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Faculty of Philology

Department of English


Alienation and Women’s Identity in Virginia

Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway


June, 2015

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction......................................................................................... 3

2. Alienation in Mrs. Dalloway ............................................................ 5

2.1The causes and consequences of alienation in Mrs. Dalloway......... 6

3. Women’s identity in Mrs. Dalloway ............................................ 17

3.1 Clarissa Dalloway and her unstable identity .............................. 18

3.2 Minor female characters and their limited lives ......................... 23





This paper focuses on the investigation of two of
the primary issues in Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs.
Dalloway that is Alienation and Women’s identity.
These specific issues were deemed worth
exploring since they have been subject to many
controversies and critical works throughout the
years,therefore in writing this paper the opinions
and views of different critics have been taken into
account. The aim of the study is to unveil the
causes and consequences of alienation and
women’s oppression in a post-World War I
society presented in Mrs. Dalloway. Also the
study shows Woolf’s concern and contributionas a
distinguished feminist woman writer into solving
women’s issues in her novels.

1. Introduction
The modern novelist Virginia Woolf wrote nine novels, a few short
story collections, biographies as well as non-fiction books. One of the
novels which were to become one of Woolf’s masterpieces and establish

her reputation is by all means Mrs. Dalloway, published in 1925
resulting from a combination of two short stories “Mrs. Dalloway in
Bond Street” and the unfinished “Prime Minister”. The novel, being red
superficially it may give the impression that it is a simple novel set in
London, giving us the account of a single day in June of 1923, having as
its main center the protagonist Clarissa Dalloway. However, one must
read between the lines to get to the heart of the novel and understand the
essence of it. As admitted in her diary (D2 248), in this novel Woolf’s
aim was to ‘give life and death, sanity and insanity; criticize the social
system and to show it at work at its most intense’ (as cited in Goldman,
2006, p.54). Woolf’s narrative technique shifts the focus of the narrative
between different characters, digging into their consciousness and
therefore creating a link between their lives, experiences, thoughts; a
technique which allows the reader to know the characters not by the
description provided from the author, yet by having access into their
thoughts, feelings and perceptions. Jane Goldman (2006, p.54) states
that many critics argue that the structure of Mrs. Dalloway is somewhat
similar to that of James Joyce’s Ulysses, the latter being similarly set on
a single June day, in Dublin 1916, and according to Goldman many
critics have mistakenly compared this ‘method of shifting and collective
free-indirect discourse in Mrs. Dalloway to Joyce’s stream-of-

Two of the characters in Mrs. Dalloway, namely Clarissa and Richard
Dalloway, are encountered in Woolf’s first novel The Voyage Out. In
Mrs. Dalloway Clarissa is the main focus of the novel, along with
Septimus Warren Smith and Peter Walsh whose memories, views on
life, thoughts, and experiences are presented during the course of a
single day of June. In contrast to Bildungsroman genre which deals with
an individual’s development, in this novel Woolf “evolves a genre that
might be termed the Erfahrungsroman, or novel of experience, in which
adults assess their lives, the choices they have made, and the impact of
events that have befallen them” (Ronchetti, 2004, p. 50). Clarissa
Dalloway is a woman in her fifties, the wife of the politician Richard
Dalloway belonging to the middle-class society. The day presented in
the novel begins with Clarissa making preparations for a party she is to
host in that very evening. Even though it may seem as an ordinary day it
appears to have a great significance for the main characters. During this
day Peter Walsh comes back to London from India with the hope that
the former friendship with Clarissa will be reestablished. On the other
hand Septimus, a mentally disturbed war veteran, commits suicide.
Towards the end of the novel we can notice that these experiences are
brought together at Clarissa’s party.
In this paper two different issues of the novel will be approached, that
is Alienation and Woman’s identity in Mrs. Dalloway. Throughout the
years there have been many critics who have contemplated on these

matters, yet it is still a topic worth conducting a study on it. Jeremy
Hawthorn in his Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway: A Study in Alienation
(1975)argues that madness in Virginia Woolf’s novel “is seen both as a
symbol and a result of alienation.” He believes that such alienation has
the power to cut the individual off from society, it denies the individual
“full human contact,” and exacerbates “any predisposition towards
mental disorder in an individual who had difficult in making contact
with other people” (as cited in Bloom, 2009, p.111). The main focus on
the issue of alienation will be Septimus, however its impact on some of
the other characters as well will be scrutinized. As a feminist writer one
of Woolf’s primary concerns was feminism and woman’s identity which
she did not hesitate to reveal in many of her works. As Goldman (2006,
p. 53) states feminism is one of the ‘broad axes’ on which Woolf’s
criticism turns. Mrs. Dalloway is not an exception. The original title of
the novel was The Hours, yet it was published under the title Mrs.
Dalloway which gives us a hint as to the importance of woman’s identity
in this novel. Woolf in this novel portrays women of the post-First
World War society and their vague lives shaped by patriarchal and
alienating society, sexual repression, ideologies of gender and other
conventional factors. One of the reasons why these specific issues are
appealing to me is that it is arguable that Clarissa Dalloway and
Septimus Warren Smith reflect in a way Virginia Woolf herself. It is
well known that Woolf had mental problems herself during her lifetime

which ultimately ended with suicide just like Septimus. Goldman (2006,
p.57) points out that “Septimus Warren Smith’s mental illness has
attracted many biographically based critical approaches to the novel,
showing how his appalling medical treatment parallels Woolf’s own”.
On the other hand Quentin Bell wrote a biography on Virginia Woolf
where her sexuality or the lack of it has been questioned. Clarissa seems
to mirror Woolf as far as sexuality is considered. Just like Clarissa has
affection for Sally Seton yet is forced to suppress her feelings, Woolf
had a similar affair with Vita Sackville-West (as cited in Goldman,
2006, p. 28). A further examination of these issues shall be provided in
the other sections.

2. Alienation in Mrs. Dalloway

Even though the time span in Mrs. Dalloway is limited to a single day
of June, this does not hinder Virginia Woolf from acquainting the reader
with the characters presented in the novel, their past, present as well as
thoughts and viewpoints related to the future. It is only through Woolf’s
writing technique which she called a ‘tunneling process’ that a link
between all the characters and their experiences comes to light. What a
better example than Septimus and Clarissa, the major characters who
never actually meet in the novel yet just by living in the same time
sequence their life experiences are paralleled. Clarissa Dalloway, a
politician’s wife and ‘a perfect hostess’ and Septimus Warren Smith, the
‘mad’ character share many similarities yet at the same time contrast
each other. As we get to know from Virginia Woolf, in the first version
of Mrs. Dalloway there was no specific character named Septimus
Smith, he appeared later only as Clarissa’s ‘double’ (as cited in Bloom,
2009, p. 113). Even if it be in varying extent and form the two
characters, without leaving behind other characters as well, face
alienation and its irredeemable consequences. However, Septimus
Warren Smith represents the utmost level of alienation ultimately
generating into madness. Hawthorn argues that alienation has the power
to deprive oneself of social contact which ultimately increases the
tendency of mental instability (as cited in Bloom, 2009, p.115).When we
contemplate upon Septimus’s condition we cannot help thinking of
Virginia Woolf and her own mental illness, which leads us to the
possibility that that could be the reason why she created such a character
in the first place. Goldman (2006, p.57) argues that “Septimus Warren
Smith’s mental illness has attracted many biographically based critical
approaches to the novel, showing how his appalling medical treatment
parallels Woolf’s own.”

