Septimus Smith and Clarissa Dalloway are two of the most notable characters in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Although the two characters never meet, the connection between them plays a significant role in the novel.
Clarissa first hears of Septimus at the party she is hosting. Lady Bradshaw, a guest at the party, does not mention Septimus by name, but she tells Clarissa of a former army soldier who committed suicide.
Initially, Clarissa is appalled by the mention of death at her party, which is meant to be a celebration of life:
Oh! thought Clarissa, in the middle of my party, here's death, she thought.
Clarissa views the news of Septimus's suicide as an unwelcome intrusion and fears it will ruin the party she worked so hard to throw. The news of death invading the party represents the inescapability and inevitability of death.
Clarissa retreats to a nearby room alone and reflects on the news she just received. At first she does not understand why Septimus took his own life, but upon further thought, she comes to understand and appreciate his decision. She realizes that Septimus chose to preserve his true self by committing suicide. Since he was not able to live on his own terms, he chose to die on his own terms. She comes to understand and admire his choice:
Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death.
It is because of Septimus's death that Clarissa is finally able to examine her own life and the choices she has made and accept the idea of her own mortality. Septimus's suicide illuminates the flaws of English society, enabling Clarissa to finally become aware of and acknowledge these flaws.
Septimus and Clarissa are narrative foils of one another. They seem to quite different on the surface, but they actually have a great deal in common. They never meet in the novel, but their thoughts and actions often run parallel to each other. Clarissa is eventually able to understand and relate to Septimus when she hears of his suicide, even though she has never met him and, in fact, doesn't know his name.