Mrs Dalloway

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harcourt edition of Mrs Dalloway published in 1990.
Section 1 Quotes

For having lived in Westminster – how many years now? over twenty, – one feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense (but that might be her heart, affected, they said, by influenza) before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air.

Related Characters: Clarissa Dalloway (speaker)
Related Symbols: Big Ben
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

Early in the novel, Big Ben strikes for the first time: it will occupy a central place in the novel even as its precise meaning and implications vary. The sound enters as a concrete measure in the midst of Clarissa's somewhat vague and disjointed thoughts. Time seems rather open and free in the beginning of this passage, even as Clarissa has the sense that she is waiting for something as she perceives the city around her. Big Ben's strikes divide this wide-open time, giving Clarissa a way to situate her perceptions within a certain order.

In a certain way, then, Big Ben's marking of time is a way for Clarissa to order her own perceptions and her own psychological reality. But it also, of course, can be heard throughout the city - indeed, its strikes record the passing of time in the most public, regulated ways possible. Big Ben will thus serve as a way to unite the various plot strands of the novel through a guiding motif. But it will also join them in a different way, as an underlying reminder of how "irrevocable" the passing of time is, as each strike "dissolves" such that the hour cannot be taken back or relived, except in memory.


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How he scolded her! How they argued! She would marry a Prime Minister and stand at the top of a staircase; the perfect hostess he called her (she had cried over it in her bedroom), she had the makings of the perfect hostess, he said.

Related Characters: Clarissa Dalloway (speaker), Peter Walsh (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Prime Minister
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

Clarissa is recalling her early relationship with Peter Walsh, who once asked her to marry him, but also grew frustrated with her and critiqued her with words that Clarissa recalls in this passage. Marrying a Prime Minister is, in Peter's consideration, a grave insult: he associates such leaders with the stuffy, antiquated past of the English empire, a past that can only be embarrassing to continue to prop up. "Perfect hostess" is also an accusatory insult, suggesting a lack of depth and a contentment with superficial things in life. Ironically, Clarissa is remembering these words as she rushes around London, doing all she can to be an ideal hostess for her party that evening (which the Prime Minister will attend). But her recollections also underline just how little Peter was able to express how he really felt for Clarissa without descending into frustrated insults, even if they had a real social basis.

She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day. Not that she thought herself clever, or much out of the ordinary.

Related Characters: Clarissa Dalloway (speaker)
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout Mrs. Dalloway, the humdrum errands and daily realities of London life, taxi cabs and all, will contrast but also coexist with deep metaphysical questions, as well as the constant, looming reality of death. The danger of living "even one day" serves to justify the span of the novel - just one day - as containing within it themes both great and small. Within all the minutia of daily existence, the novel suggests, death is never far off - which can make daily life momentous even while suggesting that death is part of the fabric of insignificant daily realities. 

At the same time, there is a suggestion that Clarissa's own deep thoughts do not necessarily stem from her extraordinary mind or profound ideas. These lines imply that thoughts of life as dangerous or death as ever-present are the proper terrain of a scholar or philosopher - but here, Clarissa's own preoccupation with these questions suggests once again that they can be and are part of ordinary life. It is the disconnect between the wide range of her thoughts and their seeming distance from what she says and how she acts that contributes to her sense of being alone and "out to sea": she treasures this privacy, but it can easily turn towards loneliness as well.

But every one remembered; what she loved was this, here, now, in front of her; the fat lady in the cab. Did it matter then, she asked herself, walking towards Bond Street, did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely?

Related Characters: Clarissa Dalloway (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

As Clarissa moves throughout London's streets, she pays close attention to the sights and sounds around her. In many ways, Clarissa seems to treasure these details and treasure the life that she sees pulsing within them. Life, for her, is precious even or especially when it includes "the fat lady in the cab," and everything else around her. Death, then, is to be feared because it means the end of this possibility of close, acute perception - as well as the fact that everything will continue without her there to perceive it.

