_Mrs. Dalloway_/_Triomf_/Mental Illness/Drawing

I find myself doubling back to Triomf. It’s not really a favourite, but I found a comparison between it and Mrs. Dalloway pretty darn interesting.

Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and van Niekerk’s Triomf each feature a character with mental illness who tries to draw a picture of everything. Lambert in Triomf covers a wall with an ever-growing drawing, and Septimus in Mrs Dalloway draws and writes on paper, with his wife sometimes taking dictation. These two disabled men have very different relationships with the family they live with, and that difference is reflected in their family members’ response to their artwork.

Lambert has both physical and mental disabilities. He lives with his parents and uncle, and his domestic life is saturated with disability-phobia and misogyny; he (disabled) and his mother (woman) do not have a good mutual regard. When Lambert’s mother appraises Lambert’s map of Africa and his other wall-art, her response is tepid:

“And when his mother came to see she said it didn’t look anything like Africa. Nothing he painted ever looked like anything, she said. Then he said okay, in that case he was going to add titles, in capital letters. TENNIS BALL, CLOUD, HOUSE, DOG, MOLE HILL, SHIT PIPE, PUMP, ROSE, DICK,” (redacted) “BEE NEST, HOUSE COAT, PLASTER CRACK, RUST, EVAPORATOR. Now all she needed to do was open her eyes and read what it said there.” (van Niekerk 164)

In Mrs Dalloway, Septimus has what was then called shell shock combined with trauma over the death of his friend Evans. Septimus and his wife Rezia, an Italian woman he met during the war, have a genuine love for one another, and she does her best to support his well-being and understand his mental illness. When Septimus asks for his papers, we get to see his artwork through her eyes:

“She brought him his papers, the things he had written, things she had written for him. She tumbled them out onto the sofa. They looked at them together. Diagrams, designs, little men and women brandishing sticks for arms, with wings— were they? — on their backs; circles traced around shillings and sixpences– the suns and stars; zigzagging precipices with mountaineers ascending roped together, exactly like knives and forks; sea pieces with little faces laughing out of what might perhaps be waves: the map of the world. Burn them! He cried. Now for his writings; how the dead sing behind rhododendron bushes; odes to Time; conversations with Shakespeare; Evans, Evans, Evans—his messages from the dead; do not cut down trees; tell the Prime Minister. Universal love: the meaning of the world. Burn them! He cried.

But Rezia laid her hands on them. Some were very beautiful, she thought. She would tie them up (for she had no envelope) with a piece of silk.” (162)

There’s a lot more that could be read between the two characters/texts. It’s hard to believe that I mentioned Lambert’s drawings without describing “SUPERBEE.”

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