After the Battle and Mrs. Dalloway

8:00 AM

Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, After the Battle, 1923

“He sang. Evans answered from behind the tree. The dead were in Thessaly, Evans sang, among the orchids. There they waited till the War was over, and now the dead, now Evans himself—‘For God’s sake don’t come!’ Septimus cried out. For he could not bear to look upon the dead” - Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

World War I shattered the global psyche. In the years prior to the war, people believed that intricate alliance systems and economic interdependence had ushered in a new era of peace. In the years following the most brutal war anyone had ever seen, Europe and the rest of the world struggled to move on.

Despite the horrifying carnage, life continued, and Mrs. Dalloway and After the Battle portray this balance. In After the Battle, Petrov-Vodkin uses the war colors to illustrate the safety and security of the surviving soldiers. However, the shadow of their fallen comrade looms in the background, weighing down the piece with its cold steely-blue color. The warm colors initially draw the eye, but after looking at it for a while, the figures in the background dominate the piece.

Mrs. Dalloway and her friends in postwar London have also left thoughts of battles behind them. Mrs. Dalloway prepares for a dinner party; London seems serene and calm. However, under the beautiful exterior lie deep scars in its psyche. Septimus Smith is one of these scars. He has brought home a woman from Italy with him. His life is seemingly charmed, but he suffers from deep mental illness brought on partially by the death of his good friend Evans in the war. He feels Evans approaching him, stealing happiness from him.

Both works, created several years after the war, serve as a metaphor for Europe at large. While superficially, normal life had begun to return, the war had changed the world irrevocably. Even when people put their grief aside for a time, the shadows of those lost in the war remained.

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