This Wednesday, June 20th, will be my first time celebrating Dalloway Day. What does that mean? How do you celebrate? What is this nerdy holiday and why should you care?
It took me three tries to understand even a little of Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf’s famous 1925 modernist novel set on a single day in London. Even now, when I try to explain the book, I tend to sound like a stereotypical rambling undergraduate literary analyst, parroting lecture slides and pontificating on the meaning of life — if Good Will Hunting saw me at a bar, he’d take me outside. But confusing as it is, this is a book that makes me walk around differently. Here’s why:
“Fear no more the heat o’ the sun
Nor the furious winter’s rages.”
Fear no more the heat of the sun ⎯ it’s a line from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, from a funeral song about embracing death and escaping the torments of life. Clarissa Dalloway, Mrs. Dalloway’s title character, happens to catch a glimpse of the lyric through the glass of a shop window as she putters about London making arrangements for her party that night. Clarissa really wants this party to be good, but she is mocked, derided; everyone thinks it’s frivolous to care so much about throwing a party for society elites.
It takes the suicide of a man she has never met for Clarissa to understand that her doubters are dead wrong. The news arrives during the party, and, stunned, she retires upstairs. But after the shock melts away, Clarissa actually feels “glad that he had done it; thrown it away. He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun.”
Death is not to be feared, that’s true, and it’s a theme repeated enough that the concept likely doesn’t shock anyone. But the suicide helps Clarissa realize that life isn’t to be feared either: the energies, passions, and flames of human interaction are the best things we have in this world, particularly in the face of London’s constantly ticking clocks, which serve as a reminder of the thrilling knowledge that death might strike at any minute. Clarissa’s party is not frivolous. It’s actually the most important thing. Her guests await: “Fear no more the heat of the sun. She must go back to them.”
Dalloway Day, then, is about discovering a new way to see the world, a new way to think about some line from a book you glimpsed on the street. The meaning of the sun shifts from the pain and suffering of life (from which escape is a relief) to the intensity of human interaction. Clarissa “fears no more” not because she has escaped, but because she realizes that those sizzling connections must be embraced. Her day, Dalloway Day, is about trying to live with that spirit, with a triumphant passion for being alive and with friends. It’s about welcoming the heat — and knowing that you will very soon be a cold, cold corpse.
This is not only my first time celebrating Dalloway Day, but the first time Dalloway Day has an official date: June 20th. After years in the shadow of Bloomsday ⎯ another day in June dedicated to the Irish modernist James Joyce and his famous character, Leopold Bloom ⎯ the world is finally giving Dalloway Day some well-deserved attention too. Until now, nobody has been able to agree on the date that Dalloway Day should take place, but this year both the International Virginia Woolf Society and the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain settled on the third Wednesday of June. In London, Mrs. Dalloway fans will gather to walk the route that Clarissa took through the city, while across the world, others will participate in readings, discussions, and strolls of their own. If you want to immerse yourself in the world of the Dalloway fandom from the safety of your own home, check out #DallowayDay on Twitter for some of the best quotes and stories.
What will I do for Dalloway Day? I think I’ll go for a walk, or a slow bike ride if I’m feeling lazy. I’ll try to rally my friends for some Wednesday night fun. I’ll probably look for a game of pickup soccer in the park. And maybe I’ll head off to buy some flowers. Whatever I do, I’ll have Clarissa Dalloway’s philosophy of embracing the warmth and beautiful unpredictability of life in mind.
Happy Dalloway Day!
Image source: Unsplash/Katie Krivanec.