Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 503
Peter’s attention is caught by the sounds of an old, ragged woman, singing nonsense. She does not seem rational. The narrator describes how, throughout the entire history of the planet, the woman had stood there and sang this song about a lost love.
Lucrezia (who is called “Rezia” from this point onward) also hears the woman, and pities her. Yet the pity she feels is mostly for herself. Her unhappiness is overtaking her, and her last hope is that Sir Bradshaw can cure Septimus. She decides to be cheerful and optimistic.
The narrator describes Septimus’ appearance and history. He is a man who could become either successful or merely a survivor. He had a typically troubled boyhood, and he went to London, a large and impersonal city. He loved literature, and went to public lectures on Shakespeare. He fell in love with the lecturess, Miss Isabel Pole. His supervisor, Mr. Brewer, had great things in mind for Septimus, until the latter had volunteered for the war.
Evans was killed, but Septimus was spared injury, and at the end of the war stayed at an inn in Milan. Lucrezia was the innkeeper’s younger daughter, and he proposed to her in a moment of great insecurity.
The two of them strolled in London and watched people’s fashions. Septimus sensed Rezia’s sense of style, but there were no more delights for him now. Rezia attributed his habits to normal English reserve, and thought nothing of it. Septimus was welcomed back to work by Mr. Brewer, and he read Shakespeare again, but nothing was the same. The world was made of filth, and Shakespeare knew it, yet Rezia wanted to have a son just like Septimus. Her desire for children grates on Septimus.
Septimus’ thoughts and perceptions wandered further away. He did not communicate this to Rezia or anyone else. His ability to function declining, he surrendered to outside assistance.
The narrator’s tangent that begins this reading section may seem highly abstract, but the description of the song and the singer, provides another window into madness. An old woman sings that for a million years, when London was an uninhabitable great swamp, her beloved thought of her. There is a great sadness in this idea. Try to imagine the life of a person who needs to convince herself that this is true. Such is the torment Woolf conveys.
The reader also receives insights into Lucrezia’s unhappiness, which may provoke different reactions. After all, she focuses on her own suffering without truly examining Septimus’ situation. Septimus’ love of Shakespeare is illustrated in the many references to his work throughout the novel. Many of Woolf’s characters in Mrs Dalloway refer to Shakespeare, as he is one of England’s
national treasures. Interestingly, each of the characters quotes
“The Bard” selectively to agree with particular personal views. Shakespeare is held to believe whatever the characters believe. Woolf’s characters use literature to comfort themselves, just as people do in real life.
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