Reading Virginia Woolf's novel

 
 

 
 

                   The Short Happy Life of Septimus Smith

                                                  and Others

 

                           “We are every one of us a poet when we are in love."

                                                                       Plato Symposium  196e

 

Latin elegy, an obscure convention also known as love poetry, offers a fruitful context for satire in Mrs Dalloway ;  the form known as Latin elegy is not necessarily mournful as in pastoral elegy. When considering the love poems of Latin elegy the reader must attempt to suppress the discomfort associated with cognitive dissonance caused by this novel subgenre which is seemingly inconsistent with former beliefs concerning elegy. The erotic poetry of John Donne, entitled as elegies in most cases, are generic love elegies; they are distinctly not mournful. His poems read like Ovid’s Amores written in the “elegiac meter”: a limping pentameter following a lusty hexameter, according to Puttenham. Like John Donne, the Roman poet Propertius wrote books of elegies, nearly all of which were lighthearted love poems. Following this model, Mrs Dalloway, a satirical novel, is frequently critical of the amorous flaws of its characters through irony, an obscure side of elegy.

  Latin elegy, which does not specifically concern sadness, exhibits several literary conventions which are prominent in Mrs Dalloway. Lady Bruton and the problems of writing are burlesqued through her letter to the Times. Doris Kilman’s self-righteousness makes her a satirical target. Clarissa’s affection for Sally Seton, a figure for Venus at her perennial bath ( “she forgot her sponge and ran along the passage naked” (MD 50)) and Peter Walsh’s multiple love affairs are particularly elegiac conventions. Similarly, the woman at Regent’s Park Tube station sings of “a man, oh yes, a man who had loved her” (MD 124). Such affairs of the heart, however, constitute the principal marker for Latin elegy, the obscure sub-genre uniquely exploited by the Romans. Allusions which undercut various amorous situations with language indicating superficial gravity are characteristic of Latin elegy.

  Irony, like satire, is particularly difficult because of the impossibility of understanding this unfamiliar genre, Latin elegy, on its verbal surface alone; matters which appear as inadvertent ambiguity often reveal themselves as studied equivocation and amenable to plural interpretation in Mrs Dalloway. Just as in Plato's Symposium, the Dalloway text "depends on a process of collation and comparison, of backward-and-forward reading that presupposes a written text" (Carnes 119). The typical style, which the novel shares with Latin elegy, is quasi-narration, “a narrative by preterition” (Veyne 9); art concealing art, which is that writing is the primary interest, tropes such matters of the heart as its principal interest. Furthermore Mrs Dalloway is a montage of embedded tales given as retrospective anecdotes typical of erotic elegy (Veyne 4). This novel, like elegy, is preoccupied with writing about love.

Latin elegy is erotic poetry, also called “amorous”. Matters of love concern the characters in Latin elegy and govern the events in the novel as well. Elegiac poetry, this sub-specialty studied by Latinists devoted to the Latin literature of the Augustan age, offers subjectivities familiar to those remembering Clarissa’s long-ago relationship with Peter Walsh which receives maudlin notice when she recalls their youth and “the arrow sticking in her heart” (MD 10). Such valentine imagery is later validated by Peter himself when he claims that  “now she was in love with him” (MD 120). Further, Clarissa’s amorous narrative about Sally Seton is suggested rhetorically: “Had that not been love?” (MD 48).

Love poetry, elegy, is featured by but not restricted to the Roman poets Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid. With these poets who confine their works to matters of the heart, the topics consist in the various conventions of love, often with comic or satirical flavors. Latin elegy is not concerned with death or sadness; although a great deal of weeping does take place, lachrymosity is typically reserved for loss of the beloved: “Quite simply she wiped her eyes” (MD 64). As in Latin elegy, so in Mrs Dalloway, even unto suggestions of carnal embrace, as when Peter “felt that he was grinding against something physically hard; she was unyielding” (MD 97).

