Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 963
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.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 659
Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway is a worldly, fashionable, upper-class wife and perfect hostess who is described by the narrator as possessing a "virginity preserved through childbirth." As Clarissa's day progresses through the details of the party, Woolf explores her many shifting moods and recollections and contrasts them with the views and opinions of many other characters in the story, in addition to the changes in feelings which Clarissa experiences throughout her day. For example, Clarissa keeps mentally returning to a day in June in 1889 when she was eighteen and involved with Peter Walsh; she becomes obsessed with the memories and with her decision not to marry him because he is to return to London, and also because she sees herself at an earlier age in the form of her eighteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth who stands ready to enter society.
Clarissa's relationship with her husband Richard is considerate and kind; however, there are verbal and emotional boundaries that they do not cross with each other. There is a great deal of strength in the love that they share because they have both tended to it carefully. Unfortunately, it is literally between them — it binds them loosely but it is also a barrier which is self-imposed but is also protective.
Richard Dalloway would like to be a country gentleman but he is not able to demand it for himself. His vision of a country life is a lost dream because he is more secure in his government post and in his life with his well-bred, gentle wife. Like her husband, Clarissa has a lost dream: She would like to break away from all her fears about men, women and life to set herself free to be happy. She realized long ago that she would never have the strength to join Peter in his adventurous love of life, so she married Richard Dalloway in order to approach life in her own self-reflective and internal way.
Peter Walsh, a Socialist would-be writer, returns to London after a five year stay in India, and it is through his eyes that we see many of the changes in Clarissa and the surrounding social changes which have occurred since the war. Walsh is six months older than Clarissa and he reacts to his age with a defiant midlife romance with a married woman in India who is young enough to be his daughter. Constantly fumbling with a pocket-knife which symbolizes his masculinity, he fantasizes about sex and ruminates on the social changes he sees since the war.
The romantic and daring Sally Seton, Clarissa's girlhood friend, her political hostess friend Lady Brouton and her intellectual spinster friend and tutor. Miss Kilman, all attend the party; however, it is the contrast between Septimus Warren Smith, a shell-shocked veteran who hears the sparrows sing in Greek and who at the end of the day commits suicide by throwing himself out of the window, who provides a parallel for Clarissa. Woolf herself insisted on this parallel in her writing notebook that "Mrs D seeing the truth. SS seeing insane truth." Septimus Smith is the insanity in this study of the sane and the insane. Septimus went to war to defend his country and become a man, but he lost. Clarissa did not go to war; instead, she withdrew and married a safe man who would not dare her to be more of a woman than she believed herself capable of being. Both Septimus and Clarissa feel that they are on the outside of society looking in because they feel that they are dashing headlong through life. Alternately, they are very happy, then very worried and fearful. Woolf shows us the terror in Septimus' heart and relates it to what matters the most to Clarissa: what one feels. What terrifies Septimus is that he is unable to feel. To protect themselves, they both share an insistence that no one should have power over them because they have an intense fear of domination.
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