2.1The Causes and Consequences of Alienation in Mrs. Dalloway

Woolf presentsSeptimus as a mentally disturbed young war veteran, a
victim of the First World War whose dream was to become a writer. A
promising writer whose creativity was blighted by the war experiences,
which eventually destroy him spiritually and physically as well. It was

Miss Isabel Pole, whose lectures on Shakespeare Septimus used to
attend prior to war, who encouraged his sense of a writer, the idea of
which fascinated him. Eventually Septimus grew fond of Miss Isabel
and the artistic world. Ironically, this dream and his affection for Miss
Isabel seem to be the seed which later on prospers into lethal
consequences for Septimus. As Ronchetti (2004, p.58) claims
“Septimus’s naïve idealism was such that he was among the first to
enlist when his country entered the war, hoping

are.” (Mrs. Dalloway, p.71)

During the war his officer Evans, with whom Septimus seems to have
established a special bond, died, yet Septimus felt so little or better to
say nothing upon his death. Not being aware that he was actually losing
his ability to feel, initially there was a feeling of pride prevailing
Septimus. He is deluded by the false idea of bravery that war instilled in

“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.” (Mrs.
Dalloway, p.71)

Later on Evan’s memory starts evoking feelings of terror in Septimus, it

haunts him, yet it is not until he marries Lucrezia without loving her that
he realizes that he can no longer feel. Therefore, he becomes entrapped
into his internal world, shutting himself off from the society or any
human contact other than with his Italian wife Rezia. Needless to say
that the primary source of Septimus’s madness derives from the events
of the war which deprive him of his human feelings, emotions, and this
state of numbness is one of the symptoms of the forthcoming insanity.
However, the lack of communication with the outside world, namely
alienation, increases the predisposition towards such a mental illness. As
already mentioned all the characters suffer from alienation to a lesser
extent, whereas Septimus represents its ultimate level which goes
beyond human endurance.
Woolf admits that the novel is to present “the world seen by the sane
and the insane side by side”, the ‘sane’ being represented through
Clarissa Dalloway’s viewpoint and the ‘insane’ through Septimus
Warren Smith’s(as cited in Rathee, 2012). Both are prone to societal
oppression of the corrupt modern British society. Each of them feels
neglected, lonely, not belonging into that world, 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, p.76),

and Clarissa
“Shesliced like a knife through
everything; at the same time was
outside, looking on. She had a
perpetualsense… of being, out, far
out to sea and alone” (Mrs. Dalloway,

Even though Septimus is the one labelled as the ‘mad’ character

Clarissa’s sanity needs to be questioned as well. In the 1928
Introduction, Virginia Woolf reveals that in the first version of Mrs.
DallowayClarissa was, ‘. . . originally to kill herself, or perhaps merely
to die at the end of the party’ (as cited in Bloom, 2009, p. 113). There is
a peculiar resemblance of the inner worlds of these two characters;
nevertheless they differ in their ways of dealing with depression,
loneliness, modern society or life at large. Clarissa Dalloway finds a way
to preserve that little extent of remaining sanity by taking risks, throwing

parties as a ‘perfect hostess’ she is. She believes that her only gift is to
provide some ‘moments of warmth and connection for the bored and the
isolated’, bring them together once in a while and socialize with high-
society people. Therefore we can notice that Clarissa unlike Septimus is
not completely isolated from human contact and the outside world,
however despite of being surrounded by people the feeling of loneliness
does not evanesce, deep inside she remains lonely even when in midst of
the crowd. Clarissa’s solitude is implicitly stated through her attic
bedroom where she retreats at the end of each day to her innermost self:
“Like a nun withdrawing, or a child
exploring a tower, shewent upstairs, paused
at the window, came to the
bathroom…There was an emptiness about
the heart of life; an attic room.”(Mrs.
Dalloway, p. 25)

Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Smith are in a way victims of the

society they live in. Their worlds of sanity and insanity are closely
related to the suppression of emotions and feelings enforced by an
alienating society. Jeremy Hawthorn suggests that Septimus’s madness
partly it is the result and symbol of the isolation from human interaction,
on the other hand it is the result of some of the few social contacts that
Septimus has with characters such as Sir William Bradshaw and Dr.

Holmes, his physicians (who represent ‘civilization’ which is associated
with the war), which means that Septimus’s mental disorder is caused
partly by such societal pressures generating from an ‘alienating society’
(as cited in Bloom, 2009, p.115).
This is ‘a novel of experience, in which adults assess their lives, the
choices they have made, and the impact of events that have befallen
them’. Clarissa, Septimus and Peter Walsh, throughout the novel
constantly ponder about their past and question the decisions they have
made. Clarissa, years ago afraid that she would lose her independence
and identity of self, preferred Richard Dalloway over Peter Walsh whose
marriage proposal she refused. However, in Clarissa we see another
reflection of the creator of this character, namely Woolf, since both of
them share a similar affection for women, yet they are imposed to
suppress such feelings by hidden forces of a patriarchal society. The
suppression of her feelings for Peter Walsh and the choice of Richard
Dalloway as a husband is the turning point in Clarissa’s life and perhaps
one of the reasons why she is in a state of desperate loneliness.
Hawthorn claims that Clarissa “by shutting herself off from Peter Walsh
she may have caused the death of her soul” and also “it is worth asking
whether her rejection of Peter Walsh is to be seen as in some way
parallel to Septimus’s inability to feel the death of Evans” (as cited in
Harold, 2009, p. 118 & 120). What I mean is that suppression of one’s
emotions and feelings for a long time, whatever they may be, eventually

can cause irreparable damages into one’s mentality and life.
Nevertheless, Clarissa manages to fit in the way of life she chose and
turns the situation into her advantage by being able to exercise the gift of
the hostess, which probably is the cause why the extent of alienation in
her case does not go into such a level as Septimus’s does. Throughout
the novel the suppression of emotions is represented also through minor
characters as well such as Lady Bexborough whose son has died in the
war and she announces his death in the bazaar concealing her innermost,
genuine feelings, so that the impression of some kind of ‘manliness’
could be conveyed to the people hearing it.
The war may be over but not for Septimus, he relives every horror of it
in his mind. He is left no means of how to preserve his soul or that much
sanity which is left, except that sometimes by shutting his eyes off and
‘see no more’. Nonetheless, a part of Septimus remains sane, he is still
able to perceive beauty around him and we can sense his creativity when
contemplating on ordinary, trivial things surrounding him while on
Regent’s park, that kind of beauty that not everyone is able to perceive,
as well as when sharing his creative ideas and thoughts related to the
hat-making with Rezia.