The raw material of Mrs Dalloway consists of exploiting the literary foibles of those Londoners who bid for an erudite posture through quoting clichés and various literary chestnuts;  in Latin elegy, too, the literary background is Homeric, the allusions Classical. Both typically prefer alluding to literature with a "pedigree" (Freudenberg 194). Comedy and satire, foot soldiers for elegy such as Peter Walsh’s “boys in uniform” (MD 76), are inspired by satire, the “walking muse,” so named by the Roman poet Horace (Freudenburg 184). The Dalloway cook, Mrs. Walker, is an iconic representative of the satirist both in name and in practice. Clearly, the satiric ambulatory narrator of Mrs Dalloway, a voice-over which contextualizes the scattered words of others, is completely in charge of the style.

According to Abrams (25-27) the purpose of comedy in satire is “to interest and amuse us”; it is certainly not tragedy. In Mrs Dalloway, there is no great tragedy, no disaster, and “the action turns out happily for the chief characters.” Even the suicide of Septimus Smith, an amorous soldier poet, has a darkly satirical aspect in that it occurs in a typically elegiac scenario as will be shown below. In general the novel displays the elegiac “disorders of society” and “the ridiculous violations of social conventions and decorum” as in the comedies of Aristophanes, Plautus, and Terence which is typical of elegy. Comedy, satire, and elegy are all closely related in method and tone. The reader expects to enjoy a soft chuckle, not a thigh-slapping guffaw.

Hugh Kenner tells us that satire "is a radically written genre" requiring "that the language by which we recount events be externalized for inspection the way only writing externalizes." Note that even Socrates’s dialogues, most notably in Plato’s Phaedrus on writing and Symposium on love (matters of infinite interest to Latin elegists) have paradoxically been preserved in writing, a medium which the character “Socrates”, as avuncular as Horace, himself distrusts. “Written texts make available the notion that one knows what one has merely read” (Carson 143). Clarissa Dalloway who read Plato in bed selects a particularly elegiac locus for this reading which resurrects a Latin pun, lecto in lecto (MD 49). The symposium or party of congenial guests, as much as with Clarissa’s dinner party as for Propertius, is “practically synonymous with the love affair” (Yardley “Symposium” 149). Plot summaries will not do the job if the sophisticated meaning of Clarissa’s party is disregarded.

Kenner adds that satire "is a sophisticated contrivance indeed" (Kenner 264-5). The objects of the satiric Dalloway narrator are “characters who make themselves and their opinions ridiculous by what they think, say, and do, and are sometimes made even more ridiculous by the [narrator’s] comments and narrative style” (Abrams 169) framed within elegiac scenarios. This double-coding, modern society framed in ancient conventions, is considered comic because of the inherent incongruities. Unfortunately confusing for those who expect grief, the generic burden of Latin “elegy” as a term of art, refers to love poetry of a particularly satiric nature, studied by many Latinists; it is a specialty of a circumscribed group of these same Latinists. Again, for the purposes of this essay it has nothing to do with death, sorrow, or similar emotions.

Mrs Dalloway makes use of a varied literary tradition selected for elegiac, i.e. erotic, purposes, like Latin poets in whom “well-known scenes from epic are recast, a theme of an epigram is expanded, dramatic techniques and motifs from mime and/or comedy are reshaped, or pastoral settings are adapted to fit the elegiac situation” (Alessi “Unity” 45). The novel’s vital dependence on such similar intertextuality, prominent in Mrs Dalloway, has been the most deceptive feature, a stumbling block for many readers, when the very existence of them and their relevance must be discovered. There is “an ancient analogy between the wooing of knowledge and the wooing of love” (Carson 170). As Antonio Machado says, “Path walker, there is no path./ You must  make the path as you walk.” (Caminante, no hay camino./ Se haces camino al andar). Such a study is a labor of love.

