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Septimus as the double of Mrs.

Dalloway
Throughout the novel, Clarissa is contrasted with Septimus Warren Smith, a shell-shocked World
War I hero who suffers from mental illness. In many ways, Septimus serves as Clarissa's alter-ego or
double. The two never meet, but Septimus' eventual suicide is mentioned during Mrs. Dalloway's
party.

Virginia Woolf's novel follows Clarissa Dalloway through one day of her life, in which she prepares
for and hosts a party. The reader enters into the thoughts of Clarissa and of several other
characters, most of whom come in contact with Mrs. Dalloway at some point during the day, but a
couple whom she never meets. There is a wide range of opinions about Clarissa, and whether or
not she is dealing with her existential demons successfully, but one cannot overlook her having a
lot of patience, despite the clutter of self-doubt that she bumps up against, throughout the day.

The novel, in the writers own words, attempts to present the world seen by the sane and the
insane side by side, through the characters of the sane woman protagonist Mrs. Dalloway, and the
insane World War veteran Septimus Warren Smith, and the societal oppression confronted by
both in the form of brutality, meaninglessness and loneliness of the modern British society. The
sanity of Mrs. Dalloway and the other characters is as much open to question as the overt insanity
of Septimus; they are frequently shown to exchange places as far as normalcy and mental illness is
concerned.

To Virginia Woolf, the concept of insanity is most intimately concerned with the loss of
communication with the world outside ones mind and the resultant loneliness and depression.
Clarissa, who, in order to escape the tyranny of unexpressed desires, is forever, mending her dress;
playing about; going to parties; running to the House and back and all that (46). This is also
evident in the character of Septimus Warren Smith, who feels like an outcast who gazed back at
the inhabited regions, who lay like a drowned sailor, on the shore of the world. (Mrs. Dalloway.
2005: 101) The suppression of emotions and feelings in the modern times and circumstances, the
fact that one gets crushed and numb under the pressures of modern existence and loses
communication with the outside world is a most terrifying tragedy related to the world of sanity
and insanity.

Septimus allowed Woolf to discuss a broader social context: the aftermath of the war. Septimus
Warren- the shell-shocked victim of First World War, experiences these pressures related to
disorder, degradation, futility, sordidness and corruption of the modern life in the following words:
The world has raised its whip; where will it descend? (19). This emotional paralysis is the earliest
symptom of mental illness in Septimus. When his officer Evans gets killed in the war just before the
Armistice in Italy, Septimus, far from showing any emotion at the end of such a valuable
relationship, congratulates himself upon feeling very little and very reasonably.(94) Four years of
war had blunted his emotions and had made him brutal. The war, for a while, had provided him
with the false identity of being a brave survivor and a decorated hero: The War had taught him. It
was sublime. He had gone through the whole show, friendship, European War, death, had won
promotion, was still under thirty and was bound to survive. (94) It is only later when Evans memory
begins to haunt him that the panic that he could not feel dawns over him and he is overpowered
by the feelings of shame and self-disgust. His sense of guilt and crime is further extended when he
gets married to an Italian girl- Lucrezia without really loving her.

Septimus, being Clarissas double and alter ego reaffirms Virginias passionate condemnation of
the horrors of womens psychiatric incarceration, which she herself had experienced on more than
one occasions. Woolf herself, in one of her introductions to Mrs. Dalloway states that, originally it
was Clarissa Dalloway who was to 'kill herself'. The close bonding between Septimus and Clarissa is
also reflected in their antagonistic attitude to the demands of the status quo. In the words of
Nancy Toppin Bazin, each of them represent one of the psychic moods of bipolar disorder which
is gendered in the sense that each shares to some extent the vision of the other, Clarissa is
predominantly feminine and maniac whereas Septimus is predominantly masculine and
depressive. (1973: 103) Septimus and Clarissa are both fiercely obsessed in their own ways
with a compulsive need for personal autonomy.

What a lark! What a plunge!- the beginning of the third paragraph of Mrs. Dalloway contains in
miniature the two contrary movements of the novel. If the fall into death is one pole of the novel,
fulfilled in Septimus Smiths suicidal plunge, the other pole is the rising motion of building up,
fulfilled in Clarissa Dalloways party.

Yoked by the violence of Septimus suicide and Clarissas uncanny empathy with his act, this
unlikely pair, who unknowingly shadow each other through a post-war June day in London,
dramatize the arbitrariness of social and sexual destinies which leave the one feeling (in the
role of hostess) like a stake driven in at the top of her stairs and the other feeling (in the role of
mad veteran) exposed very high, on the back of the world.

Clarissa Dalloway, pre-menopausal, a wife, mother and gracious hostess, navigates a world that
includes her devoted but preoccupied husband Richard; her seventeen-year-old grown up
daughter Elizabeth; her former suitor Peter Walsh who still enchants her, and memories of her
youthful passion for the amazing Sally Seton. Septimus Warren Smith, back from the war and
emotionally ravaged by it, struggles to cling to the promise of a normal sane existence as he sees
it embodied in his young wife, Lucrezia, but finds himself slipping away into the dark and blessed
oblivion he desperately craves. The disjunction between the two worlds of Clarissa and Septimus is
cleared with the realization that her death-wish fulfilled in his leap from the window.

By suggesting that Septimus is the alter ego of Clarissa, Virginia Woolf is trying to illustrate that a
side of Clarissa is dying, or is submerged in madness. Septimus, in killing himself at the end of the
novel, proves himself to be Clarissas soul twin who dies so that she can survive. He serves the
function of a scapegoat figure, the one who is sacrificed so that society may cleanse, redeem and
re-fuel itself. In the words of Suzette Henke: through his suicide, Septimus communicates with
Clarissa, who understands his gesture of defiance against an authoritarian society that forced his
soul. (1981: 139)

Clarissa and Septimus are described as being bird-like in some way. Septimus is about thirty, pale-
faced, beak-nosed (14). Where Clarissa is seen as having a touch of the bird about her, of the jay,
blue-green (4). The characters are seen as two sides of the same coin, Clarissa being a host, and
therefore very savvy of social laws and customs, while Septimus is insane, and cannot act inside
societys normal laws. Ultimately, they both can be seen as one worldview split into two different
lives; one has conformed to society, and the other has not.

Mrs. Dalloway swings between the dialectic of Clarissa and Septimus, who represent two halves-
the living and the dying- of the same soul, as much as Woolf, self-reflexively, batters her mind for
answers she cannot possibly find either in life or out of it.