Hey, guys! Welcome to Bookish Islander. My
name is Juan. I hope you’re doing very well. Today,
I’m going to talk to you about one of the best novels of the 20th century: Mrs.
Dalloway by Virginia Woolf! Mrs. Dalloway is Virginia Woolf’s fourth novel.
She wrote it between 1922 and 1924. The book was published in 1925 by Hogarth
Press, which was Virginia Wolf’s own publishing house.
Clarissa Dalloway is the protagonist and the first-person narrator of this novel.
Mrs. Dalloway takes place in just one day as Clarissa goes around London
getting ready to host a party at her home that evening. “Mrs. Dalloway said she
would buy the flowers herself. For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors
would be taken off their hinges: Rumplemayer’s men were coming. And then, thought
Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning — fresh as if issued to children on a beach.” As
Clarissa goes around from one place to the next, she remembers her youth and
wonders if she married the right man. She chose Richard Dollaway who she considers
to be someone she can rely on, but she had another suitor, Peter Walsh, who was a
lot more enigmatic. Another important character is Septimus Warren Smith, a
British Army veteran from World War I who suffers from shell shock, which is
the condition that we now know as deferred traumatic stress. Some of these
characters and others convene at Clarissa’s party at the end of the novel.
All of them are present at the party one way or another. But, other than Clarissa,
Septimus, Peter and all the other characters, London and its streets are
hugely important. If it weren’t such a cliché, I would almost say that London is
a character in the novel. But, instead of saying that, let’s look at the importance
of location in this novel. So, Clarissa lives in Westminster, which
is the part of London where the British Parliament is. Her husband is a member of
parliament for the Conservative Party. So, where they live and where the novel
begins is important because politics are important in this book. Okay, then she’s
off to Bond Street and Bond Street is one of the more
traditional shopping streets in London. Now we associated with luxury stores, but
Clarissa doesn’t go there to buy expensive jewels or designer clothes. She
wants to buy simple flowers for her party that evening. Then, when she crosses
st. James’s Park she meets an old friend, Hugh Whitbread. And then she begins to
think and remember her former suitor, Peter Walsh. As the different streets and
locations in London intersect so does Clarissa with the other characters. Now a
mature woman of 52 years of age, Clarissa admires the taxi cabs and the
omnibuses that she sees in London. All these fast means of transportation
symbolize freedom and modernity and, more importantly, they were not available when
she was younger and made important choices in her life. Important choices
like the man that she got married to. Clarissa is fascinated by the spectacle
that the City of London affords anyone who visits or lives there. And I think
that Mrs. Dalloway is great at capturing modernity. If you think about it, for
someone whose Clarissa’s age in the 1920s, the world has changed a lot during their
youth. You would have been raised to travel by foot or carriage. Maybe by
train. And now there are buses and automobiles around. But the world of the
1920s is also a post-war world in Europe. World War I took place between 1914
and 1917. So, we’re just a few years after that. And we can see the consequences in
the character of Septimus, but not only. Daily life, people’s habits, their clothes
and even their manners have changed. And had changed at that point very rapidly
in less than a decade. And Mrs. Dalloway captures that conflict expertly. The
British Empire and colonialism also feature in this novel, albeit in a subtle
way. For example, the character of Peter Walsh, Clarissa’s old suitor is Anglo
Indian. Mrs. Dalloway can be a disturbing read. Throughout the novel, we get a sense
of just how inadequate Clarissa feels in her life. She struggles with feeling
worthless throughout the novel. It is also interesting that the two main
characters: Clarissa and Septimus never actually meet
in the novel. But what happens to one of them will affect the other in a deep way.
And if you want to know what I’m talking about, you need to read Mrs. Dalloway! One
of the major themes of the novel is insanity. The mental health of the
characters and how unstable their mental health is, is something to think about
as you read Mrs. Dalloway. Mrs. Dalloway is one of the most powerful and
challenging novels that I have ever read. The book really does challenge our
tendency to put labels on people, even on ourselves. We now know that Virginia
Woolf herself struggled with mental health problems throughout her life. It
is likely that she suffered from what we now call bipolar disorder but her family
just thought she was mad… she was crazy. We know that she was often depressed and
we know also that she committed suicide in 1941 when she was only 59 years old.
So, it is hardly surprising that she was skeptical about the medical profession
and psychiatry, in particular. This can be seen in her approach to the character of
William Bradshaw in the novel, for example. I cannot stress enough what a
departure this novel was but if you want to see for yourself, all you need to do
is read more conventional novels from that time and then compare them to Mrs.
Dalloway. Here, Virginia Woolf tries to use the novel form to explore how the
human mind works or, at least, get as close to it as possible. Mrs. Dalloway is
one of Virginia Wolf’s best books but I’d also add her remarkable novels
Orlando from 1928 and the Waves from 1931 and her influential essay A Room
of One’s Own from 1929. Now, I want to know have you read Mrs. Dalloway or any
other books by Virginia Woolf? Let me know in the comment section down below.
Thanks for watching. I hope to see you again very soon. Bye-bye!