Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway presents transnational encounters and relationships primarily through the characters of Peter Walsh, Septimus Smith, and Lucrezia Smith and presents through them the difficulties of European postwar reconciliation.
The broader context of these encounters and relationships is closely connected with British imperialism and the ways it changed after the First World War. Walsh’s reflections on his life and work in India and on the political situation there suggest the waning influence of British control. Septimus, who is English, and his wife, Lucrezia, who was Italian, embody the challenges that intercultural and international relationships may face when a couple relocates to one partner’s native land. Their marriage can be seen as symbolic of the challenges of postwar reconciliation in Europe.
The gendered dimensions in these relationships include the unequal status and opportunities that men and women had a century ago. Had Clarissa married Peter instead of Richard, she might have lived in India with him. Women of Clarissa’s generation and class would not have had paid jobs or worked abroad. As Richard’s wife, she gained security but also reinforced an insular view of the world as seen from England. Lucrezia’s life was both expanded constrained through her marriage to Septimus, as she left her war-torn homeland and her trade of hatmaker. In England, she had to adjust to living as a foreigner and with an increasingly unstable husband.