Mrs Dalloway is not often regarded as satire, still less as elegy. Latin elegy, this sub-genre in classical poetry, provides a fey satiric perspective, “an outlet for frivolity” (Cairns “Fashionable”). The ridicule conveyed in elegy’s satire inspires the defense of laughter against aggression, such as Miss Kilman’s hostility toward Clarissa. Her rage provokes Clarissa’s laughter (MD 189-190). The sting of laughter affords the opportunity for insult with impunity. Exaggeration and mock pathos, features of Clarissa’s style, and frequent satirical devices, are stock weaponry throughout the history of literary satire. Latin elegy includes the dreamy bucolics of Albius Tibullus (60-19 bce), the egregious sensuality of Sextus Propertius (49 - 16 bce), and the steamy elegies of Publius Ovid (43 bce - 17 ce), postures featured in Mrs Dalloway, like these Roman "soldier poets" in the militia amoris. Satire, after all, is a Roman invention.

The love affairs satirized in these elegies are created by poetic elites in the first century bce in which they report their fictive love interests; they rise to absurd heights of allusive associations often with elaborate Homeric affiliations and recondite mythic links (See Hoff "Pseudo-Homeric"). These poets, especially Propertius, are seemingly unafflicted with writer’s block in their endless use of literary associations and antiquarian analogies. Death cut Tibullus’s career short but Ovid, even exiled, continued at a great rate. Their sweethearts (Cynthia, Delia and Corinna respectively) if not common streetwalkers or prostitutes, then, seem to be women of easy virtue: courtesans or mistresses presumably; they are nevertheless those literalized metaphors, scriptae puellae, “written women,” discursively constituted and as fictive as their lovers (Kennedy 91).”Or does it matter” (Griffin 103 and relevant notes). Peter’s lovers, Daisy and the woman on the boat whom he married (MD 10), (not to omit Clarissa) fall into this category.

Propertius is unique in naming his mistress Cynthia, nomenclature which also serves as the title of his book of elegies, “a narrative practice personified” (Wyke “Reading” 121). In antiquity, the first word of the collection became the title of the work, as “Cynthia,” the love interest, became the title to Propertius’s Monobiblos. Just so, the first word of this novel, ”Mrs. Dalloway”, is the title of the book and the name of the main character as well. As with Mrs Dalloway it is not always clear if the reference is to the lover or his poem; more often the elegant mistress is the text itself. “Here women enter elegy’s fictive world to formulate an amusing manifesto of both literary and political difference, and their bodies, [by way of] the anatomic metaphor, are clearly shaped to suit that manifesto” (Wyke “Reading” 129). The elegiac aspect of Mrs Dalloway materializing within a sequence of several love affairs suggests that in every London parlor there may be a “Delia”, in every drawing room a “Cynthia”.

A subtle allusion to aged anatomy however, is implied with easily overlooked descriptions such as Clarissa’s “shrivelled” breasts (strigosus) and again in Peter’s shrivelled appearance, i.e. shrunken (MD 45 and 285). The “anatomical metaphor” is frequently applied as a literary device derived from Callimachus , the Alexandrian opponent of big books; he championed short poetry, inspired by a slender, even shrivelled, muse. His “feeble voice” issuing from his “puny breast” illustrates the paradigm which elegists carried to satiric extremes. The anatomical metaphor, applied to the beloved, is  exploited in Latin elegy as  poetic “feet,” a common device which assumes a multitude of shapes. In Latin prosody a “foot” is a measure of length depending on the “value” of the vowel in the syllable (some are long, some are short), unlike the stressed and unstressed syllables in English prosody. It is all prosody. Each syllable is considered a “foot,” each line a “leg”, an analogy which easily accommodates itself to human anatomy; and the rhythm of the poem becomes analogous to the lovely “gait” of a woman as is the case of the pedestrian muse. It is all an exercise in pattern recognition, like Peter Walsh’s marching soldiers, “strict in step” (MD 76).

Elegiac couplets consist of a line of hexameter (six feet) alternating with a line of pentameter (five feet) which makes of it an asymmetrical unit and opens a bit of playfulness which appears in the elegies of Ovid; for example, Cupid (the elegiac influence) had snickered and taken one foot away making the line into pentameter when he had intended to write about war (epic) in hexameters (Amores 1.1.4); he cleverly adds an erotic slant saying “My first line rose well … but the next corrupted the text” (Humphries trans). Having thus lost a metrical foot it is said that elegy “limps”. Ovid kindly adds that her uneven gait is charming (Amores 3.10), “stylistically an asset” (Wyke “Reading” 119). Those Dalloway characters who ambulate in pairs – Hugh followed by Richard, and Septimus trailing Rezia – might be thought of as dramatizing elegiac couplets. Clarissa who paces alone modestly acknowledges her “nice feet” (MD 14). It is a learned game, emphasis on game (Veyne 20).

Charles Dickens makes an amusing connection with this anatomical feature in Great Expectations (Ch. 11). The analogy depends upon the view that some elegy is sad, unlike erotic elegy, but the allusion to prosody is valid. The occasion concerns a visit by a group of relatives to see Miss Havisham, a sham in reduced circumstances. One of them, Camilla, has burst into tears whereupon her cynical husband, Raymond, says, “Your family feelings are gradually undermining you to the extent of making one of your legs shorter than the other.” Thus even Dickens cleverly makes use of the elegiac anatomical metaphor.

Peter’s account of Clarissa’s great shaggy dog serves a similar purpose as an elegiac marker. Dogs are regularly featured in Latin elegy (Propertius 3.16.17; 4.3.73; Ovid Amores 2.19.40), here as the anatomical metaphor; this dog, caught in a trap, “had its paw half torn off” (i.e. and became “elegiac” for having lost half a “foot”) so that Richard bandaged it and made splints, “talking to the dog as if it were a human being” (MD 113). This invokes Jane Goldman’s “signifying dog,” a “sliding signifier” not concerned primarily “with the modality, or dogginess, of the dog but with its status as signifier” which “marks the boundary between literal and figurative” (Goldman 49). Clarissa’s injured dog signifies its intertextuality, having lost half a foot making a hexameter into a pentameter, and shares in  stylistics as prosody, alluding to elegiac meter, the dog’s “foot” as a metrical metaphor rather than primarily an anatomical injury. Further, this dog shelters an allusion to Florence Nightingale, heroic nurse of the Crimean War, from the work of a close friend of Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey’s Emininent Victorians, putting her dog’s wounded paw into bandages “as if it was a human being” (Strachey 130). The analogy is playful, flippant, light-hearted, and sometimes outrageously amusing (Cahoon 293-298). Like Clarissa, the elegist has “a sense of comedy that was really exquisite” (MD 118).

Sextus Propertius, however, emphasizes the character of his unique style of writing as a narrow bed, a second elegiac marker for its “slender” style  (much as Wordsworth conceived of the sonnet as a narrow room), a designation which Clarissa Dalloway employs with some emphasis. “Narrower and narrower would her bed be … .  So the room was an attic; the bed narrow” (MD 45-46), a pointed suggestion that her narrative is elegiac. For Propertius his elegy is three-fold, variously shaped as the love nest, the poem, or the elegiac sub-genre itself. His famously narrow bed, another measure for short poetry according to the criteria of Callimachus, is an important item in elegies  (Benediktson 57). Propertius's Cynthia, an allegory for his poetic practice, is both his mistress and his book, a promiscuous creation which can be “read” during any chance meeting; his life-style follows an amatory course which necessarily determines his literary style. His career illustrates the analogy between the wooing of knowledge and the wooing of love.

  It will be seen that Sextus Propertius is the direct ancestor of the soldier poet, a foot soldier, like Septimus Warren Smith. Ordinarily, elegists like Propertius avoid going to war, a third elegiac marker; Tibullus and Septimus are exceptions (Cairns  Tibullus 145-146, 183). “Septimus was one of the first to volunteer” (MD 130). Avoiding the life of a soldier is considered analogous to avoiding writing epic, also traditionally shunned by Latin elegists. Elegy is “a lesson to other men in the pain of erotic suffering or the pleasures of composing verse in a genre that is not epic” (Wyke “Taking” 111).

