In a letter to
Vita Sackville-West Virginia described her unhappy childhood "Think
how I was brought up! No school, mooning about alone away my
father's books; never any chance to pick up all that goes on in
schools-throwing balls; ragging; slang; vulgarities; scenes;
jealousies!". Virginia and her brother Thoby wrote in a home
newspaper "Hyde Park Gate News" many invented tales and a family
diary. During the summer holidays, Virginia went to Talland House in
Cornwall, where she met Meredith and Henry James. In her childhood
she was sexually abused by her stepbrothers. This event will help to
increase her mental problems. She had the first breakdown when her
mother died. In 1904 her father passed away and Virginia, Thoby and
Vanessa moved to Bloomsbury. Here they founded a club of
intellectuals and artists, called Bloomsbury group, formed by
Leonard Woolf, Vanessa's husband, Lytton Strachey and many other
Modernist artists. They gave importance to aesthetic pleasures and
Virginia Adeline Woolf was born in January 25,1882 in
Her father, Sir Leslie Stephen was the editor of Dictionary of
National Biography. Virginia and her sister Vanessa were brought up
at home, but their brother attended Cambridge University.
In 1913, she completed her story " The Voyage out", after it, she had a
depressive crisis and she tried to kill herself. Virginia suffered from
maniac-depressive psycosis. She had other crisis in 1929 and in 1930. Every
crisis was characterized by many symptoms. In her diary, Virginia, notes
down and comments about her books and she gives descriptions of her feelings
and her illness. She said that she was not only depressed but going "mad"
and was beginning to hear voices and finally she couldn't concentrate, read
or write. In the summer 1940, while Britain entered war, she became more and
more depressed and in March 28, 1941 she committed
suicide, leaving a short
letter to her husband.
'Dearest, I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through
another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to
hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best
thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have
been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could
have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer.
I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you
will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I
want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been
entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that - everybody
knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything
has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling
your life any longer.
I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been.
V. Woolf's masterpiece "Mrs. Dalloway", influenced by Joyce's Ulysses, is a
story, set in one day, but the narration proceeds through the character's
memories, thoughts, associations of ideas.
Both Joyce and Woolf uses the interior monologue to exprime the stream of
consciousness. Time seen like a series of different moments linked together
by associations of ideas and imaginations.
All the characters in the novel have failed to live up to their early dreams
and ambitions. Clarissa fears that her life has been superficial and
passionless. Richard Dalloway has not succeeded in politics as he had hoped.
Peter Walsh, a Socialist and would-be writer, has not fulfilled any of his
literary ambitions. Sally Seton has married a bald manufacturer from
Manchester. The intellectual Doris Kilman has become an embittered religious
fanatic. Septimus Smith, who had dreamed of being a poet, suffers from an
inability to love. The story of Clarissa crosses with the story of Septimus
Warren Smith, a war veteran, who intersects with Clarissa's party when she
hears of his death.
Virginia Woolf said that through this book she wanted to represent life and
death, sanity and insanity.
Another theme of this text is the passage of time and the measuring out of
human lives and seasons. The original title of "Mrs. Dalloway" was infact "
At the beginning Virginia intended the book to end with Clarissa's death:
"Mrs. Dalloway was originally to kill herself or perhaps merely to die at
the end of the party". She was thinking of Clarissa as a deeply depressed
woman. Instead it is Septimus Smith who kills himself, and who serves as
Septimus feels himself responsible for the death of Evans, his friend, who
died during World War l. After returning from war, he understands that
everything in his life is changed, he can't appreciate literature, he doesn't
love his wife and doesn't want a child. He thinks that human being have
neither kindness, nor faith, nor charity beyond what serves to increase the
pleasure of the moment. He suffers from headaches, sleeplessness, fears,
dreams, in particular his haunted by the spectre of Evans. His visual and
auditory hallucinations, his delusion of omnipotence, and his accompanying
sense of guilt suggest schizophrenic.
At the end he can't distinguish between reality and hallucination. Septimus
isn't only traumatized by the war but his is a serious mental illness.
At the end Septimus commits
suicide, this act is seen by Clarissa as a
heroic act of defiance. Septimus's death is a reminder of the intensity and
joy of a life, even if beyond the triumphs of youth.
