The institution that is the medical industry is a prevalent theme throughout Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Septimus is a veteran of World War One, and suffers from extreme post traumatic stress disorder. He claims that he cannot escape ‘human nature’, which he experienced at it’s full capacity during the war. The phrase ‘human nature’ is repeated over and over. To Septimus, human nature represents malice. During the war he was exposed to violent, physical expressions of human nature. Now at home, he battles it again through the institution of medical doctors.
The doctors Septimus encounters in Mrs. Dalloway embody everything Septimus cannot stand in the world. His general practitioner, Dr. Holmes gives the reader a glimpse into his second fight with human nature. Dr. Holmes comes to call on Septimus every day of the week, and his coming is seen as a crisis. “You brute! You brute! Cried Septimus, seeing human nature, that is Dr. Holmes, enter the room.” (91) Dr. Holmes views Septimus as a lost cause. He does not see any true medical issue with his patient, and makes his opinion clear. He approaches Septimus’s treatment in a cavalier manor, and expresses that if Septimus and his wife were richer, they could afford superior medical treatment. “Now what’s all this about” said Dr. Holmes in the most amiable way in the world. “Talking non-sense to frighten your wife?” But he would give him something to make him sleep. And if they were rich people, said Dr. Holmes, looking ironically round the room, by all means let them go to Harley Street; if they had no confidence in him, said Dr. Holmes, looking not quite so kind.” (91)
The malice implied through this exchange is in Holme’s impersonality. He brushes aside Septimus’s complaints as ‘non-sense’, and gives him ‘something to make him sleep’. He exploits the medical situation he is exposed to. Septimus can see through the facade of this medical professional and it sickens him. This writing is set at a time when the medical industry began to make massive bounds into established society. Doctors climb the ranks of society and their patients follow their advice without second thought. There is even an allusion to the medical institution surpassing the church in terms of public prowess on page 92. Sir William Bradshaw is a noted mental health professional among the higher rungs of English society. His wife photographs decaying and dilapidated churches and frames them in gold.
Sir Bradshaw is clearly wealthy, and his material possessions are referenced prior to meeting his character. “Probably, Rezia thought, that was Sir Wlliam Bradshaw’s house with the grey motor car in front of it. Indeed it was – Sir William Bradshaw’s motor car; low, powerful, grey with plain initials interlocked on the pannel, as if the pomps of heraldry were incongruous, this man being the ghostly helper, the priest of science.” (92) Septimus’s wife recognized Bradshaw’s house by the elegant car out front. It is described as powerful, giving Bradshaw a mirage. The fact that his house is identified by his car is a signal that medical doctors are a part of the elite.
Bradshaw deals with Septimus in a very similar manner as Dr. Holmes. “It was a case of complete breakdown, with every symptom in an advanced stage, he ascertained in two or three minutes (writing answers to questions, murmured discreetly, on a pink card.)” (93) Sir Bradshaw is an extension of Holmes. He is what Holmes aspires to be. He has been knighted, the highest honor a person could be given in their society, do dictate his treatments upon his patients. “For often Sir William would travel sixty miles or more down into the country to visit the rich, the afflicted, who could afford the very large fee which Sir William very properly charged for his advice.” (92) The diction in this sentence reveals much. The pairing of ‘rich’ and ‘afflicted’ is ironic in intention. Implying the good doctors services are not truly required. In that vein, the phrase ‘properly charged’ implies that it is very reasonable the good doctor makes an increadible amount of money for his advice. This embodies the malice that is Septimus’s struggle with human nature.
Septimus recognizes his doctors for what they were, an extension of human nature. He cannot escape them, and despairs. Even his wife thinks that Dr. Holmes is a nice man, a good man. “Dr. Holmes was such a kind man. He was so interested in Septimus. He only wanted to help them, he said. So he was deserted.” (90) Septimus will eventually commit suicide rather than suffer any more exposure to human nature.