Landmarks: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

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BBC Radio 3, 30 March 2011
To mark the seventieth anniversary of Woolf's death, this special edition of the arts programme Night Waves looked at Mrs. Dalloway. Published in 1924, this novel is set on a single day in June as socialite Clarissa Dalloway prepares to host a party. Elsewhere in London Septimus, a World War I veteran, is suffering from shock; their days interweave as the preparations for the party advance.
With his guests, the novelists Margaret Drabble and Hermione Lee, and academic Alison Light, presenter Philip Dodd tried to explain why the novel has acquired such an extraordinary reputation. They argued that it was a prime example of modernism, in which events are told from multiple narrative perspectives. Woolf experiments with a new style of writing that describes events in meticulous detail while entering the minds of her characters; like Joyce she tries to recreate the workings of the human mind as it responds to different stimuli, both internal and external. By such means she also hoped to highlight social injustice, particularly the repression of women and the sadistic treatment of those judged insane by doctors.
The programme also emphasized Woolf's commitment to life - despite her suicide in 1941. Although troubled in her private existence, she was interested in people around her, even if they came from widely differing social backgrounds. It was this quality of sympathy which made her such a great novelist. The producer was Fiona McLean.

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