Preferred Citation: Caramagno, Thomas C. The Flight of the Mind: Virginia Woolf's Art and Manic-Depressive Illness. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.

9— "The Sane & the Insane, Side by Side": The Object-Relations of Self-Management in Mrs. Dalloway

"The Sane & the Insane, Side by Side":
The Object-Relations of Self-Management in Mrs. Dalloway

I like going from one lighted room to another, such is my brain to me; lighted rooms.
(Diary 2: 310)

But when the self speaks to the self, who is speaking?—the entombed soul, the spirit driven in, in, in to the central catacomb; the self that took the veil and left the world.
("An Unwritten Novel," in A Haunted House )

In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf complicates the problem of subjective and objective readings by eliminating the self-conscious narrator who so conveniently raised questions of interpretation and cognitive style in Jacob's Room. Instead, the reader is led by a shifting and impersonal narration that impartially verbalizes the intimate thoughts of various characters, throwing the reader off balance.[1] The descriptive style, highly ordered and rhythmic, does not change from one character to another. Thus the indirect interior monologues sound curiously alike, blending thoughts together—a provocative act since some of these thoughts are "insane." Woolf pursues James Hafley's question, "Are there not two interpretations of experience?"[2] She gives each its own voice, and the mixture disturbs us by revealing common mechanisms at work in psychotic and in normal thinking. Yet despite the mixture of mad and nonmad discourses, in Mrs. Dalloway Woolf extends Jinny Carslake's brief vision of a profound unity and expands her own sense of and control over herself in ways that anticipate effective treatments of depression by contemporary cognitive psychologists.

Soon after publishing Jacob's Room in 1922, Woolf began writing a short story entitled "Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street," which quickly expanded beyond her original plans: "Mrs Dalloway has branched into a book; & I adumbrate here a study of insanity & suicide: the world seen by the sane & the insane side by side—something like that" (Diary 2: 207). The phrase "something like that" seems particularly apt. Initially, she had planned


the novel without the psychotic Septimus, focusing exclusively on Clarissa, who was to die—or commit suicide—at her party. Second thoughts prompted her to divide sanity and insanity between two characters, but she reminded herself to keep them related anyway: "Septimus and Mrs Dalloway should be entirely dependent upon each other" (Letters 3: 189). Third thoughts led her to worry as to "whether the book would have been better without" Septimus and the mad scenes (Diary 2: 321). Woolf anticipated reader confusion "owing to the lack of connection, visible, between the two themes" (Diary 3: 4) and predicted that "reviewers will say that it is disjointed because of the mad scenes not connecting with the Dalloway scenes." But since such a disjunction was not "unreal" psychologically, she hoped her audience would somehow see a connection (Diary 2: 323).

Woolf also hesitated over the mad scenes because creating Septimus was "a very intense & ticklish business" (Diary 2: 310) for her: "It was a subject that I have kept cooling in my mind until I felt I could touch it without bursting into flame all over. You can't think what a raging furnace it is still to me—madness and doctors and being forced" (Letters 3: 180). Remembering madness involved plunging "deep in the richest strata of [her] mind" (Diary 2: 323), a metaphor Leonard also used to describe Virginia's sense that insanity lay just beneath the surface of sanity, like a parallel but alien universe:

If, when she was well, any situation or argument arose which was closely connected with her breakdowns or the causes of them, there would sometimes rise to the surface of her mind traces or echoes of the nightmares and delusions of her madness, so that it seemed as if deep down in her mind she was never completely sane. (Beginning Again 79)

Woolf feared being too explicit about Septimus's madness, not only because readers might misunderstand or judge it self-indulgently confessional, but also because dredging up vivid, disturbing, and stressful memories of her breakdowns showed just how transparent was the dividing line between madness and sanity: "Why is life so tragic; so like a little strip of pavement over an abyss. I look down; I feel giddy; I wonder how I am ever to walk to the end. . . . And with it all how happy I am—if it weren't for my feeling that its a strip of pavement over an abyss" (Diary 2: 72–73).

This seemingly morbid sensation of walking on the edge of sanity is certainly not unique to Woolf. John Custance used the same image in 1952 (before any of Woolf's diaries had been published) to describe the manic-depressive's relationship to his own illness:


Normal life and consciousness of "reality" appear to me rather like motion along a narrow strip of table-land at the top of a Great Divide separating two distinct universes from each other. On the one hand the slope is green and fertile, leading to a lovely landscape where love, joy and the infinite beauties of nature and of dreams await the traveller; on the other a barren, rocky declivity, where lurk endless horrors of distorted imagination, descends to the bottomless pit.[3]

Between the fertilizing joy and infinite beauty of mania and the bottomless pit of depression, normality threads its narrow path, doubly vulnerable because bipolars have no direct control over when they fall and are often unaware that they have lost their balance. Mood shifts simply exaggerate normal modes of perception, cognition, and feeling, so introspection, by itself, fails to notice the growing discrepancies. Bipolars are repeatedly deceived and risk losing their sense of themselves as distinct from their moods. Only when living on the narrow strip of "normality" can anyone see what self is, is not, has been, can never be.

But how to describe this sense of living out three lives to readers who have felt only solid ground beneath them, who assume identity is a right granted by divine law, who believe, as the Victorians did, that a "self-made" man needed only his earnest free will to gain self-mastery? "Health," intones Dr. Holmes, brushing aside Septimus's symptoms, "is largely a matter of our own control" (138). Holmes decides that there is "nothing whatever seriously the matter with" Septimus (31), and Dr. Bradshaw agrees: "'We all have our moments of depression,' said Sir William" (148). The temptation to deny the reality of mental illness is strong, in readers too, especially when a writer attempts to depict insanity as somehow connected to sanity. Blatant, gibbering madness is a convenient, culturally acceptable stereotype, but manic-depressive illness shades into normal mentation, and this can be much more threatening.[4] Manic-depressives are usually aware (and wary) of this fearful reaction in others, as one patient (wishing to remain anonymous) expressed it in a letter to the author:

"normal" people want to either romanticize or ghettoize insanity by denying any continuity between the normal self and the insane one, when in fact it is the continuity itself that is terrifying. Going out of your head . . . isn't nearly so frightening as remaining yourself while the universe suddenly goes nuts, as if you are trapped in a Twilight Zone episode or a Hitchcock movie where you suddenly realize that all these kind people trying to help you get well are really poisoning your milk. That's why the general in Dr. Strangelove was so wonderful: his insanity was perfectly logical. . . . If I had to put my acquired


wisdom in a motto I would say, "Beware of the universe when it starts making sense."[5]

Is it possible, without losing all distinction between the two, to be explicit about such a profound sense of unreality so closely connected to normal life? Or is the difference between sanity and insanity too great to bridge without destroying its Brightening subtlety and power? The paradox of manic-depressive illness is that it is both familiar and strange, obvious and transparent, sane and insane, posing special formal problems for a fiction that purports to express it.

Although an omniscient narrator would seem an ideal device by which to make such connections visible, Woolf instead chose an impersonal and limited narration. Its refusal to discuss how it makes interpretations concerning what is described or overheard creates an "ambiguity of perspective" that gives "the 'hazy' effect so often ascribed to impressionist fiction as well as painting."[6] Only broad brushstrokes paint these characters' pasts. Of Septimus's childhood we know only that his mother had "lied" (127). But what lie? How was it significant? Or was it one of Septimus's delusions? We are not furnished with the objective truth of the characters' experiences, but only with an "uncertainty and ambiguity, multiplicity and mystery [that] are integral to impressionist epistemology."[7] Septimus's "betrayal" carries equal weight with Clarissa's irretrievable past, Peter's bruised memories, and Miss Kilman's spiritual conversion. Circumstances become irrelevant when events are universal. Such a technique effectively muddles characterization,[8] which explicates Woolfs reminder to herself in her diary: "Characters are to be merely views: personality must be avoided at all costs. . . . Directly you specify hair, age, &c something frivolous, or irrelevant, gets into the book" (Diary 2: 265). Although Peter Walsh's sexual affairs in India differentiate his life from Doris Kilman's cramped and pernicious religiosity in a London working-class slum, these circumstantial facts come to us in the form of reflections that resemble one another in style and tone.[9] The details wash out, and what is left is universal: the structure of disappointments, ecstasies, hopes, and despairs ubiquitous in human life.

To avoid creating distinguishable voices, Wbolf generally eschews dialogue, preferring authorial summaries of conversations. What little action does occur serves only as a spur to further reflection:

Almost all of the characters' thoughts in Mrs. Dalloway are daydreams of one kind or another. Relatively little of the inner monologues are related to or determined by the actual circumstantial context . . . .