At the same time, however, Clarissa seems to acknowledge that there is often just as much pain as joy in the act of intense psychological perception. In this sense, death would be a relief, a refuge from the inevitable, exhausting need to observe and perceive everything around her. These two views are not reconciled: instead, they both coexist, or rather Clarissa moves from one to another and back again as thoughts of death continue to occupy her.

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.

Section 3 Quotes

But she could remember going cold with excitement, and doing her hair in a kind of ecstasy… and going downstairs, and feeling as she crossed the hall “if it were now to die ‘twere now to be most happy.” That was the feeling – Othello’s feeling, and she felt it, she was convinced, as strongly as Shakespeare meant Othello to feel it, all because she was coming down to dinner in a white frock to meet Sally Seton!

Related Characters: Clarissa Dalloway (speaker), Sally Seton
Page Number: 34-35
Explanation and Analysis:

Clarissa is remembering the summer she spent at Bourton when she was younger, and when she was passionately in love with Sally Seton - a feeling that is quite different from her relationship to her husband, Richard. Here she recalls descending the stairs in a white dress to meet Sally. Like elsewhere, Clarissa draws on her knowledge of Shakespeare in assigning meaning to the events of her life and to her memories. The citation from Othello underlines just how vividly Clarissa perceived everything around her that summer - a time during which she felt a kind of communion that she's struggled to find since then. In addition, the citation reflects how closely joy and death are connected, for her, in that death seems to lie on just the other side of acute joy.

Then came the most exquisite moment of her whole life passing a stone urn with flowers in it. Sally stopped; picked a flower; kissed her on the lips. The whole world might have turned upside down! The others disappeared; there she was alone with Sally.

Related Characters: Clarissa Dalloway, Sally Seton
Related Symbols: Flowers
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

As she pursues her set tasks through the streets of London, where she remains largely anonymous and alone, Mrs. Dalloway returns in her thoughts to moments in her past at which she sensed true communion and connection to another. One of those moments is described, here, in the memory of her kiss with Sally. "Alone" she may have been, but in this case, paradoxically, solitude and the disappearance of others only enabled greater connection between the two women.

The novel also uses this passage to explore the strange workings of time: a moment can fill up more space than many empty hours, and can even be as powerful as years. The way time passes - or the way it seems to pass - can depend more on an individual's perception than on time as measured by clocks, and that one can return to past moments in memory reinforces a suggestion of perceived time as cyclical rather than linear.

Section 6 Quotes

It was awful, he cried, awful, awful!
Still, the sun was hot. Still, one got over things. Still, life had a way of adding day to day.

Related Characters: Peter Walsh (speaker)
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

Peter is thinking about his long-ago rejection by Clarissa: her sublime memory of her kiss with Sally at Bourton now has another layer with the addition of Peter's separate, painful perception of that time. Peter shuttles between feeling acutely the real pain of that moment, and consoling himself by keeping his senses alert to what is around him here, in the present. In a way, he believes, time does ease pain merely by the fact of adding new experiences and memories atop old ones. He has had an entire life since Clarissa rejected him, after all. But at the same time, the last few sentences of this passage seem not to be entirely honest. Coming as they do directly after his exclamation at the "awful" event, they suggest that time does not heal all wounds, that present perception and the reality of past experiences do not cancel each other out, but rather coexist and mingle with each other.

Her emotions were all on the surface. Beneath, she was very shrewd – a far better judge of character than Sally, for instance, and with it all, purely feminine; with that extraordinary gift, that woman’s gift, of making a world of her own wherever she happened to be. She came into a room; she stood, as he had often seen her, in a doorway with lots of people round her. But it was Clarissa one remembered. Not that she was striking; not beautiful at all; there was nothing picturesque about her; she never said anything specially clever; there she was, however; there she was.

Related Characters: Peter Walsh (speaker), Clarissa Dalloway, Sally Seton
Page Number: 75-76
Explanation and Analysis:

Peter's thoughts continue to circle back to Clarissa, casting doubt on the notion that, as he claims, he doesn't love her anymore. Here he thinks in particular about Clarissa's social presence, the way she creates a "world" around herself wherever she moves and stands. She doesn't necessarily communicate taste, beauty, or genius, and yet there is a kind of allure in her very presence, as well as a way she imprints herself on the memories of others so as to last beyond this physical presence.

The end of this passage recalls Clarissa's own assurances, earlier in the novel, that there is nothing exceptional about her. But by reiterating "there she was" - a phrase that will return at the end of the novel - Peter remarks upon the mystery of human relationships outside mere communication, in which co-presence either makes up for or takes the place of communicated truth.

She enjoyed practically everything… She had a sense of comedy that was really exquisite, but she needed people, always people, to bring it out, with the inevitable result that she frittered her time away, lunching, dining, giving these incessant parties of hers, talking nonsense, saying things she didn’t mean, blunting the edge of her mind, losing her discrimination.

Related Characters: Peter Walsh (speaker), Clarissa Dalloway
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

Peter's thoughts continue to focus on Clarissa, and here his analysis of her extends to her social self, the way she is constructed by and through those around her. Peter's judgment seems in many ways to be quite critical of Clarissa, although we have to balance his tone with the knowledge that he was once, and may well still be, in love with her and simultaneously frustrated with himself for loving her. Peter also doesn't seem entirely clear on whether Clarissa's true self comes to the fore when she is around others, or whether she is artificial and in some way not truly herself around other people. In the same way, this passage is ambivalent regarding whether the parties given by Clarissa are actually superficial and meaningless, or are true possibilities for communication among different people: this is an ambivalence that will run throughout the book.

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.

Shredding and slicing, dividing and subdividing, the clocks of Harley Street nibbled at the June day, counselled submission, upheld authority, and pointed out in chorus the supreme advantages of a sense of proportion, until the mound of time was so far diminished that a commercial clock, suspended above a shop in Oxford Street, announced… that it was half-past one.

Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:

Rezia is thinking about how frustrating the consultation with Sir William has been, how annoyed she became at his unwillingness to listen and his insistence that Septimus conform to expected social categories and modes of being. Now, everything that Rezia perceives around her is filtered through this specific element of her consciousness. The "clocks of Harley street," in one sense, are the same for everyone - their chiming and striking divides the day equally in a standardized way, according to the modern social definition of time.  At the same time, though, this passage reminds us that the "mound of time" can feel entirely differently and mean very different things for different people. It may be "half past one" for everyone on Oxford Street, but for Rezia the equal divisions of clocks are at one with the submission and authority that she feels suffocated by, as a result of the consultation with Sir William. In such a way, time is shown to be not standardized at all, instead dependent on individual perception and affected by individual consciousness.

And Richard Dalloway strolled off as usual to have a look at the General’s portrait, because he meant, whenever he had a moment of leisure, to write a history of Lady Bruton’s family.
And Millicent Bruton was very proud of her family. But they could wait, they could wait, she said, looking at the picture; meaning that her family, of military men, administrators, admirals, had been men of action, who had done their duty; and Richard’s first duty was to his country…

Related Characters: Richard Dalloway, Lady Bruton
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

As Richard is leaving the luncheon, he lingers over the portrait of Lady Bruton's ancestor. According to the way this passage understands portraits, they are firmly located in the past: they record and celebrate past events so as to fix them in memory. Although the general and other members of Lady Burton's family were once "men of action," they are so no longer - they "had done" their duty and now are no longer relevant to the action that is going on now. Lady Bruton seems perfectly complacent with this reality, but the novel as a whole is more critical of what she and her family represent - making clear that a new reality needs to replace the old one, which is now only relegated to dusty portraits in wealthy apartments.

Really it was a miracle thinking of the war, and thousands of poor chaps, with all their lives before them, shovelled together, already half forgotten; it was a miracle. Here he was walking across London to say to Clarissa in so many words that he loved her.

