Mrs. Dalloway – News of Septimus’ Death

Summary/My Interpretation

Upon the entrance of the Bradshaws, we immediately learn of Clarissa’s dislike of the couple. Lady Bradshaw is compared to a sea-lion – not the most complimentary choice of animal similes. As Clarissa, certain in her verdict, yet undecided in the reason, watches the disfavored Sir William engage her husband in conversation, she does the same with the sea-lion Duchess, who transfers the fateful news – “A young man… had killed himself.” The “party’s splendor” deserts Clarissa when she hears this news. Her mind is obviously awhirl as the phrase “A young man had killed himself” is repeated in her thoughts through the next couple of paragraphs. Initially shocked at the juxtaposition of the topic of conversation and the surrounding party, Clarissa proceeds to parse through her own life and sees it as “wreathed about with chatter, defaced, obscured…” She reasons that death is not the grisly mess that she first treated it as. Instead, she understands the relief and allure that death might provide. In this realization, she begins to sympathize with the young man, which is not too much of a stretch given her predisposition towards Sir William. And soon she sees her way to relating to Septimus, which Woolf has hinted at all along. The bird imagery appears again and she resolves that her happiness is due to Richard’s presence. Drifting out of her revelry she absentmindedly straightens her house. Clarissa, heading to the windows, is then brought out of her state of thought by two surprises. One, the old lady that she usually watches seems to be staring straight at her, and two, a beautiful sunset is splashed across the horizon. These two images bring her to a new conclusion. We see her identify with Septimus once more and perhaps catch a glimpse of Clarissa digging deep and discovering life in living, not society before she gathers her old habits (in more than one sense) and enter back into the party.

Notes:

– Sir William exudes something more than just gentry and high society. It is his position of “doctor” that makes him so distasteful in Clarissa and Woolf’s eyes. This status, which allots Sir William wealth, high standing, and general respect, is overwhelming to a fault. Septimus’ death was in part due to his handling of the case. His proceduralized patient process was grossly inappropriate for his condition. Also, it is interesting to note that the topic of conversation with Richard, “deferred effects of shell shock,” was probably a very relevant topic of medical debate in Woolf’s age.

– As much as Sir William’s cause in Septimus’ death is a strong mark against his character, Clarissa learns from Septimus’ death to appreciate life outside of her party and circle of proper society. We see her character develop in the ironic company of very old friends. But all these old friends, though they get along, have all obviously changed.

– On the other hand, we also see her taking comfort in Richard, a pillar of proper protocol and politics, to discover this life. Richard is a very static character and perhaps Clarissa takes strength from his steadfast character.

– The old lady in the window is actually much like the reader. We are peering in on Clarissa Dalloway’s life. When she notices those eyes on her, this pushes her to have the same sort of insight that an “outside viewer” (in this case us) has on her way of life. In fact, her guess at Septimus’ end and its relation to Sir William’s personality type is eerily insightful in the same way.

Questions:

– What does Clarissa Dalloway take from this experience? Will she change? How much has she changed?

– Clarissa states two atypical definitions of death: 1. “Death was defiance.” 2. “Death was an attempt to communicate.” Is this correct in the case of Septimus’ suicide? What was he trying to communicate? Do you think this “message” reached Clarissa?

– (If no one else has this question, even though it’s not in my section…) What is the impact of the last line. What kind of impression does Woolf intend to leave with the words, “For there she was.”

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2 Responses to Mrs. Dalloway – News of Septimus’ Death

  1. Pingback: Blog Post of the Week! (2/28-3/8) « Literary London

  2. kgreenfield says:

    Willa, I know I’m so late on this. But this just so well written like every other blog post. You are a great writer!

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