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Mrs. Dalloway

Virginia Woolf

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Mrs. Dalloway | Quotes


Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

Narrator, Section 1

Introduced formally, the novel's protagonist shows she cares about entertaining and beauty. Her desire to buy flowers, even though servants can do so for her, reinforces the idea that her parties are an offering to her friends and to life.


First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable.

Narrator, Section 1

This phrase is repeated throughout the book. The menacing tone of the words warning and irrevocable contrasts with the pleasant sound of musical and emphasizes that time moves on unstoppably. Once hours are gone, no one can get them back. The phrase describes how time unites the characters.


She always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.

Narrator, Section 1

Early in the book, as readers are still getting to know Clarissa, she shows she is aware of the risks of living and participating in the world. Her loneliness and fear affect her experience—and since she feels emotions deeply, upsetting events may be "dangerous" to her.


Fear no more the heat o' the sun/Nor the furious winter's rages.

Clarissa Dalloway, Section 1

The quotation is from Shakespeare's play Cymbeline. Mrs. Dalloway takes place on a hot, sunny, June day, making the heat palpable. The words inspire Clarissa not to fear what she cannot control, such as the weather. Both she and Septimus will repeat the words fear no more as they struggle with anxiety over the past and future.


Men must not cut down trees. There is a God.

Septimus Warren Smith, Section 2

Septimus's dreamlike, fantastic thoughts often involve nature. He sees himself as one with nature, a part of the world, even as he battles suicidal thoughts. His belief in God, or a divine force, reflects an evolving sense of faith, contrary to the Modernist movement that leans away from religion and more toward spirituality.


If it were now to die, 'twere now to be most happy.

Clarissa Dalloway, Section 3

Clarissa's young love for Sally first inspired her to this sentiment. Dramatic and emotional, she felt completely fulfilled. As she ages she gives the Shakespearean quotation a more philosophical approach. It now resembles her affection for life and all that it offers.


The death of the soul.

Peter Walsh, Section 6

Peter utters this phrase to himself as he wakes from his dream. It encapsulates much of his discontent with his life, his friends, and the world after Clarissa broke off their relationship. People like Clarissa and Hugh appear concerned only with socializing and manners; the nation and world are reeling from the soul-killing events of the war. Peter's memories and reflections, and those of other characters, can be read as attempts to salvage their souls.


He went to France to save an England which consisted ... of Shakespeare's plays and Miss Isabel Pole.

Narrator, Section 9

Septimus is well read and self-educated. He went to war with little real-life experience, learning mostly from books and plays. He fought for an idealized, noble version of England. He idealizes his mentor Isabel Pole, as well, imagining her to be more than who she is (many characters in Mrs. Dalloway imagine the people they love to be greater than they are). During the war Septimus learned to block his emotions so he could deal with the violence and carnage of war. Upon his return he realizes that the ideal England never existed. This disappointment fuels his traumatic stress.


It might be possible that the world itself is without meaning.

Septimus Warren Smith, Section 9

Septimus expresses a Modernist view here. He rejects religion and authority, choosing to name the terms of his own existence. If the world has no intrinsic meaning, the only meaning it does have is the meaning that people give to it. Septimus sees meaning in small, everyday sights, like a dog or a tree, but he cannot reconcile the bigger picture with the atrocities he has seen in the war.


There is a dignity in people; a solitude; even between husband and wife a gulf.

Clarissa Dalloway, Section 13

Solitude and privacy are essential to the novel and its characters. Clarissa and Richard feel the distance between them as a "dignity," respecting their individuality. They have not converted their personalities into each other's as Bradshaw and his wife have done. But they also feel the "gulf" of loneliness and inability to connect.


After that, how unbelievable death was!—that it must end.

Clarissa Dalloway, Section 13

Clarissa and other characters consider their lives as a whole, a tapestry, rather than a sequence of events. They feel the end is "unbelievable" and treat death as a mystery to be respected and feared, rather than dreaded.


Absorbing, mysterious, of infinite richness, this life.

Peter Walsh, Section 16

Peter has experienced a great deal—the loss of his job, the collapse of his marriage, and his unfulfilled love for Clarissa. He takes his positive and negative experiences together and finds his life "mysterious" and inexplicable. There's always more to discover, he thinks, more to experience—the "infinite richness." Many characters, particularly Clarissa and even Septimus, feel similar gratitude toward life. This statement is also Modernist in its implicit rejection of an afterlife—this life is all the characters believe they have, and it's enough.


Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate.

Clarissa Dalloway, Section 17

Clarissa tries to sort out her feelings about Septimus's death. She is uncomfortable with how much it upsets her, until she considers why a suffering person might take his own life. Since Clarissa, too, has difficulty communicating in the way she wants to, she feels an affinity with Septimus's despair and final "defiance."


She felt somehow very like him—the young man who had killed himself.

Clarissa Dalloway, Section 17

Clarissa's affinity for Septimus is the ultimate connection between strangers (the two never meet). Though Clarissa didn't fight in the war, she still feels its effects in the city, and she and Septimus both observe the racing of London into the modern age. They both struggle with depression that the doctors can't treat. This quotation proves that souls are often more alike than different.


What can one know even of the people one lives with every day? ... Are we not all prisoners?

Sally Seton, Section 17

In a novel full of characters who imagine the lives of strangers, several characters, including Sally, realize that even their closest companions are fundamentally unknowable. They are "prisoners" of privacy and solitude, which are both gifts and burdens.

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