It is only fitting that we ring in this year’s Pride Month with a book by the incredible modernist writer Virginia Woolf. Born in 1882, she held “an intense belief in the importance of arts and a skepticism regarding their society’s conventions and restraints.” Not one to repress her romantic feelings for other women, Woolf subverted the system of the time by living openly as a queer woman, with her and her husband happily pursuing a non-monogamous lifestyle. While it’s easy to see the tragic figure of Virginia Woolf, who unfortunately took her life in 1941, it’s hard not to be amazed by her persistence in pursuing mundane beauty and wholeness in both her writing career and her social life despite adversity. These sentiments and strengths have always been at the heart of Pride, and in her novel Mrs. Dalloway, we are given front-row seating to these ideals as we revolve around the daily life of London post-First World War.
It’s the middle of June, the war is over, and Mrs. Cassandra Dalloway is getting ready to host a party. As she moves about London to finish her errands, we pass through the lives of others along the way. Sometimes fleeting, sometimes intimate portraits of everyday people as they move past each other, none the wiser. One focus we find ourselves with is in the thoughts of Septimus Smith. Suffering from “shell-shock” (PTSD) after World War 1, he struggles to get through his everyday life after seeing a man he loves die on the battlefield. No longer satiated by poetry and art like before the war, he has become haunted and void of all feelings, much to his distress. As Big Ben chimes along, Mrs. Dalloway, constrained by English society and her own choices, pushes her anxieties aside as she focuses on creating a perfect party. Attempting to balance her need to participate in the world while deeply fearing it. Emotions run high as she meets old lovers—specifically, the adventurous but self-important Peter Walsh and her first love Sally Seton, and she wonders what could have been had she chosen differently. Finally, the day comes to a head when Mrs. Dalloway and Septimus must choose if being constrained by the set social order is worth the pain it causes.
Known for being a subversive writer, Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, published in 1925, pioneered how literature can pull back the layers of everyday people to reveal their deep inner worlds. In her hallmark, stream-of-consciousness writing style Woolf produces a respectful depiction of a man going mad from PTSD and criticizes the lack of proper care for veterans. While having no real connection to Mrs. Dalloway, Septimus serves as a counterpoint to her daily exhaustion and disillusionment to an extreme degree. And while the titular Mrs. Dalloway does not struggle in the same way, as a woman, she has had to repress many parts of herself to fit into society and is expected to play the role expected of her to the bitter end. As a result, both characters try to balance wanting to be included in society and life while needing privacy to deal with their turbulent emotions. A novel revolving around the enormity of daily life, Mrs. Dalloway is a beautiful classic to include in any Book Club group, especially for those who enjoy diving deeply into the emotional life of characters and its slow but poetic paces.
If you’re interested in requesting Mrs. Dalloway for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request form here. There are 10 copies available. (A librarian must request items)
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Harcourt Inc, Inc. 1925.