Because so much of the novel is given over to the relatively uninterrupted flow of daydreams and meditations controlled by an authorial voice, the book has an almost seamless quality.[10]

Daydreaming is stylized by mood. How we create and interact with our daydreams (which can become objects in their own right, reassuring or terrifying, exciting or depressing) serves as a model for how we relate to others and to self. We are perpetually engaged in a complex relationship with ourselves as objects, either through self-management or representationally, through self-objectification—or both, as when in subvocal thinking we talk to ourselves as if we were talking to another person. Analyst Christopher Bollas uses his own experience as an illustration:

As I have been planning this chapter, for example, I have thought from the second person pronoun objectifying myself to say: "You must include Winnicott and Khan because much of your thinking comes from their work." . . . This constant objectification of the self for purposes of thinking is commonplace. It is also a form of object relation, as Freud so sagely understood when he evolved his theory of the superego to identify that part of the mind that speaks to us as its object. Naturally this intrasubjective relationship will change according to the person's state of mind.[11]

Peter Walsh also casts his daydreams in the second person. When he follows an anonymous woman across Trafalgar Square, he imagines that she silently calls to him, using "not Peter, but his private name which he called himself in his own thoughts. 'You,' she said, only 'you'" (79). In this way Peter flirts with himself when he feels romantically adventurous; he need not involve the woman at all except as a transitional object embodying his own inflated desires.[12]

Daydreams are ideal barometers of mood. Modulations of self-esteem, an essential feature of mood swings, can be detected in our intrasubjective transactions—how we value, and are valued by, figures in our inner dramas. Mood itself is but a view, a slanted transaction. Seamlessly shifting from daydream to daydream allows Woolf to express the subtlest aspect of bipolar illness: its transparent connections with normal mentality, the ups and downs of establishing personal value within a social context, its fluctuations, which can obscure the point of departure from Woolf's "little pavement," from sanity. Each major character in the novel participates in this common life of self-representation, comprising various aspects of Woolf's experience of manic-depressive states. By focusing on intrasubjective relations, she


explores the parameters of her experience of bipolar illness: the egotistical precursor state (Peter), the psychotic "mixed" state (Septimus), and the euthymic state (Clarissa), which attempts to integrate the other two.

Because Woolf and her doctors believed that egotism presaged a shift from normal to ill mentation, and because she valued facing disappointments squarely, she designed Peter's daydreams to be egotistical compensation for his failures. As a youth, he had quarreled so often with Clarissa that she married his opposite, the quiet but effective Richard Dalloway. Sent down from Oxford, Peter left England, hastily wedded a woman aboard ship, formed an adulterous liaison in India, and has now returned to London to arrange, half-heartedly, for Daisy's divorce. Fifty-three years old, he is unemployed and still obsessed with the one woman he has never been able to conquer. But he daydreams of romantic adventures and future successes, entertaining elated fantasies that leave him with little patience for Clarissa's real needs and desires.

Significantly, Peter's divided style of self-representation elicits divided responses from readers. Some critics take the part of Peter's worst fears, condemning him as an "awkward outsider," a "shadowy identity," a "passive, ineffectual, and self-defeating" man who exploits his worthlessness, who resorts to self-humiliation and childishness in order to extract motherly concern from Clarissa.[13] Other critics are caught up in Peter's self-indulgent mythology of inner strength and forcefulness, and so they admonish his carnal passion and the masculine, sexual threat he presents to Clarissa's psychic autonomy, as if he personified "that repulsive brute with blood-red nostrils, human nature . . . that passionate and penetrating and soul-destroying love."[14] Both critical views replicate Peter's dealings with himself as an object as he feels alternately powerful and degraded. Of course, such identification helps readers to experience a character's mental states, but empathy is not always understanding. If we become too entangled in Peter's self-representations, we will fail to see Woolf's larger design.

In daydreams Peter lives out mildly bipolar subject-object transactions by creating idealized objects and expectations that arc repeatedly destroyed. On a walk about town, Peter exhibits typical hypomanic euphoria, extolling London as a "splendid achievement," unknown butlers as "admirable," and chance girls as "evanescent"; to his appreciative eyes motorcars arrive "accurately, punctually, noiselessly, there, precisely at the right instant" (82). Casual bystanders are "capable," "punctual," "alert, robust," "wholly admirable, good fellows, to whom one would entrust one's life"


(83). A battered old woman's incoherent song sounds to Peter like a primeval, timeless, transcendent ode to love, "love which has lasted a million years" (122–23). Admitting his "susceptibility to impressions" because of "these alternations of mood; good days, bad days, for no reason whatever," he finds himself falling in love with every woman he meets—they are all "blooming," elegant, "becoming" (107)—and life itself seems "absorbing, mysterious, of infinite richness" (248). Captivated by his exaggeration of the goodness of the objects he sees, he yearns to possess them all, impelled by "three great emotions" that "bowled over him; understanding; a vast philanthropy; and . . . an irrepressible, exquisite delight; as if inside his brain by another hand strings were pulled, shutters moved, and he, having nothing to do with it," feels so "utterly free" that he pursues a young woman, a stranger,

who, as she passed Gordon's statue, seemed, Peter Walsh thought (susceptible as he was), to shed veil after veil, until she became the very woman he had always had in mind; young, but stately; merry, but discreet; black, but enchanting. (78–79)

Once he has reassured himself that "she was not worldly, like Clarissa; not rich, like Clarissa," he can fancy himself "an adventurer, reckless . . . swift, daring . . . a romantic buccaneer." As she enters her house, he ends his fantasy abruptly: "Well, I've had my fun. . . . [T]his escapade with the girl; made up, as one makes up the better part of life, he thought—making oneself up" (81; my italics).

What has Peter made up, and how is it fun? He exaggerates the value of every object he sees including himself; desire and self-confidence are dilated by "moments of extraordinary exaltation. Nothing exists outside us except a state of mind, he thinks" (85). Like Melanie Klein's manic infant (and Woolf in her yellow grape), whose needs are all magically met, Peter floats buoyantly in an oceanic bliss incorporating everything around him. He is full of promise and energy—as long as the stranger does not resemble Clarissa. If the woman knew him as Clarissa does, the bubble would burst. Thus, the chase can never be completed. When he must face Clarissa's unspoken criticism, that "his whole life had been a failure" (11), he defensively idealizes her, endowing her with magical qualities: "(for in some ways no one understood him, felt with him, as Clarissa did)—their exquisite intimacy" (68). She has "that woman's gift," he decides, "of making a world of her own wherever she happened to be" (114). Peter's generalization of her value—it is not her gift alone, but all women's—


reveals the problem. Her individuality is glossed over by his exalted mood. Only in elated fantasy can a woman satisfy his desire.

In the opposite mood Peter criticizes Clarissa, for the reality of her can never live up to his fictions. The stranger he chases in Trafalgar Square is "the very woman he had always had in mind," a perfect amalgamation of antithetical qualities, but she has no identity; she mirrors back whatever he projects. Clarissa breaks the spell because she will not serve as glorifying mirror to his illusions;[15] she objectifies his self-hatred and becomes his scapegoat. Although he finds Daisy's undiscriminating adoration a bit of a bore, it is what he expects of a woman. He accuses Clarissa of coldness, of withholding the "woman's gift" that might have saved him from himself:

For Heaven's sake, leave your knife alone! she cried to herself in irrepressible irritation; it was his silly unconventionality, his weakness; his lack of the ghost of a notion what any one else was feeling that annoyed her, had always annoyed her; and now at his age, how silly!

I know all that, Peter thought; I know what I'm up against. (69)

Peter recognizes her evaluation of him. Indeed, he cherishes it like a lover's keepsake and perpetuates the pain through a vainglorious daydreaming that has literally replaced Clarissa as a love-object. In his mind, Clarissa is responsible for the image she mirrors back to him; her failure to return his illusions and magnify his value is what has "reduced him" (121) to an ass. Like an infant who perceives disappointment in his mother's look, he reads it as lack of self-worth and fulfills her prophecy.[16]

Although his first impulse is to deny what he sees in Clarissa's look, Peter loses control of his pose as a martyr for love:

I know all that, Peter thought; I know what I'm up against, he thought, running his finger along the blade of his knife, Clarissa and Dalloway and all the rest of them; but I'll show Clarissa—and then to his utter surprise, suddenly thrown by those uncontrollable forces thrown through the air, he burst into tears; wept; wept without the least shame, sitting on the sofa, the tears running down his cheeks.

And Clarissa had leant forward, taken his hand, drawn him to her, kissed him,—actually had felt his face on hers . . . holding his hand, patting his knee. (69; my italics)

Many critics find this a difficult scene, because the knife invites phallic readings, and Clarissa's refusal to respond is regarded as evidence of her frigidity and Peter's impotence. Why Peter cries is indeed connected to what he does with his knife, but the knife is not necessarily a symbol of


childish insecurity about virility or an indictment of Clarissa's "masculinity."[17] Critics who see the knife as a sexual symbol interpret Peter's tears as a defeat, as if we were watching a scene of symbolic emasculation rather than realization. Woolf first referred to a pocketknife in her diary in 1918, when her cousin Harry Stephen paid a visit: "He still takes out an enormous pocket knife, & slowly half opens the blade, & shuts it" (Diary 1: 151). Like Peter, Harry had just returned from India "an undoubted failure," irresponsible and egotistical, feeling fully justified in dictating to others how they should behave, unaware of any contradiction between his behavior and his advice (Diary 1: 150, 221). Harry's blade was not phallic; it was an emblem of his egotistical blindness. What Peter loses, then, is an illusion about himself that requires the cooperation of an object: a woman, a daydream, a knife. When Clarissa interrupts the solipsistic pathway of Peter's self-generated illusions, he sees himself as she sees him. He desires her, not as a sexual partner, but as a perceptual partner.[18] His elaborate egotistical illusions about civilization and manly adventurism end in disillusionment, because he has severed the connection between self and world.

