Mrs Dalloway

Pdf fan Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

Septimus Warren Smith Character Analysis

A World War I veteran in his thirties, Septimus suffers from shell shock, or PTSD. He was once an aspiring poet, but after enlisting in the war for idealistic reasons and the death of his close friend and officer Evans, Septimus became unable to feel emotion. He married Lucrezia while stationed in Milan. Septimus feels condemned by human nature and is often suicidal and thinks that he has been condemned by the world to die for his failure to feel. In his more intense hallucinations he imagines himself surrounded by flames, or as a prophet with a divine message. Though the two characters never meet, Clarissa and Septimus act as doubles in the novel.

Septimus Warren Smith Quotes in Mrs Dalloway

The Mrs Dalloway quotes below are all either spoken by Septimus Warren Smith or refer to Septimus Warren Smith. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harcourt edition of Mrs Dalloway published in 1990.
Section 2 Quotes

“Look, look, Septimus!” she cried. For Dr. Holmes had told her to make her husband (who had nothing whatever seriously the matter with him but was a little out of sorts) take an interest in things outside himself.
So, thought Septimus, looking up, they are signalling to me. Not indeed in actual words; that is, he could not read the language yet; but it was plain enough, this beauty, this exquisite beauty… Tears ran down his cheeks.
It was toffee; they were advertising toffee, a nursemaid told Rezia.

Related Characters: Septimus Warren Smith (speaker), Lucrezia Smith (Rezia) (speaker), Dr. Holmes
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

An airplane has spelled out an advertisement for "TOFFEE" in sky writing, and Lucrezia Smith is drawing Septimus's attention to it. The first part of this passage satirically underlines the shocking (to a modern audience) disregard that many at the time - even doctors - showed towards people suffering from PTSD, a severe condition rather than a mere sign that Septimus was "out of sorts." Still, Lucrezia's cry to her husband does touch Septimus, even if in an entirely different way - one that he cannot communicate to Lucrezia.

Immediately after Septimus's sense of beauty and near-mystical communication, however, we learn what exactly the airplane is communicating: rather than a powerful, symbolic message, it is simply a profit-driven stunt, part of a modern world where material progress and wealth are ruthlessly pursued. The juxtaposition of the advertisement for toffee and Septimus's silent meditation is not just ironic, then, but also a sign of the tragic difficulty of real, profound communication that also, at least in this novel, is a part of modern life.

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Mrs Dalloway quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
Section 7 Quotes

Septimus was one of the first to volunteer. He went to France to save an England which consisted almost entirely of Shakespeare’s plays and Miss Isabel Pole in a green dress walking in a square.

Related Characters: Septimus Warren Smith, Miss Isabel Pole
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

In this part of the novel, we learn some of the backstory of Septimus Smith, who before the war was an idealistic young man in love with Miss Isabel Pole, a teacher and Shakespeare scholar. This passage suggests that Septimus had very little idea of why he went to war or what England was fighting for. His notion of "England" was composed of the small amount of experiences he had, and these two examples are meant to underline the limits and partial nature of these experiences. But the passage also implies that it was not Septimus's fault to have gone to war for such reasons: instead, a whole country went to war for various reasons, many of which were just as random or partial - and suffered a great deal as a result.

“So you’re in a funk,” he said agreeably, sitting down by his patient’s side. He had actually talked of killing himself to his wife, quite a girl, a foreigner, wasn’t she? Didn’t that give her a very odd idea of English husbands? Didn’t one owe perhaps a duty to one’s wife? Wouldn’t it be better to do something instead of lying in bed? For he had forty years’ experience behind him; and Septimus could take Dr. Holmes’s word for it – there was nothing whatever the matter with him.

Related Characters: Dr. Holmes (speaker), Septimus Warren Smith, Lucrezia Smith (Rezia)
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

Septimus is recalling his conversations with Dr. Holmes after Rezia sent for him, growing upset and angry at Septimus's coldness and inability to feel after the war. Here, Dr. Holmes shows himself to be the epitome of the clueless, conventional Englishman stuck in the Victorian past. He may have 40 years of experience as a doctor, but he is cheerfully unaware of the massive crisis caused by World War I, and seems entirely uninterested in taking Septimus's PTSD seriously. Perception, this passage says, is not necessarily a matter of trial and error, time and experience, such that someone who has lived longer would be better able to see things as they are. Instead, this book understands the Great War as a violent tear in history that has changed the very ways of experiencing the world, even while many people continued to refuse to understand that things had changed so drastically.

