Mrs. Dalloway | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

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Mrs. Dalloway | Section 15 (Septimus Commits Suicide) | Summary

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Summary

Septimus Warren Smith rests on the sofa in the sitting room of his home. Observing the light on the wall, he feels unafraid and briefly content. Rezia, beside him, makes a hat for Mrs. Filmer's daughter. She thinks Septimus has been excited for no reason lately, constantly seeing Evans, and hearing sounds that Rezia can't hear. He especially despises Dr. Holmes, who stands for something horrible, though Rezia isn't sure what. Rezia and Septimus discuss Mrs. Filmer's family. Septimus, in an effort not to go mad, pays deliberate attention to the objects around him. He jokes about the hat, and Rezia laughs, enjoying a connection to him that she hasn't felt in a long time.

A knock at the door prompts Rezia to think Bradshaw has arrived, but it is only a girl with the evening paper. Septimus and Rezia read together before he rests. In his sleep Septimus suffers another flashback to the war and calls out for Evans. Joining Septimus, Rezia remembers the way they met and the comfort they felt together, and vows to help him. Septimus, disturbed, is thinking about Bradshaw again. He asks Rezia to bring him his papers and drawings, which are incomprehensible to him now. He cries out for Rezia to burn his papers, but she is determined to keep them. She says that she'll go with Septimus to the rest home, despite Bradshaw's desire to separate the couple so Septimus can heal alone. Nothing will separate them, she promises.

Dr. Holmes arrives at the house. Rezia says she won't let him see her husband, but Dr. Holmes insists and pushes past her. Upstairs, Septimus hears Holmes approach. He looks around for a way to kill himself and decides on the window. Sitting on the rail he feels he doesn't want to die, but throws himself over the railing as Holmes enters the room. In the commotion Dr. Holmes calls Septimus a coward and gives Rezia something to drink. Dr. Holmes can't imagine why Septimus killed himself. Rezia notices Mrs. Filmer, their neighbor, in the garden waving an apron that resembles a flag. Resting, Rezia recalls happy memories. She gently tells Mrs. Filmer that Septimus is dead. Mrs. Filmer is dismayed and watches through the window to see Dr. Holmes.

Analysis

Septimus and Rezia are allowed a brief moment of tranquility and happiness before Septimus's death. Septimus momentarily relaxes in the sun, but the light is combined with shadow. He repeats "Fear no more," the Shakespearean phrase that consoled Clarissa. Finally, he and Rezia learn to no longer fear death. They see it as inevitable, the end they're determined to find. And Rezia is granted some consolation in the enjoyment of her temporary life, past and present. Septimus's death is, for her, a kind of redemption.

The caricature Septimus invents of Dr. Holmes is another instance of someone reinventing another individual's inner life, based more on their own thoughts than the stranger's details. Dr. Holmes has become a reflection of everything corrupt and disingenuous with the world, the death of the soul, the way Hugh Whitbread is to Peter and Sally and Miss Kilman is to Clarissa. By contrast Septimus's sense of "a coverlet of flowers" implies he's noticing small details as beautiful and worthwhile—a respite from the despair and anguish in the wider world. He realizes why Rezia makes hats (and why Clarissa gives her parties): to make something lovely and help others enjoy life.

Rezia is more resigned in this passage, more at peace, even though her circumstances change for the worse. She seems to have accepted Septimus's outbursts as part of her life with him. Like other characters she's accustomed to the march of time—"First one thing, then another." She even recalls how she met Septimus, and the gentle, enigmatic personality she fell in love with. She knows the old Septimus is still there. Her domestic, quiet moment of peace before his death shows Woolf's view that domestic moments can be healing and significant, as much or more so than larger events.

When Rezia accepts Septimus's scattered, random drawings and writings, rather than being shocked or calling them the ravings of a madman but seeing their potential, she is showing acceptance for who he is and who he has become. She has grown and developed over the book, becoming a devoted ally and caregiver, and finding a measure of personal contentment. Her growth mirrors Clarissa's movement toward security, contentment, and awareness throughout the novel.

Although readers see Septimus's suicide coming—the event is foreshadowed almost from the moment he's introduced—they may be surprised at its suddenness and timing. He doesn't want to die, but he'd rather take his chances with death than resign himself to Dr. Holmes's condescension or Bradshaw's solitary homes for the rest of his life. For once Septimus thinks quickly and clearly, not overwhelmed by emotion or imagination.

Readers aren't told how to feel about his decision. The aftereffects on the other characters, who have seen more death in World War I than ever, are varied. Rezia wants to honor his death as a war veteran, and does so in her memories. Dr. Holmes doesn't. Septimus survived the war, only to take his own life: Dr. Holmes's bewilderment is a darkly comical note for readers who know Septimus well. Mrs. Filmer's thought that "married people ought to be together" reflects Rezia's own decision to stay with her husband. Now Septimus leaves without her but on his own terms.

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