Main Themes: The sea as symbolic of life: The ebb and flow of life. When the image is portrayed as being harmonized, the sea represents a great confidence and comfort. Yet, when the image is presented as disjointed or uncomfortable, it symbolizes disassociation, loneliness, and fear. Doubling: Many critics describe Septimus as Clarissa's doppelganger, the alternate persona, the darker, more internal personality compared to Clarissa's very social and singular outlook. Woolf's use of the doppelganger, Septimus, portrays a side to Clarissa's personality that becomes absorbed by fear and broken down by society and a side of society that has failed to survive the War.
The doubling portrays the polarity of the self and exposes the positive-negative relationship inherent in humanity. It also illustrates the opposite phases of the idea of life. The intersection of time and timelessness: Woolf creates a new novelistic structure in Mrs. Dalloway wherein her prose has blurred the distinction between dream and reality, between the past and present. An authentic human being functions in this manner, simultaneously flowing from the conscious to the unconscious, from the fantastic to the real, and from memory to the moment. Social commentary: Woolf also strived to illustrate the vain artificiality of Clarissa's life and her involvement in it. The detail given and thought provoked in one day of a woman's preparation for a party, a simple social event, exposes the flimsy lifestyle of England's upper classes at the time of the novel.
Even though Clarissa is effected by Septimus' death and is bombarded by profound thoughts throughout the novel, she is also a woman for whom a party is her greatest offering to society. The thread of the Prime Minister throughout, the near fulfilling of Peter's prophecy concerning Clarissa's role, and the characters of the doctors, Hugh Whitbread, and Lady Bruton as compared to the tragically mishandled plight of Septimus, throw a critical light upon the social circle examined by Woolf. The world of the sane and the insane side by side: Woolf portrays the sane grasping for significant and substantial connections to life, living among those who have been cut off from such connections and who suffer because of the improper treatment they, henceforth, receive. The critic, Ruotolo, excellently develops the idea behind the theme: "Estranged from the sanity of others, OE rooted to the pavement,' the veteran [Septimus] asks OE for what purpose' he is present. Virginia Woolf's novel honors and extends his question. He perceives a beauty in existence that his age has almost totally disregarded; his vision of new life... is a source of joy as well as madness.
Unfortunately, the glimpse of beauty that makes Septimus less forlorn is anathema to an age that worships like Septimus' inhuman doctor, Sir William Bradshaw, the twin goddesses OEProportion' and OE Conversion. ' " Short Summary: Part I, Section One: Clarissa Dalloway decided to buy the flowers for her party that evening. Lucy had too much other work. Clarissa thought of the hush that fell over Westminster right before the ring of Big Ben. It was June and World War I was over. She loved life.
Hugh Whitbread walked toward her and assured her that he would attend the party. Clarissa thought of her boyfriend before she married, Peter. She could not stop memories from rushing over her. She knew she had been correct not to marry Peter.
Peter would not have given her any independence, but still her refusal bothered her. Clarissa realized her baseness, always wanting to do things that would make people like her instead of doing them for their own value. Bond Street fascinated her. The same things did not fascinate her daughter, Elizabeth. Elizabeth was fascinated with callous Miss Kilman. Clarissa hated Miss Kilman.
She entered Mulberry's florist and was greeted by Miss Pym. Miss Pym noticed that Clarissa looked older. Suddenly, a pistol-like noise came from the street. Part I, Section Two: The loud noise had come from a motorcar, likely carrying someone very important. The street came to a stop and Septimus Warren Smith could not get by. Septimus anticipated horror.
His wife, Lucrezia, hurried him. She knew others noticed his strangeness. The car was delayed. Clarissa felt touched by magic. A crowd formed at Buckingham's gates. An airplane took to the sky, making letters out of smoke.
The plane's trail mystified its observers. In Regent's Park, Septimus believed the letters were signaling to him. Rezia hated when he stared into nothingness. She walked to the fountain to distract herself and felt alone. The doctor said nothing was wrong with him. When Rezia returned, he jumped up.
Maisie Johnson, a girl from Edinburgh, asked the couple directions to the subway. Maisie was horrified by the look in the Septimus' eyes. Mrs. Carrie Dempster noticed Maisie and thought of her younger days. Carrie would do things differently if she had the chance. Flying over many other English folk, the plane's message writing continued aimlessly.
Part I, Section Three: Clarissa wondered at what everyone was looking. She felt as a nun returning to her habit. Richard had been invited to lunch with Lady Bruton. Clarissa felt snubbed. She withdrew upstairs to the virginal attic room that she had occupied since her illness. She thought back to her old best friend, Sally Seton.