Related Characters: Richard Dalloway (speaker), Clarissa Dalloway
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard has bought a bouquet of flowers to give to Clarissa, as he thinks - too rarely, he chides himself - of how he loves her. In this passage it occurs to him in particular that he is lucky since so many other young men, with their whole lives ahead of them, had these futures destroyed when they died in the war, and are no longer able to enjoy love and companionship like he is. Of course, it is ironic, then, that Richard's luck occurs to him randomly and rarely, rather than being a natural part of his daily life. Richard does acknowledge the tragedy of the war, but it only crosses his mind occasionally, and remains relevant to him largely as a contrast to his own good fortune.

As for Buckingham Palace (like an old prima donna facing the audience all in white) you can’t deny it a certain dignity, he considered, nor despise what does, after all, stand to millions of people (a little crowd was waiting at the gate to see the King drive out) for a symbol, absurd though it is; a child with a box of bricks could have done better, he thought… but he liked being ruled by the descendant of Horsa; he liked continuity; and the sense of handing on the traditions of the past.

Related Characters: Richard Dalloway (speaker)
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard is fully comfortable in his position as a member of London's upper class, but he does possess enough self-awareness to be able to think about it critically and from a distance. Buckingham Palace, he thinks, is valuable mainly as a symbol - he acknowledges that it may even be silly when judged objectively. Richard shows a certain condescension in thinking that the value of Buckingham Palace is in its powerful symbolism for the crowds, the "little crowd" who lack the ability - like his own - of artistic discernment.

At the same time, though, Richard aligns with this very crowd in admitting that he too enjoys what the palace stands for. The past to Richard is not something overwhelming, painful, or even very complicated: rather than recurring in cyclical ways or moving at disjointed speeds, time to him is important for the traditions that it held, and for the ways these traditions carry forward to the present. In other words, Richard believes in straightforward continuity, in a stream of time in which there are no breaks or interruptions and in which everyone can find his or her proper place rather easily.

And there is a dignity in people; a solitude; even between husband and wife a gulf; and that one must respect, thought Clarissa, watching him open the door; for one would not part with it oneself, or take it, against his will, from one’s husband, without losing one’s independence, one’s self-respect – something, after all, priceless.

Related Characters: Clarissa Dalloway (speaker), Richard Dalloway
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard has just returned home and has given Clarissa the flowers, although he was unable to say "I love you" - and yet he believed that Clarissa somehow understood. Here, we're reminded that such romantic, unspoken communication is largely an exception: Clarissa didn't, after all, understand what her husband meant. Yet at the same time, Clarissa seems to accept the "gulf" at the heart of even the intimate relationship between husband and wife. She even wonders if there's something positive in this lack of communication, since it suggests that there is something dignified and powerful about each person's precious, unbreakable solitude. 

Clarissa, after all, prizes her own independence and revels in being able to be alone in her thoughts. Nonetheless, it's never entirely clear in the novel to what extent Clarissa truly believes what she seems to think here, whether she's convincing herself that she does, or whether her real perception is entirely different than what we would expect from the prose. This inability to see into characters' consciousness fully is typical in the book, and it underlines the interest throughout the narrative about the complexity of communication, as well as the complexity of perception itself.

But to go deeper, beneath what people said (and these judgements, how superficial, how fragmentary they are!) in her own mind now, what did it mean to her, this thing she called life? Oh, it was very queer. Here was So-and-so in South Kensington; some one up in Bayswater; and somebody else, say, in Mayfair. And she felt quite continuously a sense of their existence; and she felt what a waste; and she felt what a pity; and she felt if only they could be brought together; so she did it. And it was an offering; to combine, to create; but to whom?

Related Characters: Clarissa Dalloway (speaker)
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

After Richard has left her, Clarissa thinks about the strange disconnect between the concrete realities and necessities of her socialite role and the monumental but amorphous "life" that she finds so mysterious. There must, she think, be something "beneath" and behind what people say to each other. Usually, this communication doesn't happen, and the important things are left unsaid.

Paradoxically, however, Clarissa seems to hope that she can get at this "beneath" by bringing different people from different kinds of lives together. The danger is that their conversation will remain superficial, and yet there seems to be no other way of fostering true communication, so that people are truly "brought together" in mutual understanding, not just "brought together" physically around the same table. Clarissa is both sincere in wanting to foster such connections, and doubtful of whether they actually take place. By the end of the passage, she's even questioning what these connections are good for - what use it is for people to shed their natural loneliness and share what they really feel. Would she and they better understand "life" if they did so, perhaps? Clarissa doesn't seem entirely convinced.

