In Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway, I found Septimus Warren Smith to be one of the most intriguing characters, and was drawn to the passage where he addresses beauty in the world (2194 – second paragraph). I found this passage to be both lovely and yet very sad, especially after reading the novel in its whole and knowing Septimus’ fate. As Septimus sits in Regent Park, he takes in his surroundings, and is filled with “exquisite joy” (2194) as he observes a “leaf quivering in [a] rush of air” (2194), or swallows flying through the sky. All that is beautiful and true is “made out of ordinary things” (2194), these simple pleasures of the sights and sounds of Regent Park that – albeit ordinary – become something extraordinary for Septimus. This notion of a collection of ordinary things becoming something extraordinary is prevalent throughout Mrs. Dalloway, as the whole novel takes place during one apparently average day with that is far from ordinary.
While reading this passage I almost felt like I was reading poetry, Woolf makes use of alliteration when Septimus looks up to the sky to see the “swallows, swooping, [and] swerving” (2194), and on numerous occasions personifies the non-human objects that Septimus observes. Leaves “quiver” (2194) and the sun shines “in mockery” and “in pure good temper” (2194). The swallows, which “fling themselves in and out, round and round, yet always with perfect control as if elastics held them” (2194) foreshadow Septimus’ suicide. While deciding how to kill himself, Septimus does not choose “the bread knife”, “the gas fire”, or the “razors” (2238), but instead chooses to end his life by jumping out of a window. He “flung himself vigorously” (2239) similarly to how the birds fling themselves through the sky, but unlike the birds, Septimus does not fly up again.
Septimus does not want to die, why then did the man who believed that “beauty was everywhere” (2194) kill himself? Is his suicide in fact an attempt to preserve what is true and beautiful? The tone of the passage is rather optimistic, but there is an underlying sadness, because although Septimus can see the beauty around him, he cannot fully be apart of it.
Woolf, Virginia. “Mrs. Dalloway”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2012. 2155-2264. Print.