Now in his madness, simultaneously blocking the way and “unable to pass” in the traffic jam, Septimus  the soldier suggests the famous Verdun motto from the Great War, "Ils ne passeront pas" or, they shall not pass (MD 20). Septimus is in for some gentle ridicule when he is characterized as the Young Man from the Provinces who has married the Innkeeper's Daughter, personalities from romance. It is hardly a tragic opening. This, coupled with his biography as a victim of the horrors of war and symptoms of the delayed effects of shell shock, forms a paradox of apparently contradictory positions. Notice of medical malpractice for his delusions deriving from the evils of war, his post-traumatic stress disorder, has currency; this and the tragic consensus of many critics, as if regarding his case as that of a surrogate fetus whose loss must be mourned, is commendable. Still the form of his case history is of greater interest to the student of Latin elegy. The flashbacks regarding Evans which he experiences are more appropriate to the "wars of Venus" waged by the elegiac poet, as well as the combat veteran. These matters can be profitably revisited as opportunities for detecting literary allusions rather than demanding sympathetic readings of realistic social injustices.

The opening of Septimus's story bears a sweetly mythic quality of tender irony: He "had gone to London leaving an absurd note behind him, such as great men have written, and the world has read later when the story of their struggles has become famous" (MD 127). This faint forecast of a brilliant future in writing, suggestive of a Künstlerroman, is furthered by the introduction of Miss Isabel Pole, his instructor, who asks rhetorically, was he not like Keats? (MD 128). Her influence in the wooing of knowledge fosters a famously elegiac feature, as if Miss Pole were a personification of his poems; "He thought her beautiful, believed her impeccably wise; dreamed of her, wrote poems to her," typical markers for the elegiac mistress (MD 128).

This, emphatically baring the device, describes in a few words the form of the elegies of the Roman poets which are witty and satiric renditions of the poet's folly in love. Typically, love is slavery for them, but slavery can be sweet under a good mistress. A metalinguistic interaction between narrator and reader now requires attention to the comic nuances of the genre and the novel as well. Typically, in erotic verse, life-style tropes literary style. The elegists are not so much concerned about their mistresses as for their writing. For Propertius, “if Cynthia makes the lover miserable, it is because the poet is struggling to compose. If she makes him mad, the poet is inspired. If she thwarts the lover, the poet is blocked. If she provides sexual union, the poet has been productive” (Wyke “Taking” 112). The poems Septimus composes, there being no future for an elegiac poet in Stroud (MD 127), characterize his sexual life and the substance of his poetic style as well.

According to Paul Veyne’s book-length treatment, the style is a game of semiosis (Veyne 7), and not mimesis (Miller Rethinking 181). “Veyne offers a satisfyingly sophisticated account of what he correctly characterizes as the most sophisticated genre, elegy” (Cairns “Fashionable” 19). We are not to be carried away into a real world (mimesis). Here the playful narrator “creates a world with words” ­semiosis. (Veyne 11). To paraphrase the narrative in Mrs Dalloway is to miss the precise allusion and the fiction. For a concise discussion of the elegiac tradition see Miller Latin Erotic Elegy 11-15.

The Roman context of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra is a projected lesson plan for Septimus (MD 128), the topic appearing in Propertius 2.15 “tossed on Actium’s waves” and 3.11 in a shameful union associated with the “harlot queen”. The love story of a middle-aged Romeo and Juliet (both plays include a double suicide) invokes not only the so-called harlot queen Cleopatra, meretrix regina of Propertius 3.11.39 whom Horace said was no weak-kneed woman however, but brave indeed, a worthy adversary ­Odes 1.37; she is also the thematic elegiac woman, mentioned in Propertius. The play also introduces its site, the Alexandria which is the literary capitol of the Hellenistic world, i e.  a Greek world with the Greeks taken out.

The Greeks had built the city of Cleopatra with her famous lighthouse, and established her library and her culture. Romans evolved the unique poetic style called Alexandrian. The Alexandrian code requires that in Rome everything be Greek, a complex of ideas taken from Callimachus: among  them are  recondite allusions, brevity, refusal to write epic, ironic values, ambiguity, and playfulness as labor (Newman 457). This context lends meaning to the unnoticed words of David Daiches who pronounced Mrs Dalloway “an Alexandrian art” in which reality has been “whittled down to almost nothing” (Daiches 78, 77).

