Mental Health Writing Exercises for Adults

Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

Mental Health


Early in the morning, and late at night, Clarissa Dalloway is often surprised by the chimes of Big Ben. On a fine spring day, strolling through London, Clarissa, still hearing the carillons, starts an inner monologue. Feeling restless deep in her soul, Clarissa desires to safeguard the essence of life, its only worthwhile dimension–a tremendous, but attainable, joy, which most people never experience. Nevertheless, in this novel, possibly her most transparent narrative, the presence of despair and deep anxiety are unmistakable. Despite her burning desire to embrace life, the protagonist must struggle valiantly to resist the vertiginous pull of suicide, the only escape from a hopelessly fractured reality.

Excerpt I
That she had grown older? Would he say that, or would she see him thinking when he came back, that she had grown older? It was true. Since her illness she had almost turned white.

Laying her brooch on the table, she had a sudden spasm, as if, while she mused, the icy claws had had the chance to fix in her. She was not old yet. She had just broken into her fifty-second year. Months and months of it were still untouched. June, July, August! Each still remained almost whole, and, as if to catch the falling drop, Clarissa (crossing to the dressing-table) plunged into the very heart of the moment, transfixed it, there – the moment of this June morning on which was the pressure of all the other mornings, seeing the glass, the dressing-table, and all the bottles afresh, collecting the whole of her at one point (as she looked into the glass), seeing the delicate pink face of the woman who was that very night to give a party; of Clarissa Dalloway; of herself.

How many million times she had seen her face, and always with the same imperceptible contraction! She pursed her lips when she looked into the glass. It was to give her face point. That was herself – pointed; dart-like; definite. That was herself when some effort, some call

on her to be herself, drew the parts together, she alone knew how different, how incompatible and composed so for the world only into one centre, one diamond, one woman who sat in her drawing-room and made a meeting-point, a radiancy no doubt in some dulls lives, a refuge for the lonely to come to, perhaps; she had helped young people, who were grateful to her; had tried to be the same always, never showing a sign of all the other sides of her – faults, jealousies, vanities, suspicions, like this of Lady Bruton not asking her to lunch; which, she thought (combing her hair finally), is utterly base! Now, where was her dress?

Excerpt II
Then (she [Clarissa] had felt it only this morning) there was the terror; the overwhelming incapacity, one’s parents giving it into one’s hands, this life, to be lived to the end, to be walked with serenely ; there was in the depths of her heart an awful fear. Even now, quite often if Richard had not been there reading the Times, so that she could crouch like a bird and gradually revive, send roaring up that immeasurable delight, rubbing stick to stick, one thing with another, she must have perished. She had escaped. But that young man had killed himself.

Somehow it was her disaster – her disgrace. It was her punishment to see sink and disappear here a man, there a woman, in this profound darkness, and she forced to stand here in her evening dress. She had schemed. She was never wholly admirable. She wanted success, Lady Bexborough and the rest of it. And once she had walked on the terrace at Bourton.

Writing Asssignement I
Create a dialogue between Clarissa Dalloway and her reflection in the mirror. She ponders
her appearance, as well as her assigned role in society. – Clarissa: – The mirror:
Between 300 and 500 words.

Writing Asssignement II
Clarissa Dalloway suffers a nervous breakdown after hearing about the young man’s death.
A journalist from the London Gazette, who happens to be at the party, talks to the house staff.
Later, he sketches a disturbing portrait of Mrs. Dalloway. Write a narrative in the third person singular.
Between 400 and 600 words.

Writing exercise III
On the day after the party, Clarissa Dalloway writes a letter to her childhood friend Sally.
She tells Sally about her solitude, her emotional problems, and her fear of going mad.
Write the letter in the first person singular.
Between 350 and 600 words.

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