confinement and past regrets in Mrs Dalloway

It was fascinating to watch her, moving about, that old lady, crossing the room, coming to the window.  Could she see her?  It was fascinating, with people still laughing and shouting in the drawing-room, to watch that old woman, quite quietly, going to bed.  She pulled the blind now.  The clock began striking.  The young man had killed himself; but she did not pity him; with the clock striking the hour, one , two, three, she did not pity him, with all this going on, she repeated, and the words came to her, Fear no more the heat of the sun.  She must go back to them.  But what an extraordinary night!  She felt somehow very like him–the young man who had killed himself.  She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away.  The clock was striking.  The leaden circles dissolved in the air.  He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun.  But she must go back.  She must assemble.  She must find Sally and Peter.  And she came in from the little room.  (186)

Woolf, Virginia.  Mrs. Dalloway.  New York: Harcourt, 1981.

Notes:  The old woman in the room that Clarissa sees through her window symbolizes the confinement that she experiences in her life due to her past decision.  She chooses to marry  Richard because of societal pressures instead of following her heart.  She would have been happier marrying peter, or, more importantly, she would have been the happiest if she would have been with Sally, as she found her to be truly exciting and exuberant.  However, she does not consummate her relationships with neither of these people; hence, she has lost her identity and she is “not even Clarissa anymore; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway” (11).  The fact that Clarissa and Septimus does not meet in the story signifies their parallel lives.  Like Clarissa, Septimus is tormented by the past–as evidenced by him suffering from post-traumatic stress from the war.  Nonetheless, Septimus is able to free himself from his past and any potential confinements.  When the doctor is about to institutionalize him, Septimus jumps out the window and commits suicide.  This signifies that even though he is dead, his essence, his soul is free because he is not willing to abide by societal expectations and restrictions.  On the other hand, Clarissa is confined by societal pressures.  Septimus is able to free himself from his past, while Clarissa supresses her past by engaging in trivial pursuits.

1 thought on “confinement and past regrets in Mrs Dalloway

  1. This is one of my favorite passages, and I like your points on it. I do struggle though, thinking about Clarissa’s happiness with Richard vs. Peter. To be honest, I think Clarissa is in fact happy with Richard, he gives her the space she needs in her life, while at the same time we see how they both care fondly for one another (Richard bringing Clarissa flowers, and Richard attempting to pick out a gift for her, and knowing that she wouldn’t want anything material). And I feel that Peter would have absolutely suffocated her. Despite their young love for one another, time and time again Peter is constantly interrupting Clarissa, whether it be her thoughts (his annoying comment about her “musing among the vegetables), or his overbearing emotions.

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