Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day & Mrs. Dalloway

This Memorial Day, I’m doing what I’ve been doing for most of this year: working on the final details of my edition of Mrs. Dalloway. While the big push was for first submission in January, I have now received comments on my work from the editors and need to incorporate those corrections by Thursday, so this is another moment of stressed and constant working on details.

To honor those soldiers who have died at war, I offer part of one more footnote from my forthcoming edition of the novel. This one is on the models for Septimus Warren Smith, the novel’s veteran. What struck me, in writing this footnote, was the overwhelming abundance of young men Woolf had to choose from in painting a portrait of a shell-shocked soldier grieving for the death of his friend (and this footnote doesn't even mention Woolf's brother-in-law, Philip Woolf, injured by the shell that killed his brother Cecil. Upon seeing Philip shortly after, Woolf wrote: ‘I can imagine that he is puzzled why he doesn’t feel more’ (D1 92), a thought she gives to Septimus in the novel:

Septimus Warren Smith [….] Critics have linked Septimus to real life soldiers whom Woolf knew, including Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, Ralph Partridge, and Gerald Brenan. For more on these real-life models for Septimus, see Introduction. Steinberg suggests T. S. Eliot as another possible model for Septimus, noting Woolf’s intimacy with him at the time. Eliot’s hasty marriage to Vivenne Haigh-Wood came just after the death of his friend Jean Verdenal at Gallopoli (8-9), a circumstance that parallels Septimus’s hasty marriage after Evans’s death. (Verdenal is the dedicatee of Eliot’s 1914 ‘The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock’.) [….]

I repeat my daily prayer with extra fervency this Memorial Day: Honor the dead. Work for peace.

Also: This old post on women and war might be worth revisiting on Memorial Day: