Clarissa and Septimus from ‘Mrs.Dalloway’ by V.Woolf (1925)
The text is made up of four sections; from line 1 to 33 Clarissa Dalloway, a middle-aged upper middle class woman, is visiting the florist’s to buy some flowers for the party she is giving that night.
Her visit is interrupted by the explosion of a tyre of a car in the street.
From line 34 to 52, narration focuses on people’s reactions to the explosion and their speculations about who might be in the car.
From line 53 to 57, Septimus Warren Smith is introduced. He is a War veteran who suffers from shell-shock and he has just been at a doctor’s for advice.
He is walking along Bond Street with his wife Lucrezia, an Italian girl, whose appearance and thoughts are revealed to the readers a few lines after, from line 74 to the end. Lucrezia is worried because Septimus said he wants to kill himself.
Lines 58 to 73 focus on the busy traffic in the street and Septimus’s thoughts.
In the passage there is very little action; the main event is a violent explosion due to the bursting of a tyre of a car in Bond Street, in London and the chauffeur who pulls down the window of the car. This makes people think that there is someone important in the car.
The explosion starts a series of reactions; Miss Pym goes to the window and apologizes for the noise coming from the car; passers-by stop and stare and someone starts speculating who the person in the car might be; Mrs. Dalloway goes to the window and looks with curiosity; Septimus is frightened, he thinks he is blocking the way and that everyone is looking at him (ll.71-72); Lucrezia at first wonders who might be in the car (77-78) , then she feels afraid everyone might notice her husband’s strange behavior (84-85).
Septimus is in the grip of a very serious mental illness. In the text there are several sentences that convey the idea that Septimus suffers from depression. Lines 57 focuses on his alienation from reality, from line 71 to 73 he feels guilty, in lines 82-83 his reaction to his wife’s words is angry and aggressive, he seems to panic from line 67 to 69 and he shows his tendency to lose balance in line 87 where his intention to suicide is clearly stated.
The technique used by Woolf in this excerpt is typically Modernist; there is still a third person omniscient narrator , a commenting voice who knows everything about the characters. This voice appears occasionally among the subjective thoughts of the characters to give order. The point of view changes constantly, often shifting from one character’s stream of consciousness to another’s within a single paragraph. Woolf mostly uses free indirect thought using third person singular pronouns. This technique allows subtle and smooth transitions between the thoughts of a large number of characters. She wants to convey reality as a continuous flow of subjective impressions and emotions and to stress the importance of apparently meaningless facts as stimuli to psychological responses.
As said before, the action is reduced to nothing and there is a continuous flow from outer to inner reality.
The focus is on the characters’ perceptions and reactions. Mrs. Dalloway is presented as a kind, elegant woman. She is sensitive to smell and colors and likes flowers. She is capable of hatred and she is also curious.
The language of the senses is used throughout the passage but especially from line 1 to 20 where flowers are described through Mrs. Dalloway’s senses. There are references to sight, hearing , smell and touch but the prevailing sense is sight. Woolf wants to emphasize that the characters’ reactions to the outside world are both emotional and physical.
The outside world is the busy city life of London in the summer. It’s late afternoon, in June and the streets of London are crowded with the signs of a changing society. There are cars and other vehicles and newspapers.
Mrs. Dalloway, as she will later say in the novel, loves life, London, this moment of June.