A Sense of Proportion

2140 Words9 Pages
More English soldiers died in the Great War than in any other British Empire conflict. Under the best of circumstances, this would have been a difficult burden to bear. Moreover, the manner of fighting shattered all romantic notions of noble and gallant warfare - there is nothing noble or gallant about trench warfare or poison gas. Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway is a novel that speaks to belated trauma and the cruelty of failing to face its realities. Much of this sentiment is expressed by the futile struggles of Septimus Smith, a psychologically maimed soldier who has returned from the Western Front. And, while feeling incapable of love contributes to Septimus’s demise, the immediate cause is the intensely evil conduct demonstrated by his doctor, Sir William Bradshaw. Septimus suffers from both a frozen heart and a stricken soul. Since his return from the war , now married for five years to Rezia from Milan, his life has been increasingly drab and unfulfilling, struggling as always to make sense of things, but without real success, except for some sporadic moments of clarity and self understanding. His mind and heart remain captives of his war sufferings, which he never really rises above. His affliction is ever-present and all encompassing regardless of where he happens to be or what he happens to be doing. Even his relationship with his wife appears to be null and non-existent, content as he is, he appears: “to talk to himself, to talk to a dead man, on the seat over there” (65). Septimus’s shell-shocked condition deteriorates so much in his postwar setting: “he descends another step into the pit…he dropped his head on his hands. Now he had surrendered; now other people must help him” (90). Dr. Holmes, a kindly, amia... ... middle of paper ... ... gone to Sir William for a consultation. Her earlier experience with Sir William now connects her to Septimus and also validates the Smith’s fears in dealing with Sir William. Sir William, for Clarissa, is a messenger of terrible news. “Oh! Thought Clarissa, in the middle of my party, here’s death, she thought” (183). Sir William is for her a sinister and menacing force, and the sight of him “curls her up” (182). She recognizes him as an “extraordinary able” (183) doctor, but “yet to her obscurely evil, without sex or lust, extremely polite to women, but capable of some indescribable outrage – forcing your soul, that was it”(184). In Septimus, Clarissa not only sees her own mortality, but also feels a fleeting and fragile human existence which questions sin, guilt, evil, death, and redemption. Sir William is clearly the novel’s metaphor for evil par excellence.
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