Clarissa Dalloway, a woman fifty-two years old and chic, but disconcerted over life and love. A June day in her late middle years is upsetting to Mrs. Dalloway, uncertain as she is about her daughter and her husband’s love, her own feelings for them, and her feelings for her former fiancé, lately returned from India. Years before, Peter Walsh had offered her agony and ecstasy, though not comfort or social standing, and so she had chosen Richard Dalloway. Now, seeing Peter for the first time in many years, her belief in her motives and her peace of mind are gone. Engaged in preparations for a party, she knows her life is frivolous, her need for excitement neurotic, and her love dead. Meeting her best friend, Sally Seton, also makes her realize that their love was abnormal as is her daughter’s for an older woman. Although she knows that her husband’s love for her is real and solid, she feels that death is near, that growing old is cruel, that life can never be innocently good again.
Richard Dalloway, her politician husband, a Conservative Member of Parliament. Never to be a member of the Cabinet or a prime minister, Richard is a good man who has improved his character, his disposition, his life. Loving his wife deeply but silently, he is able only to give her a conventional bouquet of roses to show his feeling, a fortunate gift because roses are the one flower she can stand to see cut. Devoted to his daughter, he sees her infatuation as a passing thing, an adolescent emotional outlet. He is gently persuasive among his constituents and colleagues, and in thought and deed a thoroughly good man.
Peter Walsh, a widower lately returned from India to make arrangements for the divorce of a major’s wife, a woman half his age whom he plans to marry, again an action to fill the void left by Clarissa. Perceptive and quick to understand motives for unhappiness, Peter sees his return to England as another step in his failure to live without Clarissa. Unnerved by seeing her again, he blurts out his recent history, and he continues the cruel probe all day and that night at her party.
Septimus Warren Smith
Septimus Warren Smith, a war casualty who commits suicide on the night of Mrs. Dalloway’s party and delays the arrival of one of the guests, a doctor. A poet and a brave man, Septimus brings back to England an Italian war bride whom he cannot really love, all feeling having been drained from him by the trauma of war. He is extremely sensitive to motives; to Septimus, his doctors represent the world’s attempt to crush him, to force him into conventionality. Feeling abandoned and unable to withstand even the devotion of his lovely wife, he jumps to his death, a martyr to the cause of individuality, of sensitivity to feelings and beauty.
Lucrezia Smith, called Rezia, the Italian wife whom Smith met in Milan and married after the war. Desperately in love with her husband, she tries to give him back his former confidence in human relations, takes him to doctors for consultation, and hopes to prevent his collapse and suicide.
Elizabeth Dalloway, the daughter who has none of her mother’s charm or vivacity and all of her father’s steady attributes. Judged to be handsome, the sensible seventeen-year-old appears mature beyond her years; her thoughtfulness directly contradicts her mother’s frivolity. She is until this day enamored of Miss Kilman, a desperate and fanatical older woman who is in love with Elizabeth but conceals her feelings under the guise of religiosity and strident charity. On the day of the party, Elizabeth sees Miss Kilman’s desire for power and escapes from the woman’s tyranny of power and need. That night, Elizabeth blossoms forth in womanly radiance so apparent that her father fails to recognize his conception of a daughter.
Doris Kilman, Elizabeth Dalloway’s tutor and friend, an embittered, frustrated spinster whose religious fanaticism causes her to resent all the things she could not have or be. With a lucid mind and intense spirit largely given to deep hatreds of English society, she represents a caricature of womanly love and affection, a perversion.
Lady Rosseter, nee Sally Seton, the old friend with whom Mrs. Dalloway had believed herself in love when she was eighteen. Sally has always known that Clarissa made the wrong choice and has always been aware of the shallowness of her friend’s existence. Mellowed now, Sally and Peter Walsh can see the pattern of life laid out before them at the party, and they console each other for loss of girlhood friend and beloved.
Dr. Holmes, Septimus Smith’s physician. Brisk and insensitive, he fails to realize the seriousness of his patient’s condition. Puzzled because Smith does not respond to prescriptions of walks in the park, music halls, and bromides at bedtime, he sends him to consult Sir William Bradshaw.
Sir William Bradshaw
Sir William Bradshaw, a distinguished specialist who devotes three-quarters of an hour to each of his patients. Ambitious for worldly position but apathetic as a healer, he shuts away the mad, forbids childbirth, and advises an attitude of proportion in sickness and in health. Because of Septimus Smith’s suicide, he and his wife arrive late at Mrs. Dalloway’s party.
Lady Millicent Bruton
Lady Millicent Bruton, a fashionable Mayfair hostess. A dabbler in charities and social reform, she is sponsoring a plan to have young men and women immigrate to Canada.
Hugh Whitbread, a friend of the Dalloways and a minor official at court.