Feminism in Mrs Dalloway and Portrayal of Death

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 2119 |

Pages: 5|

11 min read

Published: Aug 31, 2023

Words: 2119|Pages: 5|11 min read

Published: Aug 31, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Exploring War and Mental Health in Mrs Dalloway
  3. Themes in Mrs Dalloway
  4. Meaning of Death in Mrs Dalloway
  5. Similarities Between Clarissa and Septimus
  6. Conclusion
  7. References


Mrs. Dalloway is a story that tells us about the life and intricacies of an upper class woman named Clarissa Dalloway through one day in her life. The novel starts with Clarissa buying flowers in order to prepare to host a party in the evening. When she returns back after buying the flowers, she is met with a man named Peter Walsh, emblematic of the shifting dynamics of feminism in 'Mrs. Dalloway,' with whom she had an affair in the past. Peter asks her if she really loves her husband, Richard, which is indicative of the fact that he never really got over her. Before she could answer his question, her daughter Elizabeth interrupts them. Peter leaves and goes to Regent’s Park.

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Exploring War and Mental Health in Mrs Dalloway

At this point, the focus shifts to another character named Septimus Warren Smith who is a World War 1 veteran and is currently in a state of shock as a result of everything that war made him witness. As a result of not being mentally stable he and his wife, Lucrezia go to see a psychiatrist named Sir William Bradshaw. After analyzing Septimus’ condition, Sir William comes to the conclusion that it isn’t actually the war that has impaired Septimus mentally but his condition is a result of lack of perspective in life which can be done away with if he’s taken to a mental hospital.

Meanwhile, we are also made familiar with Clarissa’s husband, Richard who wants to express his love to his wife but is unable to do so as a result of not having done so in many years. The fact that there is some kind of distance between Richard and Clarissa makes her feel that, they as a couple are more free and independent as compared to other couples who are bound by duties and expectations.

The novel's perspective again shifts to Septimus who along with his wife comes back to their apartment from where the mental asylum authorities were supposed to take him away. Having seen enough destruction in life and being adversely affected by it, and most importantly in order to escape being compressed emotionally, mentally and physically at the asylum, he decides to abruptly end his life by jumping out of his window.

The narration again shifts to Clarissa’s life, this time at the party, which she had been planning to host. Among the many people who came, Sir Bradshaw was one of them who was accompanied by his wife, who tells everyone about one of his patients who committed suicide earlier in the day. At first Clarissa seems a bit taken aback as to why someone would bring up a topic like death at a party but later on while sitting in a room by herself she seems to respect Septimus’ decision of choosing to take away his life implying freedom and emancipation of his soul as opposed to it being chained up. This makes her feel ashamed of the many things she did in life wherein she chose to compromise her soul.

Themes in Mrs Dalloway

The theme of death is like an undercurrent in this book, which is present everywhere but not explicitly. The only time it transforms from an idea to reality is when Septimus decides to take away his life. Despite Septimus being the only character to embrace death fully, there are other characters too, like Peter and Clarissa who had their own unique way of looking at death and to whom death certainly meant more than dying at an old age.

Clarissa is a woman who belongs to the high-class society and as a result despises people of the lower class. Her dislike of lower class people can be seen in her attitude towards her daughters tutor. Death is one such reality which everyone has to face irrespective of ones class and it is this very death which makes Clarissa realize that it is going to come at her as well, despite her being superior to the people of lower class in terms of money. This realization of everyone being equal in the eyes of death comes when she is told of Septimus’ suicide. On hearing about his tragic death all her enthusiasm for the party fell to floor and she was compelled to sympathize with a man whom she didn’t even know. She goes on from sympathizing to recognizing the kind of passion and misery that he must have been feeling before taking away his life. All of this makes her feel like a hypocrite for continuing with her lavish party while someone had just died. It also makes her ponder at what the purpose of her life is, what the purpose of theses parties are and whether she can leave behind anything meaningful of herself for people to talk about after her death.

Meaning of Death in Mrs Dalloway

For Septimus, death was a result of lost spirit after the war, the unsympathetic treatment and decision of his doctor to send him away to the asylum and the flagging support of his loving but exhausted wife. According to Clarissa his decision to take away his life was an attempt to communicate. Isolation can also be attributed as one major reason behind Septimus’ death. In fact isolation is also one such feeling that is probably felt by every character in this book. All the characters in the book look at each other objectively and not subjectively. The characters seem to be at a loss of words in order to communicate. From Clarissa’s husband who is unable to profess his love to his wife in words and has to send flowers in order to do so, to Clarissa herself who organizes these lavish parties which are filled with guests but non of them are able to communicate anything meaningful or substantial as there is nothing but only hollowness inside of them.

This book also talks about the issue of madness and what is considered as the acceptable behavior by the society. One can see this in the way Lucriza tries to hide her husband from the prying eyes of public as she wonders what people might think of him when they see how he behaves. In fact the psychiatrist too, who should have been the one helping him come out of that situation, ended up becoming one of the reasons behind his suicide. War can cause immense psychological damage especially to the soldiers who experience it from such close proximity. Instead of coming back as heroes they end up coming back as madmen with no meaning left in life. British society at that time was not advanced enough to understand or accept people with behavioral patterns that deviated from the stereotypical behavior.

