Friday, November 16, 2012

The Radical Element in Mrs Dalloway

Virginia Woolf published Mrs Dalloway in 1925when modernist literature was emerging as a radical change along with radical modernist painting. James Joyce is a modernist contemporary of Woolf's. Woolf radically altered the then accepted novel form by writing a story which takes place all in one day (Mrs Dalloway).

Modernist Literature  is defined as literature written between 1899 and 1945, that involved experimentation with the traditional novel format. Modernist literature modifies established ideas on form, character, time and order along with a changed perspectiveand world view.

The psychological study of Septimus Warren Smith, a returned soldier from World War 1, in Mrs Dalloway, was very exciting and new. Woolf  and her husband Leonard published the writings of Sigmund Freud through the Hogarth Press and was aware of the emerging science of Psychology. We see what is going on in the mind of Smith as he battles his shell shock. It is clear that Smith is unwell as we follow his rambling stream of consciousness thoughts. The unhelpful medical advice given leads him to his death.

Returned soldiers were meant to be heroes not mad, so Smith's character goes against the jingoistic British post war sentiment . Woolf helped people see that post-traumatic stress disorder, as we would call it now,  was a debilitating psychiatric condition.

Clarissa Dalloway, the subject of the book demonstrates the upper class English woman of her time. Social, very proper and supportive of her husband. As her day unfolds it is a counter point to the suffering of Smith. Some scholars see Clarissa and Smith as being the two sides of Woolf herself.

 Mrs Dalloway is considered to be one of the most influential novels of the twentieth century, which is a marked turn in opinion from the view of the book at the time it was written.