Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Table of Contents
Mrs Dalloway Summary
The story of Mrs. Dalloway is so simple that it can be narrated in a few words. Clarissa Dalloway is a middle aged woman of over fifty, who belongs to the upper middle class society of London. She resides in her comfortable Westminster House with her husband, Richard, and her grown-up daughter Elizabeth. She is introduced as being engaged in making preparations for a party on a day in June. Her rejected lover named Peter Walsh suddenly calls upon her. The party is attended by several other friends from her younger days. On the whole it was a success.
The time of the novel is a few years after the war. On a fine morning in June, the weather is extremely agreeable for going out for a walk. Almost everyone in the novel goes for a walk through the West End of London–Clarissa, Richard, Peter Walsh, Elizabeth Dalloway, Septimus Smith, the shell-shocked soldier, and Rezia, his little Italian wife. They all enjoy their walks and go round the Green Park, Regent’s Park, Russell Square, the Strand, Piccadilly, Bond Street, and White hall.
The events in the novel are apparently trivial, unimportant, and commonplace. But they have the potency in them to evoke memories, associations, reflections, feelings in the minds of different characters, as a result of which both their outer and inner aspects of experience get interlinked and interwoven. Peter, while he walks to Bloomsbury for dinner at his hotel, hears the sounds of the bell of the ambulance which is carrying Septimus, and ruminates on the triumphs of civilization and the spirit of fellow feeling of London society. He also remembers exploring London with Clarissa from the top of a bus and the talks which transpired between them about those “unseen parts of us”, that might ultimately survive. He also recalls other meetings with Clarissa in the past. It is later in the evening, when the party has ended that we can experience with Peter mixed feelings of terror and ecstasy, when we see Clarissa. This extraordinary excitement is, indeed, wonderful.
The paths of characters in the novel are different and we see that they Cross and re-cross each other. Septimus and Rezia see the same aeroplane Clarissa at the same moment. They stand on the same curb to let a royal car pass and sit on the same bench in Regent’s Park, where Peter Walsh resting. Septimus, driven almost mad under the treatment of Dr. Bradshaw, a famous psychiatrist, jumps from a window of the hospital on the very night of the party at which the psychiatrist, a guest mentions the very sad case, and shocks Clarissa with the awareness of “death at my party”.
There are deeper connections between Clarissa and Septimus. A suggestion to them is made by patterns of imagery in the consciousness of both. The original plan, as Mrs. Virginia Woolf states in the Preface to the Modern Library Edition of Mrs. Dalloway was that Clarissa would kill herself. But somehow Septimus took her place and thus became Clarissa’s double. It is only Septimus who goes down beneath the surface whereas Clarissa still maintains herself firmly because of her wealth, her social position and the protection which she enjoys. “She felt somehow very like him…….. She felt glad he had done it thrown it away.” She comes to realize, though briefly, how her own life has been soiled by lies, silly chatter, corruption, scheming etc. There is something in Septimus which she had forfeited. His death throws a challenge to the evil embodied in Sir William Bradshaw-the psychiatrist. His is a portrait of a person in whom is embodied the novelist’s malice and hatred of those who try to dominate others, specially under the garb of humanity. “The naked, the defenceless, the exhausted, the friendless received the impress of Sir William’s will. He swooped, he devoured. He shut people up. It was this combination of decision and humanity that endeared Sir William so greatly to the relations of his victims.”
Clarissa is the pivotal point in the novel. It is around her that all other characters revolve. The importance of each person is measured in terms of his or her connection with her. She is the chief character in the novel and all other characters are just subsidiary and subordinate to her, with no separate entity of their own. She is a successful, but superficial British society woman and like Ulysses the novel follows certain Londoners through a typical day of their lives in June of 1919. As the day passes and the time is marked by the striking of Big Ben, the novel goes successively through the minds of Mrs. Dalloway and her friends, and the pattern of their life thus becomes evident.
With the start of the day Clarissa Dalloway is seen busy in making preparations for an important dinner party, to which are invited some important persons. On meeting an old friend, Hugh Whitbread, she is reminded of her youth before marriage. She recalls how she rejected Peter Walsh in preference to a man of importance and social status. Since she has been married she has hoped many times that her husband may become the Prime Minister of England. Peter parted from her in a scene of highly-strung emotions, and migrated to India, where he married another woman. The novel digresses from Clarissa to a young war veteran, Septimus Smith, and his wife Lucrezia (Rezia), whom he met in Italy shortly after the war.
Both Clarissa and Septimus had literary talent in their youth both are impervious to the expected emotional crisis; hence they are cold Both feel that they had a kind of life, the distinctive mark of which cannot be washed off by contact with other people. Clarissa is outwardly is successful, but Septimus is miserable and leads a tormented life. threatened suicide and is at present under treatment for a nervous breakdown. Lucrezia is tom by a conflict between her sympathy for Septimus and a resentment with him for the way he has spoiled her life. Neither she nor the Doctor (Dr. Holmes) who attends on him, is able to fully understand what is exactly wrong with him. She in exasperation takes him to an expensive and somewhat pompous specialist, Sir William Bradshaw, who is making arrangements for shifting him to a sanatorium this very evening. Sir William is also a guest at Clarissa’s party–this fact is helpful in making the pattern begin to appear.
A new element is introduced with the arrival of Peter Walsh, who has come to England to arrange a divorce and to marry again. Clarissa’s thoughts once again go back to the days of her youth. She starts thinking that the principal theme of his life has been the pursuit of feminine life and doubts whether his unrequited love for her is at the root of all. Peter Walsh on his part is filled with a sense of superiority over the superficial and purposeless existence led by Clarissa. The novel shortly before the commencement of the party returns to Septimus and Lucrezia who in their lodgings are brooding over the death of his friend, Evans, who died in the war and his impending confinement in a sanatorium. Dr. Holmes comes there and forces his entry into the room of Septimus. He has come with the intention of pulling Septimus out of his nonsense. This leads Septiums to throw himself out of the window and get himself thus killed.
The party is a grand success and Clarissa feels herself as a successful hostess, for she is copiously praised by all the distinguished guests who are present there. The Bradshaws arrived late and Sir William begs pardon for being late by explaining that one of his patients, Septimus has committed suicide. At first Clarissa feels unhappy at the thought that death has intruded itself into her party, but soon she begins to feel an odd sympathy with the unknown young man who has committed suicide, and considers that he has been able to perform an act of courage which she will never be able to accomplish. He has reached the centre, while she remains standing on the periphery of life and is aware of her empty and purposeless life. Peter’s love for Clarissa begins to return and he wonders whether she whom he loved in his youth, still lives beneath the successful hostess of today! The novel has thus an ironic end. No solutions to any problems are suggested, and nothing shocking occur to round off the story.
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