Study Guide

Mrs Dalloway Isolation

By Virginia Woolf


Section 1
Septimus Warren Smith

Septimus, lately taken from life to death, the Lord who had come to renew society, who lay like a coverlet, a snow blanket smitten only by the sun, for ever unwasted, suffering for ever, the scapegoat, the eternal sufferer, but he did not want it, he moaned, putting from him with a wave of his hand that eternal suffering, that eternal loneliness. (1.78)

Septimus imagines himself as a lonely savior figure. He believes that he has a message to share – that his suffering can at least teach something to others. In the end, it seems he's right: his death is certainly a lesson to Clarissa.

Septimus Warren Smith, aged about thirty, pale-faced, beak-nosed, wearing brown shoes and a shabby overcoat, with hazel eyes which had that look of apprehension in them which makes complete strangers apprehensive too. The world has raised its whip; where will it descend? (1.32)

Septimus' fear shows on his face, and creates fear in others. He thinks the world has it out for him.

Mrs Dalloway (Clarissa)

[…] 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 […]. (1.3)

Even before the war, Clarissa experienced deep anxiety on a daily basis. Even the simplest actions stir her fear of death now. Because she doesn't connect to other people, she has to deal with this anxiety on her own, which only exacerbates the problem.

Lucrezia Smith (a.k.a. Rezia)

Horror! horror! she wanted to cry. (She had left her people; they had warned her what would happen.) (1.84)

Rezia struggles with Septimus’ madness. She misses her sisters and Italy, and feels that she doesn’t deserve to suffer as much as she does. She's not only emotionally isolated, but physically isolates as well.

Section 4
Peter Walsh

Such are the visions which ceaselessly float up, pace beside, put their faces in front of, the actual thing; often overpowering the solitary traveller and taking away from him the sense of the earth, the wish to return, and giving him for substitute a general peace […]. (4.4)

As he drifts off on the park bench, Peter imagines himself as the "solitary traveler." He has visions, and feels a sense of loneliness and peace at the same time. Are loneliness and peace often found together in <em>Mrs Dalloway</em>?

Yet they were quite alone. But he began to talk aloud, answering people, arguing, laughing, crying, getting very excited and making her write things down. (4.38)

At home, Septimus demands that Rezia record his wild thoughts. He rants and raves but believes he has something vital that he can't keep inside.

Septimus Warren Smith

The rope was cut; he mounted; he was free, as it was decreed that he, Septimus, the lord of men, should be free; alone (since his wife had thrown away her wedding ring; since she had left him), he, Septimus, was alone […]. (4.41)

Septimus is oppressed by the idea that he has to act normal for his wife. When he sees that she no longer wears her wedding ring, he feels like he’s finally been released from that responsibility.

So he was deserted. The whole world was clamouring: Kill yourself, kill yourself, for our sakes […] now that he was quite alone, condemned, deserted, as those who are about to die are alone, there was a luxury in it, an isolation full of sublimity; a freedom which the attached can never know (4.93).

In spite of having horrific visions, Septimus doesn’t want to die. He believes the world wants him to die because he’s a living reminder of what war does to people and that it’s not all about being a hero.

Section 5
Mrs Dalloway (Clarissa)

And there is a dignity in people; a solitude; even between husband and wife a gulf; and that one must respect, thought Clarissa […] for one would not part with it oneself, or take it, against his will, from one's husband, without losing one's independence, one's self-respect – something, after all, priceless. (5.23)

Clarissa is comforted by the fact that Richard gives her space that Peter never would have. Peter’s love is oppressive and needy, but Richard respects that they’re two different people.

Septimus Warren Smith

Miracles, revelations, agonies, loneliness, falling through the sea, down, down into the flames, all were burnt out, for he had a sense, as he watched Rezia trimming the straw hat for Mrs Peters, of a coverlet of flowers (5.109)

Septimus has a vision of bursting into flames. Even sitting in the calm of his room watching Rezia work, he feels completely alone and is disturbed by visions of death.