Mrs. Peters had a spiteful tongue. Mr. Peters was in Hull. Why then rage and prophesy? Why fly scourged and outcast? Why be made to tremble and sob by the clouds? Why seek truths and deliver messages when Rezia sat sticking pins into the front of her dress, and Mr. Peters was in Hull?

Related Characters: Septimus Warren Smith (speaker), Lucrezia Smith (Rezia)
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

Rezia is sewing a hat for Mrs. Peters, and for the first time in weeks, Septimus begins to awaken to the mundane reality around him and to pay attention to his surroundings. Here, in a series of rhetorical questions, he chides himself for his moments of rage and grief, of desire for truth-telling and for grasping at the profound realities of life. Now, he repeats the information that Rezia gives him, about where Mr. Peters is, about what Mrs. Peters is like, and clings on to these pieces of information as anchors grounding him in daily life. Rather than consider these things as banal and unimportant, Septimus - at least momentarily - feels that they are an opportunity for real communication with Rezia, as well as being powerful reminders of the potential meaning to be found in everyday life. 

But he would wait till the very last moment. He did not want to die. Life was good. The sun hot. Only human beings – what did they want? Coming down the staircase opposite an old man stopped and stared at him. Holmes was at the door. “I’ll give it you!” he cried, and flung himself vigorously, violently down on to Mrs. Filmer’s area railings.

Related Characters: Septimus Warren Smith (speaker), Dr. Holmes, Mrs. Filmer
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

Septimus has been told he must be sent away and institutionalized because he has threatened suicide. Here, he has decided to end his life on his own terms - even though he does not want to die. This expression seems to conflict with how Septimus has felt earlier, and yet can be understood in light of the immediately preceding moments of true, powerful reception and communication with his wife. (Whether those moments could have lasted is a question the book raises, but does not answer.)

This powerful passage mixes narrative development with Septimus's scattered but lucid and perceptive mind. On one level, we get his thoughts on the basic human instinct for survival, but mixed with a reference to Clarissa's oft-quoted line from Shakespeare about "fear no more the heat o' the sun." (Here it is "Life was good. The sun hot.") This turns the quote's meaning on its head (the heat of the sun is a positive, simple aspect of living, instead of a negative, simple aspect of living), and its appearance in Septimus's mind also provides an almost metaphysical connection between himself and Clarissa at the moment of his death.

Septimus ends his life with an unanswerable question - what do human beings want? - as well as with an attempt at communication, throwing himself out of a window in a way that suggests a violent desire to transcend the boundaries of one's own confinement. Septimus's death is not just metaphysical, however: it also has social implications, since it is so telling that Septimus considers death better than the institutional confinement that is the only way people at the time can imagine dealing with problems like his PTSD. But the last moments of Septimus's life also pay homage to the power of perception that coexists with the depths of loneliness and fear.

Section 9 Quotes

She had once thrown a shilling into the Serpentine, never anything more. But he had flung it away… A thing there was that mattered; a thing, wreathed about with chatter, defaced, obscured in her own life, let drop every day in corruption, lies, chatter. This he had preserved. Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death.

Related Characters: Clarissa Dalloway (speaker), Septimus Warren Smith
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, at the climax of the novel, Clarissa withdraws from the party and is able to see the connections to her double - the character through whom, though they never met, similar possibilities and limitations of perception and solitude are explored throughout the book. Here Clarissa contrasts her own frivolous, superficial life with the profound and meaningful act of communication that Septimus embraced - even if, paradoxically, this great moment of his life is what ended it. While Clarissa throws things away every day - a shilling into the Serpentine, for instance - she has never thought to fling away her life, even if she does treat it as something unimportant and expendable. 

