Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Self Control

While ideas float in and out of Mrs. Dalloway's conciousness through the course of Viginia Woolf's novel, the fear of her own mortality comes up more than once and plays an important role in how Mrs. Dalloway chooses to conduct herself and her thoughts during her day. As she stands in her room, letting her thoughts wander over memories of Sally and Peter and Burton, she experiences a "sudden spasm, as if, while she mused, the icy claws had had the chanve to fix in her" (36). These icy claws are the hands of death attempting to catch her in a moment where she is not fully on guard. Clarissa thinks to herself that she is too young for death to have a hold on her, and, in order to stave him off, she decides to "plunge... into the very hart of the moment, transfix... it, there - the moment of this June morning on which was the presseure of all the other mornings...." (36). She thinks that by the act of being constantly present in the single moments of her day, by living her life only in the present, she will, through this vigilance, be able to keep death from claiming her.
Clarissa realizes the many facets of her own personailty, the multiple persons that lie within herself and present themselves as the dominant self at different times in life or in a day (this is a theme Woolf explores more fully in Orlando), and realizes that she must control these multiple selves, bringing them all together and presenting to the world only the one that she sees fit. This proccess is described in the narrative as Clarissa's attempt to "assemble that diamond shape, that single person..." (37). Clarissa pauses on the staircase to attempt to call her selves together and prepare a face to meet the faces that she meets.
While she may be able to control the person that she presents to the outside world, Clarissa is completely unable to control her thoughts, to keep herself constantly living in the present moment, as is evident thought the course of the narrative, for her thoughts constantly revert back to her life at Burton, only to be called back sharply by some event in her present day. These sharp awakenings remind Clarissa and the reader that she is falling far short of her declaration that she shall plunge into the present.
This inability to control the path of one's thoughts, to remain unflinchingly in the present situation is mirrored and intensified in Septimus Smith. Doctor Holmes tells Rezia that there is nothing wrong with her husband and that it is only a matter of control. Rezia later wonders why Semptimus is so unable to control himself, to subdue is ravings. Even Septimus himslef tries to control his madness and stay in the present moment long enough to converse with Rezia and help her with her hat-making. "He began, very cautiosly, to open his eyes, to see whether a gramaphone was really there... He must be cautious. He would not go mad" (138). Septimus tries to experience the real world slowly, controling his intake, taking care to to become too excited. Septimus has a thought similar to Mrs. Dalloway's thought that death is waiting around the corner for the soul not constatnly on guard: "Once you stumble, Septimus wrote on the back of a postcard, human nature is on you" (90). For Septimus, the human nature waiting for the soul that lacks vigilance is not only death, but the conversion forces of Dr. Holmes, the complete death of will and spirit as well.
Both characters realize that the way to avoid thier demise is constance vigilance and placing oneself entirely in the present moment, yet, as we see, both are unable to control thier minds. Clarissa constantly floats back into the past, and, try as he might, Septimus is never able to escape his delusions for long. This failure of self control, along with the fear of the control of others, leads to Septimus's decision to kill himself, while Mrs. Dalloway will presumably continue on as she has, always striving for self control, always failing.

1 comment:

Erin Sells said...

Keep your eye on mortality as a major theme in all twenty-four hour novels. The idea of limited temporality in narrative translates into limited temporality in life itself.