In order to understand whether the discussion of Clarissa is necessary in ‘Mrs Dalloway’ (1925) it is first crucial to clarify and define arguably the main theme of the novel; that “chaos lurks below order” (Sautter-Leger, 2017, p25), and Clarissa’s connection to this chaos. However, Clarissa’s significance to the theme is nothing without Septimus Warren Smith who plays a vital role in explaining the philosophical and psychological value of the novel. Arguably, they act as contrasting characters – Clarissa is the rational, and Septimus the irrational. Their narratives work together to convey a deep discussion of the unconscious mind and participation in modern society. Woolf uses different voices with the intention to both “unify and fragment urban time and space” (Garcey, 1991, p59) as well as providing different perspectives on the past and present. This technique of fragmentation and irrationality also unfolds her assumed philosophical theory:
“That an acceptance of irrationality is necessarily conducive to the development of an autonomous, private self that is actively engaged in the outside world.” (Sautter-Leger, 2017, p28)
This theory is arguably more effective when discussion of the narrative includes Clarissa, who represents the ‘acceptance of irrationality.’ Despite her immersion in her bureaucratic high-society lifestyle, and on the surface her priorities seem somewhat self-absorbed, her ‘private self’ does appear to be ‘engaged in the outside world’. This becomes evident at the novel’s climax: Clarissa’s party, the only instance where all the characters are united, in body or spirit, and where Clarissa’ ‘private self’ is unveiled through the spirit of Septimus. Without Clarissa and therefore without the party, the fragmented narrative is less effective. All characters included are carefully constructed and the discussion of both Clarissa and Septimus personify the fragmented structure of the novel to adhere to its modernist genre. Woolf uses Septimus and Clarissa’s narratives to both structure and convey a deeper psychology, and arguably that aim is not achieved without Clarissa, and therefore her presence is required in such a discussion.
Septimus Warren Smith plays a more vital role in Mrs Dalloway (1925) and to Mrs Dalloway herself than is seen on the surface. Septimus is Woolf’s tool of identifying the flaws in the subjective self – notably ‘irrationality’. Woolf seems to “advocate an acceptance of irrational impulses that restrain a compulsive and debilitating drive towards introspection” (Sautter-Leger, 2017, p3). Arguably what is meant by this is that the acceptance of irrationality is vital in having good mental health and functioning in society. This is where Septimus becomes a pivotal part of the story because his obsession with ordering the irrational, being “scientific” (Woolf, 1976, p21), is what is ultimately his downfall. Clarissa on the other hand has the ability to accept that life is sometimes irrational, disregard it, and continue her social front in order to “escape a psychic death” (Poresky, 1981, p104).
Clarissa’s party scene is arguably where the convoluted narrative starts to make sense for both the reader and Clarissa. Upon hearing the news from Mr Bradshaw about Septimus’ suicide, “the party’s splendour fell to the floor” (Woolf, 1976, p163). Despite not knowing Septimus, Clarissa takes herself away from the situation to compose herself. This unusual bond she has with a man she never knew shows Clarissa has an “odd affinity” which itself is only damaged by reason, or rationality (McLaurin, 1984, pp.28-40). Alone in a room Clarissa arguably connects with “her mad double” (Sautter-Leger, 2017, p26), Woolf writes:
“Fear no more the heat of the sun. .. . She felt somehow very like him — the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away.” (Woolf, 1976, p165)
Equally as Septimus devastatingly finds out in his last moments that life is worthwhile Clarissa, through Septimus, also realises she need “fear no more heat of the sun”. This confirms her emotional connections “depend on her acceptance of a logically inexplicable, totally unscientific, spontaneous empathy” and this irrationality “allows her to move beyond the confines of a restrictive sense of self” (Sautter-Leger, 2017, p22), in other words she also finds out ‘life is worthwhile’. This observation by Clarissa would not have been possible had it not been for her paradoxical contrast, Septimus. Therefore Septimus’ death is crucial in enriching the discussion of Clarissa; he reminds her that there is chaos beneath the surface and gives significance to her social affairs. Indeed, it was the “horror” and “explosion” she required to liven up her perfectly arranged party, but in effect it injected a new lease of life into her too. Guth (1989) argues that Clarissa’s “ability … to ‘lose’ herself in the outside world releases her from a temptation to surrender her corporeal identity” (p20-22), arguably in touch with her ‘private self’ which is apparent when Clarissa realises she had escaped “but that young man killed himself” (Woolf, 1976, p164). Clarissa escapes the party to collect her thoughts, and because she has the ability to do this, she avoids the irrational urge to commit suicide, she knows “the intensity of … her irrational contemplations must be incorporated into the external world in which she lives” (Sautter-Leger, 2017, p23) and therefore “she must go back. She must assemble” (Woolf, 1976, p165). She has consciously overcome the irrational thoughts in her brain and can therefore partake in functioning society, the opposite of what Septimus managed. With that being said, Clarissa still teases the thought of suicide, again connecting with “her mad double” (Sautter-Leger, 2017, p26) by saying that:
“Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate, … closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death” (Woolf, 1976, p163).
