Loneliness can be explained as the individual’s mental state that creates a feeling of the intense isolation from the society and overall emptiness (Dayatmananda 1). Moreover, it is a state in which the person in unable to experience joy from living, and thus often considers committing a suicide. It is natural for people to feel loneliness at times, but when this feeling becomes too intense and continuous, it might provoke pessimism and depression, transforming into a serious disease. However, loneliness does not necessarily equate to being alone (Dayatmananda 1). The person can be alone and yet experience joy and satisfaction from life, while simultaneously, someone can feel intensely lonely in the center of the crowd (Dayatmananda 1). The bright example of it is the poem “Crowd”, in which the narrator is lonely, but not alone. Through the descriptions given, it is clear that the narrator feels isolated despite the surrounding crowd. Hence, the life in such big city as London is often associated with loneliness, because despite the big crowds, people there are desperately lonely due to the lack of communication and homesickness.
One of the prominent examples of loneliness in London is Selvon’s work The Lonely Londoners. It depicts the realistic conditions of the lives of West Indian immigrants who came in post-World War II London. Namely, different actions are attempted by the central character named Moses with the aim of achieving unification. The veteran immigrant, he spent more than ten years in London yet did not gain anything worthy — on the contrary, his homesickness increases with every year, especially when he plans to meet Henry Oliver from Trinidad at the Waterloo Station (Selvon 2). Selvon named the novel The Lonely Londoners, and it is clear why he decided to choose London as the central place. The main question is why the author calls the characters lonely and makes an emphasis on it. One of the reasons explaining it is racism, which kept immigrants segregated from the white population. In general, immigrants did not have white friends, and British people did not communicate with them unless absolutely necessary. Therefore, being separated from the majority made those people feel lonely and rejected.
Another issue that explains the theme of loneliness in the novel is a concept of homesickness. In essence, London and Britain are different from the home places of the immigrants, with the differences seen in people, pubs, shops, architecture, climate, and culture. Nothing looks familiar in the new city. At home, the immigrants knew everything, the climate was hot, and the atmosphere friendly, while London turned out to be a completely opposite place with its fogs, rains, and coldness. All these aspects increased the homesick feeling that almost all immigrants experience. Moses, who has lived in London for almost ten years, still feels homesick. For instance, at the Waterloo station where all the immigrants come, “he had a feeling of homesickness that he never felt in the nine-years he is in this country” (Selvon 4). Moses experiences this feeling because part of him desires to leave the country that he does not like and where his life is not happy.
In such big cities as London, rather big immigrant communities live, meaning that theoretically, the individual loneliness cannot be overly unbearable. However, the community does not offer a strong bond to its members. Some of them meet often, but their priority is their own well-being (Selvon 17).
Many immigrants that come to London look for their countrymen’s company. They expect to receive help from them in the job search or housing, but most of all, they want to be in a familiar company to have some fun and to talk about different things, thus avoiding loneliness. As Moses states, “In the beginning you would think that is a good thing, that nobody minding your business, but after a while you want to get in company, you want to go to somebody house and eat a meal, you want to go on excursion to the sea, you want to go and play football and cricket” (Selvon 126). In the novel, it is explained that London is a city that is “powerfully lonely when you on your own” (Selvon 29). Some people want to help others, so Moses waits for Galahad, the unknown man, at the railway station, and offers to help him look for a job while letting him stay in his room. However, not all immigrants behave like this.
An evident example of this fact is a Jamaican immigrant who offers the newly arrived immigrants a chance to rent a room. He does it only to gain profit, without caring about leaving people moneyless, since “when it comes to making money, it ain't have anything like 'ease me up' or 'both of we is countrymen together' in the old London” (Selvon 6). Hence, money is the issue that divides immigrants apart.
Immigrants come to Britain because of the materialistic causes, meaning that they simply want to earn money for themselves and their families, and they believe they have better chances to do this in London. However, they also have to spend more on food and rent, so in the result, when they are in Britain, the immigrants have to work hard for every penny. It explains why they are so careful about money and have difficulties with lending them to new immigrants. Hence, a character named Bart always complains that he has no money only because of the fear that someone might ask him for financial help. At the same time, some immigrants, such as Jamaica men, are even able to exploit their own countrymen. Hence, money and materialism make the relationship between the immigrants more difficult and distant, which only intensifies the feeling of loneliness in the big city.
In his novel, Selvon represented immigrants in London with different forms of loneliness. They are outcasts when compared to the white majority, and despite the fact that they know each other and meet regularly, they do not feel the same connection and solidarity as at their homes. Moses contemplates that “looking at things in general life really hard for the boys in London. This is a lonely, miserable city, if it was that we didn't get together now and then to talk about things back home, we would suffer like hell. Here is not like home where you have friends all about.” (Selvon 126)
Apart from Selvon’s novel, London is also explored as a place of loneliness in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. The novel represents Clarissa Dalloway who lives in London, and in the early morning, she prepares to host a party. She chooses reliable Richard Dalloway instead of demanding and enigmatic Peter Walsh, and ignores Sally Seton, who was another option for her (Woolf 41). These conflicts are reintroduced by Peter in the morning described in a novel. At the same time, Septimus Warren Smith has post-traumatic stress disorder, and he often experiences hallucinations, which results in his decision to throw himself from the window later that day. Clarissa hears about his death and she believes that this act is an attempt to preserve his happiness’ purity.