All the same, that one day should follow another; Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday; that one should wake up in the morning; see the sky; walk in the park; meet Hugh Whitbread; then suddenly in came Peter; then these roses; it was enough. After that, how unbelievable death was! – that it must end; and no one in the whole world would know how she had loved it all…

Related Characters: Clarissa Dalloway (speaker), Peter Walsh
Related Symbols: Flowers
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

In her head, Clarissa runs over all the sensations and small happenings of the day thus far. She simultaneously marvels at the rich particularities of daily life and wonders at how easily they are all cut off. Here, we see a major difference between Clarissa and Septimus: although they are both preoccupied with death, Clarissa takes much greater joy in the small daily realities of her life. The events she mentioned are not important objectively - indeed, they're perhaps not important to anyone other than herself, as she acknowledges when she realizes that no one will be able, after her death, to witness and report how much she loved this life. But Clarissa is able to treasure them regardless.

Clarissa's thoughts here also linger on the strange nature of the passing of time. Indeed, one of the reasons she feels that her love of life will remain unremarked-upon is that she cannot manage to assign meaning to or profoundly conceptualize the way she experiences time as cut through with daily events. Clarissa usually is able to remark upon the daily happenings of her life without having to fit them into some greater meaning, but here she does think about this lack - although only in the vague sense of calling it strange and unbelievable.

The cruelest things in the world, she thought, seeing them clumsy, hot, domineering, hypocritical, eavesdropping, jealous, infinitely cruel and unscrupulous, dressed in a mackintosh coat, on the landing; love and religion. Had she ever tried to convert any one herself? Did she not wish everybody merely to be themselves? And she watched out of the window the old lady opposite climbing upstairs. Let her climb upstairs if she wanted to; let her stop; then let her, as Clarissa had often seen her, gain her bedroom, part her curtains, and disappear again into the background. Somehow one respected that – that old woman looking out of the window, quite unconscious that she was being watched. There was something solemn in it – but love and religion would destroy that, whatever it was, the privacy of the soul.

Related Characters: Clarissa Dalloway (speaker), The old woman across the way
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

Clarissa is, first, thinking about how much she dislikes Doris Kilman and her earnest, aggressive Christianity. Then Clarissa watches an old woman in the house opposite her own climb up the stairs, and this scene, while seemingly totally separate from the previous one, ultimately fits in with Clarissa's frustration (especially given that so much of the novel's scenes are inflected by the consciousness of the person who experiences, perceives, and reflects upon them). In some ways, the old woman's solitude underlines how alone we all are in the world.

While the "privacy of the soul" has previously been cast in a negative light at times, here the aloneness of the old woman is something that Clarissa finds powerful and meaningful. Her privacy is something that, at least in the confines of her room, cannot be touched, and it gives her a certain dignity that is challenged to a greater extent in the social world. Nonetheless, Clarissa acknowledges how fragile such privacy and solitude are. "Love and religion," for Clarissa, are two things that involve other people, and so necessarily involve sacrifice and claims on one's own independence. At least in this passage, Clarissa disapproves of such claims, prizing the old woman for representing the opposite. Of course, we should remember that Clarissa is watching the old woman - as are we readers - which should make us question to what extent true privacy and solitude are possible at all.

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

“How delightful to see you!” said Clarissa. She said it to every one. How delightful to see you! She was at her worst – effusive, insincere. It was a great mistake to have come. He should have stayed at home and read his book, thought Peter Walsh; should have gone to a music hall; he should have stayed at home, for he knew no one.

