With the exception of the opening and final scenes, which depict the 1941 suicide by drowning of Virginia Woolf in the River Ouse, Sussex, the action takes place within the span of a single day in three different decades and alternates between them throughout the film. In 1923, Virginia has begun writing the book ''Mrs Dalloway'' in her home in the town of Richmond, London outside London. In 1951, troubled Los Angeles housewife Laura Brown escapes from her conventional life by reading ''Mrs Dalloway''. In 2001, New York City Clarissa Vaughan is the embodiment of the novel's title character, as she spends the day preparing for a party she is hosting in honor of her former lover and friend Richard, a poet and author living with HIV/AIDS who is to receive a major literary award. Richard tells Clarissa that he has stayed alive for her sake and that the award is meaningless because he didn't get it sooner, until he was on the brink of death. She tells him that she believes that he would have won the award regardless of his illness. Richard often refers to Clarissa as "Mrs. Dalloway" – her namesake – because she distracts herself from her own life the way that the Woolf character does.