“. . . wherever he looked at the houses, at the

railings, at the antelopes stretching over the
palings, beauty sprang instantly. To watch a

leaf quiveringin the rush of air was an
exquisite joy. Up in the sky swallows
swooping, swerving, flinging themselves in
and out, round and round, yet always with
perfect control as if elastics held them; and
the flies rising and falling; and the sun
spotting now this leaf, now that, in mockery,
dazzling it with soft gold in pure good
temper; and now and again some chime (it
might be a motor horn) tinkling divinely on
the grass stalks—all of this, calm and
reasonable as it was, made out of ordinary
things as it was, was the truth now; beauty,
that was the truth now. Beauty was
everywhere.” (Mrs. Dalloway, p. 57)

Both Clarissa and Septimus enjoy the outside, physical world; enjoy the
pleasure of sheer existence, even though Clarissa fears death she
believes that she will exist forever at any cost in some way or the other.
Septimus is deprived even of that pleasure, being left no choice other
than ending his life before the end of this June day. Just before throwing
himself from the window he pauses and the narrator tells us that:

“He did not want to die. Life was good. The
sun, hot. Only human beings—what did they
We often have a tendency to believe that lacking the ability to feel
may have certain advantages in one’s life, nonetheless it weakens one’s
soul, isolates it, eventually destroying it instead of preserving. Ronchetti
(2004, p. 58) argues that the realization of Septimus that he could no
longer feel incites in him a feeling that he has done some crime and that
he must be “condemned to death by human naturein the form of Dr.
Holmes and Sir William Bradshaw”. Firstly victimized by war and later
on by being exposed to such people as Sir William Bradshaw,
Septimus’s life keeps becoming more intolerable. Dr. Holmes and Sir
William Bradshaw represent the evil part of a society; to Septimus they
represent “predatory humanity at its worst”. They arrange for Septimus
to be sent to an asylum separating him from Lucrezia the only human
whom he still maintains social contact with. This threat of separating
him from his only connection to human society is beyond Septimus’s
endurance and before dusk falls he chooses to end his life once and
forever rather than allowing such people as Holmes and Bradshaw to
deprive him of that little extent of sanity and identity left. Genuinely
they do not want for Septimus to be cured, each has his own selfish
reasons, Holmes being interested in Rezia whereas Bradshaw’s aim is to
experiment with Septimus. He is a man eager of power and enjoys when

patients submit to him. One of Woolf’s critics E.M. Forster, being a
novelist himself, on a survey of Virginia Woolf’s Works suggests that
Woolf employs “an approach towards character construction in the
Tolstoyan sense: Sir William Bradshaw for instance, is uninterruptedly
and embracingly evil” (as cited in Majumdar&McLauren, 2003, p. 177).
After hearing the news of Septimus’s suicide Clarissa is aware of the
damage that Bradshaw might have inflicted on him:

“…Sir William Bradshaw, a greatdoctor yet

to her obscurely evil, without sex or lust,
extremely polite to women, but capable of
some indescribable outrage—forcing your
soul, that was it—if this young man had
gone to him, and Sir William had impressed
him, like that, with his power, might he not
then have said (indeed she felt it now), Life
is made intolerable; they make life
intolerable, men like that?” (Mrs. Dalloway,
p. 151)

In Septimus’s case one can see the damages that the underlying forces of
the modern times and society are capable to inflict in one’s life, not to
mention the ones who have lost communication with the outside world.

Their vulnerability and inclination towards mental disorder allows the
pressures of modern existence to numb and eventually crush them.
The phenomenon of ‘divided selves’ of a character was becoming
common in the period when Mrs. Dalloway was written. Moreover,
despite of being a phenomenon of literature it so happens that in the
British society of that time a distinction of one’s public and private
world was coming to light. This concept of ‘divided selves’ is not
missing in Mrs. Dalloway. Jeremy Hawthorn in his Mrs. Dalloway: A
study on Alienation argues that it is Septimus Smith’s “attempt to
synthesize the public and the private that results in his inability to
conform to the requirements of his society” (as cited in Bloom, 2009,
p.112). The resemblance and hidden relationship of Clarissa and
Septimus cannot go unheeded. One can argue that these two characters
are actually two sides of one single person, the sane and the insane part
of Clarissa Dalloway. Virginia Woolf represents Septimus as Clarissa’s
alter ego, who achieves what Clarissa does not have the strength to.
Therefore, she is the only one who understands why he has committed
suicide even though they never share a single contact. In receiving the
news of his suicide while in her party “she felt glad that he had done it;
thrown it away… He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun”.
By ending his life Septimus embraces the role of a scapegoat, sacrificed
so that the other side of the coin Clarissa can survive. Yet if we take
them to be the divided selves of a single person it means that a side of

Clarissa dies the moment Septimus commits suicide. Hawthorn claims
that while Clarissa finds solace for her loneliness at her parties renewing
her spiritual world, Septimus seeks and finds embrace in death (as cited
in Bloom, 2009, p. 116). While Septimus is being threatened to be
deprived of his only link to human society that is his wife, Clarissa’s
sanity in a way is also preserved by means of that contact left between
her and her husband, Richard Dalloway. Both feel a desperate need for
people, according to Hawthorn “madness is the supreme isolator, and the
more a man needs other men, the more madness is feared” (as cited in
Bloom, 2009, p. 116). In finding out that Lucrezia has been invited to
Holmes’s home Septimus is reminded of his solitude, hearing voices in
his mind pleading him to kill himself:

“He had four little children and he had asked

her to tea, she told Septimus.
So he was deserted. The whole world was
clamouring: Kill yourself, kill yourself, for
our sakes. But why should he killhimself for
their sakes?” (Mrs.Dalloway, p. 102)

Likewise Clarissa feels like an outcast when returning from her morning
walk and finding out that Lady Bruton has invited Richard at a luncheon
without her, she feels that she is getting old and withered.

Communication is one of the key elements in one’s life. In Mrs.
Dalloway there is a clear lack of communication preventing the
characters from truly expressing their most genuine emotions, keeping
them from creating certain bonds with each other. Hawthorn points out
that “Septimus wishes to communicate but is scared of self-exposure”(as
cited in Bloom, 2009, p.118).

