Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, is a unique look into the complex world surrounding the title character and the several other characters entangled in the many facets of her life. These characters go from minor interactions, loves from the past, acquaintances, and acquaintances of acquaintances. The stream of consciousness Woolf uses in Mrs. Dalloway, can feel incredibly disconcerting when reading, because as soon as you catch up with one of the streams it branches off again, and then will eventually rejoin the river of thoughts swirling about Clarissa. One of the more constant streams outside of the thoughts of life and death, are Peter and Richard. One of Clarissa’s first loves and her husband.Of the two men, Peter is opinionated and selfish as well as compassionate and strong willed, he would have stifled Clarissa in life leading to her metaphorical death. Richard is seen as dependable and traditional, as well as boring and trapped by the facet of masculinity that won’t let him fully open up his heart or mind to Clarissa. Richard lets Clarissa have a freedom that Peter would have been unable to provide even if that freedom comes to Clarissa devoid of a passion that she feels. Richard does truly love Clarissa, Peter as he often says in the book does as well. Of all of the relationships that she thinks about in the narrative of Mrs. Dalloway the most freeing and passionate love is between Clarissa and Sally. Though, once again fear leads her away from both Sally and Peter, into the arms of Richard.
These loves in Clarissa’s life are all examples of what Clarissa’s life could have been like, and that is what it seems she is contemplating on this day documented by Woolf. Clarissa is not only contemplating the love she has felt, but what they each symbolize; a passionate and quickly snuffed life, a safe but boring life, and a whisper of passion and a constant question of what could be or happen next life. Clarissa is contemplating life for most of the novel, but Septimus’s death and own contemplation of death has brought on Clarissa’s introspection of death. Clarissa has this fear of death which is not only symbolized by her choice to not be with Peter who would have eventually smothered her, but also her distaste when she thinks of death. Towards the end of the novel, when Sir William comes to the party she starts to panic and let herself suffocate in her fear when Sir William mentions the suicide of Septimus.
“Then (she had felt it only this morning) there was the terror; the overwhelming incapacity, one’s parents giving it into one’s hands, this life, to be lived to the end, to be walked with serenely; there was in the depths of her heart an awful fear.” (Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Pg. 180) Clarissa’s swirling of thoughts is brought to a peak upon the discovery of the suicide of a young man she did not know. Clarissa comes to this realization that her fear of death led to a fascination, and almost a want of it. Upon this realization she also realizes how overwhelming life is and how the choices she makes are what make life bearable or unbearable. Immediately after this quote Clarissa thinks to herself that if it were not for the constantness of Richard, she would have surely perished. (Woolf. Pg. 180) She thinks on the happiness of life she has had due to Richard, as well as her pull to a window, much the way Septimus was pulled to the window, in her youth and now. Clarissa now at the window, in the way that Septimus was, looks up and sees the sky while Septimus had looked down and seen relief. His death helped Clarissa realize the beauty in her own life, and she was grateful for it.
Clarissa chose life, a long life that she knew would help her to be safe. She chose life as a young woman when choosing to marry Richard, and chose life again when she went to the window and looked to the sky. In her youth, Richard is the long life she chose, and Richard is also what helps realize why she chose it.Several times Richard comes through the novel as a comfort, towards the end of the book when thinking about her dislike for Sir William, Clarissa notes that Richard is the only one who agrees with her. For me, this agreeance shows that he thinks of her feelings and tries incredibly hard to show it. Even in his own stifled world. When Clarissa is thinking about Richard there is not much mention of fear, his flaw is that he is reserved and unable to open up to Clarissa about love. Richard really truly loves her in a more honest way than Peter, in that he respects Clarissa’s decisions and is selfless in a way Peter never could be. Clarissa spends a lot of time wondering what life could have been like with Peter, but comes to a place of recognition that her life has been good, and without Richard she would have succumbed to her fears. Sally also loves Clarissa, and always will, but because of society neither believed that their love could have been more than a whisper. Richard’s unspoken love is what empowers Clarissa to love and live, for Sally and Peter had a selfish love of Clarissa, towards the end of the book all they do is judge her decisions that she had made for her life, and her choices. Clarissa’s choices are what have allowed her to live, not the people who have chosen to love her, but the person she has chosen to let herself love.