Virginia Woolf, Ellen Hopkins, and Mental Health in Literature

Virginia Woolf and Ellen Hopkins normalized mental health and addiction in literature

Andrea Duran

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Photo Credit: Yuris Alhumaydy on Unsplash

Mrs. Dalloway written by the famous Virginia Woolf, follows the characters Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith. The themes of the novel are the celebrations of life and death — and mental health. It is no secret Virginia Woolf struggled with mental health issues, most notably severe clinical depression and possibly borderline personality disorder. Woolf’s own stream of consciousness, insecurities, and deep dissatisfaction with life is infused in the female protagonist, Clarissa Dalloway. Woolf was the first author I discovered to subtly present mental health in fiction, something I felt mollified by.

Mrs. Dalloway

The character, Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway is a representation of undiagnosed mental illness as she struggles in the search for happiness and identity. She’s a sensitive character who busies herself with mindless errands, serving her husband and his important tasks with his important friends, in his important life. Clarissa’s constant jumps from thought to thought and excessive thinking portrays a deeper yet subtle symptom of anxiety and struggles with existential dilemmas.

Clarissa feels she had not made anything of her life and her chance for happiness and adventure has ended. She is now a housewife mending a torn dress in a large, empty house, for an absurd party filled with strangers. At the party itself, she feels closest to an old woman she watches across the street through the window, and a stranger she hears about through the conversation of a partygoer.

The man, Septimus Warren Smith, struggles with severe post-traumatic stress disorder inflicted upon him by the war. Unable to take the pain or hallucinations any longer, he throws himself out of the window. The women discuss Smith at the party and Clarissa is intrigued by him. She connects with this man’s desperation and need to end it all. At a house full of people, the housewife feels most comfortable with a lonely, old woman, and a dead man.

Virginia Woolf and Ellen Hopkins

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Andrea Duran

Writer | Self-Development | Mental Health | Addiction | Fiction | B.A. Eng/Pysch | Addiction Counselor | Certified Hot Mess | https://linktr.ee/dreabookjunkie