One of the most striking aspects of Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway is the stream of consciousness writing style. She jumps from head to head, exploring each character’s thoughts in unique voices, personifying everyone with a different accent or style of speech. Everyone has their own individual lives, problems, and reactions. Despite their differences, however, it’s clear that everyone is connected, even if they only meet once, like when Maisie Johnson runs into Lucrezia and Septimus Smith on page 297 (Woolf). Everyone leaves an impression on each other, whether for an instant or a lifetime. It’s up to each of us to decide whether we want the impressions we leave to be positive or negative.
As I read, it really felt like I was hearing the direct thoughts of Clarissa. On page 304, Woolf writes, “her—what was it?—her thimble, of course.” It’s similar to Ariel’s line in The Little Mermaid: “What’s a fire, and why does it—what’s the word?—burn!” It’s a tiny detail, but it makes Clarissa so relatable, because we’ve all forgotten words for simple things before.
Septimus Smith seems like such a random character in the story, but his plotline offers insight into a mind suffering from PTSD. Lucrezia reveals on page 296 that Septimus had been a soldier in World War I, and his hallucination on page 297 suggests that he’s seeing the dead, including a possible comrade named Evans. According to the introduction on pages 282-284, Woolf experienced a lot of psychological hardships, some of which likely stemmed from her half-brother abusing her as a child. She also suffered from bipolar disorder. Both Woolf and Septimus were undiagnosed and their problems often ignored. In the book, Lucrezia says that “Dr. Holmes said there was nothing the matter with him,” which leads her to be more concerned about her husband making a scene than his actual well-being (296). Footnote 2 on page 297 explains that Septimus’s psychotic episode might have been based on a breakdown that Woolf herself experienced in 1904. Despite war and abuse being two different kinds of trauma, we can see that they have similar effects on those who experience them. Woolf incorporated her experiences with mental illness into Mrs. Dalloway, perhaps to give others a firsthand look into what it’s like to live each day in such a state.
What makes the story so beautiful is how Woolf accentuates the sights, sounds, and sensations of everyday life. She paints ordinary things in such a pleasant and serene light. I think most of us have the tendency to rush through life with only an end goal in mind, and it blinds us to the beauty of the journey itself. While Mrs. Dalloway tells a story, I think it also serves as a reminder to slow down and appreciate all that goes on around us everyday.
Image Credit: https://lithub.com/rereading-mrs-dalloway-at-the-same-age-as-mrs-dalloway/