Character of Clarissa Dalloway
Table of Contents
Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway, the central character in the novel, is a woman of fifty one years. She belongs to an upper middle class family. Her husband, Richard Dalloway, is a member of Parliament. Clarissa is intelligent, cultured, educated and sensitive. As compared to her, her husband is a mediocre person. Their social circle is wide and parties and get-togethers at lunch and dinner are a common phenomenon of their circle.
A Party Loving Lady
Clarissa has developed a particular type of knack for holding such parties and they are a sort of mechanical routine with her. These parties are arranged by her in a business-like manner, as if they were a part and parcel of their life. They are necessary for her but her participation in them is not marked with a gusto or gaiety, as it should really happen when such parties are held. The guests are welcomed to the party apparently with warmth and with the remark that it was heavenly to meet them, but actually they are a source of boredom to her. They are a sign of the artificiality of her life and she does not look upon it with favour.
Her Sense of Feminine Freedom
Clarissa Dalloway has a strong sense of independence. She at least had this trait in her to a pronounced degree before her marriage with Richard. Peter Walsh was her companion from childhood and temperamentally she feels attracted towards him more than towards Richard. But she selected Richard, and not Peter Walsh, when she was confronted with the question of marriage, and never regrets what she had done. Her reason for so doing is to be traced in the fact that Peter Walsh would not allow her independence:
“With Peter, everything had to be shared, everything gone into.”
She would not hesitate sacrificing her love for the sake of her independence.
A Queer Character
Apparently sociable and happy in the midst of the round of parties and get-togethers at her home, Mrs. Dalloway seems to suffer from a sense of insecurity and strange kind of inadequacy in her life. She is like Virginia Woolf, who too kept herself aloof from her environment and even from the Bloomsbury Group of which she was an important member. She is a woman of fast changing moods. Her temperament works by fits and starts. She acts on impulse and it is difficult to predict when she will be overtaken by a destructive mood. She is reminded of Sally Seton, when she is combing her hair, and is filled with a sense of contrast between her (Sally Seton’s) carefree life and her own. She is smitten with a perpetual sense of being desolate and she feels that “it was very very dangerous to live even one day“.
The world would continue to go on forever, and its business and humdrum activity would always continue. Perhaps the age and experience which the world had gone through had produced in it a spring of tears and sufferings. She seems to be dissatisfied with her lot. If she can begin her life anew, she will be altogether a different person. She would prefer to be like Lady Box-borough with a skin of crumpled leather and beautiful eyes, slow and stately, and largely interested in politics like a man, with a country-house, very dignified and sincere.
A Charming Lady
From hints dropped from time to time in the novel it is evident that Clarissa Dalloway is a woman of great charm. On a fine June morning, when she goes out after a recent attack of influenza, she, in the words of her neighbour Scropi Purvis, is a very “charming woman”. She was much sought after in her youth. Richard loved her and married her and Peter Walsh suffered intense agony and mental pain when he was rejected by her. She walks straight and this uprightness of her has again and again been emphasized. There is “a touch of the bird about her, of the jay, blue green light, vivacious”.
A Vivacious Lady
She possesses an immense zest for life. She has wonderful capacity to enjoy life. “And of course she enjoyed life immensely”, we are told in the novel. She lacked bitterness and a sense of moral virtue which is so hateful in a good woman. She brought within her purview everything for her enjoyment. She has a “divine vitality”. She would be drawn to a bed of turnips during her walk in Hyde Park, now to a child in a perambulator, and now some absurd little drama which she would be enacting just at the spur of the moment.
Mrs Dalloway’s Sense of Beauty
Clarissa Dalloway has a sense of beauty which leads her to notice beauty in practically everything. She exults in the fine June morning, the beauty of nature, trees, flowers, birds, a bright sunny day, the London streets, even the shops of London and the traffic which moves. She is delighted by all of them and so she loves them. She hates all that is ugly. She does not like Doris Kilman.
