Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (1925)
This book looks closely at the experiences of a Great War veteran, Septimus Smith, who is struggling with shell shock (war neurosis) after the death of his close friend, Evans. Woolf wrote about this novel: 'I want to give life & death, sanity & insanity; I want to criticise the social system, & show it at work, at its most intense'. Diary, 14 June 1923. ——— ‘when Evans was killed, just before the Armistice, in Italy, Septimus, far from showing any emotion or recognising that here was the end of a friendship, congratulated himself upon feeling very little and very reasonably. The War had taught him. It was sublime. He had gone through the whole show, friendship, European War, death, had won promotion, was still under thirty and was bound to survive. He was right there. The last shells missed him. He watched them explode with indifference. [...] When peace came he was in Milan, billeted in the house of an innkeeper with a courtyard, flowers in tubs, little tables in the open, daughters making hats, and to Lucrezia, the younger daughter, he became engaged one evening when the panic was on him – that he could not feel.
For now that it was all over, truce signed, and the dead buried, he had, especially in the evening, these sudden thunder-claps of fear. He could not feel.’
Karina Jakubowicz will lecture on ‘Mrs Dalloway and the Social System’ in our summer course, Reading the 1920s.
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