What is the importance of war in Mrs. Dalloway ?
In a novel that takes places fewer than five years after the First World War ended, the impact of the war itself and of the returning soldiers’ difficulties is omnipresent in London. The narrator in Mrs. Dalloway mentions numerous discrete effects in passing, and the character of Septimus embodies an array of problems that one individual veteran could have suffered; more likely, he represents one composite sufferer—a sacrificed symbol of the entire national social body.
With memories of such dangers as aerial bombing, which was a new feature in the Great War, the “ominous” sound of an airplane is sure to be associated with the bombing that Londoners endured. With so many soldiers’ lives lost, many families were affected. In nuclear families, there were thousands of orphans and widows; more broadly, people lost siblings, cousins, and uncles. The narrator tells us that death is much on their minds: “strangers looked at each other and thought of the dead.” Overall, the national...
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The novel takes place some years after the end of World War I, in June of 1923, when the English society was still getting used to the times of peace. During the war, hundreds of thousands of English soldiers’ lives were lost, and one was still able to see the consequences of the Great War in the behaviour of the residents of London – in the novel, the people deal with death on the daily basis, reminiscing about the ones they have lost:
"The War was over, except 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." (Woolf, Mrs Dalloway 4)
However, the upper classes, represented primarily by the Dalloways, seem pretty much unaffected by the years gone by – Clarissa Dalloway is on her way to buy flowers for tonight’s party, not allowing the harrowing past disrupt the tradition of her society. Although the sounds of planes and an explosion of a motor car naturally frighten her (reminding her of the sounds heard during the war), she continues her day as if nothing significant had happened in the past few years. By portraying the society’s complete and utter devotion to tradition, Woolf, in her own words, “want[ed] to criticise the social system, and to show it at work, at its most intense” (Woolf, Writer’s Diary 56).
On the other hand, Septimus Warren Smith, an army veteran who acts as Clarissa’s double in the novel, is very much still affected by everything that is going on around him, constantly reminded of his times on the battlefield. He is clearly suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but is not able to communicate his troubles to anyone.
Through the depiction of war, Virginia Woolf portrayed her criticism of the post-war Victorian society and its utter disregard of the veterans who suffered major consequences.