“Communication is health; communication

is happiness.
Communication, he muttered.
‘What are you saying, Septimus?’ Rezia
asked, wild with
terror, for he was talking to himself.” (Mrs.
Dalloway, p.77)

Certainly the lack of communication increases one’s predisposition

towards alienation. Septimus, the one who needs it most understands the
importance of communication in life. Yet whenever he tries to
communicate he is misunderstood even by his wife who thinks that he is
talking ‘nonsense’. Throughout most of the novel the characters never
say what they really mean, we get to know their true feelings and
thoughts only through the narrator. It is due to the lack of
communication that Peter Walsh fails to renew his former friendship

with Clarissa; both are unable to express what they truly feel. There is
Clarissa as well who is not happy with her life yet never shares it with
anyone, even her husband. Miscommunication instills a feeling of hatred
in Clarissa and Miss Kilman, the tutor of Clarissa’s daughter; they
despise each other even though there is a scarce interaction between
them. It could be argued that miscommunication aggravates Septimus’s
mental condition, ultimately leading to his suicidal.
Hawthorn suggests that Septimus’s inability to feel results in a loss of
what R.D Lain calls ‘ontological security’. He explains that Septimus,
due to the lack of sense of security has a constant, abnormal need for
other people, namely Rezia, which is “an exaggerated version of a
normal human need” (as cited in Bloom, 2009, p. 119). Rezia is the only
thread keeping him connected to the existence; once the society
threatens to cut off that thread from him such an existence for Septimus
is no longer bearable. Notwithstanding Septimus’s necessity for Rezia, it
is questionable whether she, being herself desperate and an ‘alien’,
contributes in exacerbating his internal alienation. Her patience is being
pushed to the limits; she is unable to conform to such a fate of dealing
with a ‘mad’ person who talks ‘nonsense’ to himself.

“But Lucrezia Warren Smith was saying to

herself, It's

wicked; why should I suffer? She was
asking, as she walked down the broad path.
No; I can't stand it any longer…” (Mrs.
Dalloway, p.53)

As human beings we all have a necessity to have a private world that no

one but us can have access to. However there is also a satisfaction
achieved in accomplishing the need to reveal ourselves, our innermost
secrets. One needs to achieve a harmony between the private and the
public, the internal and the external worlds. Hawthorn explains that
albeit he suggests that human alienation is a result of the failure to
synthesize the private and the public selves “which despite of being
divided are complete opposites as well”, the necessity for the individual
to have a private space of his own cannot be denied, some “untrodden
snow in his soul which confirms his own human individuality without
implicitly or explicitly denying the human individuality of others”.
Laing also further on claims that “genuine privacy is the basis of
genuine relationship, and it is perhaps to preserve the last few square
feet of untrodden snow in his soul that Septimus kills himself” (as cited
in Bloom, 2009, p.120).
Septimus’s shutting off of his feelings evolves into irredeemable
loneliness to a point that is beyond the scope of human endurance. While
he is leading a passive life Clarissa is more inclined into taking risks in

order to overcome loneliness and preserve her sanity. Her desperate
necessity for people is fulfilled in her parties, her means of renewing her
sense of identity. According to Hawthorn none of the characters
succeeds in achieving a harmony between the divided selves, the public
and private, they remain fit to a society which requires a disjunction
between the two, except for Septimus the only character whose
reconciliation of the public and the private generates into madness (as
cited in Bloom, 2009, p. 122).
Muir claims that Woolf in Mrs Dallowayis not concerned with the
character, which is shown in action, in crises (and novels are
consequently full of crises), but with the state of being (as cited in
Majumdar& McLaurin, 1997, p.182).
One of the principal characters in the mind of whom the novel takes
place, whose presence is felt and whose life experience is intertwined
along with Clarissa’s and Septimus’s during the course of that June day
is Peter Walsh. After a period of five years, the former suitor of Clarissa
comes back from India to London hoping to meet Clarissa and renew
their friendship. While wandering in the streets of London Peter, just
like Clarissa, recalls his past memories, contemplates on the decisions
made and their effect on his current life. Clarissa’s refusal to his
marriage proposal seems to have done irreparable harm in his life,
rendering him incapable of a happy life. A middle aged man whose life
has not turned out the way he would want to; one cannot help noticing

that he as well is prone to internal and external alienation. Having no
friends, no family perhaps not even a home, he lives in utter loneliness.

“..it must be lonely at his age

to have no home, nowhere to go to” (Mrs.
Dalloway, p. 154)

When he comes to Clarissa to tell her that he is in love and is getting

married with some Indian woman called Daisy, we see a disparity
between what is being said and meant, each of them pretending to be
happy with their lives while they are certainly not. However, Woolf’s
technique of narration allows us to know their inner thoughts and hidden
emotions despite of the lack of communication. In the last page of the
book we see Peter’s excitement in being in the presence of Clarissa:

“I will come,’ said Peter, but he sat on for a

moment. What is this terror? What is this
ecstasy? he thought to himself. What is it
that fills me with extraordinary excitement?
It is Clarissa, he said. For there she was”
(Mrs. Dalloway, p.159)

Septimus and Peter Walsh share a similar dream, that of becoming a
writer. Yet both fail in its accomplishment. In her Studies in Major
Literary Authors (2004, p.52) Ann Ronchetti argues that Peter “as one
who was expected to become a writer and occasionally entertains the
idea of researching topics of interest in the Bodleian in his retirement,
has not been able to master the events of his life and turn them to his
fullest creative advantage.” Unlike Clarissa whose upper-class
background has given her advantage in life, Peter has been unable to
succeed and is considered as a failure among his friends. Peterhimself
feels that his vulnerability and sensitivity towards Clarissa has
handicapped him, “His relations with Clarissa had not been simple. It
had spoilt his life” (157), it has constrained him to such a mediocre life,
and has caused his emotional life to collapse. Analyzing closely the
three major characters Clarissa, Septimus, and Peter there can be noticed
some similarities that prevail in the characters of each. They all seem to
enjoy the physical world around them in a peculiar way, the fact of sheer
existence is a source of their utmost pleasure, each of the three believe in
one’s independence and autonomy as a necessity in one’s life, each of
them have a critical mind, criticizing people around them and society at
large and most importantly even if it be in varying extent they all feel
like ‘outcasts’ unfit for an existence in the modern times, keeping
themselves secluded from the life around them.We see Peter trying to
convince himself that he is content with his secluded existence “one

