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Published: 11-11-2019

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Comparison Between Septimus Smith and Clarissa Dalloway

Eric Auerbach writes in Mimesis that 1 of the characteristics of the realistic novel of the era among the two planet wars is the multi-private representations of consciousness. In Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, first published in 1925, the novel delves into the consciousness of several characters. Nonetheless, one particular character stands out much more than any other: Septimus Smith, a WWI veteran who suffers consistently from the terrible repercussions of trench warfare. The substantial period of time Woolf dwells in his mind is both exciting and puzzling. Why does Woolf pick a secondary character who is insane – what does she hope to achieve by this selection? Septimus has frequently been described as Mrs. Dalloway’s double, and on the surface, the comparison could not be stranger. For one particular, Septimus comes from a poor functioning background whereas Mrs. Dalloway is the wife of a rich upper-middle class politician. Not only is there a clear social divide, but a psychological one as well. Septimus is insane, whereas Mrs. Dalloway is not. Septimus’ madness seems to serve as a driving edge that crystallizes the distinction among the two characters. However, if we appear closer, it becomes clear that the two characters are a lot more related than distinct and Septimus’ madness, rather than differentiating the two, only assists to illuminate the similarities far more. Therefore, Septimus demands to be insane due to the fact his insanity helps to show that Mrs. Dalloway and he are actually parallel characters.

One particular way in which we can use our knowledge of Septimus to comprehend Mrs. Dalloway is by examining their social roles. Even although the two characters might at initial appear really unalike, they share many similar traits and experiences. In the novel, Septimus’ encounter in the war and his struggle with the terrifying consequences of trench warfare is juxtaposed with Mrs. Dalloway and her struggle with gender roles and being a stereotypical housewife or hostess. Even though the two struggles are ostensibly very various, they are the same at the core – each are fighting against societal conventions and expectations. In the case of Septimus Smith, his experiences in the trenches of Planet War I and the death of his very good buddy, Evans, lead to him to shed his thoughts. But, the social order of Britain in the 1920s was not equipped with dealing with insanity – it was frowned upon and largely ignored by society. No one particular wants to acknowledge the horrifying effects of trench warfare and shellshock, even even though the war was the most formative expertise of males of Septimus’ generation. Septimus, as an capable-bodied young man, is nevertheless expected to be a contributing member of society, despite suffering the terrible repercussions of war. This unwillingness to acknowledge and deal with the concern of insanity and shellshock is reflected in opinions of men and women like Dr. Holmes, who insist “There was practically nothing whatever the matter” (90). In reality, Holmes suggests to Septimus’ wife, Reiza, that the answer to her husband’s “moodiness” was to go to the Music Hall or take a day off and play golf together (90). Even Sir William Bradshaw, a hugely respected doctor, suggests sending Septimus off to an asylum simply because he violated societal norms and standards.

Septimus’ struggle with insanity and the consequences of trench warfare is juxtaposed against Mrs. Dalloway’s struggle against gender stereotypes. In Virginia Woolf’s time, a woman’s identity was made up of largely her relations with other people: as daughter, wife, or mother. In reality, the novel begins and is titled Mrs. Dalloway – an acknowledgement of Clarissa’s defining function as the wife of Mr. Dalloway, a prominent politician. Clarissa feels a sort of entrapment in the roles society has given her, “she had the oddest sense of getting herself invisible, unseen…this getting Mrs. Dalloway not even Clarissa any longer this getting Mrs. Richard Dalloway” (11). She feels acutely the want for private development and refuses to be cast just as someone’s wife or a party hostess. In a way, her home can be noticed as an equivalent of Septimus’ asylum – both institutions are society’s strategies of confinement. Clarissa’s struggle for individuality can be viewed as a reflection of Septimus’ struggle for sanity – both violate the classic structures of society. The social order of the time created requirements and forced people into rigid roles with particular expectations – that of a wife and a soldier. While Septimus’ struggle for sanity is obvious in the story, Clarissa’s is not. Therefore Septimus and his insanity are required to show that both characters have a private self that diverges from public expectations of them. Probably, the final victory is achieved by Mrs. Dalloway who, when she comes down the stairs at the finish of the novel, is lastly recognized by Peter Walsh and by others as an person in herself: “What is this terror? What is this ecstasy? … What is it that fills me with extraordinary excitement? It is Clarissa” (194).

Septimus’ madness also serves an aesthetic objective. Woolf utilizes his insanity to point out the modernist notion that reality is disordered rather than structured. She achieves this by way of her use of style, syntax, and form. The novel employs the stream of consciousness style, which is inherently with out order. Not only is it without order, though, it also blurs the distinction among sanity and insanity. When examining passages of consciousness in the novel, if we were to take away all clues that reveal the individual whose consciousness we are in, it would be extremely hard to identify the character getting described. That is not to say, of course, everyone’s consciousness is the identical as Septimus’ but that the intrinsic qualities of the stream of consciousness style blurs the distinction – nearly everyone’s thoughts are with out a logical structure, some (Septimus’) a lot more illogical than others. Virginia Woolf purposely chooses this style since it aids to reinforce the similarities between Septimus and Clarissa. For instance, Mrs. Dalloway describes one particular of her revelations as: “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 really feel what males felt” (32) How do pity, beauty, becoming older, or a violin connect and contribute to her understanding of what men really feel? This quotation delves into the heart of the novel, which is not action or dialogue, but rather, moments of time. By focusing on the “moment”, Woolf rejects classic structures of storytelling with their organized kind. Mrs. Dalloway is neither a comedy or a tragedy, or drama or a romance. Woolf also utilizes syntax, specifically the semicolon, to place free-standing and independent entities into a single sentence without logical connection. This also supports the notion of a disordered reality with no inherent logic or connection. The semicolon is used adroitly in the following observation by Mrs. Dalloway:

In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge in the bellow and the uproar the carriages, motor cars…brass bands barrel organs in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved life London this moment of June (4).