The novel's frequent use of the word cut suggests a deep interest in "divisive activities," in disconnections (41).[19] Clarissa's mirroring momentarily forces Peter to integrate what had been split. Her motherliness reassures him that integration is not equivalent to self-destruction; it is only a safer form of dis -illusionment, a destruction of disconnectedness. She tries to heal the cut of his knife. If Peter's object-relational style is based on Leslie Stephen's, as seems likely, then Woolf is saying that her father erred by indulging his cyclothymic moodiness, using it to induce a woman to comfort him, to act as a mirror magnifying his size. By implication, Woolf here accepts the fact that Leslie was subject to moods beyond his control but objects to the games he played to trick others into dealing with his internal crises. By refusing to accede to Peter's demands, Clarissa brings him to the realization that his emotions, even the painful and depressive ones, are endurable if he will only face them. As long as moods are nonpsychotic, the individual possesses the capacity to make self-corrections based on a mirroring relationship with the external world.

Whereas Peter's cut is self-indulgent and treatable, Septimus's injury is psychotic and involuntary. Like Peter, Septimus creates illusions, endowing certain objects with value, but, unlike Peter, Septimus is unaware that he is manipulating objects. He cannot have "fun," because to him his fictions are real. Peter experiences mild disillusionment when his fanciful


bubbles burst; he suffers, but only from insights that can benefit him if he chooses to face them. Septimus experiences his intense despair not as an emotion but as a hostile world; no therapeutic insight is possible. Woolf knew by experience that psychotic depression is not just Peter's self-loathing or neurotic denial but seems, to the sufferer, to be an active, corrosive agent loose in the world or in the self. Self-estranged, Septimus is constantly haunted by split-off pieces of himself that appear, inexplicable and strange, in trees, in dogs, in airplanes. Thus, the birds communicate a revelatory message to him alone, but their songs are sung in Greek, which he does not understand; the message originates in himself, but it cannot be reincorporated because it cannot be read. "Knowledge comes through suffering, said Mr. Whittaker" (196), Miss Kilman's minister, but this is true only if the pain can be made intelligible, can be "owned" by the self who feels it. No tears, no realization can heal Septimus's lacerated mind. For him, integration is equivalent to self-destruction, because it would require identifying with elements of self he can no longer recognize or understand. This is no comfortable "alien subject" whom we can accept as both different from and a part of us, that we can integrate and thereby use to profit from our expanded receptivity.[20] Septimus's alien fragments remain unreadable. No therapeutic insight is possible when the manic-depressive is severely ill or psychotic, because, under these conditions, altered beliefs—the premises by which all perception, thought, and introspection are evaluated—provide their own corroborating evidence. To see otherwise would deconstruct consciousness.

Woolf's insight here is that psychotic beliefs bear some disturbing similarities to "normal" convictions, as modern psychology now shows. Deluded patients are like normal people in at least one respect: they form theories to explain their experiences.[21] Ordinary events (e.g., stubbing a toe, hearing music in a park) are explained by theories we think are reasonable ("the uneven pavement must have tripped me," we suppose, or "someone's playing a portable tape recorder"). Anomalous experiences (feeling that our body is out of our control, hearing voices inside our head) elicit explanations too. We may conclude that our body is out of control because we are fatigued or, we may worry, perhaps we are manifesting the first signs of multiple sclerosis; the voices could conceivably be radio transmissions picked up by fillings in our teeth. If the voices admonish our behavior (and seem to know details of our personal life), we may theorize that an enemy has commandeered a local radio station and is singling us out for attack. If we believe that God talks to the faithful, we may think


that the voice comes directly from him (and this interpretation would make eminent sense of depressive guilt). These are, of course, interpretations made with fairly intact reality testing: the radio station and the enemy and multiple sclerosis are real things. But if we are psychotic, and our experiences are uncanny, mystifying, or ineffable, because a biochemically altered brain mishandles perception, then any explanation that accounts for them may seem bizarre to others.

Some studies show that vivid and detailed delusions often arise from perceptions that lack detail—lines, dots, clicks, buzzes; it is the patient who unknowingly contributes definition.[22] Woolf herself relates such an episode:"One night I lay awake horrified hearing, as I imagined, an obscene old man gasping and croaking and muttering senile indecencies—it was a cat, I was told afterwards; a cat's anguished love making" (Moments of Being 123). Woolf replaced nonlinguistic sounds with an intelligible language, but preserved the cat's actual message. In Mrs. Dalloway, when a nursemaid spells out a sky-writing advertisement, Septimus experiences isolated letters as if they were already full of profundity:

"K . . . R . . . " said the nursemaid, and Septimus heard her say "Kay Arr" close to his ear, deeply, softly, like a mellow organ, but with a roughness in her voice like a grasshopper's, which rasped his spine deliciously and sent running up into his brain waves of sound which, concussing, broke. A marvelous discovery indeed—that the human voice in certain atmospheric conditions (for one must be scientific, above all scientific) can quicken trees into life! (32)

What "Kay Arr" means is unimportant; Septimus (and Woolf) focuses on the structure of the perception, connecting it to other intensified sensations. Perception is no longer a neutral conduit for information transferral but has become the message itself.

Intrasubjective structural changes affect subject-world relations. Peter's daydreams are romances in which he is victor, but Septimus's intrasubjective transactions have become nightmares in which he is victim. In normal thinking we may talk to ourselves without speaking, using an implied you to mark the split in our subjectivity. In psychosis, a thought can take on an existence and a voice of its own: thinking is literally perceived as an outside event, as a voice intruding on our consciousness. The analyst Bollas's note to himself, "You must include Winnicott and Khan," could in mania be perceived as a divine command ("Thou shalt include Winnicott and Khan") or, in depression, as a verbal attack of hellish proportion


("Include Winnicott and Khan, or you will suffer eternal damnation"). Mood is experienced no longer as an inner state but as an outer reality.

What is worse, Septimus's world has coincidentally colluded with his paranoia, objectified by military authorities (who can force one to kill others) and by Doctors Bradshaw and Holmes (who can force one to kill oneself through "conversion"). The First World War was a psychotic dream come true. Because of this confabulation between inner and outer horrors, Septimus's vividly distorted perceptions of ordinary urban life persecute him with the power with which images of bloody conflict would assault us. The fact that he never daydreams of the war in violent terms—instead, civilian life takes on all the terror of battle—dramatizes the split in his intrasubjective relations. His thoughts cannot even connect his suffering to his personal history: "But what was his crime? He could not remember it" (148). Septimus is guilty of having suffered —a common depressive belief, one that common sense tells us should be correctable by appeals to the patient to reconsider his premorbid actions and feelings and to recognize that pain is not a sin. But delusional patients, in general, do not benefit from their accumulated life experiences; their premorbid judgments, however sane or appropriate, have diminished power against the immediate force of an uncanny, aberrant, or bizarre belief or experience.[23] Robbed of a meaningful past, of a memorable event that might explain his emotions, Septimus displaces his despair onto current objects—a situation that creates further unmeaning, confusion, and terror. Horror on a battlefield is understandable; horror in Regent's Park is inexplicable and so doubly frightening. The individual who hallucinates under the influence of LSD may see beatific or nightmarish visions, but can he be judged insane if he understands their insubstantiality because he appreciates their source? To see flames beneath the pavement and say, "That is really the fear I deny myself; it belongs to me; it is really inside of me," is still sanity. Septimus cannot make the same connection. In psychosis, the old saying "seeing is believing" is just as true as "believing is seeing."

Some Freudians attribute Septimus's exaggerated reactions to intelligible unconscious conflict, speculating that he is actually repulsed by repressed homosexual feelings for Evans displaced onto symbolic objects.[24] Evidence for this is scarce; much is made of phallic symbols (trees and bananas), loaded words like "panic," "crime," and "love," and Septimus's condemnation of human nature, which is narrowly defined as sexual nature. That homophobia should be singled out as the cause of psychosis tells more, perhaps, about what these readers fear than what Septimus fears. Septimus's


guilt is too severe to be merely sexual or neurotic. It is not bottled up or repressed or channeled into a specific symptom, but is so active and pervasive that it seems to be an object itself, taking up space in the real world. Septimus is introduced to us as one whose eyes have "that look of apprehension in them which makes complete strangers apprehensive too" (20). He is incapable of analyzing such countertransference, and so the fear he sees in others' eyes only serves to reinforce his suspicion that something outside himself is dreadfully wrong. Faced with a traffic jam, he is terrified that

some horror had come almost to the surface and was about to burst into flames. . . . The world wavered and quivered and threatened to burst into flames. It is I who am blocking the way, he thought. Was he not being looked at and pointed at; was he not weighted there, rooted to the pavement, for a purpose? But for what purpose? (21)

The world quivers, but it is he who is shaking. The street threatens to burst into flames, but the unintelligible horror exists inside him. In the same manner, the manic-depressive John Custance believed he saw visions in his bedsheets and shadows:

A crumpled pillow is quite an ordinary everyday object, is it not? One looks at it and thinks no more about it? So is a washing-rag, or a towel tumbled on the floor, or the creases on the side of a bed. Yet they can suggest shapes of the utmost horror to the mind obsessed by fear. Gradually my eyes began to distinguish such shapes, until eventually, whichever way I turned, I could see nothing but devils waiting to torment me, devils which seemed infinitely more real than the material objects in which I saw them . . . .

