Tales from London: Mr. Dalloway

A pilgrimage to Virginia Woolf's memorial during our tumultuous times

The first time I read Virginia Woolf was in a sophomore year humanities seminar regarding art and literature during wartime. The modernist icon's masterpiece, Mrs. Dalloway, was written through the lens of a people struggling to carry on after the shock of World War I. I was enraptured by the lucid, fluid prose: the way that she seamlessly weaved together the thoughts and feelings of different characters, the way that she discussed––candidly––how difficult it can be to carry on.

When I went to London, the incumbent President of the United States was still a candidate. Every Londoner I spoke to, dealing with Theresa May as they were, unknowingly about to face Brexit, knew as well as I did that the U.S. had become a laughingstock on the world stage. I chose to tell people that I was Spanish; with my brown skin and mastery of the language, it wasn't a difficult lie to pull off.

I grew ashamed about being ashamed of being American. When my parents came stateside from Venezuela, giving my siblings and I a chance at opportunity, we were told to embrace our new identity. I never quite felt at home in the States: a bookish brown kid with little desire to interact with anyone else until I grew up and learned to be social. I planned a trip to Hogarth House, where the Woolfs used to live and work. Seeing that the trip was too far from London proper, and already short on the pence I had budgeted, I chose instead to find her memorial.

The long walk there, flanked at my sides by St. James Park and the Serpentine, both locations I had read about in Mrs. Dalloway, breathed an exciting new life into the book. It made everything suddenly real, suddenly alive. I thought about the war that I feared would fester if we were to elect a racist to the highest office in the nation; if we gave him the keys to the kingdom, how many would burn for him to dance on the ashes? How many would live like Septimus and Clarissa Dalloway, traumatized and emotionally repressed after experiencing the horrors of what was to come?

The monument itself was underwhelming; a simple, even ugly bust of the woman herself in old age, mouth agape and cast in bronze, with a placard below: Virginia Woolf, 1882-1941. She was stunning in how gnarled she was, and I thought about how much beauty she infused her words with. The woman who had saved my life, who had told me that it was okay to carry on in hopeless times. She was standing right in front of me, and all I could do was marvel at the pilgrimage I had taken. I wrote a short poem, and left some flowers as I walked slowly to The Tube under an overcast London sky.

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. I said, to myself, that if everything happened the way I feared it would, that I would be okay. Even post-election, there's still time to read, to write, to stare at the world in marvel, to go out and bring home some flowers for myself.


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