Mrs. Dalloway Mind Reading

“But how lovely, she said, taking his flowers. She understood; she understood without his speaking; his Clarissa. She put them in vases on the mantelpiece.”

Clarissa’s seeming understanding of Richard’s meaning with the gift would suggest that she knows him well enough to make assumptions of his thoughts. However, the following thought isn’t hers, but Richard’s, “his Clarissa”. That their differing understandings follow one after the other, gives the idea that they’re united, that they know each other enough to make these inferences. Yet, Mr. Dalloway’s true meaning behind the flowers is lost in his inability to stay “I love you” to Clarissa, and instead claims her as “his”. His dehumanizing her to a property to be owned, gives reason to suggest that he doesn’t actually love her, but rather the idea of having her, which would exiplain his silence. Mrs. Dalloway’s struggle for identity and agency as seen throughout the novel are a result of Mr. Dalloway’s unspoken possession of her person.

Dalloway Mind-read

“What business had the Bradshaws to talk of death at her party? A young man had killed himself. And they talked of it at her party– the Bradshaws, talked of death. He had killed himself– but how? Always her body went through it first, when she was told, suddenly, of an accident; her dress flamed, her body burnt. He had throw himself from a window. Up had flashed the ground; through him, blundering, bruising, went the rusty spikes. There he lay with a thud, thud, thud in his brain, and then suffocation of blackness. So she saw it. But why had he done it? And the Bradshaws talked of it at her party!” (184).

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1925. Print.

First and foremost, the fundamental layer between this paragraph and the audience is its narrator. From there, Mrs. Dalloway serves as a quasi-layer added to the mix, as most of the progression above stems from her own stream of consciousness. Furthermore, Mrs. Dalloway seems to even be questioning the motives of Septimus, the man who we understand is the suicidal man of the conversations of the party. Already, there are several layers at work of one person thinking and commenting on what another is thinking. The paragraph puts an emphasis on the effect of this tragedy on Mrs. Dalloway’s party, although there should be no correlation. Between the multiple filters on the narration, it remains ambiguous whether it is the narrator commenting on Mrs. Dalloway’s misfortune, or Mrs. Dalloway’s complaint of her misfortune (relatively speaking). The following questions purposed hold a similar effect– the man’s suicide is undermined in its negative association with the distraction of Mrs. Dalloway’s party. The consistent use of pronouns like “her” and “she” would make one think that the narrator is more omniscient. However, by repeatedly highlighting that death was being discussed at her party, it seems a more selfish and personal consciousness sort of comment to make. This therefore resurfaces the question– who is the narrator? The constant shift between direct, indirect, and free indirect discourse allows Woolf to transcend the limits of concrete, omniscient narration.

Mrs. Dalloway Mind-Read

“She felt very like him- the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it; Thrown it away.”

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt Inc, 1925. Print. 182

This line from Mrs. Dalloway is ironic with the title of the assignment itself, “mindread”, because it is as if she can or had actually read Septimus’ mind. Clarissa put herself in Septimus’ shoes before he died and therefore knew his mindset and feelings. Not only that, but Clarissa could also relate to Septimus because she felt similar emotions. However, this idea of feeling what he felt ultimately desensitizes the death of Septimus and what he went through because at the end of the day, it is all subjective. There is no way she actually read his mind, but it is made to seem that way- that the feelings are shared.

Peter Walsh’s Mind Read in Mrs. Dalloway

“Mrs. Burgess, a good sort and no chatterbox, in whom he had confided, thought this absence of his in England, ostensibly to see lawyers might serve to make Daisy reconsider, think what it meant.” (157, Harcourt)

This sentence is quite confusing, as it is Peter Walsh’s thought about a time when he had talked to Mrs. Burgess about what she had thought about Daisy. I think that this sentence really draws on the issue of validity in the novel because it is a literal he-said, she-said, and then she-said moment. There is a lot of inference about something that Peter remembers, not even something that is happening during this day. As a reader, the context of the passage is confusing and if one isn’t paying attention, it might be assumed that the thought and narration has switched over to Mrs. Burgess but in actuality it is still Peter. This draws on how the mind works as a train of thought moves from one memory, to one person, to another with very little transition or signposting.

