Septimus Warren Smith | Character Analysis in Mrs Dalloway

Septimus Warren Smith | Character Analysis in Mrs Dalloway

Mrs Dalloway Septimus

Septimus Warren Smith is about thirty years of age. He is pale-faced, beak-nosed with a look of apprehension in the presence of which complete strangers are made apprehensive too. He was at one time a promising young man, but the war in which he participated with distinction, took away from his life all that was fascinating and made him a ruined man in all respects.

While in the army he befriended his officer, Evans: but he was shocked beyond repairs when he was killed by a shell. He could never recover from the shock of the death of Evans, so the shell which killed Evans virtually brought about a destruction in his life. Dead Evans continued to haunt him. He lost his balance of mind and became insane for all practical purposes. He wavers and quivers and threatens to burst into flames. He wants to remain unnoticed, for he feels that the people in the world are raising their fingers at him. He is not in harmony with the world, so he resides in his thoughts without caring to notice what is actually happening around him. Dr. Holmes under whose care he is, tells his wife, Lucrezia, that there is nothing wrong with him, and all that he requires is that he should begin to take interest in the world. But despite his best efforts this cannot be effected. She tries to divert his attention towards the aeroplane, advertising for toffees. The whole crowd of people is enjoying this sight; only Septimus does not pay attention to it. He is lost, as it were, in the crowd, and when his wife asks him to go ahead, he simply jumps up startled.

Vanity, ambition, idealism, passion, courage, laziness are some of the characteristics which contribute to build up his personality. Before he goes mad his personality radiates them all. He is gentle, serious, clever, shy and anxious to improve himself. He has been in love with one Isabel Pole and has lectured on Shakespeare. Septimus joins the army when the war comes and goes to France as a volunteer to save England. He shows manliness and is promoted and also does not care for the shells exploding by his side. He is not moved with sentiments when Evans dies. But when the war is over, he begins to consider to get fits of fear, particularly in the evenings. He begins to consider whether life has any meaning.

His wife feels lonely; she therefore wants to have children, and she cries out one day in a fit of desolation. But it produces no effect on him. His generation has been ruined by war, it has shocked them all. He begins to feel now that he is a criminal for marrying Rezia without bestowing love on her and for outraging the modesty of Miss Isabel Pole. The punishment for such a criminal like him, he feels, is death.

Septimus suffers from neurosis and represents the seamy side of contemporary western civilization. Interestingly the very name – Septimus – is a reference to the Seventh Circle of Dante’s Inferno. The war has come to an end, but for people like Septimus, who are its victims, it still continues. He is a victim of neurosis or nervous breakdown. He is the double of Clarissa Dalloway, the principal character, as such he represents her own boredom and fatigue. He is the spokesman of the novelist meant to convey to the readers the dire consequences which follow in the wake of war and to satirize the superficial aspects of western civilization.

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Septimus is a case of complete nervous breakdown, caused by the dread of life in the trenches. He is abnormally susceptible to sound and colour and has no desire to live as he says again and again, “let us kill ourselves”. The world outside him and the beautiful sights and sounds of nature do not evoke any response in him. He is a physical and mental wreck with a soul cut asunder. Behind this beauty he sees Evans, his friend, who has been killed in the war. When Peter Walsh comes towards him he imagines that it is Evans coming out of the dead towards him. He has an obsession of fear for people like Holmes and Dr. Bradshaw, who advise him to take interest in the outside world.

We find through him some aspects of the Western Civilisation satirised. He symbolises the evil effects of war, of the neurosis, madness and tragedy and suffering, brought about by it. The unthinking acceptance of life and its complacency, as is evident in the characters of Mrs. Dalloway and Hugh Whitbreads, are conveyed through him. Through him the novelist lashes out against the outward glitter (pomp and show) of the western civilisation, which has beneath it what is known as sordidness, ugliness and wickedness. On seeing the ambulance which carries the dead body of Septimus, Peter Walsh remarks, “And that is civilization. The remark is ironic and its significance is too obvious to need any explanation.

Septimus is something of a tragic character in the Aristotelian sense. He arouses pity and fear, although in his case there is no hamartia in the strict sense of the term. In spite of him, things have gone wrong and he is the victim eventually. He seems to be in the hands of some power beyond his control. The novelist had no idea to make him a tragic character, when she wrote this book. The purpose of the novelist in making this character what he is, is to exhibit that experience is a flux and that persons removed from each other in space as well as in their station in life can establish contact with one another. The tragedy of Septimus’s life is presented amid this flux.

1 thought on “Septimus Warren Smith | Character Analysis in Mrs Dalloway”

  1. “He [Septimus Warren Smith] is a victim of neurosis or nervous breakdown.” You think? How about acute, permanent psycho-emotional trauma from his war experience? And sadly, we all know Virginia was writing her own darkly fated path. What artists have always done. Imagine the desperation that allowed her to weigh herself down with rocks [they didn’t really anchor her to the river bottom] and walk into the water and submerge herself until she opened her mouth and inhaled. A painful death. So we love and grieve both Septimus and Virginia. And what about his middle name: Warren? Look at any aerial photo of the extensive maze, or warren, of trenches in WWI: a massive warren of men and rats. Smith? Your average Joe amongst millions of average Joes. Or ‘smith” as in iron smith, sword smith, word smith. I am forever heartbroken.


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