doesn’t want people after fifty” (65). While in the case of Septimus, “the
alienation from social life bred by his combat experience degenerates
into madness—perhaps the ultimate manifestation of one’s apartness
from others save for death itself, which he also reaches before the end of
the novel” (Ronchetti, 2004, p. 52), Peter’s alienation from human
society seems to be the result of Clarissa’s refusal of his marriage
proposal. As Carey (1969, p. 33) suggests“Peter has tried, and failed, to
fit all the pieces of the past into the empty spaces of the present”.
A minor character which could easily be described as “the villain”,
along with Dr. Holmes and Sir William Bradshaw, is Miss Kilman the
tutor of Clarissa’s daughter Elizabeth. The reader gains a rather dark
impression of her as we hear the description from the narrator “so
insensitive was she, dressed in a green mackintosh coat” (10). A
repellent, mysterious character living entrapped in the claws of an
alienating society; another ‘outcast’ just like the other characters
mentioned so far. Clarissa and Miss Kilman harbor a feeling of hatred
for each other. Carey (1969, p.43) suggests that Clarissa is terrified just
by the idea of Miss Kilman “the vulgar, envious, destructive force that,
like a serpent, has slipped into the Dalloway house and threatens to
poison and destroy Clarissa”. Just like Septimus, Clarissa and Peter,
Miss Kilman as well suffers from alienation, trying to find solace in
religion, giving history lectures and playing violin as a means of

Hawthorn argues upon Boris Kuznetsov’s notion that “Modern notions
of moral harmony require that an individual existence be determined by
its importance to the collective destiny” and claims that the fact that
Septimus, Clarissa and Miss Kilman submit themselves to a society
which requires a disjunction of one’s public and private world,
individual and collective destiny, the achievement of that sort of
reconciliation is made impossible for them.
Septimus’s act of suicide is actually his triumph, by ending his life he
refuses to submit further to the cruelties of the modern society. Indeed,
by sacrificing his life he manages to preserve his identity and autonomy,
‘the last few square feet of untrodden snow in his soul’. Ronchetti (2004,
p.59) points out that “in choosing to take his own life, he defies the
prevailing order and asserts his autonomy, reclaiming control over his
life in the act of ending it, something that his culture has prevented him
from doing for quite some time.” In hearing the news of his suicide the
reader can sense the thrill of a triumph in Clarissa as well. Septimus, ‘the
insane’ serves as a scapegoat whose death permits Clarissa’s existence.
As we learn from Virginia Woolf Septimus was designed later on for the
purpose of saving ‘the heroine’, based on this and other insights related
to Mrs. Dalloway provided from Woolf in her diary Snaith (2007, p.62)
believes that the idea that Woolf was trying to express in bringing the
two opposite parts namely sanity(Clarissa) and insanity (Septimus) of
one single person incarnated in two different characters and creating a

connection between them, as it becomes obvious in the end when
‘Clarissa identifies herself with Septimus’ saying that ‘ She felt
somehow very like him’(152),was to show that ‘sanity and insanity are
not separate or opposed but connected’.
Hawthorn in his Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway: A Study in Alienation
(1975)concludes that “the alienation of the individual at odds with
society animates the work, ultimately making Septimus a sort of hero
manqué, who willingly accepts death in order to preserve his own
existential unity” ( as cited in Bloom, 2009).

3. Women’s Identity in Mrs. Dalloway

Woolf’s feminist approach in her novels has aroused a great interest in
her works of fiction, and it has been subject to many critical works
throughout the years. Moreover it is arguable that this aspect of her
writing changed the opinion of her readers and many critics of that time
regarding Woolf and it contributed in the establishment of her reputation
as a feminist writer. It is not a surprise that feminism and women’s
identity was one of the primary concerns addressed in her works since as
we learn from her biography she was always interested in these matters,
and actively participated in different organizations related to women and
their concerns. Snaith (2007, p.98) points out that Virginia Woolf “grew
up with feminism, addressing envelopes for the People’s Suffrage
Federation in 1910 (Black 1983, 183–4), arranging meetings and
speakers for the Women’s Co-operative Guild for several years, and
stating, in 1916, that she was becoming ‘steadily more feminist’ in
response to the war, this preposterous masculine fiction.” The shift from
the Victorian era to the modern one inflicted enormous social and
political changes which were also reflected in the literature of that
period, including Woolf as well whose writing is concerned with modern
life. Therefore criticizing the social system of the modern era that was
taking place during her lifetime was one of her primary concerns in Mrs.
Dalloway. Furthermore Goldman (2006, p.133) argues that “Woolf’s
writing was often the territory over which feminism’s struggles with
postmodernism were conducted in this period”. Nonetheless, to
understand Woolf’s idea it is pertinent to dig into the background so to
understand what caused her to devote herself and her writings to such a
matter. As we know women of the earlier periods were considered
intellectually and physically weak and inferior to men. The social
conventions implied that it is more suitable for women to stay at home
and their education fields consisted mostly of sewing, nursing and
painting and it could be said that the primary occupation for women
before the mid of the 19th century was marriage. Woolf herself being
raised among a patriarchal system affected by her father’s domination as
well as the sexual abuse she suffered from his brother contributed in the
growing of her awareness against a male dominated society.

Woolf as a feminist woman writer who was known for her treatment
of women’s helpless situation, in Mrs. Dalloway unveils the causes
behind women’s oppression, and gives us the account of the struggles
that women of that time faced to obtain the meaning of life and realize
their identity. Virginia Woolf portrays women of the post-First World
War society and their vague lives shaped by patriarchal society, sexual
repression, ideologies of gender, alienation and other conventional
factors. Clarissa being the centre of the novel will be the main focus of
this study as far as woman’s identity is concerned, thus her multifaceted,
unstable identity and the obstacles that prevent her from achieving a
fixed notion of the ‘self’ will be scrutinized. We have already seen that
most of the novel revolves around Clarissa Dalloway, Peter Walsh and
Septimus Warren Smith who according to Richard Hughes “together are
an unanswerable illustration of that bottomlessness on which all spiritual
values are based” (as cited in Majumdar& McLaurin, 1997, p. 159).

3.1 Clarissa Dalloway and Her Unstable Identity

Here it is Clarissa Dalloway, a middle aged woman belonging to the
upper-class society, kind yet at the same time a character predisposed to
be shallow and snobbish. I have already mentioned in the previous
section that the events of the novel are confined in a single day of June
in London, a significant day for the major characters, Clarissa who is
preparing for a party she hosts that night while Peter Walsh comes back
from India and meets with Clarissa, and Septimus ‘the insane’ of the
novel who commits suicide at the end of it. After refusing Peter’s
marriage proposal Clarissa marries Richard Dalloway a Member of
Parliament with whom she lives in London. One can notice that Mrs.
Dalloway is written in a genre in which adults assess their lives, the
choices they have made and their effect in their present lives. Clarissa,
throughout most of the novel plunges into her memories contemplating
upon the decisions she had made and reflecting on how they are
affecting her present life. Her refusal of Peter’s proposal is one of the
matters she ponders the most about, trying to convince herself that she
has made the right decision in marrying Richard and not him. She has
loved Peter and it seems that she still loves him, yet her craving for
personal freedom and complete autonomy over her life prevents her
from accepting his proposal. Clarissa faces a discrepancy of desires, she
indeed wishes to love and be loved, nonetheless on the other hand yearns
for privacy and independence; a desire which she believes that were she
to marry Peter it would have been unobtainable since with him
everything had to be shared.

“For in marriage a little licence, a little

independence there must be between people
living together day in day out in the same
house; which Richard gave her, and she him

(where was he this morning, for instance?
Some committee, she never asked what.)
But with Peter everything had to be shared,
everything gone into” (Mrs. Dalloway, p.6).

Clarissa’s portrayal of Peter implies that he is that kind of man who

enforces a life under a patriarchal order, he would have her soul and
identity absorbed by dictating to her the way to live and act. His love
and attention would have engulfed her. Therefore, she chose Richard
over Peter, freedom rather than love so that she could protect the privacy
of her soul. Clarissa’s ideal marriage is one where there is some
independence left between the husband and wife, which she easily
attained in her passionless relationship with Richard. Yet we do not see
her as being happy, the memories of Peter keep coming back and forth
overwhelming her thoughts. Even though she willingly sought the life
she is living by her deliberate choice of Richard for her husband, their
relationship could be evaluated as superficial, passionless one. Richard’s
love not being dictatorial and possessive allows her to have the freedom
she longs for, hence Clarissa engages in a pathetic attempt to convince
herself that she chose wisely and that her marriage has proved to be a
successful one. Clarissa apparently lacks the passion required in any
kind of relationship, she refuses to submit herself ‘body and soul’ to men
and this lack of affection and intimacy causes Clarissa to enter a state of

desperate loneliness which she endeavors to diminish by embracing her
social role and exploiting her art of a perfect hostess, which the social
position provided by Richard Dalloway allows her to do. This could be
paralleled with Woolf’s passionless marital experience as well, as we
learn from Quentin Bell she was ‘frigid’ (VWB2 6), her marriage to
Leonard ‘was not dependent upon the intense joys of physical love’
(VWB2 5). The sexual abuse she suffered from her half-brother could be
an explanation as well (as cited in Goldman, 2006, p.28). Clarissa’s
belief that she has no other skills or talents other than providing parties,
bringing people together and ‘knowing people almost by instinct’
][actually implies the constraints imposed in women by a patriarchal
society. Living under such an order she has been persuaded that she is
not capable of anything rather than embrace and act conform to her role
as a Member of Parliament’s wife.

“Not that she thought herself clever, or

much out of the ordinary… She knew
nothing; no language, no history; she
scarcely read a book now … Her only gift
was knowing people almost by instinct, she
thought, walking on.” (Mrs. Dalloway, p.7)

From her memories at Bourton with Sally Seaton the reader is informed
that just like Septimus and Peter, Clarissa as well was inclined to
literature. She used to read Plato, Shelley and Morris and has hoped to
write; nonetheless she doomed herself to failure the moment she chose
for a spouse a man such as Richard Dalloway who stifles her soul and
creativity. As Sally Seaton predicted he made ‘… a mere hostess of her,
encourage her worldliness’ (62). However, it is arguable whether the
blame should be put merely on Richard, since we realize that Clarissa
always had a tendency to be a snob and worldly person and in fact this
could be the reason behind her choosing of Richard, willingly seeking to
be in a higher social position so that she can exercise her vocation of a
hostess. Peter’s observations related to Clarissa help the reader to better
understand her personality. Years ago he predicted that she will become
“the perfect hostess” he had always thought of her as being an excessive
snob and socially ambitious “she was worldly; cared too much for rank
and society and getting on in the world” (63). Nonetheless Ronchetti
(2004, p.51) suggests that what stimulates Clarissa to accept and
embrace her role as an upper-class society woman is her desire to
express her art as a hostess rather than snobbery, and “this embracing of
the actualities of her life reflects a willingness to compromise—to accept
the personal limitations of her role in order to have access to a medium
in which she may ply her art.” Peter loves her yet he could never
understand Clarissa’s excessive desire to socialize and according to him

she is the reflection of the hypocrite, worldly British society. Despite of
his scolding, the need to unburden the pressures of a restricted life and
soothe the loneliness even if it be just for some hours prompts Clarissa
to continue doing what she believes that she does best, seeking and
offering warmth by means of her party-making talent. Goldman (2006,
p.53) argues that “as the name of the eponymous heroine suggests,
women’s identity is considered here as circumscribed by men” and
Clarissa’s ‘gift’ allows her to somehow preserve her threatened identity.
The vagueness of her life is made more bearable for her by exposing
herself to such idle pleasures as bringing people together in one place,
gossiping about and criticizing them. The identification by others as a
hostess gives her enormous pleasure, parties regenerate her soul and
identity making her feel that she is worthy of something. Nonetheless
despite of Clarissa’s enjoyment of the parties it could be questionable
whether she willingly, due to her abundant zest for entertainment,
involves herself in such entertainments or whether it is the attempt to
embrace the role of the upper class woman that urges her. The narrator
tells us that “Every time she gave a party she had this feeling of being
something not herself”, and here we can see Clarissa’s struggle to realize
her true identity by exercising her ‘art’ as a hostess, yet deep down she
knows that the ‘perfect hostess’ is not her real self. According to
Ronchetti (2004, p.50) Woolf uses Clarissa’s parties to ridicule the

artists, poets, musicians, academics invited there, a strategy she has used
in some of the other novels as well, portraying them as amateurs.
Clarissa’s means of celebrating life in the form of congregating people
in her house and socialize with them proves to be inefficient, we are
reminded of her solitude by her retreatment to her most intimate, private
world at the end of each day in the attic bedroom where we can sense
‘an emptiness about the heart of life’, there she would sleep alone in a
narrow bed. Her attic room provides her a space and tranquility in which
her soul remains away and free from the coarse reality, and thus has the
capability to listen its own rhythms alone.
Peter always knew that Clarissa lacked female sympathy, she was frigid,
lacked the sensuality needed in a heterosexual relationship, and the attic
room serves her as a refuge from submitting herself to her husband.
Ronchetti (2004, p.54) points out that “Clarissa’s apparent deficiency of
passion for Richard has protected her from the intensity of love, which,
like institutionalized religion, she feels, destroys the privacy of the soul”.
Richard granted her the space she needed to preserve the ‘virginity of
her soul’, for she believed that even in a marriage there must be a gulf
between husband and wife, each having some ‘untrodden snow of their

