MRS. DALLOWAY QUOTES EXPLAINED #2: “For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life.”

This quotation, part of Clarissa’s thoughts as she walks to the flower shop in the early morning and Big Ben chimes the hour, reveals her strong attachment to life and the concept of life as her own invention. The long, galloping sentence, full of commas and semicolons, mirrors her excitement at being alive on this June day. Clarissa is conscious that the impressions of the things around her do not necessarily hold beauty or meaning in themselves, but that humans act as architects, building the impressions into comprehensible and beautiful moments. She herself revels in this act, in the effort life requires, and she knows that even the most impoverished person living on the streets can derive the same wonder from living. She sees that happiness does not belong to a particular class, but to all who can build up a moment and see beauty around them. Later her husband Richard sees a vagrant woman on the street but classifies her only as a social problem that the government must deal with. Clarissa believes that every class of people has the ability to conceptualize beauty and enjoy life, and she therefore feels that government intervention has limited uses. She does not equate class with happiness.

>>> This one’s great, because it reminds us that we do not find happiness in things, but within ourselves.

MRS. DALLOWAY QUOTES EXPLAINED #3: “This late age of the world’s experience had bred in them all, all men and women, a well of tears. Tears and sorrows; courage and endurance; a perfectly upright and stoical bearing.”

This quotation occurs directly after Clarissa reads lines from Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline in a bookshop window. The lines “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun / Nor the furious winter’s rages” come from a hymn sung at a funeral and suggest that death is a release from the hard struggle of life. The words speak very directly to Clarissa’s own time period, the years after World War I. England is still in shock after having lost so many men in battle, the world now seems like a hostile place, and death seems like a welcome relief. After Clarissa reads the words from Cymbeline, she considers the great amount of sorrow every person now bears. Everyone, regardless of class, has to some degree been affected by the war.

Despite the upright and courageous attitudes many people maintain, they all carry a great sadness, and people cry constantly in Mrs. Dalloway. Peter Walsh bursts into tears at Clarissa’s house. Clarissa’s eyes fill with tears when she thinks of her mother walking in a garden. Septimus cries, and so does Rezia. Tears are never far from the surface, and sadness lurks beneath the busy activity of the day. Most people manage to contain their tears, according to the rules of society, or cry only in private. Septimus, the veteran, is the only character who does not hesitate to cry openly in the park, and he is considered mentally unstable. People are supposed to organize bazaars to help raise money for the veterans. People are supposed to maintain a stiff upper lip and carry on. Admitting to the horrors of the war by crying is not acceptable in English culture, though as Clarissa points out, a well of tears exists in each of them.

>>> This is one of my favorite quotes, because it speaks to the duality of human emotion, and how both happiness and sadness are universal across social classes. While Clarissa has moments of clarity where she is the “architect of her own happiness,” pools of sadness dwell below the surface of her being. During the war, when signs were posted to “Keep Calm and Carry On” – people were holding it in, on the brink of madness. 

MRS. DALLOWAY QUOTES EXPLAINED #1: “She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.”

This quotation, which occurs during Clarissa’s shopping expedition when she pauses for a moment to look at the omnibuses in Piccadilly, emphasizes the contrast between the busyness of public life and the quiet privacy of the soul. Clarissa, even when she is walking in the crowded city streets, contemplates the essential loneliness of life. The image of water acts much like the image of the sun in the novel. The sun beats down constantly, sometimes creating a wonderful feeling of warmth, sometimes scorching unbearably. The rhythmic movement of the sea’s waves is similar. Sometimes the cyclical movement is breathtaking, while sometimes it threatens to drown whoever is too weak to endure the pressure, such as Lady Bradshaw or Septimus. Each person faces these same elements, which seems to join humans in their struggle. However, everyone is ultimately alone in the sea of life and must try to stay afloat the best they can. Despite the perpetual movement and activity of a large city like London, loneliness is everywhere.

Clarissa’s reflection occurs directly after she considers her old friend Peter, who has failed to fulfill the dreams of his youth. As Clarissa ages, she finds it more difficult to know anybody, which makes her feel solitary. She hesitates to define even herself. Failing, becoming overwhelmed by the pressures of life, and drowning are far too easy. Clarissa is fifty-two, she’s lived through a war, and her experiences amplify the dangers of living and of facing the world and other people.

>>> The truth in this one is the fact that within the hustle bustle of life happening around us, we can still feel so incredibly alone; consumed by our own thoughts and emotions.