New Historical Criticism And Mrs. Dalloway

  

 

Kennisha Williams

11.18.11

 

               New Historical Criticism, takes different texts written today by previous authors and assumes that each work is formed from a historical moment. New Historical Criticism also takes literature and places it on the same level as history; both literature and history can be read as the same text. Literature and History are equally important as well.

              Taking into account history in a literary text, the New Historical Criticism would view Mrs. Dalloway written by Virginia Woolf as an example. In Mrs. Dalloway ,Woolf reveals a main character named Septimus. Septimus, in the text, is a war hero who suffers from shell-shock after witnessing the death of his friend Evans. Septimus’ humiliation of seeing Evans causes the people around him to classify him as a mentally ill person,. Septimus’s doctors feel that he’s incapable of caring for himself. When discussing problems about Septimus the doctors uses his wife Rezia as a way of speaking to him, instead of directly communicating with him.  By the end of the novel,Septimus eventually committs suicide. New Historical Criticism would now connect Septimus’ mental illness with the time period in which this took place, World War I. Septimus’ conditions exemplify the many other soldiers in the war. Many solderers witnessed death of their fellow men and therefore became traumatized. New Historical Criticisms would then link Septimus’ Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with Virginia Woolf herself; for during her life time, Woolf was also struggling like Septimtus. Woolf had Bipolar Disorder. Similar to Septimus, she experienced hallucinations and eventually committed suicide.

             New Historical Criticism, unlike the traditional historians, doesn’t just look at what happened in the past and simply ask what the event tells us now about history, it looks at how the event that has occurred has been interpreted and what questions it might pose. Such questions include, what does the interpretation of the event tell us about the interpreters and is it just as important to know the background information as it is to understand the text.

 

 

Here are the two biographies of about Virginia Woolf in case anyone is interested to read more about her.

http://www.biography.com/people/virginia-woolf-9536773?page=7

http://www.notablebiographies.com/We-Z/Woolf-Virginia.html

 

7 thoughts on “New Historical Criticism And Mrs. Dalloway

  1. Whenever I think ‘New Historicism’ Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” is always forefront in my mind. Beneath the writing and characters the book is very much tackling the changing emotions and perceptions in Post-War Europe.
    To draw this New Historicism into the text, you can see how the people treated Septimus throughout his brief but important role in the book. The man was called a coward and was viewed as being defective, all while having a very real and serious mental problem. It was something that was prevalent in the time and, I am sure, lead to Virgina Woolf using it in her book.
    Some more information on PTSD and, more importantly, it’s historic perceptions, can be found at http://menshealth.about.com/od/diseases/a/combat_stress.htm

  2. I think this is a very interesting way to connect New Historical Criticism with Mrs. Dalloway, because it can even be taken a step farther into connecting your conclusions with psychological criticism as well – which shows the cool overlaps that can appear between the approaches when studying a text. Your findings about Woolf’s bipolar disorder are intriguing because of her focus on giving Clarissa Dalloway a double in her novel through the creation of the character of Septimus – creating an almost bipolar protagonist.

  3. Your blog post was very clear as well as interesting in its explanation of a new historical criticism approach to literature, and furthermore, its connection and understanding of Mrs. Dalloway. I think that you are correct in linking Septimus and his disease to World War I and I am curious to learn more about post traumatic stress disorder and the effect it had on soldiers during this time period. Perhaps, you could expand on this and research the disease during this time period and look for similarities in regards to symptoms or behavior between Septimus and other soldiers. Also, I think that your explanation and further connection of Clarissa and Septimus is very strong and reinforces Woolf’s intent of having Septimus pose as Clarissa’s double in her novel.

  4. (Accidently posted my comment under “anonymous” above)

    Your blog post was very clear as well as interesting in its explanation of a new historical criticism approach to literature, and furthermore, its connection and understanding of Mrs. Dalloway. I think that you are correct in linking Septimus and his disease to World War I and I am curious to learn more about post traumatic stress disorder and the effect it had on soldiers during this time period. Perhaps, you could expand on this and research the disease during this time period and look for similarities in regards to symptoms or behavior between Septimus and other soldiers. Also, I think that your explanation and further connection of Clarissa and Septimus is very strong and reinforces Woolf’s intent of having Septimus pose as Clarissa’s double in her novel.

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