“ . . . There is a dignity in people; a solitude;

even between husband and wife a gulf; and

that one must respect . . . for one would not
part with it oneself, or take it, against his
will, from one’s husband, without losing
one’s independence, one’s self-respect—
something, after all, priceless. (Mrs.
Dalloway, p.98)

Guiguet believes that Woolf is a ‘purely psychological writer’. He

further suggests that ‘To exist, for Virginia Woolf, meant experiencing
that dizziness on the ridge between two abysses of the unknown, the self
and the non-self’ (as cited in Goldman, 2006, p.129). The account of one
ordinary day in the city of London and the confinement of the events,
major and trivial ones as well, in the timespan of that day suggest that
Woolf’s idea was to provide us with the character’s lives besieged by
vagueness and casualness of everyday life. The characters react to the
sights and events of the day. Clarissa most of the time is buried in her
thoughts and memories of her past, remaining stuck there for as long as
the ‘announcer’ of the passing of time, represented by the Big Ben
clock, brings her back to reality. The progression of time causes feelings
of terror in her, aging and death is something she cannot conform herself
to. The main characters Clarissa, Peter and Septimus are overwhelmed
by the notions of life and death. Clarissa’s fear of death is eased as she

consoles herself in her belief that death will not turn her into
nothingness, somehow she will manage to preserve her identity.

“. . . somehow in the streets of London, on

the ebb and flow of things, here, there, she
survived, Peter survived, lived in each other,
she being part, she was positive, of the trees
at home; of the house there, ugly, rambling
all to bits and pieces as it was; part of people
she had never met;
being laid out like a mist between the people
she knew best, who lifted her on their
branches as she had seen the trees lift the
mist, but it spread ever so far, her life,
herself.” (Mrs. Dalloway, p.7)

While walking in the streets of London she enjoys the momentary plan
of her life, the trivialness the casualness of it “what she loved was this,
here, now, in front of her; the fat lady in the cab”. Clarissa struggles to
withstand the underlying forces of aging and the approaching death.
Ronchetti (2004, p.53) suggests that in order to defend herself from the
claws of death Clarissa harbours in her mind ‘a pandemic notion of her
identity’, believing herself to be part of everything and everywhere.

3.2 Minor Female Characters and their Limited Lives
Woolf as a distinguished feminist writer, who placed a great emphasis
and attempted to solve in her works women’s issues and relationships
with other women led to lesbian approaches to her works and Woolf
herself. As we learn from her biography Virginia Woolf was inclined to
engage in homosexual relationships, such as with Vita Sackville-West.
Bell invokes this affair to confirm his view that Woolf ‘regarded sex, not
so much with horror, as with incomprehension’ (as cited in Goldman,
2006, p.28). Knowing this, one cannot help but think that Clarissa
mirrors Woolf’s own sexual preferences. Clarissa as well is attracted to
women perhaps more than she is to men.
“She couldn’t resist sometimes yielding to
the charm of a woman, not a girl, of a
woman confessing, as to her they often did,
some scrape, some folly. And whether it was
pity, or their beauty, or that she was older, or
some accident- like a faint scent or a violin
next door…she did undoubtedly then feel
what men felt. Only for a moment but it was
enough”. (Mrs. Dalloway, p.26)

She had loved Sally Seaton years ago, however just like Woolf she is not
able to cherish such feelings due to the limitations imposed on her by a
prevailing patriarchal society.
Woolf in a way ridicules the British society and the prevalence of a
patriarchal order which was the reason why a woman was obliged to
suppress feelings other than towards men. Again we see Clarissa’s real
identity concealed in her innermost self as a result of the hidden forces
of the society. The affair with Sally Seaton remains a memory reminding
Clarissa of the most intense, ineffable emotion she will ever experience.

“Then came the most exquisite moment of

her whole life passing a stone urn with
flowers in it. Sally stopped; picked a flower;
kissed her on the lips. The whole world
might have turned upside down! The others
disappeared; there she was alone with Sally.
And she felt that she had been given a
present, wrapped up, and told just to keep it,
not to look at it—a diamond, something
infinitely precious.” (Mrs. Dalloway, p.28)

Goldman (2006, p. 55) suggests that diamond in this case symbolizes

“the lost lesbian erotics.” Woolf uses this scene to rebuke the patriarchal

society and show how such forces are capable to interfere in one’s most
exquisite moment and feelings and destroy the magic of it. As Clarissa
recalls, the most precious and the most splendid moment she will ever
experience was disrupted by representatives of a patriarchal society,
namely Peter and old Joseph: "Star-gazing?" said Peter. It was like
running one's face against a granite wall in the darkness! It was
shocking; it was horrible!”(29). Clarissa had felt Peter’s ‘determination
to break into their companionship.’ There was some ‘purity’ and
‘integrity’ in her feelings for Sally that she has never felt for a man.
While young Sally Seaton was different in character compared to
Clarissa, she was an audacious, disregardful woman showing
willingness to take risks; she was also predisposed to be an artist “she
would paint, she would write” and was openly against patriarchal
“There they sat, hour after hour…..talking
about life, how they were to reform the
world. They meant to found a society to
abolish private property.” (Mrs. Dalloway,

Their relationship could be taken as a symbol of their anti-patriarchal

attitude. However, Clarissa chose to submit to the roles and constraints
imposed by society, which urged her to suppress her affection for Sally
who was forbidden for her. More or less this reaction is expected from
Clarissa, yet to our surprise Sally as well ultimately yields to the
patriarchal forces confining herself in the defined roles of a mere wife
and mother. She gets married to an owner of cotton mills with whom she
has five sons. One can see that no matter how strong and powerful is
women’s desire to pursue the most genuine feelings and find the real
identity they end up defeated because the only female identity accepted
is the one dictated from the male dominated society they live in.
Clarissa and Sally are not the only ones leading a limited life conform to
the rules of a patriarchal order, minor women characters are also
victimized and as Ronchetti (2004, p.50) suggests each of them tries to
find an “outlet for the pressures and frustrations of their limited lives.”
`We have Lady Bruton an elderly woman with a high social status who
tries to get involved and solve political and social issues, yet the
ideologies of gender get in the way as we see when she asks for Hugh
Whitbread and Richard Dalloway’s help to write a letter with the
purpose of promoting emigration in Canada. Again we see the woman as
intellectually inferior to men, as Fernald (2006, p.111) suggests “Lady
Bruton’s sense that she needs male assistance to effectively participate
sheds light on how gendered assumptions about public discourse
undermine and limit women.” She is the example of a conventional
upper class woman who is left no choice other than to yield to her
husband’s whims and efforts to gain domination over her. Her outlet of
the pressures of a restricted and trivial life is in attending idle dinner

parties. Another minor character is Miss Kilman who also leads a trivial
existence perhaps more than the other women characters. Being a
suspect for having German sympathies due to her German ancestry Miss
Kilman has lost her job which is perhaps the reason why she holds a
grudge against everyone and everything around her. Now she finds
solace for her cruel fate in tutoring Elizabeth, Clarissa’s daughter but
there is a mutual animosity going on between her and Clarissa. Miss
Kilman’s feelings of hatred towards Clarissa are based on her belief that
Clarissa is part of the patriarchal society which has ruined her life and
that is why she wants her to be as miserable as she is.
“If she could have felled her it would have
eased her. But it was not the body, it was the
soul and its mockery that she wished to
subdue; make feel her mastery. If only she
could make her weep, could ruin her;
humiliate her; bring her to knees crying.”
(Mrs. Dalloway, p.102)

