How does Septimus' death impact Clarissa and Lucrezia in "Mrs. Dalloway"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Rezia's reaction to her husband's death is seemingly one of acceptance. She is not described as having much of a reaction at all, which makes sense considering all the times she has witnessed difficult and confusing behaviors in Septimus. As well, both Rezia and Septimus were disappointed by Dr. Bradshaw's recommendation that Septimus be institutionalized and that they be separated, so perhaps she felt that Septimus was forced into a corner and saw no way out but suicide.

Clarissa's reaction to Septimus's suicide is more complicated. At first, she resents that the Bradshaws have even mentioned his death at her party, feeling that suicide is an unfit topic for her social event. Then, Clarissa acknowledges her own refusal to feel pity for the man she does not know, who was a patient of Dr. Bradshaw's whom she has never met. Later, however, she quotes Shakespeare's Cymbeline in response to her ruminations about the suicide, saying "Fear no more the heat o’ the sun" as a way to express her admiration for the man's suicide, enacted in defiance of his own possible fears of death.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Clarissa hears about the death during her party. She stops and thinks about it, and we learn the thought of suicide has sometimes crossed her own mind. She thinks of the waste of Septimus's suicide: "he had flung it away." At the same time, she admires him for it. He had kept some part of himself pure in doing this, avoided "corruption, lies, chatter." His suicide, she decides, was an act of defiance. And as she thinks about him falling into the hands of Dr. Bradshaw, who she finds "obscurely evil," she better understands suicide as a way to keep from having one's soul broken. Finally, she ruminates on life as a frightening business and wonders how long she would last without her husband, Richard, to offer security.

Woolf had planned originally for Clarissa to be the suicide, so while Clarissa accepts it, it triggers her thoughts of the many ways she can understand killing oneself as an alternative to a trivial or broken life.

Lucrezia, Septimus's simple and good-hearted Italian wife, is upset by her husband's death. She had truly loved him and hoped he would get better. In the period before he flung himself out the window, he had seemed to be getting more lucid. However, she and Septimus were both upset that Dr. Bradshaw wanted to separate them. Then, as she sees Septimus's dead body, we learn "she understood." However, it is not clear if she understands he is dead or understands why he did it. She recalls that most of the memories of their marriage are happy ones. Primarily, she is in shock.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Clarissa Dalloway identifies with Septimus Warren Smith's views on the meaning of life, she questions whether it is ever possible to be truly happy.

When Septimus commits suicide, Clarissa is hosting her party, she feels guilty.

"She understands the choice of suicide. Her busy habits and parties seem like unworthy trifles, while suicide is a statement about life. She senses the great chasm between those who make this statement and herself."

After Septimus throws himself out the window. his wife, Lucrezia understands what he has done. 

"Dr. Holmes sees it, as does Rezia a moment after. Everyone is upset, and they move clumsily in their distress. Big Ben tolls six o’clock. People think to distract themselves, or they retreat into their memories. Mrs. Filmer appreciates the doctor’s ability to take charge of the situation. He says Rezia must sleep."

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial