The story of Mrs. Dalloway was written in 1925 by Virginia Woolf. This novel reflects her life experiences within the words. The novel seems to include a focus on a death complex as well the thoughts on feminism. This novel is one of her most popular novels and based on two significant characters.
This novel is the story of one day in the Life of Clarissa Dalloway. The stories of Clarissa and Septimus are told side by side, though Clarissa is the main focus of the story. As she is preparing for her party that will be hosted that night, Septimus is spending time with his wife before being taken to an asylum due to his insanity. He fears that the doctors will break his soul and commits suicide rather than lose what is left of himself.
Peter, a friend of Carissa’s, hears the ambulance that is retrieving the body of Septimus on his way to the party and wonders about the civilization of London. Sir William Bradshaw, the physician of Septimus and a friend to Clarissa, is late for the party and explains the suicide of Septimus.
This causes Clarissa to go to her room alone to contemplate life and death, sanity and insanity. She questions the meaning of life and a deep feeling buried within that only death can overcome. It is depressing tail of joy and dread within life.
The two characters crucial to the plot within this story are Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith. The two characters do not know one another, but are linked through mutual acquaintances. Clarissa is planning a party as Septimus contemplates suicide.
Clarissa Dalloway is a reflective soul. She often questions the true meaning of life as well as the possibility of happiness. She often reflects on her life and her choices, such as the choice of marrying her husband, Richard Dalloway instead of her friend, Peter Walsh.
Peter is still bitter over her choice. Clarissa and Peter tend to judge each other harshly. Though he is still infatuated with Mrs. Dalloway, he criticizes her over her choice in marriage. He reflects on their past and still feels pain and excitement when he sees Clarissa.
Septimus is a young military veteran who is insane. Lucrezia, his wife seeks help for her husband, finding Sir William Bradshaw as the answer to her problem. Septimus is suffering from Shell Shock and when the doctors from the asylum come to retrieve him, he jumps from a window to his death. Before the war, this character was idealistic and aspired to be a poet. After the war he feels like an emotionless shell and considers human nature to be evil.
The mutual acquaintance through which the two are joined is Sir William Bradshaw, the physician. He is the physician of Septimus as well as a guest invited to Mrs. Dalloway’s party. He is late for the party due to the death of Septimus.
This story can partially be explained by the Freudian Theory of Thanatos (Li, 2011). Thanatos portrays that each person has a death instinct subconsciously (Li, 2011). This is true of Virginia Woolf. Each of her characters is a representation of a part of herself. There is the self reflective Mrs. Dalloway who felt life to be empty (Li, 2011). She felt surrounded by boredom and hypocrisy and felt as if her home was a tomb (Li, 2011).
The character of Septimus shows the insane side of Virginia Woolf. The side that feels depressed and outraged at human nature; the feeling that death is the only option in life that can save the soul (Li, 2011). This character shows the turmoil that was felt in Woolf’s own life.
Between the two characters death is an ominous force, constantly present. This death instinct is shown in suicide, in the thought of life being hopeless. Though the two characters are parallel, there can be a mutual understanding of the characters wanting death in different manners, for different reasons. This is the reason that Clarissa must reflect on the suicide of Septimus. Is suicide the answer? Is this how to achieve happiness or to relinquish the mundane of everyday life? Clarissa is at war with her feelings. She enjoys life, yet she feels dread about living (Li, 2011).
The novel can also be viewed from a feminist perspective. Throughout this novel there is also a defined patriarchal role which Mrs. Dalloway questions (Shahida, 2005). She cannot show the proper affection that wives show their husband because of this question. She feels that having a husband limits her freedom and because of this, the bond between husband and wife grows more nonexistent each day (Shahida, 2005). This is also the reason that she choose Richard Dalloway over Peter Walsh. She felt that Peter would have constricted her even more with is patriarchal ways (Shahida, 2005).
