For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life.
This quotation, part of Clarissa’s thoughts as she walks to the flower shop in the early morning and Big Ben chimes the hour, reveals her strong attachment to life and the concept of life as her own invention. The long, galloping sentence, full of commas and semicolons, mirrors her excitement at being alive on this June day. Clarissa is conscious that the impressions of the things around her do not necessarily hold beauty or meaning in themselves, but that humans act as architects, building the impressions into comprehensible and beautiful moments. She herself revels in this act, in the effort life requires, and she knows that even the most impoverished person living on the streets can derive the same wonder from living. She sees that happiness does not belong to a particular class, but to all who can build up a moment and see beauty around them. Later her husband Richard sees a vagrant woman on the street but classifies her only as a social problem that the government must deal with. Clarissa believes that every class of people has the ability to conceptualize beauty and enjoy life, and she therefore feels that government intervention has limited uses. She does not equate class with happiness.
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.
This quotation, which occurs during Clarissa’s shopping expedition when she pauses for a moment to look at the omnibuses in Piccadilly, emphasizes the contrast between the busyness of public life and the quiet privacy of the soul. Clarissa, even when she is walking in the crowded city streets, contemplates the essential loneliness of life. The image of water acts much like the image of the sun in the novel. The sun beats down constantly, sometimes creating a wonderful feeling of warmth, sometimes scorching unbearably. The rhythmic movement of the sea’s waves is similar. Sometimes the cyclical movement is breathtaking, while sometimes it threatens to drown whoever is too weak to endure the pressure, such as Lady Bradshaw or Septimus. Each person faces these same elements, which seems to join humans in their struggle. However, everyone is ultimately alone in the sea of life and must try to stay afloat the best they can. Despite the perpetual movement and activity of a large city like London, loneliness is everywhere.
Clarissa’s reflection occurs directly after she considers her old friend Peter, who has failed to fulfill the dreams of his youth. As Clarissa ages, she finds it more difficult to know anybody, which makes her feel solitary. She hesitates to define even herself. Failing, becoming overwhelmed by the pressures of life, and drowning are far too easy. Clarissa is fifty-two, she’s lived through a war, and her experiences amplify the dangers of living and of facing the world and other people.
This late age of the world’s experience had bred in them all, all men and women, a well of tears. Tears and sorrows; courage and endurance; a perfectly upright and stoical bearing.
This quotation occurs directly after Clarissa reads lines from Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline in a bookshop window. The lines “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun / Nor the furious winter’s rages” come from a hymn sung at a funeral and suggest that death is a release from the hard struggle of life. The words speak very directly to Clarissa’s own time period, the years after World War I. England is still in shock after having lost so many men in battle, the world now seems like a hostile place, and death seems like a welcome relief. After Clarissa reads the words from Cymbeline, she considers the great amount of sorrow every person now bears. Everyone, regardless of class, has to some degree been affected by the war.
Despite the upright and courageous attitudes many people maintain, they all carry a great sadness, and people cry constantly in Mrs. Dalloway. Peter Walsh bursts into tears at Clarissa’s house. Clarissa’s eyes fill with tears when she thinks of her mother walking in a garden. Septimus cries, and so does Rezia. Tears are never far from the surface, and sadness lurks beneath the busy activity of the day. Most people manage to contain their tears, according to the rules of society, or cry only in private. Septimus, the veteran, is the only character who does not hesitate to cry openly in the park, and he is considered mentally unstable. People are supposed to organize bazaars to help raise money for the veterans. People are supposed to maintain a stiff upper lip and carry on. Admitting to the horrors of the war by crying is not acceptable in English culture, though as Clarissa points out, a well of tears exists in each of them.
Clarissa had a theory in those days . . . that since our apparitions, the part of us which appears, are so momentary compared with the other, the unseen part of us, which spreads wide, the unseen might survive, be recovered somehow attached to this person or that, or even haunting certain places after death . . . perhaps—perhaps.
This quotation occurs as Peter Walsh walks back to his hotel. He hears the ambulance go by to pick up Septimus’s body and remembers Clarissa’s passion during their youth. Clarissa was frustrated at how little one person could know another person, because she felt that so much of a person existed out of reach of others. A person’s soul was like a plant or a tree, with a small part showing aboveground and a complex, unseen root system existing underneath. Although Clarissa had experienced death at a young age when her sister Sylvia died, she did not want to believe that death was the absolute end. Instead she believed that people survived, both in other people and in the natural world. To know someone beyond the surface, one had to seek out the people and places that completed that person. The structure of Mrs. Dalloway supports Clarissa’s theory, since most of the novel concerns people’s thoughts rather than surface actions. These thoughts connect to people and things far beyond the people and things that are ostensibly closest to them.
Clarissa told Peter of this transcendental theory while riding on an omnibus with him through London. The omnibus, an open-air bus that offers a view of everything around, symbolizes the ease with which the friends could once share their deepest thoughts. As adults, they are restricted by the repressive rules of English society, which is symbolized by great and somber automobiles with their blinds drawn. Clarissa still believes in the interconnectedness of humans and the natural world, and she thinks about it during her walk to the shops. However, Peter and Clarissa no longer feel so easy sharing their most deeply held ideas with one another, and Peter supposes Clarissa has hardened into a boring and shallow upper-class society wife who would no longer consider such ideas true or important.
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.
This quotation occurs at the day’s end, when Clarissa is at her party and receives news of Septimus’s death from Lady Bradshaw. Clarissa retreats to the small room where the prime minister sat to reflect on the young veteran. She had never met him and does not even know his name, but she experiences a moment of clarity, or “moment of being,” in the small room when she identifies strongly with him and his dramatic action. Woolf created Septimus as Clarissa’s double, and throughout the book he has echoed her thoughts and feelings. In this scene, Clarissa realizes how much she has in common with this working-class young man, who on the surface seems so unlike her.
Everything converges in this one moment, and this scene is the climax of the book. The narratives of Clarissa and Septimus finally meet. A wall separates the public sphere of the party from Clarissa’s private space, where her soul feels connected to Septimus’s soul. The clocks that have been relentlessly structuring the passing day continue to chime. Despite the sounding clocks and the pressures of the party outside, however, Clarissa manages to appreciate that Septimus has preserved his soul through death. Clarissa began her day by plunging metaphorically into the beautiful June morning, and Septimus has now literally plunged from his window. An effort and commitment to the soul is necessary to plunge into life or death, and Clarissa, who has reached middle age and is keenly aware of the compromises she has made in her own life, respects Septimus’s unwillingness to be crushed by an oppressive power like the psychiatrist Sir William. Clarissa repeats the line from Cymbeline, “Fear no more,” and she continues to endure. She will go back to her party and “assemble.” In the postwar world, life is fragmented and does not contain easy routes to follow, but Clarissa will take the fragmented pieces and go on trying to make life up as best she can.
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