Clarissa Dalloway: Character Analysis - in Mrs. Dalloway

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Her Pivotal Role

      Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway is the central figure round whom all the story revolve. She is the main focal point of the action in the novel. On the surface level, Mrs. Dalloway is the story of Mrs. Clarissa’s Dalloways party. It is through her mind that the story and movement of the novel goes forward and backward.

Her Family Background

      Mrs. Dalloway was born and brought up at Bourton. She was fond of walking. She had visited London with her friends many times especially with her lover Peter Walsh. She preferred Richard Dalloway for marriage because she loved power and self-material, glamour and sophisticated, artificial modem life. Richard Dalloway had provided him all the material and economic security Moreover, she wanted to have some privacy also in married life which was provided to her by Mr. Richard Dalloway.

      Mr. Richard Dalloway was a member of Parliament, thus Dalloway's had a vast social circle. Clarissa loved to hold parties at home but that was used to be arranged for the benefit of Richard. Inspite of all this aristocracy, her married life was not happy She felt that she did not respond to her husband’s love warmly. She became very sad and depressed when she was informed by her maid: servant Lucy that Mr. Richard Dalloway had gone to lunch with: Lady. Bruton.

Her Charming and Fascinating Personality

      Although the novelist has not described the outward appearance of Mrs. Dalloway yet from remarks and hints we come to know that she was not exceptionally beautiful but she had her own magnetism. “She had a narrow pea-stick figure; a ridiculous little face, beaked like a bird’s. That she held herself well was true; and had nice hands and feet; and dressed well, considering that she spent little.” She is presented as “light, tall, very upright.”

      Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway was fifty years old looking white because of the recent attack of influenza yet her neighbor, Scrope Purvis considered her a very ‘charming woman’, In her girlhood, she was so attractive that Peter Walsh fell deeply in love with her. There was “a touch of the bird about her, of the gay, blue, green, light vivacious.”

      Clarissa Dalloway’s Love of Beauty
Clarissa Dalloway was a cultured, intelligent and well-sophisticated lady. She admired the beauty of fine June morning, the flowers, birds, bright sunny days and even the shops of London and traffic of London streets. “Bond Street fascinated her... its flags flying; its shops; no splash; no glitter one roll of tweed in the shop where her father had bought his suits for fifty years; a few pearls; salmon on an ice block.” Clarissa was much fascinated by flowers. Mrs. Richard Dalloway understood it very clearly and he preferred flowers to give her as a gift. She reflected over the beauty of nature many times. For example: “How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet ... solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke winding off them and the rooks rising, falling.” She has praised beauty in every aspect of life. She loved the beauty of the world and also hated ugliness.

Clarissa’s Gusto for Life

      At the age of fiftees, Clarissa Dalloway’s zest for life is noteworthy The most remarkable characteristic was her capacity to enjoy life. We are reported, “And of course she enjoyed life immensely It was: her nature to enjoy ... any how there was no bitterness in her, none of that sense of moral virtue which is so repulsive in good women. She enjoyed practically everything. If you walked with her in Hyde Park, now it was a bed of tulips, now a child in a perambulator, now some absurd little drama she made upon the spur of the moment.” She had ‘divine vitality’ and gave incessant parties. She liked very much to visit people, to lunch with them and invite them. She was fond of dancing and riding. “To dance, to ride, she had adored all that.”

Mrs. Dalloway’s Sense of Independence

      Clarissa was a lover of freedom, she wanted to lead her life according to her own wishes even after marriage. In marriage, she thought, there must be a little independence, even license which Peter was not expected to give and with Richard this was no problem. “With Peter, everything has to be shared, everything gone into.” Later on, she detested Miss Kilman, Elizabeth’s tutoress, because she was dominating over her daughter, Elizabeth.

Her Love for Peter Walsh

      Mrs. Dalloway was in love with Peter Walsh before her marriage with Richard. This love of Peter Walsh was a part and parcel of her life. It has left ineradicable marks upon her soul. Everytime she was reminded of Peter Walsh whenever she thought of her past and Bourton. “Always when she thought of him she thought of their quarrel for some reason, because she wanted his good opinion so much perhaps she owed him words; ‘sentimental’, ‘civilized’, they started up everyday of her life, as if he guarded her. Her attitude towards life was sentimental. “‘Sentimental’, perhaps she was to be thinking of the past. What would he (Peter) think, she wondered, when he came back”. When Peter Walsh had unexpectedly come back from India and went to meet her, she felt “so glad, so shy, so utterly taken aback to have Peter Walsh come to her unexpectedly in the morning;”. She went to the extent of kissing him. All through the novel, she has recollected her memories associated with Peter Walsh, his movements and gestures, and innumerable details of those days when they had walked together at Bourton. She did not marry him and it caused great spiritual anguish for both of them. She had left him due to her sense of independence, spiritual privacy; that, “attic-room”, and Richard provided her everything. Peter was much possessive and was not expected to allow her an “attic room”.