She had known what men feel toward women with Sally. Sally taught Clarissa about all the things from which she was shielded at Bourton, her home before marriage. Clarissa took her dress downstairs to mend. Abruptly, her door opened and Peter Walsh entered. Peter noticed that she looked older. Clarissa asked him if he remembered Bourton.
It pained him to remember because it reminded him of Clarissa's refusal. He felt that Clarissa had changed since marrying Richard. Peter mentioned that he was in love with a girl in India. He had come to London to see about her divorce. Peter suddenly wept. Clarissa comforted him.
She wished he would take her with him. The next moment, her passions subsided. He abruptly asked if she was happy with Richard. Suddenly, Elizabeth entered. Peter greeted her, said good-bye to Clarissa, and rushed out the door. Part I, Section Four: Peter had never enjoyed Clarissa's parties.
He did not blame her, though. She had grown hard. He thought the way she had introduced Elizabeth was insincere. He had been overly emotional when he had visited Clarissa. Peter associated St. Margaret's bells with Clarissa as the hostess. He had never liked people like the Dalloway and Whitbread.
Boys in uniform marched by Peter. He followed them for a while. He had not felt so young in years. A young woman passed who enchanted Peter. He followed her until she disappeared He was early for his appointment.
He sat in Regent's Park and felt pride in the civility of London. Thoughts of his past continued to combat him, a result of seeing Clarissa. He settled next to a nurse and sleeping baby. Peter thought that Elizabeth probably did not get along with her mother. Smoking a cigar, he fell into a deep sleep. Part I, Section Five: Peter dreamed.
The nurse beside Peter appeared spectral, like the solitary traveler. Suddenly Peter awoke, exclaiming, "The death of the soul". He had dreamt of a time when he loved Clarissa. One day they had gotten in a fight and Clarissa went outside, alone. As the day went on, Peter grew increasingly gloomy. When he arrived for dinner, Clarissa was speaking to a young man, Richard Dalloway.
Peter knew Richard would marry Clarissa. After dinner, Clarissa tried to introduce Peter to Richard. Peter retorted insultingly that Clarissa was the perfect hostess. Later, the young people decided to go boating. Clarissa ran to find Peter. He was suddenly happy.
Yet, Peter still felt that Dalloway and Clarissa were falling in love. Following that night, Peter asked ridiculous things of Clarissa. Finally, she could take it no longer and ended their relationship. Part II, Section One: Rezia wondered why she should suffer.
When Septimus saw that Rezia no longer wore her wedding band, he knew that their marriage was over. She tried to explain that her finger had grown too thin, but he did not care. His nerves were stretched thin. Still, he believed that beauty was everywhere. Rezia told him that it was time to go.
Septimus imagined Evans approaching. Rezia told Septimus she was unhappy. Peter Walsh thought of how Sally Seton had unexpectedly married a rich man. Of all of Clarissa's old friends, he had always liked Sally best. Clarissa, though, knew what she wanted.
When she walked into a room, one remembered her. Peter struggled to remind himself that he was no longer in love with her. Even Clarissa would admit that she cared too much for societal rank. Still, she was one of the largest skeptics Peter knew. Clarissa had so affected him that morning because she might have spared him from his relationship problems over the years.
A tattered woman's incomprehensible song rose from the subway station. Seeing the woman made Rezia feel that everything was going to be okay. She turned to Septimus, thinking how he did not look insane. When Septimus was young, he had fallen in love with a woman who lent him books on Shakespeare. He became a poet.
Septimus was one of the first volunteers for the army in World War I. He went to protect Shakespeare. He became friends with his officer, Evans, who died just before the war ended. Septimus was glad that he felt no grief, until he realized that he had lost the ability to feel. In a panic, he married. Lucrezia adored his studiousness and quiet. Septimus read Shakespeare again but could not change his mind that humanity was despicable.
After five years, Lucrezia wanted a child. Septimus could not fathom it. He wondered if he would go mad. Dr. Holmes could not help.
Septimus knew nothing was physically wrong, but he figured, his crimes were still great. The third time Holmes came, Septimus tried to refuse him. He hated him. Rezia could not understand and Septimus felt deserted. He heard the world telling him to kill himself. Upon seeing Holmes, Septimus screamed in horror.
The doctor, annoyed, advised that they see Dr. Bradshaw. They had an appointment that afternoon. Part II, Section Two: At noon, Clarissa finished her sewing and the Warren Smiths neared Sir William Bradshaw. Bradshaw knew immediately that Septimus had suffered from a mental breakdown.