With these visions surrounding me it is not strange that the material world should seem less and less real. I felt myself to be gradually descending alive into the pit by a sort of metamorphosis of my surroundings. At times the whole universe seemed to be dissolving around me; moving cracks and fissures would appear in the walls and floors. This, incidentally, is a phenomenon which I have often noticed in the opposite state of acute mania, though it has then, of course, a totally different underlying feeling-tone.[25]

Since self and object are confused, mood-disordered patients see the world in terms of internal states (thus "cracks and fissures" cut the world into fragments when Custance himself is fragmented and cut off). Objects and events gain uncanny significance. Nothing in life is accidental for a


mind that finds itself "revealed" in the physical world. Depressives often make derogatory statements about objects which are really displaced selfaccusations—not through neurotic displacement (to avoid recognition) but because it is difficult for these patients to see themselves as depressed, to step outside the mood and perceive the discrepancies in their judgment. Instead they tend to focus on negative aspects of external objects ("life is pointless," "people dislike me," "this food is poison"). Septimus too feels that the world is worthless and degraded, that it cries out for redemption; he hears a cry for help but cannot trace it back to its origin. His suicidal impulses are likewise cut off from their source, creating a vicious circle: he feels he must die because he is depressed, but he thinks he is depressed because the world is murderously insane and wants him to die. Since objects embody his suicidal ideas, Septimus is often afraid to look too closely at them, for "real things were too exciting. He must be cautious. He would not go mad" (215). When he fears madness, he shuts his eyes (32), as if insanity too were an external state imposed upon self: "it must be the fault of the world then—that he could not feel. . . . it might be possible that the world itself is without meaning" (133).

Septimus attempts to deal with his despair by deciphering its meaning, but interpretation is problematical for an isolated mind that projects its moods upon everything it sees. Clifford Beers became convinced that objects contained some obscure symbolic quality directly relating to his inexplicable and indefinable guilt:

The world was fast becoming to me a stage on which every human being within the range of my senses seemed to be playing a part. . . . [A]ll my senses became perverted. . . . Familiar objects had acquired a different "feel." . . . I began to see handwriting on the sheets of my bed. . . . On each fresh sheet placed over me I would soon begin to see words, sentences, and signatures, all in my own handwriting. Yet I could not decipher any of the words. . . . [W]ith an insane ingenuity I managed to connect myself with almost every crime of importance of which I had ever read.[26]

Septimus also misreads according to his mood swings. When "anxious to improve himself," he reads Antony and Cleopatra, which "lit in him a fire as bums only once in a lifetime" (128); when depressed, he regards Shakespeare as debased: "that boy's business of the intoxication of language—Antony and Cleopatra —had utterly shrivelled" (133). When manic, "beauty sprang instantly. To watch a leaf quivering in the rush of air


was an exquisite joy" (104). Ordinary events assume profound, though inexpressible, significance:

"It is time," said Rezia.

The word "time" split its husk; poured its riches over him; and from his lips fell like shells, like shavings from a plane, without his making them, hard, white, imperishable words, and flew to attach themselves to their places in an ode to Time; an immortal ode to Time. (105)

What the word time means, Woolf does not say; she centers her attention solely on language as object, not signifier. It is Septimus's relation to language (and to himself), not his intended or unintended meaning, that illustrates her insights into the structure of manic-depressive illness. For instance, Septimus examines an advertisement in skywriting, believing that an important message has been sent to him. He finds a manic beauty implying some transcendent meaning: "So, thought Septimus, looking up, they are signalling to me. Not indeed in actual words; that is, he could not read the language yet; but it was plain enough, this beauty, this exquisite beauty" (31). Because he cannot read the message, he imposes significance indiscriminately, desperately when he is depressed, eagerly when he is manic—when in a mixed state, both simultaneously. Manic-depressives often connect their moods in this way.[27] The onset of sudden, manic fulfillment in the midst of emptying despair in a mixed state can be "explained" as having been given a "mission," an exalted purpose to oppose the hellish abyss that has opened up inside them. The structure of mood swings becomes their meaning.

For Septimus, manic dilation complements depressive hollowness. He concludes that he must be the Savior who fills the empty world—this must be why he feels he must die though he loves life. John Custance, who had been a naval intelligence officer, relates a similar manic attack that resulted in a messianic delusion. In 1938 he attended commemorative services on Armistice Sunday:

Suddenly I seemed to see like a flash that the sacrifice of those millions of lives had not been in vain, that it was part of a great pattern, the pattern of Divine Purpose. I felt, too, an inner conviction that I had something to do with that purpose; it seemed that some sort of revelation was being made to me, though at the time I had no clear ideas about what it was. The whole aspect of the world about me


began to change, and I had the excited shivers in the spinal column and tingling of the nerves that always herald my manic phases.

That night I had a vision . . . .

. . . What I saw was the Power of Love—the name came to me at once—the Power that I knew somehow to have made all universes, past, present and to come, to be utterly infinite, an infinity of infinities, to have conquered the Power of Hate, its opposite, and thus created the sun, the stars, the moon, the planets, the earth, light, life, joy and peace, never-ending.[28]

This is a truly bipolar theory; it integrates opposing feelings read as existing in external objects—indeed, Custance believes that love and hate created those objects. Even when he subsequently became depressed, Custance held onto his divine vision, but in an altered, depressive form:

I was a sort of opposite of Jesus Christ. Satan's job had been to catch a man, get him to sell his soul to him completely and utterly, like Faust, and then take him down alive into the pit. That was a sort of necessary counterweight to the resurrection of Jesus and the elect. I was the man. But if I could only kill myself, it might blow up the whole Universe, but at least I would get out of eternal torture and achieve the oblivion and nothingness for which my soul craved. I did in fact make three attempts at suicide, the most serious of which was when I tore myself from my attendant and threw myself in front of a car, with my poor wife, who was visiting me, looking on.[29]

Trading one's paltry human soul, like Faust, to achieve a depth of knowledge not granted to non-manic-depressives is an uplifting rationale in mania (for it explains intensified sensations) but a damning one in depression (for it explains one's existential isolation as punishment for an unpardonable sin). Moods are given the status of real objects because they mediate our perception of the status of real objects. Since feelings become more powerful and more real than the self that feels them, there is little conviction that it is desirable or even possible to manage them.

When Septimus becomes manic, his euphoria comes like a divine message, a "purpose" that calls on him to stop the slaughter, and since he believes that unmeaning exists physically outside himself, he sees himself as a messiah who must redeem the world. Even his depressed sense of being a stranger in a strange place is transformed by mania into a benefit. He is indeed different, he realizes. He is Christ: "Besides, now that he was quite alone, condemned, deserted . . . there was a luxury in it, an isolation


full of sublimity; a freedom which the attached can never know" (140). Seeing himself as "the eternal sufferer" (37), he has been uplifted and distinguished by a paranoid vision of the meaning of life: "Septimus, the lord of men," has been "called forth in advance of the mass of men to hear the truth, to learn the meaning" (101). His despair means something after all. Bipolar mood states are perceived as one rather than interrelated, and Septimus cannot analyze the relationship, because introspection is mediated by mood.

Septimus's role as savior collapses the space between self and daydream. The communication and the communicator are now one. Rather than revealing the true nature of Septimus's intrasubjective relationship, his messianic delusion commands belief by magically reversing his earlier relationship with the world. No longer does he feel passive, selfless, weak, a "relic straying on the edge of the world . . . who lay, like a drowned sailor, on the shore of the world" (140). As a messiah, he feels "excited" and powerful: "he knew the truth! He knew everything!" (212). His recreation through his exalted identity makes sense of his earlier "revelations": "Men must not cut down trees. There is a God. . . . Change the world. No one kills from hatred" (35). What these statements say is not the point. They are assertions of a self against meaninglessness, a psychotic magnification of Leslie Stephen's rationalizations in his memoirs, which filled with comforting illusions the void left by his wife's death. Woolf sees that whereas illusions merely weaken self-structure, delusions destroy it, and that she has a special problem her father never had to face.

Since there is no evidence of impairment of reasoning ability in delusional patients, apart from the inference to be made from the presence of the delusions themselves, they do not readily abandon bizarre or unlikely explanations for anomalous experiences. The cognitive bias in all human beings, whether deluded or not, is toward evidence consistent with what they are feeling—contradictory evidence is usually filtered out.[30] Bradshaw and Holmes's prescription of conversion to "normal" beliefs therefore violates the psychotic mind, which is convinced that it reads its perceptions correctly.

