Mrs Dalloway

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Flowers Symbol Icon
The first line of the book is Clarissa Dalloway saying she will “buy the flowers herself,” and she soon enters a flower shop and marvels at the variety. Flowers are a traditional symbol of love and femininity, but for Clarissa they also represent the joy and beauty that can be found in everyday life. Woolf also uses the symbol in a more satirical sense as well, as Elizabeth is compared to a flower by would-be suitors and Richard brings Clarissa roses instead of saying “I love you.” Sally, the most rebellious female figure of the book (when she was young), cut the heads off of flowers instead of cutting their stems, and Aunt Helena found this “wicked.” This shows how Sally deals differently with femininity (flowers) than is traditional to the older generation (Aunt Helena). In her very act of kissing Clarissa, one could say that Sally picks a flower.

Flowers Quotes in Mrs Dalloway

The Mrs Dalloway quotes below all refer to the symbol of Flowers. 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 3 Quotes

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.

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Section 7 Quotes

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.

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Flowers Symbol Timeline in Mrs Dalloway

The timeline below shows where the symbol Flowers appears in Mrs Dalloway. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Section 1
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Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Clarissa goes into the flower shop and is comforted by all the beautiful flowers. She has done a favor in... (full context)
Section 3
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Time Theme Icon
...Helena found Sally shocking and improper, even her habit of cutting the heads off of flowers and floating them in water. (full context)
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Social Criticism Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Psychology and Perception Theme Icon
...another friend were out walking. Clarissa and Sally fell behind, and “Sally stopped; picked a flower; kissed her on the lips.” Clarissa feels that this was the “most exquisite moment of... (full context)
Section 7
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...his way to have lunch at Lady Bruton’s with Richard Dalloway. Hugh brings Lady Bruton carnations, as he has on every visit for the last twenty years. (full context)
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...cooked the dishes, or paid for it all. Richard Dalloway watches Lady Bruton holding Hugh’s carnations and thinks of how she looks just like her ancestor, the great general in the... (full context)
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...he knows how to appeal to editors. Richard thinks that Hugh’s letter is nonsensical and flowery, but Lady Bruton loves it. She puts Hugh’s carnations in the front of her dress... (full context)
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Death Theme Icon
...because of his thoughts of Peter Walsh. He buys a bouquet of red and white roses to bring to her, and plans to say “I love you” to her, which he... (full context)
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...on the ground, looking as if “rid of all ties.” Richard approaches her “bearing his flowers like a weapon,” and the woman laughs at him. He smiles and walks on, considering... (full context)
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...praying. Big Ben strikes three and at that moment Richard enters. He gives her the roses but is unable to say “I love you,” though he feels she understands. (full context)
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...simplicity.” She recognizes that she cares more for parties than for politics, “more for her roses than for the Armenians,” but she grows suddenly unhappy because Richard and Peter criticize and... (full context)
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...makes an effort to be kind to Miss Kilman. Once Clarissa had offered Miss Kilman flowers from Bourton, and Miss Kilman had squashed them in a bunch. (full context)
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...the invitations to parties and the streams of compliments boring – men comparing her to flowers, trees, and other clichéd poetic images. (full context)
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...as she gathers the papers and ties them up Septimus thinks of her as a “flowering tree,” a fearless sanctuary, a “miracle” to triumph over Holmes and Bradshaw. Rezia goes to... (full context)
Section 8
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Time Theme Icon
...way to the movies and admires their fashion. He remembers Clarissa’s Aunt Helena, who pressed flowers, had a glass eye, and seemed to belong to a different era. (full context)
Section 9
Privacy, Loneliness, and Communication Theme Icon
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...then Clarissa’s old Aunt Helena, who is over eighty now. She talks about Burma and orchids, and Clarissa sends Peter to talk to her. (full context)