Bradshaw reassured Mrs. Smith that Septimus needed a long rest in the country to regain a sense of proportion. Septimus equated Bradshaw with Holmes and with the evil of human nature. Rezia felt deserted. The narrator describes another side to proportion, conversion. One wondered if Bradshaw did not like to impose his will on others weaker than he. The Smiths passed near Hugh Whitbread.
Though superficial, Hugh had been an honorable member of high society for years. Lady Bruton preferred Richard Dalloway to Hugh. She had invited both to lunch to ask for their services. The luncheon was elaborate. Richard had a great respect for Lady Bruton.
Lady Bruton cared more for politics than people. Suddenly, Lady Bruton mentioned Peter Walsh. Richard thought that he should tell Clarissa he loved her. Lady Bruton then mentioned the topic of emigration to Canada. She wanted Richard to advise her and Hugh to write to the London Times for her. As Richard stood to leave, he asked if he would see Lady Bruton at Clarissa's party.
Possibly, she retorted. Lady Bruton did not like parties. Richard and Hugh stood at a street corner. Finally, they entered a shop. Richard bought Clarissa roses and rushed home to profess his love. Part II, Section Three: Clarissa was very annoyed, but invited her boring cousin Ellie to the party out of courtesy.
Richard walked in with flowers. He said nothing, but she understood. Clarissa mentioned Peter's visit, and how bizarre it was that she had almost married him. Richard held her hand and then hurried off to a committee meeting. Clarissa felt uneasy because of the negative reactions both Peter and Richard had toward her parties.
Yet, parties were her offering to the world, her gift. Elizabeth entered. She and Miss Kilman were going to the Army and Navy surplus stores. Miss Kilman despised Clarissa. Whenever Miss Kilman was filled with sinister thoughts, she thought of God to relieve them. Clarissa despised Miss Kilman as well.
She felt that the woman was stealing her daughter. As they left, Clarissa yelled after Elizabeth to remember her party. Clarissa pondered love and religion. She noticed the old woman whom she could view in the house adjacent. It seemed to Clarissa that the ringing of the bell forced the lady to move away from her window. All was connected.
Miss Kilman lived to eat food and love Elizabeth. After shopping, Miss Kilman declared that they must have tea. Elizabeth thought of how peculiar Miss Kilman was. Miss Kilman detained her by talking, feeling sorry for herself.
She drove a small wedge between them. Elizabeth paid her bill and left. Part II, Section Four: Miss Kilman sat alone, despondent, before heading to a sanctuary of religion. In an Abbey, she knelt in prayer. Elizabeth enjoyed being outdoors alone and decided to take a bus ride. Her life was changing.
She felt that the attention men gave her was silly. She wondered if Miss Kilman's ideas about the poor were correct. She paid another penny so that she could continue riding. Elizabeth thought she might be a doctor or a farmer. Septimus looked out the window and smiled. Sometimes, he would demand that Rezia record his thoughts.
Lately, he would cry out about truth and Evans. He spoke of Holmes as the evil of human nature. This day, Rezia sat sewing a hat and Septimus held a normal conversation with her, making her happy. They joked and Septimus designed the pattern to decorate the hat. Rezia happily sewed it on. Septimus slowly slipped from reality.
Rezia asked if he liked the hat, but he just stared. He remembered that Bradshaw had said that he would need to separate himself. He wanted his writings burned but Rezia promised to keep them from the doctors. She promised no one would separate her from him either. Dr. Holmes arrived. Rezia ran to stop him from seeing Septimus.
Holmes pushed by her. Septimus needed to escape. After weighing his options, he threw himself onto the fence below. Part II, Section Five: Peter appreciated the ambulance that sped past him as a sign of civility. His tendency to become emotionally attached to women had always been a flaw. He remembered when he and Clarissa rode atop a bus, and she spoke of a theory.
Wherever she had been, a piece of her stayed behind. She diminished the finality of death this way. For Peter, a piece of Clarissa stayed with him always, like it or not. At his hotel, Peter received a letter from Clarissa. She wrote that she had loved seeing him. He wished she would just leave him alone.
He would always feel bitterly that Clarissa had refused him. He thought of Daisy, the young woman in India. He cared little about what others thought. Peter decided that he would attend Clarissa's party, in order to speak with Richard. Finally, he left the hotel. The symmetry of London struck him as beautiful.
Reaching Clarissa's, Peter breathed deeply to prepare himself for the challenge. Instinctively, his hand opened the knife blade in his pocket. Part II, Section Six: Guests were already arriving and Clarissa greeted each one. Peter felt that Clarissa was insincere. Clarissa felt superficial when Peter looked on. Ellie Henderson, Clarissa's poor cousin, stood in the corner.