In neither stage of his illness does Septimus ever gain insight into his perceptual problems. Even in a relatively calm period, when he notes disturbed perceptions, he accepts objective and subjective readings side by side, as if the contradictions between the two did not exist:

He lay back in his chair, exhausted but upheld. He lay resting, waiting, before he again interpreted, with effort, with agony, to mankind. He


lay very high, on the back of the world. The earth thrilled beneath him. Red flowers grew through his flesh; their stiff leaves rustled by his head. Music began clanging against the rocks up here. It is a motor horn down in the street, he muttered; but up here it cannoned from rock to rock, divided, met in shocks of sound which rose in smooth columns (that music should be visible was a discovery) and became an anthem, an anthem twined round now by a shepherd boy's piping (That's an old man playing a penny whistle by the public-house, he muttered). . . . Now he withdraws up into the snows, and roses hang about him—the thick red roses which grow on my bedroom wall, he reminded himself. The music stopped. He has his penny, he reasoned it out, and has gone on to the next public-house. (103)

This is divergent thinking carried to an extreme, splitting attention in two. Septimus is aware of both kinds of knowledge—what he is perceiving objectively and what the perception means to him subjectively—but he is unable to connect or integrate them and so feel unified himself. He is like Woolf in "A Sketch of the Past," who sees two separate entities in a flower, but he is not able to do as she did and contribute a fictional construct to reconcile the two perceptions and so affirm his sense of self. In a way, he suffers from an extraordinary version of Keats's "negative capability"—the capacity to hold two opposing ideas in the mind, the precondition for a creative act. Only briefly can he question the basis of his delusions:

Why then rage and prophesy? Why fly scourged and outcast? Why be made to tremble and sob by the clouds? Why seek truths and deliver messages? (216)

But he finds no way to bridge these two interpretations of experience and so to integrate himself.

Such a state of double awareness is not merely a fictional device; it occurs in real patients. The brain is capable of establishing other, co-conscious modules (e.g., in fugue states, hypnotic beliefs, and multiple personality, as will be discussed in Chapter 11) to mediate experience in different ways. One inpatient, discussing his belief that he was a political prisoner and that the hospital treating him was a government prison, put it aptly: "Forty-nine percent of me knows that what I am thinking is too weird to be real."[31] Virginia Woolf's depressive grandfather, Sir James, described the same sensation as being oppressed by "an unwelcome, familiar, and yet unknown visitor"—who turned out to be himself—"as if [I] were two persons in one."[32] William Styron uses a more literary metaphor:


A phenomenon that a number of people have noted while in deep depression is the sense of being accompanied by a second self—a wraithlike observer who, not sharing the dementia of his double, is able to watch with dispassionate curiosity as his companion struggles against the oncoming disaster, or decides to embrace it. There is a theatrical quality about all this. . . . I couldn't shake off a sense of melodrama—a melodrama in which I, the victim-to-be of self murder, was both the solitary actor and lone member of the audience.[33]

Styron's double awareness is comparable to Leonard's observation that the real horror of Virginia's insanity was that three-quarters of her mind was still sane enough to suffer from the severe psychic dislocations shattering the insane quarter (Beginning Again 163–64). And Woolf herself noted in her diary that her melancholy was "half assumed" because she was so "self conscious" of it as an inner invention (Diary 1: 23).

This splitting of conviction fluctuates considerably in psychosis. A study of thirty-four schizophrenic patients found that, at the height of their disorder (before admission to the hospital), 82 percent of them were fully convinced of the reality of their delusional ideas, and only 18 percent indicated "some limited degree of doubt." After a month of hospitalization, 44 percent felt doubt, and 12 percent completely rejected their delusional beliefs as false. Significantly, although a high rate of conviction was felt by these patients at the height of their delusions, 74 percent of them had "partial perspective" even before hospitalization, an awareness that other people might view their beliefs as aberrant or implausible. Despite this split in self-awareness ("I believe, but it may be judged insane by others"), 82 percent before admission showed "very high emotional commitment (were never able to put their delusional ideas out of their minds, and/or acted overtly and publicly in accordance with the delusional belief)." These figures held roughly true for other major psychotic disorders, including manic-depressive illness.[34] In other words, a patient may suspect that his delusion is aberrant, but his belief and his emotions take an independent course from intellectual doubt. Clinically, the severity of the illness is often judged by how strongly belief takes precedence over the ability to doubt.

For Septimus, fact and delusion are equally real but unrelated, and his identity—that which makes connections in his experience, integrating self and object in a way that should vivify his sense of his own boundaries—has likewise become split, an unidentifiable thing, a transparency through which even flowers can grow. With no corrective image of itself mirrored back, the mind cannot discern what role it plays in perception. Thus when


Septimus agrees to see Sir William Bradshaw for treatment, he does so with a "melodramatic gesture" and a "complete consciousness" of its "insincerity": he does not want to be cured, because he cannot see that he is ill.[35] Woolf's insight here is that Conversion, "that Goddess whose lust is to override opposition, to stamp indelibly in the sanctuaries of others the image of herself" (154), cannot work on psychotic patients because belief operates in ways neither patients nor doctors can fathom. The origins of even "normal" beliefs elude introspection.[36] I may "know" that Columbus discovered America in 1492, but I "believe" that one person's vote counts. I may remember the particular occasion of learning the first but not when I was converted to the second, yet I do not doubt the validity of either—which is strange, because nothing specific to my personal experience supports my belief in democracy (most of my candidates for president lost). Yet I still believe. It just seems self-evident. This is always the problem with multi-layered consciousness: we are aware only of the end-product of myriad nonconscious processes. Only after much thinking is done out of sight does its conclusion become available to us, ready-made and complete (e.g., "I believe in democracy," or "I've fallen in love"), and by then it is already persuasively self-evident. Although Septimus's beliefs seem paranoid, unrealistic, or unintelligible to us, to him they are "self-evident," and so his despair should not be "penalised" (151), nor can it be argued away. No one can prove that paranoia is always wrong, that it is entirely without insight into the treachery of fate—especially after the. British soldier's experience in the Great War. Subjectivity, Septimus's delusions seem to say, is still a virgin wood untrodden by Bradshaw's heavy boots and should be accorded some respect. But nothing is so difficult for us, for it undermines our self-accorded guarantees that our belief-forming thought processes are fundamentally different from his; that they are privileged, whereas his are not; and that they are completely under our control.

From the tortured world of Septimus Smith it is a problematical journey to Clarissa Dalloway's serene life in Westminster. Because Woolf publicly asserted the characters' doubleness, most critics feel committed to argue for a personal connection between Clarissa's privacy and Septimus's pathological isolation. Privacy takes on two meanings in this controversy. For some critics, it is tantamount to a neurotic frigidity, or at least a stultifying orderliness.[37] Clarissa is condemned as a latent lesbian, so afraid of intimacy and femininity that she yearns for manhood or death (a homophobia Woolf did not share).[38] She is a "frigid and withdrawn heroine . . . clinging to


a thin but triumphant capacity to create illusion in defense against her fear of sexuality, her despair of barreness [sic ]," although, curiously, both Woolf and Clarissa seem "to insist on the gallantry of this defense."[39] For other critics, Clarissa's need to be alone is a justified response to life's threats, preserving her creativity, sensitivity, dignity, and self-confidence, though she "is beleaguered by thoughts of inadequacy brought on by the intimidating power she projects onto the general masculine force operating in the world," the same authority that destroys Septimus.[40]

Clarissa's daydreams illustrate how privacy cultivates the sanity that eludes her double. As in Jacob's Room, we see two interactions with objects: a holding on and a letting go of self-world boundaries. Clarissa treasures all the "bits and pieces" of existence—June, leaves in St. James's Park, Peter, flowers, "the fat lady in the cab" (12), the unadorned features of daily life; but she also releases them to the past, to themselves, to their own destinies. She occupies an object-relational space between Peter's defensiveness against chaos and Septimus's helpless surrender to it. This "space" is not static but rhythmic, like the process of reading itself. Accepting life's "furious winter's rages" seems no easy task, for Clarissa's first reaction to a threat is defensive: typically, she "stiffens." We first meet her exulting in party preparations and a perfect day ("what a morning—fresh as if issued to children on a beach"); she plunges into delightful memories of the past and the young Peter; but, reminded of her bitter estrangement from him, "she stiffened a little on the kerb" (4). Big Ben warns that the "irrevocable" hour is passing, creating a heartrending sense of "suspense" (5). Feeling momentarily isolated and empty, she wonders (like Jacob's narrator) why people love life, since it "dissolves" so quickly, but she admits her love for it too, "with an absurd and faithful passion, being part of it" (6). Thinking of Hugh Whitbread (who makes her feel "a little skimpy . . . schoolgirlish" [8]) and "all his colleagues, the gentlemen of England," who enjoy political power she cannot share, "she stiffened a little" (25). Memories of Clarissa's dead parents "caught her heart, made the muscles of her throat stiff, and contracted her lips in a spasm" (63).

Most trying is the intense hatred Doris Kilman inspires in Clarissa—Kilman, who "was never in the room five minutes without making you feel her superiority, your inferiority," whose "soul rusted" with bitterness (16). Clarissa's initial reaction is a defensive countertransference. But self-analysis reveals that her hatred "undoubtedly had gathered in to itself a great deal that was not Miss Kilman; had become one of those spectres with which one battles in the night . . . dominators and tyrants"


(16–17)—not Kilman at all, but herself. Clarissa discovers a connection between the way she feels about Kilman and the way she feels about herself:

It rasped her, though, to have stirring about in her this brutal monster! . . . this hatred, which, especially since her illness, had the power to make her feel scraped, hurt in her spine; gave her physical pain, and made all pleasure in beauty, in friendship, in being well, in being loved and making her home delightful rock, quiver, and bend as if indeed there were a monster grubbing at the roots, as if the whole panoply of content were nothing but self love! this hatred!