This passage appears to come from a place of psychological retrospect; Clarissa paradoxically patronises and praises Septimus’ brave decision as she is in an emotionally higher place than Septimus, having learned how “too much rational deliberation is destabilising” (Sautter-Leger, 2017, p7) and dissociation is the only way to cope in societal affairs. Without this interruption, Clarissa would not have been reminded that “chaos lurks below order” (Sautter-Leger, 2017, p25), which not only adds to the paradoxical contrast that is Septimus and Clarissa and thus irrationality and rationality but it also adds to the fragmented structure of the novel and its stream of consciousness’s. Septimus also lends himself structurally to the novel: “dissonance keeps alive the generic form”, according to Lukacs (1971, p12). Septimus incongruously brings chaotic dissonance in the fact that his post-war condition constantly reminds him to accept a rational approach and to be “always scientific” (Woolf, 1976, p21), yet this exact behaviour is what drives him to suicide. Septimus reveals the necessity of using the opposite of his method; one must embrace and accept irrational thoughts and impulses.
Woolf never implies “a total abandonment to irrationality” more so the “appreciation of logical arrangement” (Sautter-Leger, 2017, p26) and this is apparent in the final scenes: Clarissa knows she “must assemble” (Woolf, 1976, p165). Without Septimus, Clarissa would never be able to indulge her ‘mad double’, as a reader we would only see her facade, controlled by her own consciousness. Clarissa also wouldn’t implicitly reveal Woolf’s message to “conquer death” (Sautter-Leger, 2017, p22). and arguably the final party scene is the most vital part of the novel in terms of philosophical value, and that would not at all be possible without the discussion of Clarissa.
Sass (1992) argues that both modernist art and the mentally ill person are “characterised … by acute self-consciousness and self-reference, and by alienation from action and experience—qualities we might refer to as ‘hyper reflexivity'” (p8). Septimus’ character, hyper-reflexivity and fragmentation not only lends itself to explaining Clarissa psychologically but he also adds to the modernist form of the novel itself. Sass (1992) shows mental illness and modernism are more closely linked than they appear and therefore the discussion of Septimus’ mental illness in contrast to Clarissa’s controlled mentality is what makes the discussion of her so important. Clarissa’s presence in the novel makes the novel the tool that Woolf intended it to be – an “aesthetic vehicle of subjectivity” (Sautter-Leger, 2017, p28).
Ultimately, the novel could not exist without the discussion of Clarissa as content lent from Septimus’ consciousness’s offers psychological evidence of Woolf’s philosophical theory. This theory arguably is that; in order to function in Mrs Dalloway’s London, or any society, it is important to acknowledge and accept the irrational; something Septimus appears to be incapable of. However, this theory would have no balance if it was not for the inclusion of Clarissa and that is what makes the novel the modernist masterpiece that it is. Clarissa is the solution to Septimus, and the representative and solution to the masking of this existentialism or as Sautter-Leger puts it “chaos behind order” (2017, p25). She is a paradoxical character, arguably a binary, a contrast to Septimus – without her demonstrating the positive effect on mentality of shifting between the irrational and rational it is hard to understand Septimus’ motive. She is the rational to his irrational and the balance between the underlying despair common in almost all aspects of Mrs Dalloway (1925) and Clarissa’s party is the pivotal event that brings all aspects of the novel together. The discussion of Septimus enriches Clarissa as a character in a psychological aspect, just as Clarissa give credence to Septimus. Septimus’ death allows Clarissa to “lose herself in the outside world which releases her from a temptation to surrender her corporeal identity.” (Guth, 1989, p20-22) in which then she can “go back” and “assemble” (Woolf, 1976, p165) in the festivities, or facade. This is arguably Woolf’s philosophical theory epitomised through Clarissa’s character, and enriched by her opposite; Septimus, and this is therefore why it is ineffective to exclude Clarissa when referring to meaningful discussion of the novel.