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C by Johnny Lyons

Clarissa Dalloway to Connell Waldron

Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway is about a day (June 13, 1923) in the life of the outwardly unremarkable but inwardly enigmatic Clarissa Dalloway and a number of other characters which culminates in a party hosted by the novel’s eponymous heroine. 


Sally Rooney’s Normal People follows the intimate and shifting relationship between Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan, two clever and complex souls, from their last year in school to their final year at university. 


The following letter is among the ongoing epistolary correspondence between Clarissa and Connell.

14 June

Dear Connell,

This may sound like rather a strange thing to say but I would have written a very different response to your letter had I done so before yesterday. Trying to explain what I mean by that is beyond me so I shan’t even try. As you know,

I live more by instinct than intelligence. 

In your letter you mentioned something about Marianne that makes greater sense now than it did a few days ago. You said that she made a gesture at the funeral - something about the way she told one of your former schoolfriends to behave himself - which suggested she is at ease with the world in a way that you felt you were but no longer are. 


There is an elderly lady who lives in the house next to ours. I occasionally catch a glimpse of her from my bedroom window. Last night I saw her as she moved quietly about her room. As she went to bed alone, she put out her light and her whole house was left in darkness. For some reason her apparent indifference to the world outside eased my mind and gave me the will to rejoin my party. 

I’ve heard it said that you can’t change your circumstances, but you can change how you respond to them. I’m not sure that is entirely true.  We don’t decide who we are any more than we decide anything else about external reality. But perhaps we can choose which bits of it we wish to latch onto and value, which elements of our lives we believe are palpably real. Yesterday I was reminded of what has been authentic in my life. The real or, at least, my sense of the real, seems much more vivid now but fleeting too. You quoted a poet in one of your letters who said that the most we could ever hope for is to catch at happiness. That’s close to how I feel about life. 

I was much relieved to learn that you are having fewer suicidal thoughts, something I am not unfamiliar with. You mentioned that the glimmering of a new story has brought back an almost forgotten pulse of pleasure. And I liked your description of this exhilarating tremor as comparable to ‘the rustling movement of light through leaves.’  

You are right that life is capable of offering us these moments of elation despite everything. That seems like more than a miracle to me. Your new sense of joy has rekindled memories of a time I once had with a friend many years ago when we felt so close that we went in and out of each other’s minds without any effort. 

Fear no more the heat of the sun. 

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