Study Guide

Mrs Dalloway Time

By Virginia Woolf


Section 1
Mrs Dalloway (Clarissa)

For having lived in Westminster – how many years now? over twenty, – one feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense (but that might be her heart, affected, they said, by influenza) before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. (1.5)

Part of Clarissa’s everyday life is the sound of Big Ben. She has come to anticipate (and be comforted while also disturbed by) the chiming of the bells.

[…] perhaps at midnight, when all boundaries are lost, the country reverts to its ancient shape, as the Romans saw it, lying cloudy, when they landed, and the hills had no names and rivers wound they knew not where – such was her darkness. (1.69)

For all of its tradition, England also has something timeless to it. Clarissa imagines that at night, all of London’s busy streets disappear and the city looks like it did way back during the Roman Empire.

What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. (1.2)

In this moment, the mere sound of a squeaky hinge transports Clarissa back in time. It makes her recall her youth at Bourton, her family’s country home.

This late age of the world's experience had bred in them all, all men and women, a well of tears. (1.16)

Life is different than it was just a decade earlier. Everyone has been impacted by the trauma of the war.

Section 2
Mrs Dalloway (Clarissa)

[…] one must pay back from this secret deposit of exquisite moments […]. (2.2)

Though Clarissa has a general fear of time, she cherishes individual moments. She feels that pleasure isn’t free: one must appreciate and "pay back" those who help provide such things.

Then, for that moment, she had seen an illumination; a match burning in a crocus; an inner meaning almost expressed. But the close withdrew; the hard softened. It was over – the moment. Against such moments (with women too) there contrasted (as she laid her hat down) the bed and Baron Marbot and the candle half-burnt. (2.10)

Clarissa recalls some of the moments of profound beauty in her life. Though she’s had these special moments, they always fade as quickly as they arrive.

[…] but she feared time itself, and read on Lady Bruton's face, as if it had been a dial cut in impassive stone, the dwindling of life; how year by year her share was sliced […]. (2.8)

To Clarissa, Lady Bruton represents the British past, customs, and tradition. Her face wears time in a frightening way though, as her aging reminds Clarissa of her own inevitable death.

The sound of Big Ben striking the half-hour struck out between them with extraordinary vigour, as if a young man, strong, indifferent, inconsiderate, were swinging dumb-bells this way and that. (2.92)

Big Ben has such a prominent role in the novel that the clock is almost a character. Big Ben disrupts, reminds, and comforts those who hear its hourly reminders.

Clarissa (crossing to the dressing-table) plunged into the very heart of the moment, transfixed it, there – the moment of this June morning on which was the pressure of all the other mornings, seeing the glass, the dressing-table, and all the bottles afresh, collecting the whole of her at one point (as she looked into the glass), seeing the delicate pink face of the woman who was that very night to give a party; of Clarissa Dalloway; of herself. (2.24)

Clarissa reflects on herself, thinking of how time has changed her. She’s still <em>Clarissa</em> at her essence, but she thinks that important events such as her party might be reflected in the way she looks.

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

"It is time," said Rezia.

The word "time" split its husk; poured its riches over him; and from his lips fell like shells, like shavings from a plane, without his making them, hard, white, imperishable words, and flew to attach themselves to their places in an ode to Time; an immortal ode to Time. (4.47-48)

Rezia’s efforts to get Septimus to the doctor are kind of futile. She can barely communicate with him, since he doesn’t take her words at face value.