Through the characters in the novel, Virginia Woolf shows life as changing endlessly from moment to moment. Not only are they emotionally aware of the moment as it passes, but they also respond physically to the world around them. The range of characters is small: they belong to the upper-middle class of distinguished doctors and lawyers, of intellectuals and politician, of society hostesses whose place is simply decorative and entertaining.
She is a London society lady of fifty-one years old, the wife of Richard Dalloway, who holds extremely conventional views on politics and women’s rights. Clarissa is characterized by opposing feelings: her need for freedom and independence and her class consciousness. She continues to give parties to gain the admiration and approval of the others: this reveals a profound dissatisfaction with herself. Her life appears to be an effort towards order and peace, an attempt to overcome her weakness and sense of failure. She needs to make her home perfect, to make her social position glitter, to become an ideal human being. In this way, however, she imposes severe restrictions on her spontaneous feelings. She is conscious of her frigidity. Sexuality is to her both a cause of ambivalence and a source of confusion. The splintering effects of a tacitly possessive father, the frustration of a genuine love, the need to refuse Peter Walsh, a man who would forced her to share everything.
He is an extremely sensitive man who can suddenly fall prey to panic and fear, or feelings or guilt. Despite this, he regards himself as a Messiah come to renew society. The cause of the feelings that brutalize him is his inability to feel, especially in connection with the death of his best friend Evans during the war. So he is a character specifically connected with the war, he is a “shell-shock” case, one of the victims of industrialized war, who sought medical treatment in the special centres set up by 1922. After the war Septimus is haunted by the spectre of Evans, he suffers from headaches and insomnia, he cannot stand the idea of having a child, he is sexually impotent.
Mrs. Dalloway is a novel about emancipation and acquisition of class consciousness. In fact, Clarissa can decide by herself, can decide to don’t marry a man who loves her, but would her as a projection of himself. However, it is not a womanliest book: in the end we see Sally, that during her youth was rebel and secure thanks to her youthful force, with an husband and five sons, made old, but happy, satisfaction.
The novel also shows the un-adherence to the reality and the vacuum of a society decomposing, united to the inclemency of the time passed, to put the decision of continue to live in the moment in which the revelation could induce to a gesture of refuse of a vain existence. In the end we can understand the connection between the protagonists, Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith. Septimus, during the novel, see the same horror, the same terror that Clarissa can see in the end, when she hear that he is died.
We see that the time is not passed for Peter, because he stopped himself in the moment in which he was refused (in fact he continue to play with the pen-knife). And the time is not passed for Clarissa, because she didn’t live, she didn’t take up any responsibility, until, during the party in the secure house of the Minister Dalloway, lives as a personal wound the suicide of veteran persecuted by the nightmares, without possibility of escape, and by the obtuse doctor guest of the party. He talks about the episode without the pathos that she feel, and then sublimate her state: Clarissa in balance on a sleeping universe through the understanding of the gesture of the young man, can understand an air-hole, a gleam, taking a meaning to his suicide find a motive to live. That is the revelation that in the life there is something that can push us to go forward, however the imbecility of the environment.
The connection between Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith
The plot does not connect Clarissa and Septimus, apart from the news of his death at her party. But they are similar in many respects:
– Their response to experience is always given in physical metaphors;
– Her dependence upon Richard for stability, his dependence upon Lucrezia for protection;
– Their attitudes towards their marriages, both founded on need rather than on love;
– Clarissa’s frigidity and Septimus’s impotence.
The main difference between Clarissa and Septimus, which has aroused the theory that he is her double, is that Septimus is not always able to distinguish between his personal response and the nature of external reality. His psychic paralysis leads him to suicide whereas Clarissa never loses her awareness of the outside world as something external to herself. In the end she acknowledges her deceptions, accepts her old age and the idea of death, and is prepared to go on.
The final part of the novel suggests a stately image of selfhood, of a new Clarissa, more fully conscious, and perhaps more enduring. This is the Clarissa neither Peter Walsh nor Richard Dalloway will ever know as the reader knows her, having seen, flash after flash, through her consciousness.