Richard was kind enough to say hello. Suddenly, Lady Rosseter was announced. It was Sally Seton. Clarissa was overjoyed to see her. The Prime Minister was announced and Clarissa had to attend to him. He was an ordinary looking man.
Peter thought the English were snobs. Lady Bruton met privately with the Prime Minister. Clarissa retained a hollow feeling. Parties were somewhat less fulfilling recently. A reminder of Miss Kilman filled her with hatred. Clarissa had so many to greet.
Clarissa brought Peter over to her old aunt and promised they would speak later. Clarissa wished she had time to stop and talk to Sally and Peter. Clarissa saw them as the link to her past. Then, the Bradshaw entered. Lady Bradshaw told Clarissa about a young man who had killed himself. Distraught, Clarissa wandered into a little, empty room.
She could feel the man, who had been Septimus, fall. She wondered if the man had been happy. Clarissa realized why she despised Sir Bradshaw; he made life intolerable. Clarissa noticed the old woman in the next house.
She watched the old woman prepare for bed. Clarissa was glad that Septimus had thrown his life away. She returned to the party. Peter wondered where Clarissa had gone. Sally had changed, Peter thought. Peter had not, Sally thought.
They noticed that Elizabeth seemed so unlike Clarissa. Sally mentioned that Clarissa lacked something. Peter admitted that his relationship with Clarissa had scarred his life. Richard was amazed how grown up Elizabeth looked.
Almost everyone had left the party. Sally rose to speak with Richard. Peter was suddenly overcome with elation. Clarissa had finally come.
Character List: Clarissa Dalloway: The heroine of the novel, Clarissa is analyzed in terms of her life, personality, and thought process throughout the book by the author and other characters. She is viewed from many angles. Clarissa enjoys the moment-to-moment aspect of life and believes that a piece of her remains in every place she has visited. She lacks a certain warmth, but is a caring woman who is touched by the people around her and their connection to life in general. Clarissa feels that her parties are her gift to the world and is proud to share herself with others. She loves to be accepted but has the acuity of mind to perceive her own flaws, especially since her recent illness.
Clarissa is a representative of an uppity English gentry class and yet, defies categorization because of her humanity and her relation to her literary double, Septimus Warren Smith. She is superficially based on Woolf's childhood friend, Kitty Masse. Richard Dalloway: Clarissa's husband, Richard is in love with his wife but feels uncomfortable showing his affection. A member of the government, he continually must attend councils, committees, and important meetings. He is called on by Lady Bruton for counsel, but is viewed by Sally Seton as not reaching his potential. She and Peter feel that he would have rather been in the country on a farm.
Clarissa was attracted to him for his direct ideas, command of situations, and facility with animals. Elizabeth Dalloway: Clarissa and Richard's daughter, she is described as strangely dark and exotic looking. She garners much attention from suitors but would rather spend her time in the country with her father and dog than at her mother's party. She is close to Miss Kilman but finds Miss Kilman odd and awkward at times. She sometimes imagines that she may be a veterinarian so that she can care for animals. Peter Walsh: Clarissa's beau before Richard, Peter does not see Clarissa often after their break up.
He had moved to India, married, separated, and then fallen in love again. The day of the novel, he returns to London and visits Clarissa. There is still an intensity between them and Peter reveals later to Sally Seton that Clarissa ruined his life by refusing to marry him. He rethinks much of their time at Bourton and decides to attend Clarissa's party even though he hates her parties. He waits the entire party just to speak with her or be near her. Lucy: Clarissa's principal servant, Lucy has the run of the house.
She is proud of its ability to effuse beauty and honor. Mrs. Walker: Another servant, Mrs. Walker is older and has been handling the dinners at the parties for many years. Sally Seton / Lady Rosseter: As a young woman, she was Clarissa's best friend, staying with Clarissa at Bourton because she was considerably poorer than Clarissa. Sally enjoyed causing a raucous by making outrageous claims and acting on a rebellious instinct that led her to smoke cigars, run naked down the halls, and do other crazy stunts that were not condoned by Clarissa's relatives. She represents Clarissa's true but unfulfilled love.
As an older woman, she has surprisingly married a wealthy man and had a family, though she retains many of her spirited qualities. Hugh Whitbread: A proper English gentleman, Hugh feels that he makes an important contribution to English society by writing letters to the London Times, helping different committees, attending parties at the Palace, and giving to small charities. He has been friends with Clarissa since childhood. Peter and Richard find him stiff and boring. Miss Kilman: The woman whom Richard has hired to tutor Elizabeth in history, she is continually at odds with Clarissa. She has communist sympathies and feels bitter and repulsed by those of wealth and privilege such as Clarissa.