This juxtaposition of random and weakly connected objects (swing, carriages, barrel organs, aeroplane, and so on.) exemplifies the chaotic reality that Woolf believed we lived in. Nonetheless, that is not to say there is no order or that stream of consciousness style is solely a random rambling of thoughts and impressions. Despite the fact that Woolf rejected the traditional forms of order, such as chapter breaks and plot, she employs a a lot subtler form of organization that draws its inspiration from nevertheless-life paintings, namely composition. Reiza’s hat and Clarissa’s party can each be observed as compositions that produce coherence from disorder and chaos. Huge Ben is an additional form of order in the novel, dividing the story into hours. Woolf also uses symmetry as a technique of organization – the novel is at its midway point when it is midday. Though there are some attempts at organizing the novel, the underlying argument is nonetheless that reality is with out inherent order – Septimus’ character assists us achieve this understanding. His insanity is the physical manifestation of the chaos in the all-natural planet. Virginia Woolf intentionally blurs the distinction amongst reality and imagination, order and disorder, to show the intrinsic similarities between Septimus and Clarissa.

Septimus’ insanity can also aid us in a psychological analysis of the novel, especially in studying the theme of privacy of soul. Mrs. Dalloway, even as an 18-year-old, yearns for privacy. In reality, she married Richard due to the fact “in marriage a little licence, a small independence there have to be in between people living together day in day out in the very same house, which Richard gave her, and she him” (7). She craves private development and is offended when Peter Walsh casts her as merely a hostess. Others identify her mainly in her social role as Richard’s wife, as Mrs. Richard Dalloway, and do not see her as an person. In a way, Clarissa envies the old lady across from her for her privacy and believes that “love and religion would destroy that, what ever it was, the privacy of soul” (127) simply because really like and religion would demand sharing and communication.

Septimus is perhaps the very best example of somebody who has privacy – certainly, he has full privacy of soul. Even Reiza, his wife, does not know what he thinks most of the time. Virginia Woolf utilizes the scene in Regent’s park where the couple sits side-by-side on a park bench to show how distant Septimus is from Reiza, despite their physical proximity. In fact, the only time Septimus appears sane in the novel is when he aids Reiza make a hat. He starts by “putting odd colors with each other – for even though he had no fingers, could not even do up a parcel, he had a wonderful eye” (143). Functioning collectively with his wife in producing a hat – taking ribbons and beads and wool and making a coherent complete out of the pieces – “was superb. In no way had he completed anything which produced him feel so proud. It was so genuine, it was so substantial, Mrs. Peter’s hat” (144). In creating the hat, he inevitably has to share a part of him – his thoughts and opinions – with Reiza and in undertaking so, extracts himself from isolation and insanity. In the finish, Septimus succumbs to madness and in his last act, throws himself out of the window to preserve his privacy of soul against the encroaching figure of Dr. Holmes.

Septimus’ death is required in the story due to the fact it helps Clarissa recognize that intense privacy of soul in a connection is not desirable simply because it is also isolating. At the finish of her party, when she goes upstairs, she sees the old lady again. This time, nonetheless, rather than envying her privacy, Clarissa comes to comprehend that even though the old lady has privacy, she is also undeniably alone. As Mrs. Dalloway watches the lady get ready for bed, she is all of a sudden reminded of Septimus’ death: “the young man had killed himself…There! The old lady had place out her light! The whole property was dark now” (186). The juxtaposition of Septimus’ suicide and the old lady going to bed alone help Mrs. Dalloway comprehend that “she need to go back to them [the celebration]” (186). Clarissa lastly understands that it is not desirable to aim for that sort of intense privacy and reconciles herself with her role as a hostess. Septimus’ insanity and ultimate death assist her realize the need for each a social and private self.

Woolf’s need to portray “consciousness in its natural and purposeless freedom” (Auerbach) is manifest in the characters of Septimus Smith and Clarissa Dalloway. In Mrs. Dalloway, she utilizes Septimus’ struggle with sanity to illuminate Clarissa’s struggle for individuality in a largely patriarchal society. His death at the finish also demonstrates to Clarissa the necessity for both a public and private self. Woolf utilizes Septimus’ madness to blur the distinction in between sanity and insanity and her clever use of the stream of consciousness style – a style with out inherent order – strengthen the parallels between the two main characters. Throughout the story, Virginia Woolf uses Septimus to create about Clarissa. In the end, we comprehend that his madness, rather than acting as a wedge among the two characters, juxtaposes them and reveals their inherent similarities.

Work Cited

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt. Inc. 1990.
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