Nonsense, nonsense! she cried to herself, pushing through the swing doors of Mulberry's the florists. (17)

Like Septimus, Clarissa visualizes her hatred as a horrible monster lurking beneath normality, but, unlike him, she detects its source. Upon Kilman is visited the denial of self-love transformed into object-hate—an insightful reaction, because Kilman does despise "women like Clarissa" who like themselves. In Doris's own daydream she wants to attack Clarissa, "overcome," "humiliate," and "unmask" her, subdue her "soul and its mockery" (189). Clarissa responds, first by hating Kilman, then by hating herself, which she can then dismiss as "nonsense!" Her ability to examine emotion and to question its source and its meaning diffuses the attack. She need not fear fear itself, as Septimus does, for she realizes that it cannot destroy the self. Self, for Clarissa, is more real than transitory emotions. Similarly, the paranoid hostility that urged Virginia to hurl vitriolic abuse at her loved ones, the hypersensitive vulnerability that made any slight or balk seem a catastrophic threat, was not the center of Woolf's being.

We see now why Hugh's elevated position in society makes Clarissa feel "skimpy" and why the childhood memory of her parents makes her feel small and unaccomplished. Clarissa stiffens when faced with attacks upon her self-confidence: implacable parents, an "important" man, a woman who holds a grudge. Self-worth and emotion are interrelated, for she finds life empty, disillusioning, or frightening as she views herself as skimpy, guilty, or weak—the typical cognitive profile of depression. The novel charts her progress in strengthening her self-image. Against a back-drop of Peter's fantasies (which deny inadequacy) and Septimus's projections (which exteriorize his fragmented self), Clarissa learns to tie together the goodness of life and the goodness of self. Not coincidentally, what Clarissa finds therapeutic is also one of the aims of cognitive psychotherapists who deal with depressed patients. Lithium or anti-depressants alleviate


the biochemical defect, but patients must also learn how mood has affected their ability to evaluate self and object. Like Clarissa, they can adjust their interpretations when they differentiate self and feeling by questioning the seemingly self-evident reality of mood.[41]

Clarissa connects self-esteem to life's value in three ways. First, she organizes parties to create a moment that enhances the goodness of life. Peter discounts the value of Clarissa's parties, but as Woolf observed in 1903 in her journal, a hostess raises the spirits of her guests and of herself:

To be socially great, I believe, is really a noble ambition—for consider what it means. You have, for a certain space of time to realise as nearly as can be, an ideal . . . —to make you something more brilliant than you are by day. This seems to me a good ideal. You come to a party meaning to give pleasure; therefore you leave your sorrows & worries at home. . . . And the Lady [who amuses you though she lost a son in the war]—you may call her heartless, but surely she does more good making the world laugh than by sitting at home & weeping over her own sorrows. (Passionate Apprentice 168–69)

Not coincidentally, modern-day cognitive psychotherapists assign homework, asking depressed patients to record and examine their reactions to normally pleasurable activities.[42] Repeated positive experiences help them build a repertoire of self-enhancing object-relations. They learn how to see the good in their perceptions of world and self, or at least to establish a more memorable history of positive interpretations they can relate to when depression skews perception to the negative. If patients, comparing past happiness to present despair, can understand that a drastic shift in evaluation has occurred, they may resist acting on the mood-induced belief that suicide is the only appropriate conclusion for their worthless lives. Of course, severely depressed individuals are unable to redirect their thinking; they conclude that their present despair is the truth, always has been the truth, and that their previous optimism was the illusion. Those, such as Leslie, who suffer milder forms of mood disorders can at least avoid becoming the dupe of depression, not through Peter's defensive illusions but by opening themselves up to experiences beyond the narrow focus of one particular mood state. Indeed, reading Woolf's fiction tests the ability of us all to read inclusively, to open ourselves up to the vitality and profundity of literature.

Clarissa's second therapeutic method deals mainly with the past. She reviews and reaffirms her decision not to marry Peter:


So she would still find herself arguing in St. James's Park, still making out that she had been right—and she had too—not to marry him. For in marriage a little license, a little independence there must be between people living together day in day out in the same house; which Richard gave her, and she him. . . . But with Peter everything had to be shared; everything gone into. And it was intolerable. (10)

Some readers see her reevaluations as proof of a cowardly misjudgment on her part, her fear of sharing anything ("What is wrong with sharing?" Shirley Panken innocently asks), and so they interpret the novel's elegiac tone as a mourning for her frigid withdrawal from an ardent lover.[43] But this position ignores the cognitive function of memory in establishing identity. Reviewing past decisions can strengthen our sense of self by revealing to us the continuity of our character through time. When Clarissa reaffirms her decision, she aligns past self with present. Indeed, reliable interpretation appears to be the strongest affirmation of self in the novel. Compare Clarissa to Septimus, whose sense of himself is as mutable, fragmented, and transitory as his chaotic perceptions. Identity is not a given, an object we possess; it is the continual process of recognizing patterns (divergent though they may be) in our lives through our object-relations. Reexamination, like successful psychoanalysis, reveals who we are when we see how past connects with present. Significantly, Clarissa's rejection of Peter is based on precisely this issue of identity, for he imposes upon Clarissa his own self-serving definition of who she is: she must be everything he is not. This is the "conversion" she resists, just as Septimus resists Bradshaw's judgment that patients should adopt their doctor's smug sense of proportion.

Clarissa's third method of fostering self-esteem involves, paradoxically, anonymity. Mounting the stairs to her attic room, she thinks of herself as a nun, a child, or a virgin (45–46), undefined by the role of friend or mother or wife. Critics are fond of focusing on the emptiness of her room and its narrow bed as evidence of Clarissa's frigidity and her fear of life and death.[44] But in her essays Woolf uses the terms virgin, emptiness, nun to imply a liberation from confining sexual and familial roles, an anonymity that frees the woman artist from restrictive definitions imposed by cultural hegemony:

That refuge she would have sought certainly. It was the relic of the sense of chastity that dictated anonymity to women even so late as the nineteenth century. Currer Bell, George Eliot, George Sand, all the


victims of inner strife as their writings prove, sought ineffectively to veil themselves by using the name of a man. . . . Anonymity runs in their blood. The desire to be veiled still possesses them. (Room 52; my italics)

Sex and self invariably become confused in the minds of readers, Woolf argues, so nineteenth-century women writers effaced the former by publishing under male pseudonyms or as "Anon." The "chaste life," as both of Woolf's aunts, Anne Thackeray Ritchie and Caroline Stephen, suggested, "allows a woman her own work and her choice of emotional ties."[45]

Chastity fosters a life "blessed and purified" (Mrs. Dalloway 42), protecting, beneath the cosmetic personality presented to others, a vital central core too vulnerable to be exposed. That core is anonymous because it is private, chaste because it is the untouchable center of self undistorted by emotion and mood swings. Thus, Woolfjudges, "the great poet and the lover are both representative—in some way anonymous" ("The Moment" 168). When Woolf criticizes her own work, it is for lacking anonymity, for being egotistical: "The dream is too often about myself. To correct this, & to forget one's own sharp absurd little personality, reputation & the rest of it, one should read; see outsiders; think more; write more logically; above all be full of work; & practise anonymity" (Diary 3: 168–69). She describes her preparation for writing as a retreat:

This has been a very animated summer: a summer lived almost too much in public. Often down here I have entered into a sanctuary; a nunnery; had a religious retreat; of great agony once; & always some terror: so afraid one is of loneliness: of seeing to the bottom of the vessel. That is one of the experiences I have had here in some Augusts; & got then to a consciousness of what I call "reality": a thing I see before me; something abstract; but residing in the downs or sky; beside which nothing matters; in which I shall rest & continue to exist. Reality I call it. And I fancy sometimes this is the most necessary thing to me: that which I seek. (Diary 3: 196)

When she can sink beneath the waves of emotion, the illusory distractions of ego, the solipsism of mania, and the self-destructive despair of depression and enter "the healing sanctuary of anonymity" (Diary 4: 145), Woolf finds she can face life and coexist with it while retaining a sense of strength and worth.

