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.
The narrator exposes Clarissa’s deep fear of death in this sentence, a fear that extends as one of the novel’s main themes. Often, Clarissa muses about life in these terms, that life is dangerous and that everyone is holding on by a tenuous thread. Later in the novel, as she thinks about Septimus Warren Smith’s suicide, these thoughts blossom into long internal soliloquies about the fragility of life.
[T]he dwindling of life; how year by year her share was sliced; how little the margin that remained was capable any longer of stretching, of absorbing, as in the youthful years, the colours, salts, tones of existence[.]
Clarissa has returned from buying flowers and has just learned that Richard was invited to lunch with Millicent Bruton but Clarissa was not. Here, as she often does, Clarissa experiences a moment in which she becomes acutely aware of her own mortality and of the finite nature of her life. She also muses about how she has changed since her youth, particularly in her ability to adapt and change.
What would he think, she wondered, when he came back? That she had grown older? Would he say that, or would she see him thinking when he came back, that she had grown older? It was true. Since her illness, she had turned almost white.
In her bedroom in the morning, Clarissa’s thoughts move from memories of Sally’s kiss to the horrible interruption by Peter. This memory leads her to think about Peter’s return from India and how he might react to seeing her after many years have passed. Readers learn that she is fifty-one years old but she has recently been very ill and that this illness left her looking older than she might. She feels quite concerned about her appearance, especially in the eyes of one of her oldest friends. She still has strong feelings for Peter, and she cares about his opinion of her.
[W]hen Evans was killed, just before the Armistice, in Italy, Septimus, far from showing any emotion of recognising that here was the end of a friendship, congratulated himself on feeling very little and very reasonably. The War had taught him. It was sublime.
Here, the narrator describes Septimus’s view of his reaction to death, although his view is false. In truth, Septimus becomes deeply and dramatically affected by witnessing so much horrific death in the war. He tries to turn off his emotional response as a way of coping, but his horror turns inward instead and morphs into madness. After the war ended, he met Lucrezia in Milan and became enraged because he could not feel. The war and his memories of the fighting have ruined his mental well-being and, eventually, this condition destroys him.
[“]A young man (that is what Sir William is telling Mr. Dalloway) had killed himself. He had been in the army.” Oh! thought Clarissa, in the middle of my party here’s death, she thought.
Lady Bradshaw, the wife of the doctor who treated Septimus Warren Smith, explains why they were late to the party, and again, the two major plotlines of the novel merge. The comment leads Clarissa to go off by herself for a while and to ponder the suicide and life itself. She admires the man who killed himself for taking action and making the choice.
He had thrown himself from a window. Up had flashed the ground; through him, blundering, bruising, went the rusty spikes. There he lay with a thud, thud, thud in his brain, and then a suffocation of blackness.
Clarissa has stepped away from her party guests and pauses to contemplate the young man’s suicide. Here, she imagines the scene vividly, in stark detail, as if she witnessed his death firsthand. Her own thoughts about death and mortality rise to the surface of her stream of consciousness, and the dual plotlines of the novel merge. Clarissa can imagine death, and she can imagine suicide, which, interestingly, is the cause of Virginia Woolf’s death.