“Novels Devoted to Influenza”: Regarding War and Illness in Mrs. Dalloway

  • Jane Elizabeth Fisher


Cather ends One of Ours with Mrs. Wheeler’s dark yet clear vision of World War I and Claude’s double life, his experiences in the 1918 influenza pandemic and the trenches that granted him a strangely coherent final identity. Defined in terms of individual perception and interpretation, vision is similarly valorized in Woolf’s essay “On Being Ill” and in her novel Mrs. Dalloway, where it becomes one of the compensatory gains a patient can receive from the otherwise disorienting and destructive experience of illness. Woolf’s novel deliberately links Clarissa’s point of view, as the recovered patient whose vision has been transformed by illness, with the hallucinations of the still shell-shocked Septimus Smith, contrasting both to the anxious optical powers of a London public struggling to interpret twin signs of postwar modernity—a motorcar and an airplane. With her fine Chinese eyes, the character of Elizabeth Dalloway, Clarissa’s daughter, offers an alternative form of vision untainted by war or disease, turned toward the future.


Influenza Pandemic Gender Nonconformity Epistemological Virtue Social Body Bond Street 
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© Jane Elizabeth Fisher 2012

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  • Jane Elizabeth Fisher

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