Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

“Mrs Dalloway is always giving parties to cover the silence”

Mrs Dalloway

Mrs Dalloway is a novel set in a single day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, an upper-class housewife married to Richard, a Conservative Party politician. It’s the middle of June in London, after World War I. She is preparing for her party in the evening and begins with buying flowers in the morning for the event. A former suitor and old friend, Peter Walsh pays her an unexpected visit, a visit flooded with heavy emotion and related thoughts of each other.

The story shifts to a number of both related and unrelated characters, but the most prominent of these is shell-shocked War veteran Septimus Warren Smith. We see him waiting for his appointment, and later the visit to psychiatrist Sir William Bradshaw. Sir Bradshaw’s solution for the suicidal Septimus is to have him in a mental institution in the country. Later that day Septimus jumps out the window and kills himself.

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

The party guests include people from Clarissa’s past; Peter himself and the once-notorious friend from her youth, Sally, who arrives unexpectedly. Sir Bradshaw arrives late and his wife explains that it was due to a patient’s (Septimus) suicide earlier. Clarissa is not pleased with the news of the suicide being told at her party, but when she finds herself alone thinking about the suicide and her own life, she understands why the young man killed himself.

There are a number of issues explored in this novel, including the political air following the war and the British social system, but what stood out for me was the mental illness and internal struggles of the characters. In this single day of preparing for her party, we learn about who Mrs Dalloway is, through bits that are knitted from her past to the present, and the person she is when she’s with different people. There’s a tussle for balance between what goes on inside her and the reality in the external world, and the result is trouble with communicating what she truly feels. She makes up for this with, for example, giving a good party and being the perfect hostess.

Insanity

We also catch parts where she appears to be dissatisfied with her own appearance and qualities, where she compares herself to a woman she greatly admires a lot, whose qualities she considers ideal. Clarissa also goes through moments of travelling back to the past with questions and sometimes wishing to have a second chance to live her life again, differently.

Woolf’s writing is not linear and she connects all the dots that paint the whole picture of this particular day through minor characters and the atmosphere in London on that day, but the most distinctive (apart from Clarissa) is Septimus, a foil character. Septimus also gives a deep depiction of mental illness and a struggle with communication and inner turmoil. His mental state shows his internal disintegration as a result of the residues from the war, and his show of protest to being confined is through death, Mrs Dalloway understands how where she struggles to communicate, Septimus’s protest through suicide was his form of communication. She’s left feeling that, unlike him, she lives with this internal confinement and accepts it as her lot, her life as is.

Mrs Dalloway shows why Virginia Woolf was known as a ‘fine stylist’. This one day is neatly laid out into a full, satisfying, absorbing, and intelligent novel. It’s long enough to fill you up and short enough to maintain interest until the end.

Image: Britannica

The Chibok Girls by Helon Habila

‘The Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria’

Two years after Book Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls, Helon Habila travels to Chibok town, in Northern Nigeria, to track down the survivors and the bereaved families of the girls. On 14 April 2014, this once peaceful and sleepy town was rattled by the terrorist group Boko Haram when they took the girls, with only a few managing to escape on the way. When Habila visits the town he witnesses how ruined, sad, and depressing the place is – bullet holes on some houses, some roofs still burned down, and the abandoned street sides. It’s also not easy to get into Chibok as access is restricted.

On the day they took them, the Boko Haram members told the girls that they were soldiers, there to protect them from the terrorist group, and herded them into trucks. When Habila returns the second time to meet the girls who’d managed to jump off the trucks, they tell how the terrorists called them infidels and that they ought to be married. The terrorist’s ideology is against most aspects of modernization, Western influence, including Western education.

Habila’s account of this tragedy includes the state the parents are in. Some have died from stress-related illnesses, while some have carried funeral rites, seeking closure. Helon Habila also goes to the place that is the Heartland of Boko Haram and visits some of the landmarks in the Boko Haram war. His investigation has heart-breaking results, some revealing the state of displaced women in refugee camps, not all refugees but some are housewives impoverished by the war.

I learned a lot from this short yet powerful book. Habila’s account of this tragic story enlightens us on not only the kidnappings but also the way it was handled, the lack of concern for the masses, the manner in which an intense and sensitive issue like this can be mishandled in a place that is rife with corruption and focused on showcasing itself as an economic success.

Reading The Chibok Girls has also highlighted how the effects of terrorism spread out beyond the victims themselves. There’s a continuous pain that is left behind, permanent for most. There are still over a hundred girls missing, and the ones who were released carry scars with them. These girls were forced into sex slavery, starved, raped, abused, impregnated… I also learned how vulnerable women and girls are in times of war. However, another thing we may overlook, which I gathered from the account of one of the girls who managed to escape from the trucks, is how young boys are also recruited into the terrorist group and trained and turned into killers.

This is a heart-rending yet necessary book. In the midst of tired and recycled stories told in news reports, The Chibok Girls is much needed.

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Review: Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank

“Although I’m only fourteen, I know quite well what I want, I know who is right and who is wrong.”

Hitler’s obsession with having a “pure” race lead to an unspeakable period of barbaric and brutal war against the Jews and other million others targeted for racial, ideological and political reasons. When he became Chancellor in 1933, he did not waste time in starting his anti-Jewish operation.

There was mass transportation to concentration camps where imprisonment, mass gassing, death from starvation and diseases, and other merciless crimes against humanity took place.

The years from 1942 to 1945 were a time when Jews from all over Europe were sent to these concentration camps and it is during these years that Anne Frank put down pen to paper to pour down her account of the time she spent in hiding with her family, another family of three and a friend.

Anne’s diary entries begin in June 1942, on her 13th birthday, about a month before they go into hiding. In July they go into hiding in a building where his father’s office is and here begins their two-year hiding.

Anne records the atmosphere in their dwelling, describing the environment itself, the food, the daily activities that are mostly reading and writing, and the rows that take place among them.

Below them, on the ground floor is a warehouse that is used during the day, and at that time they have to stay as quiet as possible to avoid getting caught. As grim and tragic as their circumstances are, Anne expresses hope and a positive outlook on life.

“I’ve found that there is always some beauty left — in nature, sunshine, freedom, in yourself; these can all help you.”

There are times when she writes about her pain, depression, crying herself to sleep but her writing still bursts with impressive wisdom, maturity, introspection, intelligence and wit.

Her diary shows her depth of feeling, things she doesn’t share with anyone else but feels so strongly about. Her opinions are strong and she has an independent mind, as well as a clear direction that she wishes to take after the war.

“I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”

There are many things to enjoy about this diary, especially Anne’s belief in freedom, despite the confines she and her family are in where freedom has been taken away from them.

She expresses a belief – freedom for people to live in peace and freedom of self. In the midst of fear of being discovered and taken away, she still shows courage and cheerfulness.

Her thirst for learning is unquenchable. She finds comfort in reading, learning and writing. In the depth of a miserable situation where the future is unpredictable and she has no idea about the other side of the war, she still commits to absorbing knowledge and creating.

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

I enjoyed The Diary of a Young Girl because of how it can shift one’s perspective on their own suffering and worries. It’s inspiring and informative in the way that it takes you into her contemplation of the war. It’s also a good read for people who are interested in history and war.

The last diary entry is on 1 August 1944 and shortly after an informer tells on the family. Their place is raided and they’re taken away. Anne died in 1945. Only her father survived and when he returned after the war, he found the diary kept by his office workers. Anne had wanted to become a writer and to publish the diary, and her father published it in her memory.

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