Mrs. Dalloway portrays the lives of women as lonely and frustrated based on the conventions of the time (Shahida, 2005). She chose her privacy over passion when she chose Richard, and though she feels it was the proper decision, she also feels the lack of love and closeness deeply (Shahida, 2005). She reflects on this is the story and feels that there is no balance between privacy and passion and that one must be lost to have the other (Shahida, 2005).
Either way that the novel is interpreted, there is the ever present tortured soul of Mrs. Dalloway. This torture can be linked to the life experiences of Virginia Woolf. In her biography, Woolf’s parents are said to have been melancholy people, often depressed (Lee, 1997). After the death of her parents, she was raised by her step brother, who sexually abused Woolf (Lee, 1997). She went through a series of mental breakdowns, which eventually lead to her committing suicide by drowning herself in a river (Lee, 1997). Through all of this she still managed to become a critically acclaimed author with “Mrs. Dalloway” being her most popular novel (Lee, 1997).
Woolf’s Life was riddled with strife. This strife is represented in her novel, “Mrs. Dalloway”. The significant characters in the novel are parts of her own self. The parts that question life, mortality, and the reason for living. There are also the parts which question society and the patriarchal conventions of her time. This is the part of her mind that feels that men hold women back because of being the weaker sex. This is also the part of her mind that feels that life is hopeless and she will never reach the ability that she would like based on her sex. Her morbid personally tells her that life is not worth living and with death she can overcome this deep sense of not belonging.
The novel, “Mrs. Dalloway” captures her perverse sense of life and may explain some of Woolf’s deeper thoughts. She is represented by her characters. Their flaws belong to her. Their thoughts belong to her. This novel is a reflection of the person, Virginia Woolf, more so than a simple tale of fiction.
Lee, Hermione. (1997). Virginia Woolf. Retrieved from The New York Times on the Web: http://www.nytimes.com
Hermione Lee is a writer for the New York. She researched the many biographies of Virginia Woolf to write an analysis of these bibliographies. Her analysis reflects the time in which Virginia Woolf grew up and the time in which she wrote her most famous. This biography portrays Woolf’s representations of herself within her characters. It focuses on the life events of Virginia Woolf and explains how these events affected her writing and her characters. This biography informs the reader that by reading these novels, the reader is also reading about Woolf’s private thoughts and feelings.
Li, Qiuxia. (2011). A Study of Mrs. Dalloway from the perspective of Freud’s Theory of Thanatos. Journal of Cambridge Studies, 116-123.
Qiuxia Li is an associate professor in the foreign language department of ZhengZhou University. She was a visiting scholar to Cambridge University from September of 2008 to September of 2009. She has accomplished extensive research on the novels of Virginia Woolf. She has a particular interest in the novel, “Mrs. Dalloway,” and how this novel can be analyzed using the Freudian Theory of Thanatos, or the death instinct. This information is relevant due to the fact that this particular novel refers to death numerous times. The aspect of death is ever present and represented through suicide and Mrs. Dalloway’s reflections on the thought of death and the meaning of life. These thoughts are very important when the realization of the strife of Woolf’s life is paired with her committing suicide eventually. Her characters can be seen as a cry for help at times as this study shows.
Shahida, Isam M. (2005). A Feminist Perspective of Virginia Woolf’s Selected Novels: Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse. Al-Aqsa University.
Dr. Isam Shahida is an assistant professor in the department of English at the university of Al-Aqsa. She has done extensive research on Virginia Woolf and the society at the time some her most popular novels were written. This study shows the relevance of society in Woolf’s novels, “Mrs. Dalloway” and “To the Lighthouse”. It is important to understand that these novels were written after World War I. There was confusion in society as the men returned. Women had been taking care of themselves while the men were gone by working and doing what was necessary. When the men returned, it was difficult for some women to return to the conventions of a patriarchal society. In this study, Shahida was encompassing Woolf’s thoughts and feelings on living in a patriarchal society and how this society and women were represented within these two novels.