Study Guide

Mrs Dalloway Water Imagery

By Virginia Woolf

Water Imagery

Virginia Woolf sadly committed suicide by drowning herself. For this reason, it's hard to see the images of water in the novel as anything but grim. But as with Septimus' suicide, bad things don’t always mean, well, bad things. Woolf seems to purposely leave the water imagery ambiguous. At times, water suggests a lack of boundaries or control; throughout the story, Woolf uses language of diving and plunging, as though she’s bravely entering water. And Septimus once discussed committing suicide as he stood near a river.

At the other times, water seems to indicate clarity and serenity. Clarissa’s party dress is like a mermaid’s, which suggests a certain attraction to water, or the idea that she feels natural in it. And as Peter sits in the park, he thinks of "sirens lolloping away on the green sea waves" (2.4). What other examples can you find?

Waves can also be like memories – coming and going, never staying completely still, and impossible to contain. Sometimes memories wash over Clarissa like water, like in the opening scene:

How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen. (1.2)

Do you read these words differently knowing that Virginia took her own life in water?