Unadorned, she achieves a state of purity she elsewhere specifically connects to the advantages of illness:


We do not know our own souls, let alone the souls of others. Human beings do not go hand in hand the whole stretch of the way. There is a virgin forest in each; a snowfield where even the print of birds' feet is unknown. Here we go alone, and like it better so. Always to have sympathy, always to be accompanied, always to be understood would be intolerable. But in health the genial pretence must be kept up, and the effort renewed—to communicate, to civilise, to share, to cultivate the desert, to educate the native, to work together by day and by night to sport. In illness this make-believe ceases. ("The Moment" 14)

Illness purifies by inviting us to question the reality of one's feelings and beliefs, to clear away the clutter. A self so secret that it is not evident can feel immune to conversion, as Woolf describes in 1932:

"Immunity" I said to myself half an hour ago, lying back in my chair. Thats the state I am (or was) in. And its a holy, calm, satisfactory flawless feeling—To be immune, means to exist apart from rubs, shocks, suffering; to be beyond the range of darts; to have enough to live on without courting flattery, success; not to need to accept invitations; not to mind other people being praised; to feel This—to sit & breathe behind my screen, alone, is enough; to be strong; content; to let Nessa & D. go to Paris without envy; to feel no one's thinking of me; to feel I have done certain things & can be quiet now; to be mistress of my hours; to feel detached from all sayings about me; & claims on me; to be glad of lunching alone with Leonard; to have a [sic ] spare time this afternoon; to read Coleridge's letters. Immunity is an exalted calm desirable state, & one I could reach much oftener than I do. (Diary 4: 116–17)

Both Woolf and Clarissa sink deep enough into themselves to escape the waves of emotion, the helter-skelter of distractions, the lies of egotism. Neither opts for Leslie and Julia's strategy of filling the internal emptiness with external relationships, losing themselves in busy domestic lives. Immunity requires privacy and freedom. Like Richard, Leonard tolerated that needed immunity. Neither he nor Richard sought to "convert" his wife to respond to him in any stereotyped way[46] Such open-endedness may look inconclusive, blank, virginal. No definite principle or philosophy or personality may be uncovered when the self can be pared down to its essence. But that is an advantage. Woolf intends no prescription here: each of us must seek our own path through the virginal forest.

Woolf's most interesting insight is that such freedom to be oneself brings with it guilt. In A Room of One's Own, she argues that for women writers


the pressures of society (in the form of neglect and scorn) combine with inner pressures: the disappointment of loving parents and the moral disapproval of society become internalized, and the daughter, unable to reconcile her artistic ambitions with her wish to be dutiful and "good," risks destroying herself (49–51). In Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa feels guilty for having "failed" Richard in a way Woolf avoids specifying by using unclear and unreferenced pronouns:

Lovely in girlhood, suddenly there came a moment—for example on the river beneath the woods at Clieveden—when, through some contraction of this cold spirit, she had failed him. And then at Constantinople, and again and again. She could see what she lacked. It was not beauty; it was not mind. It was something central which permeated; something warm which broke up surfaces and rippled the cold contact of man and woman, or of women together. For that she could dimly perceive. She resented it, had a scruple picked up Heaven knows where, or, as she felt, sent by Nature (who is invariably wise); yet she could not resist sometimes yielding to the charm of a woman, not a girl, of a woman confessing, as to her they often did, some scrape, some folly. And whether it was pity, or their beauty, or that she was older, or some accident—like a faint scent, or a violin next door (so strange is the power of sounds at certain moments), she did undoubtedly then feel what men felt. (46–47)

It would be tempting to assume that this failure is frigidity, but both Clarissa and Woolf tend to use sexual words to mean nonsexual things, as if they were desexualizing and liberating terms and images that are too often oversexualized and reductive. So what, exactly, is being said here? On the one hand, it appears to be a confession of frigidity and latent lesbianism; on the other, we see a deliberate, teasing ambiguity, a reluctance to specify anything beyond a "scruple," "some scrape," or "what men felt." How should we interpret the sexuality of the language? Like Clarissa herself, these words have become anonymous, veiled, their definitions escaping conventional meaning that would pin them down. Mitchell Leaska readily concludes that Clarissa failed Richard sexually in Clieveden, even though, in an odd footnote, he remarks on the illogic of the word "fail" :

Mrs. Woolf's use of the verb fail is a very curious choice in the present context, because sexually, it is the man who "fails" his partner through impotence. Even a frigid woman may refuse her man or may "fake" the act, but there is no failing him. A woman's conditioning may be such that she is unable to participate genuinely in the act of sexual


intercourse; and if so, she has failed herself. But that failure is emotional, not physical.[47]

If we assume that Clarissa's meditations are sexual because the language is vague, anonymity looks like an avoidance of sex. But Clarissa does not think she failed herself; she failed Richard, she feels guilty—just after she thinks about how much she enjoys her privacy. Her chastity, as Woolf's Aunt Anny argued, allows a woman to choose what or who will engage her emotions—be it a June day, new gloves, the old woman across the way, the evening sky over Westminster. Clarissa's love for Sally is "completely disinterested" (50); it allows her "to connect without imposing."[48] This is not the kind of love a Victorian woman was raised to think was due to her husband. If she has disappointed her husband (and there is no evidence she has), it is because she is not dependent on him, because she lacks "something central" that can be offered to another woman without fear of being expropriated. "What men felt" could be the selfconfidence to feel, as Hugh Whitbread does, safe and valued and powerful in the presence of others, whether or not the interpersonal transaction is sexual.

It is significant, then, that when Peter barges into her private room shortly thereafter and criticizes Clarissa, she does not retreat. If his knife stands for his ability to believe in himself, she bears her own standard—her needle—against his intrusion:

What an extraordinary habit that was, Clarissa thought; always playing with a knife. Always making one feel, too, frivolous; empty-minded; a mere silly chatterbox, as he used. But I too, she thought, and, taking up her needle, summoned . . . to her help the things she did; the things she liked; her husband; Elizabeth; her self, in short, which Peter hardly knew now, all to come about her and beat off the enemy.

"Well, and what's happened to you?" she said. So before a battle begins, the horses paw the ground. . . . So Peter Walsh and Clarissa, sitting side by side on the blue sofa, challenged each other. (65–66)

Liking herself, Clarissa does not flatter Peter by becoming frivolous, emptyheaded; in this way, too, she has failed him—failed to give what he expects of a woman. As before, she regrets having stood up to a man: "It was all over for her. The sheet was stretched and the bed narrow. She had gone up into the tower alone" (70). Clarissa, like the women writers Woolf admires in A Room of One's Own, and the Stephen daughters, still pays homage to a social convention by feeling guilty for thinking of herself.


Independence and anonymity help Clarissa face the novel's climax, Septimus's suicide. She imagines his point of view and calmly considers what it could mean:

A thing there was that mattered; a thing, wreathed about with chatter, defaced, obscured in her own life, let drop every day in corruption, lies, chatter. This he had preserved. Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death. (280–81)

. . . and the words came to her, 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. . . . He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fan. (283–84)

Acting on his beliefs, delusional or not, Septimus throws away his life, but not himself. Septimus faces a loss of autonomy in the hands of Bradshaw and Holmes: "His state again is Clarissa's, is woman's; he becomes an object; his body is not his own. As Dr. Bradshaw approaches, Septimus literally has no room, so he hurls himself out the window to reality." His death affirms Clarissa's "sense of herself as subject, " not object.[49] Self must be real if it can decide to die.

Woolf's attitude toward death did change during the writing of Mrs. Dalloway. In 1924 she recounted her fear after an automobile accident involving her niece, Angelica Bell, who had for a few hours been thought to be near death: "What I felt was . . . that death & tragedy had once more put down his paw, after letting us run a few paces. People never get over their early impressions of death I think. I always feel pursued" (Diary 2: 299). But next year, after finishing Mrs. Dalloway, she reacted differently to the news of the death of her friend Jacques Raverat:

Jacques died, as I say; & at once the siege of emotions began. I got the news with a party here—Clive, Bee How, Julia Strachey, Dadie. Nevertheless, I do not any longer feel inclined to doff the cap to death. I like to go out of the room talking, with an unfinished casual sentence on my lips. That is the effect it had on me—no leavetakings, no submission—but someone stepping out into the darkness. (Diary 3: 7)

Both Woolf and Mrs. Dalloway receive at a party the news of a sudden death—news that should inspire Clarissa's stiffening, what Woolf called her "screen making habit"[50] (what Norman Holland calls a filtering identitytheme) of automatic denial in response to the threat of loss. Instead, they


let go of fear, abandoning their sense of vulnerability, of "penetrability" (to paraphrase Peter Walsh) in order to see what the event might mean. Death itself becomes personal—not Rachel's or Jacob's senseless imposition, but an experience to be integrated into a lifetime of experiences. It is a "new vision of death," Woolf notes in a November, 1926, entry to her diary, one that is "active, positive, like all the rest, exciting; & of great importance—as an experience" (Diary 3: 117) that can be "owned."

