Mrs Dalloway
Virginia Woolf
Contributed by Harvey Landy
Chapter 2

The limousine that had made the loud noise stopped across the street from the flower shop. Passersby glimpsed a face "of the very greatest importance" at the window; then a hand inside the car closed the blind. Everything came to a standstill. People drew together, wondering who was in the car: The Prince of Wales? the Queen? the Prime Minister?

Among those who looked and wondered were Septimus Smith, a World War I veteran who was going mad, and his Italian wife, Lucrezia. Recently, Septimus had threatened suicide; now he was talking to himself, and Lucrezia, worrying that people would notice, led him away from the crowd, to a park. She thought about how happy they had been once, and how unhappy they were now.

The limousine inched down the street. Thinking it was the Queen, Mrs. Dalloway suddenly looked dignified. She imagined a glittering party at the palace, then her own party. She stiffened, feeling how she, the hostess, would stand at the top of her stairs.

The limousine left a ripple of profound excitement and solemnity behind it as it passed. Everywhere, strangers looked at each other and thought of the war dead, of the flag, and of the British Empire. Everyone stood straighter, as if they were ready to die for their country. A crowd gathered at the palace gates and waited anxiously for the car to pass through. Just as it approached, however, an airplane buzzed overhead. It began writing smoke letters in the sky, but each letter faded on the wind before anyone could read it. Big Ben struck the eleventh hour. While everyone was looking up at the plane, the limousine passed through the gates unnoticed.

Lucrezia and Septimus also saw the plane, from their bench in the park. Septimus’s physician, Dr. Holmes, had said that there was nothing wrong with Septimus and that he should try to take an interest in things outside himself. Lucrezia tried to get Septimus interested in the plane. He looked, but he saw it differently. He thought, "They are signaling to me." Moved by the "exquisite beauty" of this, he began to cry. A nursemaid sitting next to them said that the plane was spelling "toffee," as an advertisement. The sound of her rough voice electrified Septimus’s body. He sensed the trees speaking messages to him; he felt that everything was alive and connected to him by invisible fibers.

Sensing his dip into madness, Lucrezia leapt up and walked to the fountain. Her emotions were chaotic. She loved Septimus. She thought of how brave he was, how he had fought in the War, but then also of how selfish he was, to act so strangely, to talk of suicide. She missed her home in Italy, where she and her sisters had made hats. In England she felt utterly alone. Then she thought, "I am his wife," and the words made her feel momentarily secure. Then she turned and saw Septimus talking to himself.

He was saying, "Men must not cut down trees. There is a God. Change the world." He heard a sparrow calling his name, then other sparrows joining in and singing in Greek about how there is no crime, no death. He saw ghostly shapes behind the park railings. One was Evans, his comrade killed in the war. Lucrezia returned, led him under a tree, tried to get him to look at things. Septimus heard her voice but did not connect it with her. He thought he had died and was suffering eternally. A young woman stopped and asked them directions to the tube station. Lucrezia panicked and waved her away.

The young woman, Maisie Johnson, had just arrived in London. The look on Septimus’s face had horrified her. Everything in London seemed queer. She wished she had stayed home. An old woman, Mrs. Dempster, noticed Maisie and pitied her, thinking of all the trouble life brings. Then the sight of the airplane kindled Mrs. Dempster’s hopeless desire to travel. Everyone continued to watch the airplane. Although each person perceived it differently, they were all united in the common experience of watching it and trying to interpret its meaning. It climbed higher, writing T, O, F.

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