I few years ago I came across the poets of World War I, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sasson, Rupert Burke, etc. These poets made a war that was obscured by not having a distinctive narrative or the benefit of film into a visceral event that shaped and warped lives. Yes, I knew some of the history of the war and it’s aftermath, but not I couldn’t empathize with the impact it had on the lives of those at the time, until I read the poets.
The same occurred when reading the sections of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway that contain the character Septimus Warren Smith and his wife, Rezia. Woolf, no stranger to mental breakdown, herself obvious, shows Smith’s degeneration and his ultimate end, capturing it perfectly. I’m giving away the climax of the book here but it’s been 95 years so get over it.
In this passage, Septimus has had it with the doctors, hearing one approach, he looks for escape, anyway he can.
Septimus could hear her talking to [Doctor} Holmes on the staircase.
“My clear lady, I have come as a friend,” Holmes was saying.
“No. I will not allow you to see my husband,” she said.
He [Septimus] could see her, like a little hen, with her wings spread barring his passage. But Holmes persevered.
“My dear lady, allow me . . .” Holmes said, putting her aside (Holmes was a powerfully built man).
Holmes was coming upstairs. Holmes would burst open the door. Holmes would say “In a funk, eh?” Holmes would get him. But no; not Holmes; not Bradshaw. Getting up rather unsteadily, hopping indeed from foot to foot, he considered Mrs. Filmer’s nice clean bread knife with “Bread” carved on the handle. Ah, but one mustn’t spoil that. The gas fire? But it was too late now. Holmes was coming. Razors he might have got, but Rezia, who always did that sort of thing, had packed them. There remained only the window, the large Bloomsbury-lodging house window, window, the tiresome, the troublesome, and rather melodramatic business of opening the window and throwing himself out. It was their idea of tragedy, not his or Rezia’s (for she was with him). Holmes and Bradshaw like that sort of thing. (He sat on the sill.) But he would wait till the very last moment. He did not want to die. Life was good. The sun hot. Only human beings—what did they want? Coming down the staircase opposite an old man stopped and stared at him. Holmes was at the door. “I’ll give it you!” he cried, and flung himself vigorously, violently down on to Mrs. Filmer’s area railings.
“The coward!” cried Dr. Holmes.