She feels that if she humiliates Clarissa it is as if she had her revenge
against the world which is indifferent of her suffering. Ronchetti (2004,
p.50) states that “Miss Kilman has mentally condemned Clarissa for
being a daughter of “the rich, with a smattering of culture”. She also
tries to find consolation by devoting herself to religion, nonetheless fails
in achieving it. Her physical appearance reflects her inner soul and
suggests a suppression of her femininity. On the other hand Clarissa’s
hatred results from her fear that Miss Kilman will possess Elizabeth’s
soul and take her daughter from her.
Another example of women’s limited lives is Lady Bradshaw, wife of
the physician Sir William Bradshaw, who follows her husband wherever
he goes, unconditionally obeying him: “Sweet was her smile, swift her
submission.” Again a woman with no profession of her own, enjoying
her marginalized life conducted by her husband and from time to time
engaging herself in taking photographs of old churches.
We have already mentioned Septimus the ‘insane’ of the novel and his
wife Rezia whom she marries without loving her. Therefore, Rezia is
another victim of the patriarchal society doomed to loneliness and
“She was very lonely, she was very
unhappy! She cried for the first time since
they were married. Far away he heard her
sobbing; he heard it accurately, he noticed it
distinctively; he compared it to a piston
thumping. But he felt nothing. His wife was
crying, and he felt nothing; only each time
she sobbed in this profound, this silent, this
hopeless way, he descended another step
into the pit.” (Mrs. Dalloway, p.74)

Clarissa, Lady Bradshaw, Sally Seton, Lady Bruton and Rezia as
Ronchetti (2004, p.51) points out inhabit a world ruled by a patriarchal
social system. Women serve men by embracing and acting conform to
the limitations and the roles as a wife, mother and daughter imposed on
them by such an order.
In Mrs. Dalloway there are some references to prostitution as well. Sally
Seton points out that “she considered him responsible for the state of
‘those poor girls in Piccadilly’—Hugh, the perfect gentleman, poor
Hugh!—never did a man look more horrified!” (60).
Peter Walsh also feels the same about Hugh:

“. . . God knows, the rascals who get hanged

for battering the brains of a girl out in a train
do less harm on the whole than Hugh
Whitbread and his kindness!” (Mrs.
Dalloway,p. 142)

Many readers find it hard to like the character of Clarissa Dalloway who
cares more about her roses than the Armenians. Jeremy Hawthorn
suggests that “given her belief in the unchangeable nature of her world,

Clarissa cannot reconcile a love for humanity at large with a love for
those symbolic roses” (as cited in Bloom, 2009, p.122).
Before the dusk falls Septimus commits suicide and the news of it is
communicated in her party by the Bradshaws:

“Oh! thought Clarissa, in the middle of my

party, here’s death, she thought. . .. What
business had the Bradshaws to talk of death
at her party? A young man had killed
himself. And they talked of it at her party –
the Bradshaws, talked of death. He had
killed himself– but how? (Mrs. Dalloway,

It looks like the privacy of the soul that both Clarissa and Septimus
struggle to maintain and protect from the external threats requires a price
to be paid or a sacrifice. Septimus sacrifices his physical life in order to
preserve the freedom and independence of his soul, whereas Clarissa is
left with her incompetence of surrendering herself to love and sexuality.
She is not deprived of her physical life yet she chooses to deprive herself
from genuine feelings of love and passion so that she can perpetuate her
identity, which is perhaps even worse than death itself. In hearing the
news of Septimus’s death she knew why he had done it and a feeling of

relief and salvation overwhelmed her. As Ronchetti (2004, p.59)
suggests Septimus’s act of suicide causes her to ‘reprieve’ in her
struggle to find the meaning of her life and realize her identity and just
enjoy the moment given to her “He made her feel the beauty; made her
feel the fun.” Clarissa thought to herself: “There was an embrace in
death” believing that Septimus has sought and found solace in death.
Hawthorn suggests that one can interpret Clarissa’s inability to submit
herself sexually to a man as her actual fear being that ‘there is death in
an embrace’, the apprehension that she will extinguish hinders her from
giving herself ‘body and soul’, ‘she fears the loss of self—seen
symbolically magnified in Septimus’s death—that it threatens’ (as cited
in Bloom, 2009, p.117). Clarissa manages to remains physically alive
yet the patriarchal society causes her soul to stifle and die, dooming her
to an identity dictated and accepted by such an order and to failure in
achieving a fixed and independent notion of the “self”.

4. Conclusion

Two of the most prominent issues of the novel Mrs. Dalloway namely
Alienation and Women’s identity have been approached in this paper.
We have seen how alienation and limited exposure to life can generate
into madness and irreparable damages into one’s life. A pure example of

this hypothesis we see in Septimus’s case, the young war veteran whose
exposure firstly to war and then to a society which enforces alienation,
especially in people who have difficulties in creating links and
connections with human society and the outside world, drives him into a
state of madness. These circumstances cause him to escape his mental
world, and ultimately he chooses to escape the physical one as well.
Based on the fact that Septimus does not permit such a society to deprive
him of the independence and autonomy over his life and soul, his action
of suicide can actually be interpreted as a triumph and not cowardice as
Dr. Holmes refers to him after throwing himself from the window “The
On the other hand we have seen Clarissa and other women characters
whose identity is constantly jeopardized by men. Clarissa being the
protagonist of the novel, I have tried to examine mostly her multifaceted,
unstable identity and the obstacles that prevent her from achieving a
fixed notion of the “self”. During the novel we see her struggling to
obtain the meaning of her life and discover her true identity. Despite of
her struggles she and other women in the novel are left with no other
choice but to accept and embrace the identity dictated by the society
they live in. Patriarchal society, ideologies of gender and other
conventional factors doom them to a marginalized existence,
suppression of genuine emotions and ultimate loneliness.

It can be concluded that one needs to achieve a balance between the
private and the public worlds of oneself, loneliness and freedom, the
known and the unknown within ourselves which neither of the
characters is able to.


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