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Mrs. Dalloway

Virginia Woolf

Part 8: From Septimus observing dancing sunlight in his home while Rezia works on a hat through Septimus’s suicide. Late afternoon–6:00 p.m.

Part 7: From Elizabeth telling her mother she is going shopping with Miss Kilman through Elizabeth boarding an omnibus to return home to her mother’s party. 3:00 p.m.–late afternoon

Part 9: From Peter Walsh hearing the sound of an ambulance siren to his opening his knife before entering Clarissa’s party. 6:00 p.m.–early night

Summary

Septimus watches sunlight play on the wallpaper from the couch. He thinks of the line from the Shakespeare play Cymbeline: “Fear no more.” Rezia sees him smile but is disturbed. Often he speaks nonsense or has visions, believing himself drowned or falling into flames. She feels that they no longer have a marriage.

Rezia makes a hat for Mrs. Peters, the married daughter of their neighbor Mrs. Filmer. Rezia talks, and Septimus begins to look around him. He says the hat is too small for Mrs. Peters and speaks in a lucid way for the first time in weeks. He and Rezia joke together, and Rezia is relieved that they’re acting like a married couple. Septimus, who has a good eye for color, begins designing the hat. When he is finished, Rezia stitches it together. Septimus feels he is in a warm place, such as on the edge of the woods. He is proud of his work on Mrs. Peters’ hat. In the future, Rezia will always like that hat, which they made when Septimus was himself.

Rezia worries when she hears a tap at the door. She thinks it might be Sir William, but it is only the young girl who brings them the evening paper. Rezia kisses the child, gets out a bag of sweets, and dances around the room with her. Rezia builds the moment up until it is something wonderful. Septimus reads the paper and grows tired. He feels happy. As he begins to fall asleep, the laughing voices begin to sound like cries.

Septimus wakes up terrified. Rezia has gone to bring the child back to her mother. Septimus feels he is doomed to be alone. Around him he sees only ordinary objects, like the coal-shuttle and bananas on the sideboard; he no longer sees the beauty of the afternoon. He calls out for Evans but receives no answer. Rezia returns and begins making an adjustment to Mrs. Peters’ hat. Rezia feels she can now speak openly with Septimus. She remembers the first time she saw him, when he looked like a young hawk.

The time for Sir William’s message to arrive is nearing. Septimus asks why Sir William has the right to tell him what he “must” do. Rezia says it is because he threatened to kill himself. Septimus asks for the papers on which he and Rezia wrote down his theories about beauty and death and tells Rezia to burn them all. However, Rezia thinks some of what he wrote is very beautiful, and she ties the papers in a piece of silk and puts them away. Rezia says she will go wherever Septimus goes. Septimus thinks she is a flowering tree and that she fears no one. He thinks she is a miracle.

Rezia goes to pack their things. She hears voices downstairs and worries that Dr. Holmes is calling. She runs down to prevent the doctor from coming upstairs. Septimus quickly considers killing himself by various methods and decides he must throw himself from the window. He does not want to die and thinks this is the doctors’ idea of tragedy, not his or Rezia’s; he thinks, “Life was good.” An old man on a staircase across the way stares at him. Septimus hears Holmes at the door. He cries, “I’ll give it you!” and flings himself out the window onto Mrs. Filmer’s railings.

Holmes sees what Septimus has done and calls him a coward. Rezia understands what Septimus has done. Holmes gives her a glass of sweet liquid that makes her sleepy. Holmes does not think Rezia should see Septimus when paramedics carry him away, since his body is so mangled. Before falling asleep, Rezia sees the outline of Holmes’s body against the window. She thinks, “So that was Dr. Holmes.”

Analysis

In this section, Septimus seems to come out of his illness into a kind of remission. He is lucid, sees the world through clear eyes, and does not hear voices. He watches Rezia playing with the child, building up the moment into something wonderful, the way Clarissa does when she walks through the London streets or throws a party. Clarissa and Rezia act as life forces in the novel, and both are compared to trees. Septimus feels he is on the edge of a forest, because his and Rezia’s souls are now easy together, and they communicate naturally, like any other married couple, over the design of Mrs. Peters’ hat. As Rezia sews, the pair converses intimately, the threads of their thoughts intermingling in a beautiful pattern. Septimus seems to forget the approach of the doctors. When he wakes up after helping Rezia with the hat-making and sees he is alone, he experiences the same emotional shock as Clarissa did when she put down her yellow-feathered hat that morning and felt an emptiness at the heart of life. The world is beautiful, but Septimus’s soul has been severely damaged by the war, and the beauty he sees is ephemeral. He tries to preserve this soul from the clutches of the overbearing doctors by asking Rezia to burn the papers on which he drew and wrote his thoughts over the period of his illness. Septimus’s temporary sanity ends with his suicide.

Dr. Holmes’s arrival forces Septimus to choose between committing suicide or surrendering his soul. Opting for death of the body instead of death of the soul, Septimus flings himself onto the railings beneath his window. Throughout the novel, houses and rooms serve as metaphors for the soul and its yearnings for privacy, and railings mark the border between the interior of the home and the public world of society. By throwing himself onto the railings, Septimus seems to attempt a kind of communication, while at the same time protecting his private soul from Holmes and Sir William. Before his plunge, Septimus sees an old man descending the staircase opposite his window. Unlike the old woman Clarissa observes ascending the staircase or wandering safely through the rooms of her home, the old man is symbolically leaving the privacy of his home. If Septimus must part with the privacy of his soul, he will make his soul public but refrain from sacrificing it. He does not want to die, but since he feels he has no alternative due to the doctors’ threats, he will make the decision and perform the action himself. He demonstrates his refusal to let the doctors take his soul when he announces, “I give it you!” Nobody has taken Septimus’s soul. The first-person pronoun indicates that he has given it himself. Though his death is tragic, he has maintained agency and dignity in choosing his destiny.

Septimus’s suicide reveals the blindness of human nature as embodied by Holmes and Sir William. Before this point, Septimus had given many indications that he contemplated killing himself, the most obvious being when he openly says that it is his intention to do so. Yet Holmes, referring to the suicide, asks how it was possible to predict it would happen and decides that it was an impulsive act for which no one is to blame. These are absurd claims and questions, and they reveal Holmes’s willful blindness to the truth. Nobody wishes to take responsibility for Septimus’s death or to believe its cause to be anything beyond a spontaneous impulse. Holmes would rather the world sleep quietly and drugged, as he forces Rezia to do, rather than wake up and ask questions about human cruelty. Acknowledging Septimus’s motivations would threaten the beliefs that are the foundation of the doctors’ lives.

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Narrative Voice

by MLangeroodi, April 08, 2013

Hey, I wrote this essay in my first year at university. Follow the link!

http://marnielangeroodiblog.wordpress.com/2013/04/07/narrative-voice-in-mrs-dalloway/

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3 out of 3 people found this helpful

Disgusting!

by RabbieBurns39, March 10, 2014

I would like to say how disgusted i am that you would allow this to be published, the numerous references to the BRITISH empire as 'England' is countless. Not only did Welsh citizens give their life, but Scottish and even Irish citizens who were die hard nationalists and wishing to be made independent from Britain fought in the Great War and many lost their lives doing so to. I am horrified this has been allowed to stay up and request amendments to be made.

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2 out of 18 people found this helpful

Helpuful

by HeulynTheUnicat, April 27, 2014

I'm stydying for an oral exam, and it's nice to have these informations. I remembered most of the characters form reading the books, of course, but what I found really interesting were the comparisons with other characters. But I do think Elizabeth is missing as one of the main characters, since she has quite an important role in the novel, too.

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