalloway (of course) and Rupert Graves as the disturbed veteran:

It’s even been turned into a modernist opera by Libby Larsen (I saw this production in Cleveland in 1993). This YouTube clip shows a crucial scene between the shell-shocked soldier Septimus and his Italian war bride Rezia without the title character Mrs Dalloway (spoiler alert: it delivers a major surprising plot point in the final minute):

I like how the music can depict Septimus’s confused state, and the themes of memory and regret.

The first cover shown below is the original 1926 UK cover depicting a bridge and the flowers through a window. The second cover is the slightly later 1928 Hogarth Press cover, which is completely abstract. And the third cover is the original 1928 US version, with Mrs Dalloway’s calling card, hinting at the class discussion within the novel.

The vast majority of book covers attempt to depict the pensive and wealthy Mrs Dalloway, usually from a classic painting. This is a very classy approach but emphasizes the appearance of the title character without telling what the complex story is about or how it is told.





The opening sentence of the novel is “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” So another approach seems to be to show Mrs. Dalloway in a garden or just the flowers she will eventually buy:




Because it is such an important novel and in the public domain, there are many foreign language editions. It’s hard to criticize these covers since cultural differences make it difficult to understand what the novel might mean to non-English speakers in especially divergent backgrounds. But many of these editions continue to depict Mrs Dalloway.






Mr. Kidd pointed out the original Penguin versions of these modern classics.  But Penguin followed up with this bizarro shapeless watercolor. And the third edition is from a very recent Austalian edition - which depicts a veiled Mrs. Dalloway and an apparently funeral bordered book.


The Everyman's Library below shows a striated and hatch-marked Virginia Woolf in front of a rich flowered wallpaper, which is OK.  And this final cheap version should get some sort of bonus points for attempting something wihout showing Mrs. Dalloway, but the time and place seems wrong and not appropriate to the story.  And the typography is horrible.


Most of these covers are OK in their own way, but I have a special set of covers that are bad for various reasons. The first if these covers is completely arbitrary for a cheap reprint. The second cover gets the character completely wrong. The third cover tries to modernize the story in a completely unexplainable way.


This next cover is from a Swedish edition and is unexplainable. The second cover depicts something that doesn’t happen in the book in any significant way and falsely portrays Mrs. Dalloway.  And the third book is just abstractly wrong.


And I have a set of covers that I rather like for various reasons. This first cover suggests Mrs. Dalloway without depicting her and the flowers suggest thoughts emanating from her mind. The cover suggests the park where she walks and the soldier has a break down. The third cover suggests the modernist approach to story telling.


This next cover is quite fine in suggesting the London and day the day when the story takes place. (This is for an audio version of the novel, so the tolling the bell throughout the novel telling the time is especially appropriate.) The second cover abstractly suggests Mrs. Dalloway and the cutout collage suggests both the flowers she will buy and the patchwork way in which the story is told. The lips, which tell the story are especially prominent, while the eyes are not not shown. The final cover also suggests Mrs. Dalloway and the thoughts that she radiates as she proceeds through her day. The colors seem “off,” but the depiction seems good. (This is from a Portugese edition.)


But none of these covers fully depicts the stream-of-consciousness or the rather significant subplot of the old suitor and the shell-shocked soldier with his foreign born wife.

Interestingly enough, The Folio Society (who put out fancy editions of books for collectors) published this book last year with the following cover and an interior image that I really like. They made the book cover look like Mrs. Dalloway’s house where the party will take place and the illustration suggests the people and the memories they have.


However, something interesting happened in the online presentation for the following rather pedestrian online e-book cover. The first scan was fine and produces a standard image of Virginia Woolf, but the second scan was flawed and so the registration for the bottom half of the image is off and the author’s first name is strangely doubled, which is quite a fine depiction of the stream-of-consciousness method of the author in the voice of Mrs. Dalloway.


During this research, I also discovered this handwritten draft of the novel and this iconic image of Virginia Woolf. I think I’d like to incorporate the writing, since Woolf is often thought of as a writer’s-writer. And maybe this picture of Virgina Woolf looks like Mrs. Dalloway.


Virginia Woolf signatures:  I think I'd like to use these on the cover, or maybe use a similar script font to suggest the stream-of-consciousness and point of view.


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