Everyone warns you that an English degree will include a lot of reading but, with typical fresher arrogance, I was sure I could cope. People exaggerate right? No. Not in this case. It is A LOT of reading, and you can quickly end up drowning in it.
Which is probably why I approached Mrs Dalloway with far less enthusiasm than I should have.
If, like me, you are a novice to the work of Virginia Woolf and Mrs Dalloway in particular, the plot is as follows: we follow the activities of Mrs Dalloway—the titular character—as she prepares to host a party in her London home. The Dalloways are a high society couple who seemingly have it all, but access to the Dalloways’ thoughts, the author’s gift to her readers, reveals the inaccuracy of this, and highlights the elements of social critique within the novel.
The first fifty pages were particularly slow and hard going but, as I slowly became acquainted with Virginia Woolf’s elusive writing style, I began to truly appreciate the level of insight such a narrative allows. The representation of Septimus Smith and his battle with PTSD is particularly harrowing and one of the most realistic and compassionate portrayals of mental illness that I have ever read. The misunderstanding of this character’s condition is arguably still relevant, especially considering current campaigns to illuminate the suffering of the victims of mental illness. I found that the novel swiftly gathered pace and lured me in as it did until I finally found myself relishing reading it again. Personally, I found it interesting that the events in the novel, though primarily told within one day, reveal such intricate details of the character’s lives. I can honestly say that I will be making a definite effort to read more of Woolf’s work.
All I can do now is hope that I learn to love the rest of the reading list just as much.
Photo credit: Kelly Schweizer