Mrs Dalloway is filled with repression. Our title character, Clarissa, is constantly holding in emotion so she can conform to English social standards. What she feels on the inside and what she projects to the outside world are very different. Inside, she has deep feelings of anxiety and a big fear of death. Woolf suggests that British society expects and almost demands that people repress emotion, so that someone like Septimus must hold in his madness because it wouldn’t reflect well upon society to have a soldier act in an unmanly way; British society places great pressure on the soldiers to behave like heroes. Sexual repression is also a huge issue in this novel; Clarissa must repress her sexual feelings toward Sally, and we get the idea that Septimus was hiding a sexual interest in Evans before his death. Talking about these kinds of sexual issues was new in Woolf's time, and she treats the subject beautifully.
Questions About Repression
- What is Clarissa holding inside? Is there something she wants to express but cannot?
- In what ways does British society promote repression in its citizens?
- Are any of the characters in Mrs Dalloway not repressing some emotion?
- Is the war to blame for this repression or was this an issue before the war as well? What clues does Virginia Woolf give us to help answer this question?
Chew on This
Men like Dr Bradshaw are the cause of the emotional repression felt by so many British citizens.
Now that Sally has become Lady Rosseter, she must repress much more of herself than before.