From the novel, it becomes clear that each character feels some form of isolation. Despite the fact that many of them are bound by survival of trauma, love for Empire, history, class, or traditions, they still feel lonely. Woolf uses metaphors of threads and fish swimming in the water to indicate how loose the connections between people have become. They see each other as the object, not as the subject, and while they think about others, they do not always communicate with them despite their despair.
Characters seem to lack the right language to express their feelings. For instance, Clarissa’s husband loves her, yet seems to be unable to say it out loud. Instead, he uses flowers to express his feelings. Clarissa prefers privacy which she has managed to gain in her marriage and considers it crucial to the success of the relationship, yet at the same time, she finds it slightly disturbing that her husband knows nothing about her. Nonetheless, Mrs. Dalloway misses her husband despite all difficulties in their relationship, saying, “He would be back from India one of these days, June or July, she forgot which, for his letters were awfully dull; it was his sayings one remembered; his eyes, his pocket-knife, his smile, his grumpiness and, when millions of things had utterly vanished, how strange it was!” (Woolf 45). She lives alone and has a great hope that he will return in the nearest months.
At the same time, Clarissa’s parties are designed to bring people together, yet instead, they only seem to increase the number of isolated individuals gathered together (Woolf 122). The isolation that people feel through the novel leads to the deep feeling of loneliness and fear that the whole world is against them. In the result, Clarissa feels more connected to Septimus than to anyone else.
Another person that experiences loneliness and isolation is Peter. He believes that he has become sufficiently mature while feeling things as strongly as before, having “the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it round, slowly, in the light” (108). As opposed to Clarissa, Peter reacts to his isolation from other people by pretending that it is a good thing which helps him experience the life at its fullest.
Septimus Smith is also a very lonely person. He has an acute sense of being removed from other people, and he believes that he is the only person who knows the truth about what life is. He no longer concerns himself with the mundane living aspects because they stopped making sense to him, since he knows the extreme horrors the world possesses. Smith’s wife states, “Septimus (lets) himself think about horrible things” (147). Such situation brings him the burden of “that eternal suffering, that eternal loneliness which profoundly isolates him” (65). In the result, Smith commits suicide because of other people and their lack of understanding.
Overall, the main reasons for the feeling of loneliness in this novel are the failure at communication and the desire for privacy that at some point has turned into sense of desperate isolation. The author represents the soul's loneliness in each interaction between the characters as she contrasts people’s rich dialogues with their often mundane deeds, and shows their failed communication attempts with each other. With this kind of failed communication, loneliness, and abundance of privacy, Woolf conveys how difficult it is to make meaningful connections in the modern world, particularly in London. Despite the fact that the city is crowded and the characters are surrounded by people, they are desperate, isolated, and lonely.
The other bright example of the loneliness is Baudelaire's poem “Crowds”. It is a prose poem which represents the poet’s loneliness despite being surrounded by many people. The ability to accept the multitude is not given to every person, because “enjoying the crowd is an art” (Baudelaire n.p.). The individuals who are unable to cope with their solitude find it similarly impossible to enjoy the crowd, so Baudelaire shows the urban crowd experience in his poem. It describes this issue as dialectic of “multitude, solitude”, in which these notions are interchangeable and even identical (Baudelaire n.p.). As a person who spends days strolling down the urban streets and having chance encounters, the poet easily abandons his own identity to assume another one. However, despite the fact that the poet represents benefits of being alone in the crowd and its possibilities, there is a great amount of loneliness that can be noticed through the poem. For instance, “the founders of colonies, shepherds of peoples, missionary priests exiled to the ends of the earth” (Baudelaire n.p.). It expresses the loneliness that is experienced by people due to the exile, and despite the fact that they are surrounded by the crowd, they are still lonely. Moreover, the poet explains how the inability to engage with society makes some people feel alone and rejected. People themselves are the reason explaining why they experience boredom and loneliness — it is the individuals’ fault, not that of society.
Considering the regarded information, it can be stated that life in London is associated with loneliness, which can be seen in some novels and poems. In Selvon’s novel, the most vulnerable part of the society that suffers from loneliness is immigrants, because in the big city, their community is not united. The lack of communication and dismal conditions make people suffer from loneliness. Woolf’s novel also describes the life in London from the loneliness’ perspective, but in a different way. The main characters are surrounded by the crowd yet they are still lonely, since they have problems with communication and expressing their feelings. The theme of loneliness in the crowd is also supported in the poem “Crowds”, where it can be seen that the narrator is not alone, with people surrounding him, yet still being desperately lonely.
Baudelaire, Charles. “Crowds.” In Paris Spleen (1869), trans. Louise Varese. New York Directions Publishing, 1970.
Dayatmananda, Swami. Alone but Not Lonely. Ramakrishna Vedanta Center, 2010.
Selvon, Samuel. The Lonely Londoners. Longman, 1985.
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs Dalloway. Oxford University Press, 2009.