Every year on "a Wednesday in mid-June", the Royal Society of Literature celebrates the work and legacy of Virginia Woolf. In 2021, for the first time, the RSL celebrated all things Dalloway, with a fully virtual offering. This included panel discussions, a writing workshop, a book club, an aural walking tour and a BBC broadcast.
The RSL's full-day programme, 97 years after the Wednesday of Clarissa Dalloway’s party, explored the relevance of Woolf’s work in lockdown, and investigated what her words still do to challenge and interrogate attitudes to class, race, mental health and sexuality.
I didn't sign up for all the events, but was particularly interested in two events which chimed with our current times. I enjoyed the Literary Hub's discussion of Mrs Dalloway, in the context of COVID-19 and the changing city-scape:
In The New Yorker this month, Mrs Dalloway is seen as "at least in part, a novel devoted to influenza", it "puts Clarissa’s pleasure in traversing the city in a new light. So does reading it in the midst of our own pandemic, which has temporarily dissolved the busy urban scenes Woolf describes so lovingly throughout her book."
Mrs Dalloway explores the themes of solitude, PTSD, societal progress, and autonomy and freedom, and reflects much of our current lives lived during a pandemic. Woolf's words: "everything had come to a standstill" are particularly pertinent at the moment.
The second event I enjoyed was The Pleasures of the Everyday. This explored the quotidian pleasures we’ve developed appreciation for since lockdown,
how literature can support us in these confusing times, and how this
experience compares to Clarissa Dalloway’s own cerebral journey.
A very thought-provoking Dalloway Day. I hope that, post-pandemic, the RSL will continue to make their events available on line.