Study Guide

Mrs Dalloway Repression

By Virginia Woolf


Section 1
Mrs Dalloway (Clarissa)

She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day. (1.15)

Clarissa has two very different mindsets: one is her belief in beauty and life’s precious moments, and the other (deep beneath that) is a fear of death and isolation. This second feeling she holds deep inside, but it’s always there.

It rasped her, though, to have stirring about in her this brutal monster! to hear twigs cracking and feel hooves planted down in the depths of that leaf-encumbered forest, the soul. (1.22)

Clarissa tries to control her feelings of deep hatred for Miss Kilman. She doesn’t want Miss Kilman to get the better of her by showing that she’s affected by her – but, of course, she is.

Septimus Warren Smith

But failure one conceals. She must take him away into some park. (1.39)

Rezia works very hard to hide Septimus from the world. She doesn’t want others to figure out that he’s mad, because then she’ll have to admit it to herself.

Section 2
Mrs Dalloway (Clarissa)

So the room was an attic; the bed narrow; and lying there reading, for she slept badly, she could not dispel a virginity preserved through childbirth which clung to her like a sheet. (2.10)

Clarissa’s most profound moment of erotic expression was with Sally Seton – that one kiss. She feels that she’s a virgin now that she sleeps by herself.

[…] she felt like a nun who has left the world and feels fold round her the familiar veils and the response to old devotions. (2.2)

Any feelings of carefree sexuality that Clarissa once had as a young woman are now gone. Now that she’s married and has a child, she represses all her sexual desires.

Section 4
Septimus Warren Smith

"Communication is health; communication is happiness, communication –" he muttered. (4.99)

One of Septimus' most important messages is about communication. He believes birds are talking to him in Greek, and he just wishes he could find the right words to express how he feels. Finally his death becomes the only available form of communication – and Clarissa senses that.

[…] he became engaged one evening when the panic was on him – that he could not feel. (4.89)

Fearing that he was unable to experience emotion, Septimus became engaged at the spur of the moment. The war caused him to become numb, repressing all this feelings, and he hoped that Rezia could restore feeling inside him again.

Section 5
Miss Kilman

She was about to split asunder, she felt. The agony was so terrific. If she could grasp her, if she could clasp her, if she could make her hers absolutely and forever and then die; that was all she wanted. But to sit here, unable to think of anything to say; to see Elizabeth turning against her; to be felt repulsive even by her – it was too much; she could not stand it. The thick fingers curled inwards. (5.71)

Miss Kilman’s love for Elizabeth is very possessive and desperate. She knows that the harder she tries, the more she’ll drive Elizabeth away.

Section 6
Mrs Dalloway (Clarissa)

She had once thrown a shilling into the Serpentine, never anything more. But he had flung it away. (6.85)

Clarissa had never been forced to give anything up and had never taken any real risks. She compares throwing a coin into a lake to Septimus’ throwing himself out the window. Both she and Septimus have been repressing emotions, they just deal with it differently.

Why, after all, did she do these things? Why seek pinnacles and stand drenched in fire? Might it consume her anyhow! Burn her to cinders! (6.7)

Clarissa worries that her party will be a failure. She wonders why she sets herself up for failure and disappointment. These are all feelings that she cannot express to the outside world for fear of losing her facade of upper-class perfection.