Through this book Virginia Woolf helped in pioneering a style of writing known as stream of consciousness. This style of narration is defined by the happenings in the minds of the characters. Even though the name of the book might suggest that it is solely the story of Clarissa, it is in fact the story of both Clarissa and Septimus and as a result many critics have gone on to say that Septimus’ character is actually her doppelganger portraying the negative and the darker side. This negative side gets subsumed by criticism, hatred and fear and as a result he ends up taking away his own life. On the other hand even though Clarissa might not exactly come across as someone with a vibrant outlook but she at least had something to look forward to, no matter how hollow it was, like her parties. She seems to have come to terms with her passionless life. She also believes that love can threaten ones individuality as it makes the person vulnerable to someone who might eventually end up disappointing one. Despite her views on love, she herself had always felt being deprived of it and yearned for her loved ones who were no longer with her.

Similarities Between Clarissa and Septimus

There is also a lot of similarity between the characters of Clarissa and Septimus. Both contemplated suicide. Both are unhappy about their past lives, Septimus because he couldn’t prevent Evan, his best friends death or at least “feel it” and Clarissa because she chose not to marry Peter. Both had homosexual feelings, Septimus for Evans and Clarissa for Sally. Most important of all both of them are aware about the upheaval in their lives and desperately want to do something about it. Septimus brings an end to all that upheaval by clearly taking away his life and Clarissa tries to momentarily make herself feel happy by throwing these parties. Clarissa and Septimus are clearly two aspects of the same entity, some would call it the negative and the positive aspects while others would call it the masculine and the feminine aspects.

Apart from Clarissa and Septimus’ individual stories and inner challenges, the writer also developed an elaborate storyline about Peter and Clarissa. Despite Peter being a nice man and it being fairly visible that they still had feelings for each other, Clarissa chose not to marry him, as she believed that he was too demanding of her. Their relationship is complex also because despite not marrying him, she had a lot of respect for him and would always take extra care of him whenever he was around so much so that it made Mr. Dalloway jealous to some extent.

Readers who haven’t seen war like situation in real life might find it difficult to imagine the hardships of civil society and the soldiers during an actual war. But since this book is set in post WW1 period, there are many references made in the book about the war. Even though war is a situation, which is a result of human errors and human aspirations but during an actual war, people of the civil society don’t have the patience or perseverance of analyzing and decoding what the intricacies and minute details of the happenings are, and as a result they end up blaming whoever they deem fit to be placed at the faulty side. Similarly, even in the book Clarissa blames god as being responsible for war, during a conversation she was having with Miss Kilman on the issue of conversion. War also is a cause of a lot of loneliness and maybe that is why the writer has shown a strong bond between characters of same gender. While men were out fighting for their country, women usually stayed home taking care of the children. Since most of them were away from their spouses and were mostly surrounded by people of the same gender, they ended up sharing their sorrows, thoughts and experiences with each other, which eventually created a strong bond between them.

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This novel is part of modern literature even though it might be difficult for some to imagine so considering it was written in post ww1 period, but when compared with other forms of literature such as drama it is relatively new. The writer draws a strong connection between the novel and the individual. Before this novel was written, people were supposed to live according to what was expected of them. The concept of making personal choices was very bleak. When this stereotypical individual started to diminish and the individual with a voice and personal opinion came to the forefront such novels started being written. This novel comes across as a proponent of individualism as the two main characters do not fit into the stereotypical image and have their individual personalities. The novel also seems to ask whether people can really communicate their thoughts if they are being suffocated by isolation, depression and other such problematic symptoms. Some critics also believe that this novel also touches upon political and social issues. Apart from the issue of ww1 which is relatively visible in the book there are other political issues too that the writer touches upon such as the upheaval of masses in India and the rise of Labour Party in Britain. Also histories of Dr. Bradshaw and Septimus indicate that classism seems to be fading away as they both rose from humble circumstances to reputable positions. 


  1. Woolf, Virginia. 'Mrs. Dalloway.' Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1925.
  2. Beers, David. 'Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway: A Feminist Reading.' Inquiries Journal, vol. 4, no. 2, 2012.
  3. Whitworth, Michael H. 'Reading Modernist Fiction.' Wiley-Blackwell, 2006.
  4. Marcus, Laura. 'Virginia Woolf and the Language of Patriarchy.' Indiana University Press, 1987.
  5. Fry, Paul H. 'The Theme of Loneliness in Mrs. Dalloway.' South Central Review, vol. 5, no. 3, 1988.
  6. Bradshaw, David. 'War and Its Psychological Impacts: An Analysis of Mrs. Dalloway.' Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 65, no. 1, 2019.
  7. Sweeney, Susan Elizabeth. 'Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Her Life and Work.' Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, vol. 3, no. 3, 2002.
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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Feminism in Mrs Dalloway and Portrayal of Death. (2023, August 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 14, 2024, from
“Feminism in Mrs Dalloway and Portrayal of Death.” GradesFixer, 31 Aug. 2023,
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