“Imagination is the one weapon in the war against reality.”
-Jules de Gaultier
Set just after one of England’s worst tragedies, Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway is a vivid picture of the effects of World War I on London’s high society, often in glaring contrast to the effects of shell shock suffered by war veteran Septimus Smith. For members of high society, the War’s impact is largely indirect, mainly affecting their conversations at posh social functions. Although the war has had little impact on these people, some strive to develop a deeper understanding of the War’s main consequence: death. For Septimus, who has endured the direct impact of the War as a soldier, however, the memories and traumas of the War are more real than the peaceful life to which he has returned. At the urgent pleas of his wife, doctors unsuccessfully attempt to help him regain the blissful ignorance of war that he once had. Woolf illuminates a perpetual clash between those who merely understand the War as a continuing news story, and Septimus, who knows it as a frightening reality.
For Clarissa and others in her elite world of parties and politics, the treaty has been signed and the War is over, clean and simple. “Except,” Clarissa notes generously, “for some one like Mrs. Foxcroft at the Embassy last night eating her heart out because that nice boy was killed and now the old Manor House must go to a cousin; or Lady Bexborough who opened a bazaar, they said, with the telegram in her hand, John, her favourite, killed; but it was over; thank Heaven—over” (4-5). It is significant to observe that even these close connections are extremely rare for the upper-class populace. The fact that Clarissa ha...
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... “cure Septimus at once” from his true ailment (81).
Through an abundance of human thoughts and interactions, Woolf has created a meticulous juxtaposition of Septimus against society or human nature in order to emphasize the self-absorption and desire for conformity of London society. Londoners’ understanding of the War and its fatalities is often specifically and immediately related back to themselves, used for entertainment or to ease their own fears of death. Their “treatment” of war-related illness is unfailingly for the benefit of England’s successful, if gilded, image at large. Woolf has, therefore, illustrated England’s proud display of personal advantage for all who conform to Sir William’s “sense of proportion” by exposing the hardships that befall those who do not.
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc., 2005.
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