Mrs Dalloway: Ways of Living

“Her parties! That was it! Her parties! Both of them criticised her very unfairly, laughed at her unjustly, for her parties. That was it! That was it!


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. Well, Peter might think so. Richard merely thought it foolish of her to like excitement when she knew it was bad for her heart. It was childish, he thought. And both were wrong. What she liked was simply life” (Woolf 118)

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2005.

The parties are the only tangible means for Clarissa to experience life—in some sense, it is her drive to live because it is her purpose. The parties are the only instances where Clarissa is seen to be more animate and involved with living—arranging the party, buying flowers, etc. Men like Peter and Richard scoff at her interest in throwing parties when in reality they are responsible for her state of isolation and loneliness; Peter abandoned her and Richard restricts Clarissa from living or getting too excited about life for the sake of her health. In a male dominated society, Peter and Richard try to discourage Clarissa from getting so involved with parties because it is childish and snobbish when it is the only outlet for Clarissa to express her desire for life. The parties are her domain, and she can manage and control them herself without the interference of her husband; it is power even if it’s just a party.

James, “The Middle Ages” Commonplace Book Entry: The Purpose of Life

“ ‘A second chance—that’s the delusion. There never was to be but one. We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art’ ”

James, Henry. “The Middle Years.” In Complete Stories 1892-1898, edited by John Hollander and David Bromwich, 335-55. New York: Library of America, 1996, p. 354

All the doubt and fear Dencombe felt was the accumulation of passion which he designated to be the purpose of human life and as a result, his passion for writing gains the respect and admiration of Doctor Hughes. His work is what inspires and preserves the doctor’s passion for literature (a dying field.) In a handful of words, the author portrays a fulfilled circle of life one that serves to reassure us of own doubts. Rather than try and dismiss our fear of the uncertainty, it is portrayed as being a necessary component of passion that drives us to live. This vicious cycle of self-doubt, regret, and fear finds itself in our lives and our sense of fulfillment, but perhaps this is necessary to help us complete our purpose?