Study Guide

Mrs Dalloway Madness

By Virginia Woolf


Section 1
Lucrezia Smith (a.k.a. Rezia)

She could not sit beside him when he stared so and did not see her and made everything terrible; sky and tree, children playing, dragging carts, blowing whistles, falling down; all were terrible. (1.66)

Septimus’ madness ruins everything. Rezia cannot enjoy the simplest of everyday things knowing that Septimus is crazy, and getting worse.

Septimus Warren Smith

Men must not cut down trees. There is a God. (He noted such revelations on the backs of envelopes.) Change the world. No one kills from hatred. Make it known (he wrote it down). He waited. He listened. A sparrow perched on the railing opposite chirped Septimus, Septimus, four or five times over and went on, drawing its notes out, to sing freshly and piercingly in Greek words how there is no crime and, joined by another sparrow, they sang in voices prolonged and piercing in Greek words, from trees in the meadow of life beyond a river where the dead walk, how there is no death. (1.70)

Septimus dwells on the idea of the crime, which is never totally defined. Woolf seems to suggest that the crime is beyond one person’s actions.

The excitement of the elm trees rising and falling, rising and falling with all their leaves alight and the colour thinning and thickening from blue to the green of a hollow wave, like plumes on horses' heads, feathers on ladies', so proudly they rose and fell, so superbly, would have sent him mad. But he would not go mad. He would shut his eyes; he would see no more. (1.62)

Having experienced sheer terror, Septimus is really moved by visions of beauty (heck, we’re moved by beauty even without this terror business). The trees are very suggestive to him, just as flowers are suggestive to Clarissa.

So, thought Septimus, looking up, they are signalling to me. Not indeed in actual words; that is, he could not read the language yet; but it was plain enough, this beauty, this exquisite beauty, and tears filled his eyes as he looked at the smoke words languishing and melting in the sky […]. (1.60)

Part of Septimus’ madness is striving for communication. He thinks birds and airplanes are trying to tell him something, and in the end, he attempts to communicate through his suicide.

And there the motor car stood, with drawn blinds, and upon them a curious pattern like a tree, Septimus thought, and this gradual drawing together of everything to one centre before his eyes, as if some horror had come almost to the surface and was about to burst into flames, terrified him. (1.33)

Even when looking at something as ordinary as a motor car, Septimus can become terrified. Everyday life is now just as frightening as his memories of war.

Section 4
Septimus Warren Smith

He said people were talking behind the bedroom walls. Mrs Filmer thought it odd. He saw things too – he had seen an old woman's head in the middle of a fern. (4.37)

Septimus’ shell-shock involves seeing and hearing strange things. It’s hard to avoid the judgment of others.

No crime; love; he repeated, fumbling for his card and pencil, when a Skye terrier snuffed his trousers and he started in an agony of fear. It was turning into a man! He could not watch it happen! It was horrible, terrible to see a dog become a man! At once the dog trotted away. (4.43)

Daily life is agony for Septimus. Transformations occur right before his eyes, and he lives in constant fear.

In the street, vans roared past him; brutality blared out on placards; men were trapped in mines; women burnt alive; and once a maimed file of lunatics being exercised or displayed for the diversion of the populace (who laughed aloud), ambled and nodded and grinned past him, in the Tottenham Court Road, each half apologetically, yet triumphantly, inflicting his hopeless woe. And would <em>he</em> go mad? (4.82)

Part of Septimus’ madness is that he sees the madness in everything else. He can’t get the combat images out of his head and he seems to have some psychic connection to other people struggling with madness.

Sir William Bradshaw (Dr Bradshaw)

But he was not mad, was he? Sir William said he never spoke of "madness"; he called it not having a sense of proportion. (4.119)

Dr Bradshaw’s way of managing his patients is by denying that they’re "mad," and instead considering psychological problems in light of proportion. He is much more of a scientist than a caretaker.

He could see the first moment they came into the room (the Warren Smiths they were called); he was certain directly he saw the man; it was a case of extreme gravity. It was a case of complete breakdown – complete physical and nervous breakdown, with every symptom in an advanced stage, he ascertained in two or three minutes (writing answers to questions, murmured discreetly, on a pink card). (4.106)

Dr Bradshaw notices the madness that Dr Holmes seems all too willing to ignore. Septimus is an extreme example.