Related Characters: Clarissa Dalloway (speaker), Peter Walsh (speaker)
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrative has moved quickly and even grotesquely from Septimus's death to the banal small talk to be found at Clarissa's upper-class dinner party. Here, the passage is filtered through Peter's mind. Peter has long criticized Clarissa's social attitudes and what he sees as superficial hypocrisy, even as he's attracted to these very abilities at the same time. Peter presumably responds just as politely to Clarissa, but since we're seeing things through his perspective, we see just how many regrets and internal anxieties run through his mind as he realizes how difficult, if not impossible, it would be to break through Clarissa' insincerity and truly communicate with her.

Nobody looked at him. They just went on talking, yet it was perfectly plain that they all knew, felt to the marrow of their bones, this majesty passing; this symbol of what they stood for, English society. Old Lady Bruton… swam up, and they withdrew into a little room which at once became spied upon, guarded, and a sort of stir and rustle rippled through every one, openly: the Prime Minister!
Lord, lord, the snobbery of the English! thought Peter Walsh, standing in the corner. How they loved dressing up in gold lace and doing homage!

Related Characters: Peter Walsh (speaker), Lady Bruton
Related Symbols: The Prime Minister
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

The Prime Minister has arrived at Clarissa's party, and here we see the guests' reactions, filtered through the perspective of Peter, who looks on from afar quite skeptically. Although the Prime Minister has been mentioned with awe earlier in the book, here Peter sees him as a small, plump, unassuming-looking man, unworthy of all that attention - and indeed, representative of a bygone age. Peter is already feeling alone and isolated, so he is inclined to view everything he sees around him rather negatively. However, his isolation also allows him to become acutely attuned to the hypocrisy that can be seen in the way everyone acts, trying to be casual but actually over-excited by their mere proximity to this important figure.

Lady Bradshaw (poor goose – one didn’t dislike her) murmured how, “just as we were starting, my husband was called up on the telephone, a very sad case. A young man (that is what Sir William is telling Mr. Dalloway) had killed himself. He had been in the army.” Oh! thought Clarissa, in the middle of my party, here’s death, she thought.

Related Characters: Clarissa Dalloway (speaker), Lady Bradshaw (speaker)
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

Lady Bradshaw and her husband, Sir William, have just arrived late to the party, and Lady Bradshaw explains to Clarissa why this is the case. We see once more how the narrative strains involving Clarissa and Septimus intersect in brief, glancing ways. Here, however, Clarissa will be more deeply affected than in previous scenes, even if initially she seems to be simply surprised more than moved or distraught. Clarissa is fully in her social-hostess mode, and it takes her a moment to adapt to the news - and yet she is also not entirely surprised, given that death seems to intrude in the way she thinks about daily life every day. That is, once again Clarissa notices and remarks upon the strangeness of trying to live one's everyday life with the looming reality of death, and without an overarching meaning.

The way Lady Bradshaw describes Septimus's death also underlines the British upper-class cluelessness regarding the true state of veterans suffering from PTSD. "He had been in the army" is a straightforward reason that Lady Bradshaw gives for Septimus's suicide, suggesting an awareness that one led to another, and yet this causal connection is neat and pat, allowing other characters to avoid responsibility or full awareness for Septimus's complex mental situation.

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.

“I will come,” said Peter, but he sat on for a moment. What is this terror? what is this ecstasy? he thought to himself. What is it that fills me with extraordinary excitement?
It is Clarissa, he said.
For there she was.

Related Characters: Peter Walsh (speaker), Clarissa Dalloway
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

Peter and Clarissa have both changed profoundly over the course of what one might think is a random, insignificant dinner party. Clarissa has been deeply affected by Septimus's death, which has triggered a number of thoughts concerning her own life. Peter, meanwhile, through his conversation with Sally, has a renewed commitment to being honest, to communicating as best he can rather than remaining frustrated with the inevitable failure of such communication. Now, he pays close attention to what he's feeling, determined to identify his feelings for Clarissa as he truly experiences them, rather than denying them to himself. Peter is thus committed to an integrity of perception, one that would not hide or deny what is experienced but would pay renewed attention to the same. At the same time, however, the book ends with this scene, leaving the resolution off-stage: we never know what the scene of true communication between Peter, Clarissa, and Sally would look like - or even if it happens at all. 

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