Mrs Dalloway and Yellow Wallpaper: Explore How These Novels Offer a Study of Insanity and Consider What Conclusions They Encourage the Reader to Come to

‘Mrs Dalloway has branched into a book; and I adumbrate here a study of insanity and suicide; the world seen by the sane and insane side by side- something like that.’ Basing your own response on a comparison of Mrs Dalloway and Yellow Wallpaper, explore how these novels offer a study of insanity and consider what conclusions they encourage the reader to come to.

Insanity, while not being the sole focus of ‘Mrs Dalloway’, is certainly prominent throughout with the description of Septimus’ difficulties in a post WWI Britain. Virginia Woolf had mental problems her entire life, and her treatment had never been exactly helpful. Her portrayal of Septimus makes the reader sympathise with him, and perhaps his suffering at the hands of professionals reflects the ignorant attitudes toward insanity and mental illness in the early 20th century. In ‘Yellow Wallpaper’, the poor treatment of a late 19th century wife with depression is shown, and again personal experiences of Charlotte Gilman Perkins, the author, influence the writing of the piece in order to expose the cruelty and inefficiency of the treatment of the ‘insane’ by the ‘sane’.

The Doctors in Mrs Dalloway play a large part in Virginia Woolf’s portrayal of a society ignorant of mental problems. Doctors, such as Dr Holmes and Dr Bradshaw, are made by Woolf to appear not only unsympathetic, but also unknowledgeable. This becomes apparent during their meetings with Septimus concerning his health. When Septimus complains of his problems ‘headaches, sleeplessness, fears’ Dr Holmes is seen to disregard these, ‘nerve symptoms, and nothing more’ without empathy. The phrase ‘and nothing more’ is used in a placating way, as if reassuring a child, and treating Septimus like this essentially gives him the authority of a child, as his opinions are ignored. This diagnosis keeps with the medical opinion of the time that made no distinction between mental and physical health – if something was wrong with someone...