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Obsession with the Past

The characters of Mrs. Dalloway are obsessed with ruminating over the past. The only character in the book who seems to be looking towards the future with any level of positivity is Elizabeth, only because she is young enough to look forward and does not really have a past to reminisce about. A majority of the characters, particularly Clarissa, Peter and Richard, spend most of their time looking back to one summer at Bourton. Peter is trapped in the idea of what could have been, how that was the summer he was so in love with Clarissa. Both Clarissa and Peter spend long moments remembering in great detail their summer at Bourton. Sally Seton and Richard also reflect on the summer at Bourton. The characters act as if, even though they have not seen each other for years, that summer was the most pivotal of their lives. Peter says "He had never felt so happy in the whole of his life!" (61)1 as when he was at Bourton. Clarissa refers to Othello's quote "'if it were now to die 'twere now to be most happy'" (34) 1. Both characters experience moments of pure bliss at Bourton. This textual evidence shows Bourton as being the happiest place of their lives. Dwelling on the past is to relive better times.Septimus is also trapped in the past, but less of his own free will than the rest of the characters. While Clarissa reflects on the past as the happier times of her life, Septimus is haunted by the trauma he experienced in the war. Septimus cannot escape the past making him unable to live in the present at all. This is seen when Rezia is constantly trying to bring Septimus to the present. She tries to “make him notice real things” (25)1 to bring him to the present. Evan’s image lingers with Septimus and in his internal monologue Septimus is rarely concerned with the things that are actually happening before him. He simply cannot see the reality of his life, only his past. Ultimately, the past is too much for Septimus and he cannot move forward, killing himself as a result.

Questions for Discussion:

1. What is the difference between Septimus's obsession with the past and Clarissa's? Is this difference significant?