Clarissa attempts to locate a center of life, of existence, though it is only vague for her - a "thing" that can be "defaced" or "obscured," or in Septimus's case "preserved" - but which ultimately moves away and "evades" all people. And once again, Clarissa considers the paradox of solitude and communication in death. On the one hand, Septimus's death is a kind of communication, but on the other it definitively cuts one off from everyone else. He has perhaps communicated something powerful to the world, but he can now receive no answering communication in return. Still, Clarissa considers even this act of isolation as a potentially powerful one, creating a kind of "closeness" if only because it becomes mutually clear how impossible true communication is.

But that young man had killed himself.
Somehow it was her disaster – her disgrace.

Related Characters: Clarissa Dalloway (speaker), Septimus Warren Smith
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

Clarissa continues to think about Septimus's death in relation to her own life, and here it becomes clear that Clarissa doesn't have any one, all-encompassing theory of life, one that would allow her to interpret Septimus's death in a certain way. While she has just thought about his suicide as an act of powerful communication and defiance, now she sees it as a tragedy - and one that she herself is responsible for.

Clarissa has begun to pick up on a number of potential similarities between herself and Septimus, from their concern with death to their fascination with loneliness and communication. Here, however, their similarities only underline their divergences, for while Septimus has struggled alone and ended his life, Clarissa has become wrapped up in the unimportant superficialities of upper-class life. Even more tragically, Clarissa's realization of the connection between herself and Septimus comes only after she has definitively lost the chance to communicate with him in life.

…and the words came to her, Fear no more the heat of the sun. She must go back to them. But what an extraordinary night! She felt somehow very like him – the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away. The clock was striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun. But she must go back. She must assemble. She must find Sally and Peter. And she came in from the little room.

Related Characters: Clarissa Dalloway (speaker), Septimus Warren Smith, Peter Walsh, Sally Seton
Related Symbols: Big Ben
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:

Clarissa repeats again the phrase from Shakespeare's Cymbeline, another common thread between herself and Septimus. After a moment of darkness and despair, she once again is able to conceive of Septimus's suicide as a powerful and even positive act of communication and independence - even if, given Clarissa's shifting and contradictory opinions, we cannot be sure that this will be her final word on the subject. Still, in this scene she does feel a kinship with Septimus, suggesting that he has managed, through his death, to create a kind of communion with another person.

Once again the clock strikes, here reminding Clarissa of her duties at the party, but also serving as a reminder of the inevitable passing of time. Septimus's death has also reminded Clarissa of the "fun" and the "beauty" that she still has the time to experience in her own life. Rather than throwing away the everyday realities that have come to characterize her own existence, then, Clarissa feels once again able to return to what she has just recently labeled superficial and unimportant, feeling a renewed interest in her daily life.

