Cultural Disenchantment in a Postwar Climate Illustrated in Virginia Woolf’s Novel Mrs. Dalloway

Cultural Disenchantment in a Postwar Climate Illustrated in Virginia Woolf’s Novel Mrs. Dalloway

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One of the principal themes in Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway is the English people’s collective loss of confidence in the state of the British Empire after the First World War. Set in London in the June of 1923, the novel opens at the close of a global war that lasted only four years but cost the United Kingdom more than 100,000 lives and permanently shifted the political boundaries and social world order of its people. Each of the novel’s many characters represent a different aspect of the English citizens’ disenchantment with established, presupposed cultural values and worldview brought about by the unexpected lack of glory in victory or dignity in the dead and wounded multitudes. The world Woolf creates in Mrs. Dalloway is both a historical reflection and a social commentary, portraying how the atrocities of war trickle down through the many layers of experience and separation to become deeply ingrained in the country’s collective social consciousness.
Outwardly, Clarissa Dalloway is an ideal image of the nineteenth century English social elite, part of a constantly shrinking upper class whose affluent lifestyle was touched in ways both subtle and terrible by the war raging outside their superfluous, manicured existence. Clarissa’s world revolves around parties, trifling errands, social visits, and an endless array of petty trivialities which are fundamentally meaningless, yet serve as Clarissa’s only avenue to stave off the emotional disease and disconnect she feels with the society in which she exists. Clarissa’s experience of England’s politically humbled, economically devastated postwar state is deeply resonant in her subconscious and emotional identity, despite seeming untraceable in her highly affected publ...


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... of Europe’s young men and women. As Winston Churchill observed in a retrospective on World War One, “A cruel disillusionment was at hand... All were looking forward to some great expansion, and there lay before them but a sharp contraction; a contraction in the material conditions for the masses" (Churchill, 13). The characters in Mrs. Dalloway compose a devastatingly specific narrative of human isolation and suffering in a postwar climate, and the means by which they come to terms with a vast and unparalleled cultural disenchantment.


Works Cited
1. Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. London: Harcourt, Inc, 1925. Print.
2. Shakespeare, William. "Cymbeline." Great Literature Online. 1997-2009

(1 Nov, 2009).
3. Churchill, Winston S. The Aftermath - being a Sequel to The World Crisis. Macmillan, London, 1944

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