Study Guide

Mrs Dalloway Suffering

By Virginia Woolf


Section 1
Peter Walsh

For why go back like this to the past? he thought. Why make him think of it again? Why make him suffer, when she had tortured him so infernally? Why? (1.59)

Peter still suffers emotionally over being rejected by Clarissa. He can’t help but constantly return to the past in order to try to make sense of their relationship.

Septimus Warren Smith

Look! Her wedding ring slipped – she had grown so thin. It was she who suffered – but she had nobody to tell. (1.66)

Septimus is too far gone to really be concerned with his wife. He can’t handle the fact that his madness causes her to suffer, too. Her suffering is, of course, just another sign that everyone was affected by the war, not just those fighting in it.

[Hugh’s] his wife had some internal ailment, nothing serious, which, as an old friend, Clarissa Dalloway would quite understand without requiring him to specify. Ah yes, she did of course; what a nuisance […]. (1.9)

Hugh’s wife suffers from some vague illness – just the kind that Lady Bruton can’t stand. It’s almost expected that she would be ill, so Clarissa doesn’t ask for specifics; many women were "ill" from the oppression of society and all of the expectations placed upon them.

Miss Kilman

[…] Miss Kilman would do anything for the Russians, starved herself for the Austrians, but in private inflicted positive torture, so insensitive was she, dressed in a green mackintosh coat. (1.21)

Miss Kilman uses her suffering as a weapon. For her, suffering conveys a political message and gives her a cause.

Section 4
Lucrezia Smith (a.k.a. Rezia)

One cannot bring children into a world like this. One cannot perpetuate suffering, or increase the breed of these lustful animals, who have no lasting emotions, but only whims and vanities, eddying them now this way, now that. (4.81)

Septimus and Rezia would never have children – that would mean bringing more suffering into the world. Human beings can only be miserable, they think.

She was exposed; she was surrounded by the enormous trees, vast clouds of an indifferent world, exposed; tortured; and why should she suffer? Why? (4.36)

Rezia has no one to turn to. Her sisters are in Milan and she feels that London is a cold and unfriendly place.

Mrs Dalloway (Clarissa)

Those ruffians, the Gods, shan't have it all their own way, – her notion being that the Gods, who never lost a chance of hurting, thwarting and spoiling human lives were seriously put out if, all the same, you behaved like a lady. That phase came directly after Sylvia's death – that horrible affair. (4.69)

Clarissa witnessed her own sister being crushed by a tree – an accident that was apparently her father’s fault. Like Septimus’ reaction to the loss of Evans, Clarissa moves on and behaves "properly" (meaning stoically) in the face of trauma. Clearly that doesn’t help anything.

Peter Walsh

So she left him. And he had a feeling that they were all gathered together in a conspiracy against him – laughing and talking – behind his back. There he stood by Miss Parry's chair as though he had been cut out of wood, he talking about wild flowers. Never, never had he suffered so infernally! (4.20)

When Peter meets Richard, he immediately knows that Clarissa will marry him. He has been replaced, and feels abandoned.

Section 5
Miss Kilman

If only she could make her weep; could ruin her; humiliate her; bring her to her knees crying, You are right! But this was God's will, not Miss Kilman's. It was to be a religious victory. So she glared; so she glowered. (5.40)

Miss Kilman wants nothing more than to provoke a response from Clarissa. She wants to have all of Clarissa's privileges (and to be her, in a sense) and at the same time, she wants to destroy her – talk about a tough spot. The two women fight a war over control of Elizabeth.

But no one knew the agony! He said, pointing to the crucifix, that God knew. But why should she have to suffer when other women, like Clarissa Dalloway, escaped? Knowledge comes through suffering, said Mr Whittaker. (5.56)

Miss Kilman’s only comfort is in God. Going to church is her way of making sense of her own suffering.