Mrs. Dalloway | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

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Mrs. Dalloway | Section 10 (Septimus and Rezia Visit Sir William Bradshaw) | Summary

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Summary

At noon the Warren Smiths arrive for the appointment with Dr. Bradshaw. (Meanwhile, Clarissa Dalloway is laying out her evening dress.) Bradshaw is wealthy, with a gray motorcar. He is a doctor well known for treating the rich. Respected in the community for his hard work, Bradshaw loves his job but is growing wearier as he ages. He believes he has a unique compassion and understanding of the human soul. When Septimus walks in, Bradshaw immediately diagnoses him with a severe nervous breakdown.

Bradshaw interviews Septimus and Rezia, noting that Septimus served with distinction in the war (Septimus himself feels he has failed). When Bradshaw asks if Septimus has any worries, Septimus insists only that he has committed a crime. Bradshaw then talks to Rezia alone. Rezia admits that Septimus has threatened suicide. Bradshaw says Septimus's case is serious and recommends a rest home in the country. Rezia is skeptical that her husband needs to be institutionalized, but Bradshaw reiterates that a rest home is the only solution.

When they tell Septimus the idea, he sneers dismissively. Well-dressed Bradshaw has little patience for shabby Septimus's insistence that he's more educated than the doctor himself. As Bradshaw tries to draw further details from him, Septimus fears his torturers and is concerned that he can't remember his crime. Bradshaw finally says he'll make arrangements for Septimus to go to a home and leaves the Smiths alone. Rezia feels she has asked for help and has been deserted.

Bradshaw's belief that rest cures mental illness comes from a philosophy of "divine proportion." Health is proportion, he believes. A life lived in proportion includes optimism and patriotism—"family affection; honor; courage; and a brilliant career." The sister of proportion, conversion, involves losing one's own personality and will to other forces. For instance, Lady Bradshaw has converted to her husband's will. She once enjoyed her own interests; now she's devoted to Bradshaw's business. Despite Bradshaw's conviction that his patients love and appreciate him, as Rezia and Septimus leave his office, Rezia declares that she doesn't like him.

Analysis

Woolf emphasizes that Bradshaw is about as well regarded as doctors come; he serves the ailing rich, and in the process he has become rich himself. Bradshaw is convinced that he is doing good in the world. At first the Warren Smiths' visit seems promising. Bradshaw instantly diagnoses Septimus with a serious nervous breakdown, leaving the reader hopeful that Septimus will get the help he needs.

Bradshaw notices, as the reader has, that Septimus attaches symbolic meanings to words. And despite Septimus's desire to kill himself, his self-worth seems grandiose: he compares himself to "the Lord who had gone from life to death." Bradshaw's diagnosis of the lack of "a sense of proportion" seems accurate. Septimus doesn't see the world the way it truly is. He fixates on small events, like his nature observations, and doesn't care about large ones, like his wife's distress.

Rezia is proud of the same military service that has tortured her husband. She reveals herself to be a caring and loving partner to Septimus. She's skeptical that the solitude and rest Bradshaw advocates will do anything to help Septimus participate in the world, and she wants to be with him as he recovers.

Like Holmes, Bradshaw diminishes Septimus's serious concerns by saying "We all have moments of depression." He brushes Septimus off with a simple cure of rest, the absence of stimuli for an overstimulated man. He doesn't consider the complexity of what Septimus is going through, and his pomposity doesn't leave Rezia feeling secure. But Bradshaw believes he's doing the right thing—he's seen patients like Septimus before. His cure of "proportion" involves muting personalities, uniqueness, and the trauma of past experiences, rather than attending to them. His treatments have "penalized despair," which Woolf doesn't believe is a crime, but a necessary component of the human condition.

With enough "proportion," Bradshaw's patients eventually lose their individuality and humanity through "conversion." The conversion process comes in a friendly guise, like a doctor who wants to help and ignores anyone who disagrees with him. Conversion is another means to "the death of the soul." The female metaphor for conversion suggests a welcoming, maternal figure, belying selfish intentions. It also adds to the list of mysterious, metaphorical female figures in Mrs. Dalloway, like the woman in Peter's dream and the voice he hears singing.

Woolf implies that medical care can harm as much as help. Other well-appointed helpers in the novel, such as Hugh Whitbread, are revealed to be harming the people they try to help. Bradshaw's insistence that life is good, even when patients clearly cannot afford the material comfort that Bradshaw himself enjoys, shows how little he considers their needs. Bradshaw's life is indeed good, protected from many of the troubles his patients have. His dislike for Septimus's shabby clothes may indicate that Bradshaw actively discriminates against the poor, even though he was once poor himself. This treatment reflects a larger issue of discrimination in London against the working class and homeless, whom Bradshaw entrusts to the police.

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