An Affectionate Wife and Mother

      Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway was a conscientious mother and an affectionate wife. She remained faithful throughout the novel to her husband inspite of her spiritual emptiness. She was highly pleased when Mr. Richard Dalloway presented her flowers as a gift. Mr. Richard Dalloway brought pillows, quilt and asked her to sleep for an hour as Doctor had advised her. She considered such actions as “part of his adorable, divine simplicity, which no one had to the same extent”. She loved him because he was practical, successful and had allowed ‘spiritual privacy’ to her. She was used to give incessant parties in the interest of her husband.

      She was proud of her daughter also. She introduced her to Peter Walsh full of pride as ‘My Elizabeth;’ She detested Miss Kilman because she thought that Miss Killman has been dominating her daughter. She did not like her beautiful daughter to develop intimate terms with a vulgar and ugly woman.

Her Passion for Sally Seton

      Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway was indeed among those woman who ‘who can feel for women what men feel for women’. She loved Sally as a man loved a woman. Jeannette II. Forster has noticed her lesbian tendencies and traced that in her hook Sex Variant Women in Literature. When she first saw Sally her eyes forgot to wink. “The strange thing, on looking back, was the purity, the integrity, of her feelings for Sally. It was not like one’s feeling for a man. It was protective on her side; sprang from a sense of being in league together, a presentment of something that was bound to part them (they always spoke of marriage as a catastrophe), which led to this chivalry..... She could remember going cold with excitement, and doing her hair in a kind of ecstasy ... and dressing and going downstairs, feeling as she crossed the hall, “if it were now to die, ‘twere now to be most happy.” On one occasion Sally picked a flower, presented that to Clarissa and then kissed her on the lips. “The whole world might have turned upside down. That was the most exquisite moment of her life.”

Her Shortcomings

      Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway was suffering from a perpetual sense of loneliness and emptiness. She was not happy and very much dissatisfied with her life. She ‘would have been, in the first place dark like Lady Bexborough with a skin of crumpled leather and beautiful eyes." She had the oldest sense of being herself invisible, unseen, unknown; there being no marrying, no more having a children now, but only this astonishing and rather solemn progress with the rest of them.”

      She had an intense desire to remain unknown and unseen. She seemed to be fearful of the world. She was confused about the values of her life. Though she enjoyed her life yet it was an aimless enjoyment. She had no purpose and direction in her life. Every other character had their goal in life but Mrs. Dalloway had no such purpose. She gave parties and brought people together but did not know why.

      She was a sceptic. A critic has aptly called her “a thorough going sceptic”. She gradually became an atheist and evolved “the atheist's religion of doing good for the sake of goodness.” She was of belief that gods took enjoyment in hurting, thwarting or spoiling human life. Later on, she began to believe that there existed no gods in the world.

“Death of the soul”

      Modern civilization is a spiritual wasteland, and this, “death of the soul” is symbolized by Clarissa Dalloway. In order to forget her spiritual sterility, she got indulged in social frivolities and trivialities. She exalted “honor, achievement, civilization,” but lacked depth of understanding and feeling.

Mrs. Dalloway: A Symbolical Figure

      Her life was aimless and meaningless. This represents the aimless drifting of contemporary civilization. A.M. Moody has pointed out her as a representative figure. She represents the “upper middle class world of London in which she lives and moves. She is also a criticism of that class; and further, “she is an animated mirror, having a life made up of the world she reflects; she is a living, image of the surface of the society Virginia Woolf was concerned with.” She is the symbol of the insincerity, the triviality and hypocrisy of upper class social life. She is referred as ‘a prude’, cold, hard and something priggish about her.

Mrs. Dalloway: A Round Character and the use of Stream-of-Consciousness Technique

      Mrs. Dalloway is ranked among the immortals of literature. She is a round character, first in the sense that she is a multi-faced personality and secondly because she under the stress of circumstances, gets; changes rapidly and grows psychologically. The ‘roundness’ has been achieved by the technical device of the use of stream-of-consciousness. We see her as a girl, wife, mother, beloved and conventional hostess, not only in the single day of the June but as she was thirty years before at Bourton.

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