Victorian Treatment of Mental Illness and Woolfís
Perception of it in Mrs. Dalloway
By Rae Bernhardt, Fall 2000
- For many years, the dominant belief was that women were more likely to
suffer from pathological grief than men.
- The "rest cure" was prescribed for Woolf many times.
Physicians believed that by focusing on physical ailments, they could heal
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- In MD, Woolf explores the harmful effects of "feminizing and
medicalizing grief." That leaves Septimus devoid of avenues to express his sorrow. In Freudís
terms, he suffers from "melancholia."
- He hallucinates and mistakes Peter Walsh for his dead comrade Evans,
while he and his wife are in Regentís Park. The immensity of the war and
its death toll which Septimus has experienced through his own eyes is more
than he can bear.
- Dr. Holmes, and Sir William Bradshaw, refuse to acknowledge Septimusís
illness; they ask him to deny his self-consuming delusions.
- In MD, rest is imagined by Clarissa as a preparation for death, as the
bed becomes the grave.
- Septimus frees himself from human nature, from its hypocrisy and
insincerity, by taking his own life. Clarissa, on the other hand, makes a
great effort to maintain her connectedness to the people she cares the
most about. Septimusís insane grief offered no other outlet but death.
In contrast, Clarissa validates herself and her relationships by
maintaining her connections to the past.
- Woolf was inundated by feelings of failure and inadequacy. She loathed
the egotistical tyranny which she was subjected to by her father, Leslie
Stephen. Since she was unable to express her grief after his death, and
she was resentful and angry with her sister, her manic depression erupted
into full blown mania, which was followed by paralyzing depression.
- There is no doubt that her many experiences with madness provided the
self-knowledge and the source of her creativity in her novels. It is
definitely apparent that writing enabled her to make sense of her mental
chaos, and it allowed her to gain control of her illness at times.