Miss Pole serves as the conventional elegiac docta puella, a scholar maid, i. e. the learned loveliness of an erudite text. Like Propertius's Cynthia she is a metonym for elegy (See Miller Subjecting 78). The erotic love object is a metaphor for desirable literary qualities according to Hellenistic criteria (Fredrick 461). Furthermore, making love and writing about it is, for Latin elegists, much the same thing, designed to shock and amuse. The comic aspects of elegy are examined in detail by Veyne in his chapter, “Pseudo-confidences and Humor” (Veyne 31-49). “Elegy was fun in that it was not to be taken literally” (Veyne 49).”Joking is one feature of personal poetry from Rome” (Boucher in Veyne 37). Septimus as a budding poet finds that writing verse is one of the most exciting things he can do with his clothes on. He is channeling Propertius as a poet.

London is recreated as an elegiac world. Mr. Brewer, the employer of Septimus, prophesies a brilliant future under the skylight for him, which is partially fulfilled, although not so brilliantly (MD 129). The annoying tendency to quote poetry, however, issues from Sally Seton who asks "did absence matter?" evoking the cliché more fully that absence makes the heart grow fonder (MD 287-288), and alludes to Propertius 2.33c.43: "semper in absentis felicior amantes." Finally, “the idea that love is a kind of madness is common in ancient literature” (Allen 261). Peter Walsh gives the scene of Septimus an elegiac twist since he has just hallucinated his deceased wartime "tent-companion" Evans while sitting with Rezia in the park. Peter sees them, however, as "lovers squabbling under a tree" (MD 107) featured by Tibullus 2.5.87 ff, " a lad who is now so savage with his dear will weep [...] and swear his wits had gone astray" (trans. Mackail). This occasion also reworks Propertius 4.7  which insinuates Evans since “the shade of the dead Cynthia appears in a nocturnal vision” (Flaschenriem 53)

In elegy, such squabbling may lead to a torn dress (elegists are all bodice rippers as in Propertius 2,1, 2,13, 2,15 “her dress torn off”; Ovid 1.5, 1.7, “I pulled the dress away;” and Tibullus 1.10.61, “to tear the thin clothes from her limbs”) such as Clarissa's torn dress, coyly defended (MD 55). A bruise or some physical blemish, the consequence in the poem may trope a literary fault, a lapsus calami, a slip of the pen (Fredrick 468). When Septimus himself, still raving mad, says "One cannot bring children into a world like this" (MD 135) he echoes Propertius's demand, "How should I furnish sons for our country's triumphs? No soldier shall ever be born of my blood" (2.17.13-14). In others, making love is seen as Venus’s sweet warfare (Propertius 3.21.16). Here we see the sane and the insane side by side shaped through otherwise invisible presences (Woolf D 2.207): If the “room” in Woolf’s work is viewed as one’s inner world, then "here was one room; there another" (MD 193).

Like Roman elegy, Mrs Dalloway is a montage of quotations, a comic display of intertextual overload (Veyne 4), and this narrator, a type of “Horatian” narrator (Wyke “Mistress” 31), does not suffer fools gladly. The invisible presence of extreme literariness in this novel offers the greatest difficulty for the unsuspecting reader. As in all parody, the texts being parodied cannot be easily distinguished from the parodist's (Miller Subjecting 135). We are to smile or laugh at the targets of satire and the exaggerated style that exposes them, at the discrepancy between the case as proposed and as realized, and at the eccentric stylistic expression of it as well. (See Hoff Invisible Presences "Afterword").