The form of Mrs. Dalloway invites the reader to experience the frustration of the manic-depressive, the one person who seems to be three but is not three. Because the manic-depressive possesses three sets of beliefs and affects, his or her identity is periodically deconstructed. Cyclical shifts blur the line between sanity and insanity by repeated crossings—paralleling our repeated crossings from one character's mind to another's. What haunts us about reading this novel is the suspicion that there is an unsettling connection between the sane and the insane, that from one moment to the next a mind—any mind—may not know itself or see how it has temporarily disappeared in the grip of strong anomalous or contradictory feelings it cannot control or "own." Personality then seems ephemeral, unrelated to identity. The novel only urges us to hope that identity must lie somewhere below the superficial differences—names, roles, gender, manic projections, depressive desiccations. Like Clarissa, we must learn to create "every moment afresh" (5) and to question our protective beliefs, paring ourselves down to a central essence; like Peter, we must feel the fun of fiction and run the risk of becoming foolish and egotistical; like Septimus, we must open ourselves to divergent thinking and "alien" experiences, but without losing ourselves completely. Such an inclusive view may seem impossible, but it is often the goal of great novelists, who, "by disrupting the reader's harmony with his world, in an important sense challenge the very conditions of sanity. Injuring our vanity by upsetting our order, such writers seldom tell us the 'truth' we want to hear."[51]

The design of Mrs. Dalloway may have been shaped in part by Leonard's approach to Virginia's illness, which was to connect it to her sanity:

There were moments or periods during her illness, particularly in the second excited stage, when she was what could be called "raving mad" and her thoughts and speech became completely unco-ordinated, and she had no contact with reality. Except for these periods, she remained all through her illness, even when most insane, terribly sane in three-quarters of her mind. The point is that her insanity was in her premises, in her beliefs. She believed, for instance, that she was not ill, that her


symptoms were due to her own "faults"; she believed that she was hearing voices when the voices were her own imaginings; she heard the birds outside her window talking Greek; she believed that the doctors and nurses were in conspiracy against her. These beliefs were insane because they were in fact contradicted by reality. But given these beliefs as premises for conclusions and actions, all Virginia's actions and conclusions were logical and rational. (Beginning Again 164)

It is easy to identify Septimus's madness in this passage, but more important is Leonard's strategy: he not only describes Virginia's symptoms but argues that an underlying logic connects the sane Virginia and the insane Virginia. This is a cognitive explanation of delusions. He asserts that a core self still operates; only her beliefs have no objective basis. What Leonard gave Virginia was the sense that she was still real, that she survived beneath the crests and troughs, and that somehow the sane Virginia and the insane Virginia were related.

In Virginia's diaries and letters we can see Leonard's influence gradually evolving over time (though she always revises for her own purposes). In 1920, she wrote of her alternating moods when thinking about Mary Hutchinson: "L. at tea put me tight: M. H. is one of the few people I dislike, I said. No: he replied: one of the many you dislike & like alternately" (Diary 2: 63). Not much is made of the incident, except that Leonard tries to generalize Virginia's emotions of the moment, to set them into a larger pattern. By June of 1924, she attempts self-analysis:

If I weren't so sleepy, I would write about the soul. I think its time to cancel that vow against soul description. What was I going to say? Something about the violent moods of my soul. How describe them, even with a waking mind? I think I grow more & more poetic. Perhaps I restrained it, & now, like a plant in a pot, it begins to crack the earthenware. Often I feel the different aspects of life bursting my mind asunder. . . . I mean, what's the use of facts at our time of life? Why build these careful cocoons: why not say straight out—yes, but what? (Diary 2: 304)

What is the soul if its moods burst asunder the pot of description? The waking mind, with its narrow focus on coherent evidence, cannot encompass the sundered fragments of madness. Woolf will not be satisfied with the careful cocoons of a tidy, coherent theory. But if work is done by total inclusion on a syncretistic, unconscious level, what can be said "straight out"? In November of 1928, acknowledging her skepticism, she gropes for what may lie beyond it:


that is my temperament, I think: to be very little persuaded of the truth of anything—what I say, what people say—always to follow, blindly instinctively with a sense of leaping over a precipice—the call of—the call of—now, if I write The Moths [The Waves ] I must come to terms with these mystical feelings. (Diary 3: 203)

How can Woolf get beyond the wordless, mystical, inexpressible openness of Jinny's vision without either feeling cramped by facts or denying facts with illusory dreams? The temptation to identify self with "the waking mind" is strong, but it gives merely the illusion of substantiality:

I am so important to myself: yet of no importance to other people: like the shadow passing over the downs. I deceive myself into thinking that I am important to other people: that makes part of my extreme vividness to myself: as a matter of fact, I dont matter; & so part of my vividness is unreal; gives me a sense of illusion. (Diary 3: 188)

Woolf reasons that the illusion of personality camouflages one's true identity, just as her manic-depressive swings do. The first egotism of personality is a voluntary dalliance that leads to a more serious, involuntary fragmentation of the self. Anonymity gives her a protective distance from the choppy waves of mood, but it is not her final goal. Rest is welcome, but it does not answer all her questions. The most important question is: who would she be without her moods? This is a difficult problem for any manic-depressive. Can the other selves be ignored with the claim that identity lies only in the "normal" self that family and physician approve of? Most patients do ignore their other selves, because society rewards consistent behaviors: doing one's job, loving one's family, making interpretations others can understand. Consensus and practicality are strong reinforcers for "getting straight." And psychotic behavior can undoubtedly be dangerous and self-destructive. Still, it distresses some patients to dismiss the inconvenient but vivid perspectives that mood swings impose. However much Woolf felt terrorized by her hellish nightmares of persecution or her ecstatic hallucinations, she valued these unusual experiences as insights that normality restrained.

The problem here was that insight could be useful only when she was well enough to write. Neither madness nor anonymity could by itself produce art. A chaste anonymity could suspend egotism, a stoic immunity might resist the temptations of "bad" impulses, but bipolar mood swings periodically defocused conscious attention and opened Woolf to syncrettstic perception which, in a return to sanity, she then creatively integrated. Just


as Clarissa must be threatened by Miss Kilman's raspy monster clawing inside her before she can see herself afresh, Woolf valued her decenteredness in illness as the counterweight to her revitalizing return to sanity:

I have a great & astonishing sense . . . of my own strangeness. . . . Who am I, what am I, & so on: these questions are always floating about in me; & then I bump against some exact fact—a letter, a person, & come to them again with a great sense of freshness. (Diary 3: 62–63)

Once she descended past personality and its capacity to identify itself by tangential qualities, Woolf achieved a sense of self that was too open, too elemental to be defined by the answers to such limiting questions as "Who am I?" and "What am I?" The core self existed, like other real objects, on the level of touch in the dark, without coherent attributes or characteristics, without the organizing ego. Dedifferentiating scanning, like the sense of touch in the dark, ratified self's substance if the chaos inside could be aligned with the chaos outside, with no overt specifications, no restraint from a "careful cocoon." Self was no depressive phantom, no manic daydream, no florid production of theory, but a thing with which she could have a relationship—in fact, as many relationships as she cared to imagine. Privacy paradoxically enriched her intrasubjective object-relations because illness gave self boundless possibilities as well as containment.

Clarissa experiences the same kind of withdrawal and emergence. Having sunk into "the depths of her heart" (281) in empathy with Septimus's suicide, she resurfaces thrilling at an ordinary sight, the sky above Westminster: "It held, foolish as the idea was, something of her own in it, this country sky, this sky above Westminster. . . . It was new to her" (282–83). Self and world are rhythmically connected and disconnected again and again. The novel ends with her return to her party, her secret joy inside her. Peter momentarily becomes aware of irreducible, inexplicable feelings ("What is this terror? What is this ecstasy?" [296]), but characteristically attributes them to Clarissa's "womanly" magic (an essential feature of his identity-theme) and so gains no insight. Even the novel's narration seems to draw our attention away from Clarissa's vision by concluding, "For there she was," as if to undercut the majesty of Peter's adoration with a deliberately subdued declarative sentence, one as unquestionable as it is unremarkable. Like the Westminster sky, Clarissa is there, but what makes her so special cannot be shared with anyone else because it cannot be formulized or said "straight out." Language cannot go into that secret, untrammeled wood of self that lies beyond ego. Manic-depressives


find no words that can reliably formulate their senseless shifts of mood or systematize elusive feelings. The next mood swing will destroy any rigid schematization. One must learn to question all moods and ideas, tolerate chaos, and hope that some wordless unity exists somewhere to embrace all that one is, senseless or sensible.

Woolf accepted, however grudgingly, the fact that she could not explain the profound multiplicity of her inner life to others or expect them to give her a sense of self that could weather mood swings. In a letter to Vita Sackville-West, she complained about her isolation:

I wish you could live in my brain for a week. It is washed with the most violent waves of emotion. What about? I dont know. It begins on waking; and I never know which—shall I be happy? Shall I be miserable[?] I grant, I keep up some mechanical activity with my hands, setting type; ordering dinner. Without this, I should brood ceaselessly. And you think it all fixed and settled. Do we then know nobody?—only our own versions of them, which, as likely as not, are emanations from ourselves? (Letters 3: 245)

How, unable to know herself, could she be known? The answer came in the form of a wish: if Vita could experience Virginia's inner world—without explanation—she might "know" her, or at least feel what it is like to be her. This is essentially what Mrs. Dalloway does. We live in a bipolar brain for a day. We experience the isolated lives of several characters who might be one character if only that underlying, anonymous yet inclusive self could be fully verbalized. The sane and the insane are paralleled but without specific connections, so that the reader is faced with the same insoluble problem Virginia wished Vita could face: how to find a center in all this multiplicity, a core beyond ego and its mood-congruent linguistic and cognitive powers, and yet one enriched by a panoply of feeling, an all-inclusive self that paradoxically exhibits both unity and difference. If such a view can be gained, it must come from the reader, who plays the part of Woolf, mothering the text, returning a gaze that mends the cut separating author and audience. But there may be no words for such a vision.


9— "The Sane & the Insane, Side by Side": The Object-Relations of Self-Management in Mrs. Dalloway

Preferred Citation: Caramagno, Thomas C. The Flight of the Mind: Virginia Woolf's Art and Manic-Depressive Illness. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.