Her Love for Peter Walsh
Mrs. Dalloway loved Peter Walsh before she married Richard Dalloway. She has always loved him and she still loves him. Her love for him has left a permanent mark on her mind and it is almost a part of her being. Whenever she thinks of her past, of Bourton, she recollects Peter Walsh.
“Always when she thought of him she thought of their quarrels for some reason because she wanted his good opinion so much perhaps she owed him words ‘sentimental’, ‘civilized’.”
She remembered in a flash details of his movements and gestures, of the days which they spent together at Bourton. She, seemed in excitement, goes to the extent of even kissing him.
Her passionate love for Sally Seton
She is one of those women who can feel women with the same intensity as men for women. Her love for Sally Seton is intense and passionate. She loves her with an overtone of homosexuality. On being first introduced to her she is fascinated by her face and it is difficult for her to take her eyes from her. At dinners they would often eke out opportunities to talk and discuss together and derive immense pleasure in each other’s company, Sally in a moment of intense joy would take a flower and present it to her, and she then kissed her on the lips.
“The whole world might have turned upside down; if it were now to die, ‘t were now to be most happy.”
A Loving Wife
She is also a loving wife. She has love for her husband and is loyal to him in all her actions and thoughts. She considers it a pleasure to accept a present from him. He brings roses for her: she is mightily pleased at this; he brings a pillow and a quill and asks her to rest for an hour as per the advice of the doctor. Such actions of his are regarded as “adorable” and full of “divine simplicity”.
An Affectionate Mother
Mrs. Dalloway is an affectionate mother. She is proud of her daughter. She does not like Doris Kilman, because she thinks that the teacher is taking away the love of her daughter for her.
A Strange Deficiency
Clarissa Dalloway seems to suffer from a certain kind of peculiar infirmity which makes her withdraw herself from the world. She is in this respect like Virginia Woolf who in spite of her happy marriage with Leonard Woolf, had to end her life by drowning. It means that her personality was a disturbed one. Mrs. Dalloway too, although apparently happy and comfortable, was disturbed and upset from within. Something within them both seemed to cut their hearts, making them extremely uneasy and suffer from an inexplicable malady.
A Representative of Contemporary Society
In her lack of purpose, meaninglessness and aimless drifting she represents the purposelessness of modern society and civilization. She is a representative figure who, in the words of A. M. Moody, represents the “upper middle class world of London in which she lives and moves, she is also a criticism of that class” and “she is an animated mirror, having a life made up of the world she reflects; she is a living image of the surface of society Virginia Woolf was concerned with.” The contemporary upper class social life was marked by insincerity, triviality, the hypocrisy beneath the surface of gaiety and hospitality. She is referred repeatedly in the novel as “a prude, cold and hard, as having something priggish about her”. The world she moves in abounds in snobbery, frivolity and conventionality and all these characteristics are fully reflected in her character.
She brings out the theme of the novel
Being the central character of Mrs. Dalloway Clarissa brings out the central theme of the novel, Stream of Consciousness in Mrs Dalloway. She shows in the novel that life is like a stream experience is a flux and that human consciousness is comprehensive and a continuous process. In such a predicament time and distance are of no set purpose. Persons situated at different places share each others’ experience and come into contact with one another without knowing. The character of Septimus clearly brings out what Mrs. Dalloway has felt all through her life, but was not able to express it.
A Round Character
The roundness of her character is the result of the stream of consciousness technique. She develops through her own stream of consciousness as well as through that of a number of other characters, especially Peter Walsh and Sally Seton. In the novel she appears as a girl, a wife, a mother, a woman in love and as a conventional hostess. She is shown what she is to-day, she is also shown what she was thirty years ago at Bourton.
She was a thorough-going skeptic. She believes that gods do not miss a chance of hurting and thwarting the schemes of human beings. But if one behaved like a lady, they can be put out. Later in her life she started believing that gods do not exist and so her religion was of the atheist. No one was to blame which directed it-self to doing good for the sake of good.
We may conclude in the words of Bernard Blackstone,
“Her life is intuitive, not rationcinative (prone to reasoning), but where her instincts are concerned, how magnificently right.”
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