Clarissa identifies herself with Septimus, this identification is a part of
her realization of her own limits and possibilities. "For there she was",
the novel ends, insisting that as readers we too must take Clarissa on her
own terms. Despite its fascination with death, Mrs. Dalloway ends, as it
begins, with a tribute to endurance, survival, and joy.
At the beginning of the story Clarissa thinks about death "did it matter
that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her;
did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death
ended absolutely?". Now she is living a drama, she hopes to return to the
happiness of that time when she was young. Only in the evening, at the party
when she knew that a young man had thrown himself from the window she thinks
about death and life.
"They went on living. They would grow old. A thing there was that mattered;
a thing, wreathed about with chatter, defaced, obscured in her own life, let
drop every day in corruption, lies chatter. This he had preserved. Death was
defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate, people feeling the
impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them;
closeness drew apart; rapture faded; one was alone. There was an embrace in
death.[…] Then there was the terror; the overwhelming incapacity, one's
parents giving it into one's hands, this is life, to be lived to the end, to
be walked with serenely; there was in the depths of her heart an awful fear.[…]
She had escaped. But that young man had killed himself. Somehow it was her
disaster-her disgrace. It was her punishment to see sink and disappear here
a man, there a woman, in this profound darkness, and she forced to stand
here in her evening dress. She had schemed; she had pilfered. She was never
wholly admirable. Odd, incredible; she had never been so happy. Nothing
could be slow enough; nothing last too long. No pleasure could equal, she
thought, straightening the chairs, pushing in one book on the shelf, this
having done with the triumphs of youth, lost herself in the process of
living, to find it, with a shock of delight, as the sun rose, as the day
She thinks to her life and to Septimus's death, who had the courage to put
on end to his life, Clarissa will continue to live and she rediscovers the
joy of life, leaving old memories and her sad emotions.
In 1999 Micheal Cunningham (1952-) won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction "The
Hours". This novel had origin in Cunningham's passionate interest in
Virginia Woolf, her life, her works, her new conception of fiction.
Cunningham's work refracts the life of three characters. The first one is
Mrs Dalloway, a woman living in New York at the end of 20th century. The
second character of the novel is Clarissa Vaughan, who is organizing a party
for her dear friend Richard, who is dying of Aids and at last commits
suicide. (Compare with Septimus) The third character is a simple housewife,
Laura Brown, who chooses to leave her boring life for one day. She takes her
favourite novel, Mrs Dalloway, goes to a hotel where take a room for one
night. There she feels as if she had entered a dream of one day.
Intermingled with these three characters, there are six chapters and a
prologue entitled "Mrs Woolf", in which Cunningham gives us flashes of
Virginia Woolf's life, of her thoughts and sensation, as if she were for him
a character above the other three. In the prologue of "The Hours" there is a
description of the last moments of Virginia Woolf's life as Cunningham
"She hurries from the house, wearing a coat too heavy for the weather. It is
1941. Another war has begun. She has left a note for Leonard, and another
for Vanessa. She walks purposefully toward the river, certain of what she'll
do, but even now she is almost distracted by the sight of the downs, the
church, and a scattering of sheep, incandescent, tinged with a faint hint of
sulfur, grazing under a darkening sky. She pauses, watching the sheep and
the sky, then walks on. The voices murmur behind her; bombers drone in the
sky, though she looks for the planes and can't see them.[…] She stands close
to the edge of the river, which laps against the bank, filling the small
irregularities in the mud with clear water that might be a different
substance altogether from the yellow-brown, dappled stuff, solid-looking as
a road, that extends so steadily from bank to bank. She steps forward. She
does not remove her shoes. The water is cold, but not unbearably so. She
pauses, standing in cold water up to her knees. She thinks of Leonard. She
thinks of his hands and his face, the deep lines around his mouth.[…] She
could probably return in time to destroy the notes. She could live on; she
could perform that final kindness. Standing knee-deep in the moving water,
she decides against it. The voices are here, the headache is coming, and if
she restores herself to the care of Leonard and Vanessa they won't let her
go again, will they?[…] Almost involuntarily (it feels involuntary, to her)
she steps or stumbles forward,[…] Then the current wraps itself around her
and takes her with such sudden, muscular force it feels as if a strong man
has risen from the bottom, grabbed her legs and held them to his chest. It