Clarissa detests the attention she takes from her daughter as well as her self-sacrificing, condescending demeanor. Miss Pym: The woman who works at the florist on Bond Street, she notes that Clarissa was once very kind. She is polite and apologetic to an extreme. Septimus Warren Smith: Often considered Clarissa's doppelganger, Septimus was a successful, intelligent, literary young man before World War I. During the war, he wins many honors and friends.
After a good friend, Evans, is killed, he realizes that he can no longer feel. Marrying Rezia in an attempt to move on, Septimus never regains an emotional attachment to the world. The couple moves back to London and Septimus returns to his good job, but he slowly slips into further depths of despair and horror. He hears voices, namely of Evans, and becomes extremely sensitive to color and natural beauty. The doctors compound his problems by ignoring them, and they become the embodiment of evil and humanity, in his mind. When Dr. Holmes pushes into his home to see him, Septimus throws himself out the window to his death.
Lucrezia Warren Smith: Septimus' wife, Lucrezia lived in Italy before marrying and made hats with her sister. She is young and fun loving, but becomes seriously humiliated and sad when Septimus starts slipping into insanity. She wanted a normal marriage with children, not a man who talks to himself. When they first met, he had introduced her to Shakespeare and listened to her. Rezia tries to protect her husband from the doctors, but, in the end, she cannot. Maisie Johnson: A young woman fresh from Scotland, she is frightened by the Smiths in Regent's Park and wonders if she should have come to London after all.
Carrie Dempster: An older, lower class woman in Regent's Park, who imagines the future life of Maisie Johnson based on Maisie's appearance while evaluating her own life. Lady Bruton: The daughter of a general, she is an older woman much more concerned with the British Empire than relationships or society. She invited Richard, but not Clarissa, to lunch causing Clarissa to question her own purpose. She and Clarissa have little in common. Dr. Holmes: The overbearing doctor who first treats Septimus, he insists that nothing is wrong with Septimus and commands that Rezia try to keep his mind on other things. Septimus views him with hatred, feeling that the doctor represents the evils of human kind trying to stifle him.
It is Holmes rushing up the stairs past Rezia that persuades Septimus to kill himself. Sir William Bradshaw: The esteemed psychologist who treats Septimus after Dr. Holmes, Bradshaw recommends rest in the country for Septimus so he can be reoriented to Bradshaw's strict ideal of proportion. He recognizes that Septimus is seriously suffering from post-war anguish. He is hated by Septimus because he represents humanity along with Holmes, by Rezia because he tries to separate the couple, and by Clarissa because he makes the lives of his patients intolerable.
Lady Bradshaw: The doctor's upstanding wife, the Lady tells Clarissa of Septimus' death, bringing unwanted death into Clarissa's party. The Lady is a very good amateur photographer, but, ironically, had a mental breakdown years ago. Milly Brush: Lady Bruton's secretary, Milly is also a confidant and good friend. She cannot tolerate the pomposity and extreme politesse exuded by Hugh Whitbread. The Morrises: A family that is staying at Peter's hotel, they eat dinner at the same time as Peter and befriend him in the smoking room afterwards. The Prime Minister: The man perceived as close to royalty by English society, the Prime Minister is kind enough to visit the party.
The guests are surprised at how ordinary he appears. Many of the other characters reflect on him throughout the novel. Ellie Henderson: Clarissa's poor, quiet, and less than sociable cousin, Ellie is only invited to the party because another of Clarissa's guests invites her. Clarissa thought her too dull to invite. She speaks only to Richard at the party.
The rest of the time, she simply observes the guests and gathers gossip to tell her friend, Edith. Professor Briefly, Jim Hutton, Lord Gay ton, Miss Blow: All guests at Clarissa's party, Clarissa has a few moments to speak to each of them and to try to smooth over any conflicts or boredom. Miss Helena Parry: Clarissa's old aunt, Miss Parry is part of the memories of Burton, where she chastised Sally and befriended Peter. At the party, she tolerates the crowds and speaks to Peter about Burma. Most are surprised that she is still alive. The old woman: The neighbor whom Clarissa could view in the house adjacent, the old woman seems a mystery to Clarissa.
Though she often appears to be connected to others in her life, Clarissa admires the elder neighbor's privacy. Clarissa watches the woman as Clarissa looks outside after hearing of Septimus's uic ide. The old woman's turning off the lights to go to bed triggers Clarissa's realization that she must return to life and her party.