Peter Walsh’s mind-read of Clarissa Dalloway

“She would be frightfully sorry for him; she would think what in the world she could do to give him pleasure (short always of the one thing) and he could see her with the tears running down her cheeks going to her writing-table and dashing off that one line which he was to find greeting him…. ‘Heavenly to see you!’”

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2005), 152.

In response to receiving Clarissa’s brief note, Peter Walsh imagines what she must have been thinking as she wrote it. Woolf’s use of the conditional tense emphasizes that this is what Peter thinks what happened, and this may not necessarily be what Clarissa was actually thinking. Her use of semi-colons also trace the way in which Peter constructs this imagining. Typically, what follows the semi-colon is a logical follow-up or support of the previous statement. In this case, each sentence leads into the next to form one big, compound sentence, creating a sense of progression that mimics Peter’s step-by-step construction of Clarissa’s thoughts. Woolf breaks the pattern a little when she adds in parenthesis “short always of the one thing,” which may be interpreted as the possibility of a marriage or romantic relationship between Peter and Clarissa. By creating this break in Peter’s thought process, Woolf detracts from the “fantasy” in his head by sneaking in the present tense reality in which they’ll never be together romantically. As a result, Woolf relates to the reader that Peter’s imagining of Clarissa’s thoughts are what he wants to believe to have happened, but likely did not. When Peter quotes Clarissa’s one line at the end, Woolf uses a gruff and sarcastic tone that indicates Peter’s frustration of having been made to think about what Clarissa was thinking when she wrote the note.


Clarissa Mind-Read of Peter

“They thought, or Peter at any rate thought, that she enjoyed imposing herself; liked to have famous people about her; great names; was simply a snob in short” (121).

    Clarissa speculates on everyone’s thoughts about her, but she becomes aware that she is estimating simply Peter’s, evident as she (focalized) notes this in the very next clause. The indistinct “they,” immediately clarified to mean Peter only, demonstrates that Peter alone is the metric for Clarissa’s sense of scrutiny from everyone in her immediate circle. In other words, Peter is the “they.” Most people are concerned with their reputation or how they come off to people, but the “they” a person senses scrutiny/judgement from is merely a faceless, general group of people. So, it becomes clear that Peter’s judgements of Clarissa are the ones she is concerned with the most, if not the only ones she is genuinely concerned with. The use of semi-colons as a way of listing, very succinctly and determinately, her perspective on what (Peter) thinks of her, shows that she has thought this out before; she has made a very definitive idea of exactly what Peter thinks about her. Clarissa goes on to state a value judgement Richard makes of her: “Richard merely thought it foolish of her to like excitement when she knew it was bad for her heart” (121). But this would be a more clinical, impersonal judgement on Richard’s part that Clarissa doesn’t seem concerned with. It’s stated as a perfunctory afterthought she doesn’t seem too worried about.

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1925. Print.


Mrs. Dalloway Mind-Read

“She understood; she understood without his speaking; his Clarissa.”

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, 1925. Print. 115.

This sentence assumes that Mrs. Dalloway is capable of reading the mind of her husband, and understanding that by giving her flowers, he was thinking of her as: “his Clarissa.” It implies that the two know each other and understand each other very well. However, Mr. Dalloway brought his wife the flowers with the intention of telling her that he loved her, although he ended up being unable to say it. His lack of ability to come out and say this implies that he does not love her at all, and this mind-read implies that maybe Mrs. Dalloway herself gets that. Her validity in her assumptions about his thoughts are likely accurate, since she did assume that he meant to say “his Clarissa,” not “I love you,” which is a declaration of ownership more than it is one of love. However, since Mr. and Mrs. Dalloway are obviously not very close (not even close enough for him to feel comfortable saying that he loves her) her validity in knowing what he is thinking is somewhat questionable, since she may not know him as well as a typical wife would know her husband. This relates to the rest of the novel because the very title in itself–“Mrs. Dalloway”–implies a sense of ownership of Mr. Dalloway over his wife, since Mrs. Dalloway’s first name is not even given to the readers until further on in the novel. Mrs. Dalloway’s struggle for her own identity and agency is a huge theme in the novel, and this sentence of her knowing that her husband is very possessive and objectifying of her, expresses that theme.