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. 

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