MAY 14: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)
On May 14, 1925, Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself for the very first time. That’s right, the seminal classic Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf was first published on this day ninety-two years ago!
Written in a garden shed in Sussex, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway revolutionized modern storytelling with its stream-of-consciousness style. The reason for the novel’s eternally flowing prose is in part due to the fact that Virginia wrote the novel as if she were writing a diary; in the very first draft, you can see where she dated each entry of writing and even doodled and made notes in the margins. Although originally the book was to be titled The Hours, the title Mrs. Dalloway won out in the end as the story follows an English socialite, Clarissa Dalloway, through the course of a single day. It is Clarissa’s eyes through which Virginia shows us the world of Interwar England and how sexuality, trauma, and summer lived side by side in the streets of London. Set in June of 1923, the novel parallels the stories of Clarissa and Septimus Smith – two people racked by mental illness and who are haunted by their lost loves.
Clarissa’s mind twists and turns throughout the entirety of the story, but one thing she can’t seem to keep her mind off of is her past love affair with the wild, Bohemian Sally Seton. The fact that Sally has now become the tamed wife of Lord Rosseter only adds to Clarissa’s heartbreak. Septimus, on the other hand, has been traumatized by his time in the trenches of the First World War and by the death of his beloved friend and possible lover, Evans. When I first read Mrs. Dalloway, I was blown away by the explicitness of these gay characters and their relationships. Reading about lesbians in a historical setting actually written by a wlw author who lived during that time period is a completely different experience from reading a contemporary author going back and adding ourselves into the history. For all of its poetic prose and literary merit, the true wonder of Mrs. Dalloway is its ability to show wlw readers from throughout the decades that not only have we always been here, but that we have been people with names and stories like Clarissa Dalloway and Sally Seton, who have kissed with “purity” and “integrity.”