Get the entire Mrs Dalloway LitChart as a printable PDF.
Mrs dalloway.pdf.medium

Septimus Warren Smith Character Timeline in Mrs Dalloway

The timeline below shows where the character Septimus Warren Smith appears in Mrs Dalloway. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Section 2
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
...Passersby wonder if the car contains the Queen or the Prime Minister behind its curtains. Septimus Warren Smith, a young veteran of World War I, also hears the car backfire. The... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Lucrezia Smith, Septimus’s young Italian wife, is embarrassed and frightened by Septimus’s recent strangeness. He has recently threatened... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Lucrezia, who is sitting beside Septimus in the park, tries to distract her husband with the sight of the airplane. His... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Septimus’s thoughts grow wilder, and he thinks about being connected with trees. Lucrezia is distraught at... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Lucrezia feels all alone, as she knows no one else in England. Meanwhile Septimus is taking note of the revelations he is having, including “Men must not cut down... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Lucrezia interrupts Septimus’s visions and tries to distract him by pointing out a group of boys playing cricket.... (full context)
Section 6
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
The lady is Lucrezia Smith, who is thinking that she cannot deal with Septimus’s behavior anymore, as he is no longer himself. Lucrezia helps Elise Mitchell up and dusts... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Lucrezia wonders angrily why Septimus has been acting so strangely and seeing his dead friend Evans, as lots of other... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Lucrezia walks back to Septimus and takes his hand. He notices that she isn’t wearing her wedding ring (it doesn’t... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Septimus grows ecstatic over the beauty everywhere, and then Lucrezia tells him it is time to... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
To Peter, Septimus and Lucrezia’s quarrel is just a part of the bustle and beauty of London. Peter... (full context)
Section 7
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
...unhappiness is just a “silly dream.” She is hopeful that Sir William Bradshaw will cure Septimus. (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Meanwhile Septimus feels that he carries the “greatest message in the world” and is also both the... (full context)
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Mr. Brewer, who was Septimus’s boss at the time and the managing clerk of “Sibleys and Arrowsmiths, auctioneers, valuers, land... (full context)
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Septimus distinguished himself in battle, and then became very close with his officer, Evans. The two... (full context)
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Septimus was billeted in Milan when he met Rezia, who made hats with her sisters. Rezia... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Septimus returned to reading Shakespeare, but now he felt that “Shakespeare loathed humanity,” and that this... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Septimus would watch Rezia make hats and think about how humans had no real compassion for... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
...the first time in their marriage, and she said she wanted children and was unhappy. Septimus still couldn’t feel anything, and after this his illness grew more severe, and he would... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Septimus did not improve, and he sometimes threatened suicide. Dr. Holmes kept visiting him, but was... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Septimus felt that the whole world wanted him to kill himself, but he didn’t want to... (full context)
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
...present Big Ben tolls twelve o’clock, Clarissa lays her green dress on her bed, and Septimus and Rezia arrive for their appointment at Sir William Bradshaw’s residence. Sir William is a... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Septimus and Rezia arrive and Sir William quickly diagnoses Septimus as in a state of “complete... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Septimus tries to confess to Sir William that he has committed a crime against human nature,... (full context)
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Rezia is very upset by this, and when they give this news to Septimus he is wary of Sir William’s “home.” Sir William resents Septimus’s distrust, as Sir William... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Sir William tells Septimus that everyone has times of depression, but that no one lives for himself alone. He... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Meanwhile Septimus is sitting on the couch at home, watching sunlight play along the wallpaper and thinking... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Rezia thinks of the strange things Septimus has been doing lately, like talking to Evans, writing down bits of nonsense (some of... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
...married daughter of Mrs. Filmer, the Smith’s neighbor. Rezia talks aloud about her work and Septimus opens his eyes cautiously, noticing the “real things” around him. Septimus feels suddenly lucid, contrasting... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Septimus says the hat is too small for Mrs. Peters, and he starts to speak in... (full context)
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
...Rezia will always like this hat, and cherish the happy memory of making it with Septimus. There is a tap on the door and Rezia worries that it is Sir William,... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Septimus wakes up and is terrified to find that he is alone. Rezia has gone to... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Rezia returns, talking about Mrs. Peters. She feels happy and comfortable with Septimus now, like she can be honest with him. She remembers the first time they met,... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Septimus asks why he must be separated from Rezia, and asks why Sir William has the... (full context)
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Rezia promises to go wherever Septimus goes, and as she gathers the papers and ties them up Septimus thinks of her... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
...way past her, saying he is there “as a friend,” and heads up the stairs. Septimus hears him coming and thinks of different ways to kill himself and escape. He finally... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Septimus does not want to die, as “life was good” and “the sun hot.” He thinks... (full context)
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Dr. Holmes immediately calls Septimus a coward, but Rezia now understands her husband. Mrs. Filmer rushes in and she and... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
...as Rezia gets sleepy, and she thinks about the war and her happy memories with Septimus. Holmes says that Rezia should not watch as Septimus’s body is carried away, as it... (full context)
Section 8
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Peter Walsh hears the ambulance rush by to pick up Septimus’s body, and he thinks of ambulances as a triumph of civilization. The English health system... (full context)
Section 9
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
...Sir William mentions a case of “shell shock,” and then Lady Bradshaw tells Clarissa about Septimus’s suicide. Clarissa is struck by the sudden arrival of death at her party, and angry... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Clarissa muses on Septimus’s death and thinks of it as an act of communication and defiance, a preservation of... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Clarissa thinks of Septimus’s death as somehow “her disaster – her disgrace.” She has chosen conventionality and life over... (full context)
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
...line from Cymbeline: “Fear no more the heat of the sun.” She suddenly identifies with Septimus and is glad that he killed himself, as it makes the beauty and joy of... (full context)