The eponymous protagonist. The novel begins with Clarissa’s point of view and follows her perspective more closely than that of any other character. As Clarissa prepares for the party she will give that evening, we are privy to her meandering thoughts. Clarissa is vivacious and cares a great deal about what people think of her, but she is also self-reflective. She often questions life’s true meaning, wondering whether happiness is truly possible. She feels both a great joy and a great dread about her life, both of which manifest in her struggles to strike a balance between her desire for privacy and her need to communicate with others. Throughout the day Clarissa reflects on the crucial summer when she chose to marry her husband, Richard, instead of her friend Peter Walsh. Though she is happy with Richard, she is not entirely certain she made the wrong choice about Peter, and she also thinks frequently about her friend Sally Seton, whom she also once loved.
Septimus Warren Smith
A World War I veteran suffering from shell shock, married to an Italian woman named Lucrezia. Though he is insane, Septimus views English society in much the same way as Clarissa does, and he struggles, as she does, to both maintain his privacy and fulfill his need to communicate with others. He shares so many traits with Clarissa that he could be her double. Septimus is pale, has a hawklike posture, and wears a shabby overcoat. Before the war he was a young, idealistic, aspiring poet. After the war he regards human nature as evil and believes he is guilty of not being able to feel. Rather than succumb to the society he abhors, he commits suicide.
A close friend of Clarissa’s, once desperately in love with her. Clarissa rejected Peter's marriage proposal when she was eighteen, and he moved to India. He has not been to London for five years. He is highly critical of others, is conflicted about nearly everything in his life, and has a habit of playing with his pocketknife. Often overcome with emotion, he cries easily. He frequently has romantic problems with women and is currently in love with Daisy, a married woman in India. He wears horn-rimmed glasses and a bow tie and used to be a Socialist.
A close friend of Clarissa and Peter in their youth. Sally was a wild, handsome ragamuffin who smoked cigars and would say anything. She and Clarissa were sexually attracted to one another as teenagers. Now Sally lives in Manchester and is married with five boys. Her married name is Lady Rosseter.
Clarissa’s husband. A member of Parliament in the Conservative government, Richard plans to write a history of the great English military family, the Brutons, when the Labour Party comes to power. He is a sportsman and likes being in the country. He is a loving father and husband. While devoted to social reform, he appreciates English tradition. He has failed to make it into the Cabinet, or main governing body.
Clarissa’s old friend, married to Evelyn Whitbread. An impeccable Englishman and upholder of English tradition, Hugh writes letters to the
Lucrezia Smith (Rezia)
Septimus’s wife, a twenty-four-year-old hat-maker from Milan. Rezia loves Septimus but is forced to bear the burden of his mental illness alone. Normally a lively and playful young woman, she has grown thin with worry. She feels isolated and continually wishes to share her unhappiness with somebody. She trims hats for the friends of her neighbor, Mrs. Filmer.
Clarissa and Richard’s only child. Gentle, considerate, and somewhat passive, seventeen-year-old Elizabeth does not have Clarissa’s energy. She has a dark beauty that is beginning to attract attention. Not a fan of parties or clothes, she likes being in the country with her father and dogs. She spends a great deal of time praying with her history teacher, the religious Miss Kilman, and is considering career options.
Elizabeth’s history teacher, who has German ancestry. Miss Kilman has a history degree and was fired from a teaching job during the war because of society’s anti-German prejudice. She is over forty and wears an unattractive mackintosh coat because she does not dress to please. She became a born-again Christian two years and three months ago. Poor, with a forehead like an egg, she is bitter and dislikes Clarissa intensely but adores Elizabeth.
Sir William Bradshaw
A renowned London psychiatrist. When Lucrezia seeks help for her insane husband, Septimus, Septimus’s doctor, Dr. Holmes, recommends Sir William. Sir William believes that most people who think they are mad suffer instead from a “lack of proportion.” He determines that Septimus has suffered a complete nervous breakdown and recommends that Septimus spend time in the country, apart from Lucrezia. The hardworking son of a tradesman, Sir William craves power and has become respected in his field.
Septimus’s general practitioner. When Septimus begins to suffer the delayed effects of shell shock, Lucrezia seeks his help. Dr. Holmes claims nothing is wrong with Septimus, but that Lucrezia should see Sir William if she doesn’t believe him. Septimus despises Dr. Holmes and refers to him as “human nature.” Dr. Holmes likes to go to the music hall and to play golf.
Lady (Millicent) Bruton
A member of high society and a friend of the Dalloways. At sixty-two years old, Lady Bruton is devoted to promoting emigration to Canada for English families. Normally erect and magisterial, she panics when she has to write a letter to the editor and seeks help from Richard Dalloway and Hugh Whitbread. She has an assistant, Milly Brush, and a chow dog. She is a descendant of General Sir Talbot Moore.
Miss Helena Parry (Aunt Helena)
Clarissa’s aunt. Aunt Helena is a relic of the strict English society Clarissa finds so confining. A great botanist, she also enjoys talking about orchids and Burma. She is a formidable old lady, over eighty, who found Sally Seton’s behavior as a youth shocking. She has one glass eye.
Clarissa’s dowdy cousin. Ellie, in her early fifties, has thin hair, a meager profile, and bad eyesight. Not trained for any career and having only a small income, she wears an old black dress to Clarissa’s party. She is self-effacing, subject to chills, and close to a woman named Edith. Clarissa finds her dull and does not want to invite her to the party, and Ellie stands alone nearly the whole time, aware that she does not really belong.
Septimus’s wartime officer and close friend. Evans died in Italy just before the armistice, but Septimus, in his deluded state, continues to see and hear him behind trees and sitting room screens. During the war, Evans and Septimus were inseparable. Evans was a shy Englishman with red hair.
The Smiths’ neighbor. Mrs. Filmer finds Septimus odd. She has honest blue eyes and is Rezia’s only friend in London. Her daughter is Mrs. Peters, who listens to the Smiths’ gramophone when they are not at home. Mrs. Filmer’s granddaughter delivers the newspaper to the Smiths’ home each evening, and Rezia always makes the child’s arrival into a momentous, joyous event.
Peter Walsh’s lover in India, married to a major in the Indian army. Daisy is twenty-four years old and has two small children. Peter is in London to arrange her divorce.
Hugh Whitbread’s wife. Evelyn suffers from an unspecified internal ailment and spends much of her time in nursing homes. We learn about her from others. Peter Walsh describes her as mousy and almost negligible, but he also points out that occasionally she says something sharp.
Septimus’s boss at Sibleys and Arrowsmith. Mr. Brewer, the managing clerk, is paternal with his employees and foresees a promising career for Septimus, but Septimus volunteers for the war before he can reach any degree of success. Mr. Brewer promotes Septimus when he returns from the war, but Septimus is already losing his mind. Mr. Brewer has a waxed moustache and a coral tiepin.
An awful poet at the Dalloways’ party. Jim is badly dressed, with red socks and unruly hair, and he does not enjoy talking to another guest, Professor Brierly, who is a professor of Milton. Jim shares with Clarissa a love of Bach and thinks she is “the best of the great ladies who took an interest in art.” He enjoys mimicking people.