Clearly, Mrs Dalloway is stylistically organized around erotic elegy in its allusions as well as in its motifs which it builds up and organizes as analogies, parallels, and allusions. Wellek and Warren tell us, "organization is art" (154), here as a semi-transparent envelope of reference. For example, Clarissa Dalloway thinks, "Oh if she could have had her life over again!" (MD 14; Shaw Act 4), quoting almost word for word from George Bernard Shaw's comedy Mrs. Warren's Profession whose daughter, Vivie, is of uncertain paternity; this is the speech of a now regretful world-class Madam whose “parlors” span the European continent, now in a new erotic context of comic self-exposure. Her erotic, “elegiac” career is formidable. This allusion also forms a link between Clarissa and Septimus Warren Smith, whose name in the early Dalloway manuscripts is "Bernard," (see Woolf "The Hours"); and enthusiastically “devouring Bernard Shaw” among others, Septimus invokes a Latin metaphor in which literature could be tasted, sampled, devoured exploiting the identity between food and literary composition (MD 129, Gowers 41f and note 185; Hoff “Feast” 89, 91). Yet he bears the middle name "Warren," suggesting the Shavian heroine. A second link between Clarissa and Septimus concerns the elegiac "narrow bed"- angusto lecto (MD 45-46), a notorious Propertian buzz word; Propertius claims that Cynthia prefers to lie with him, “though narrow is my bed” (1.8b.33), and they are wont to wage wars within “the narrow confines of a bed” 2.1 44. It stands as a rubric under which to examine Septimus Warren Smith who spends many of his last hours in a metaliterary narrow bed, i.e. elegy.

When Dr. Holmes (AKA "human nature") first visits he finds Septimus in bed where Rezia has placed him. He is admonished both for reclining and for not performing his duty to his wife (MD 139). We are to understand that he is not behaving as a normally sexual husband should as if the country is in need of amorous warriors. Dr. Holmes urges him to get out of bed and attend to his duty, difficult advice to follow when taken together. On the other hand, Sir William Bradshaw's therapy would take an opposite course, confining him to bed away from his wife, even should the inclination to duty strike him (MD 146). Each form of therapy is opposed to the other and neither can produce the desired form of healthy connubial relation or poetry for that matter. “Two critics … will pronounce different opinions about the same book” (Woolf CR 131). The bed constitutes an elegiac dilemma in the metaliterary slippage between life and art, between the real bed and the elegiac bed. This conflict is an ironic reductio ad absurdum.

Latin elegy, particularly in the hands of Propertius, is metafiction, perhaps metapoetry, avant la letter – literature about literature, writing about writing, overtly concerned with its own status as discourse (Wyke “Written” 47). The elegiac poet is a fool in the grip of erotic madness, in love with a dominatrix who personifies the genre within which he writes. His helpless demeanor in the face of her hardness and mendacity is a figure for a poet incapable of writing in any other style. His puella, his poetic talent, rules him completely, and he rejoices in his subjection. The uses he makes of this metaphor are seemingly infinite. The courtship, for good or ill, exists in terms of writing, “itself a technology” (Kenner 265). There is a flavor of promiscuity as the ancient poets visit the compositions of other writers in allusions to and quotations from familiar poetic passages.

Sir William Bradshaw adds another dimension of erotic correspondence, that Septimus, sitting under the skylight, is to be hospitalized and separated from Rezia. "It was a question of law" (MD 146), British law in this case, i.e. certification before a magistrate. Such separations in various situations described in Ovid's Amores propose problems for the adventurous lover when the prospect of law intervenes. Elegiac conventions concern several illegal issues. Miller (Latin Erotic Elegy 261-2) suggests the Roman problem is the lex Julia of 18 bce which criminalized adultery. Treggiari (198) claims it applies only to the senatorial class. Sullivan (319) believes the law would have forced the man in question to marry. According to Cantarella “the lex Julia punishes stuprum, [“unchastity,”], among other things, as a crime. But stuprum, as we know, can be committed not only with virgins and widows, but also cum puero” (142).  The law applies mainly to the husband ("Adultery" Oxford Classical Dictionary) however, although the finer points remain for legal historians to discover. 

There is some daring in composing Latin elegy when it violates the prevailing policy of the Emperor who has the power to cut your head off. The exiled Ovid may have crossed the line. Nevertheless Propertius valiantly claims that not even Jove can separate lovers against their will (2.7.6). For Septimus it is Bradshaw who says they must be separated, an order vigorously opposed by Rezia: "They could not separate them against their wills," "nothing should separate them," "No one could separate them" (MD 223-225).  She is as firm in her pronouncements as Charles Dickens's Mrs. Micawber who is the source. As in his separation from Miss Pole, separation seems an amatory problem that is ongoing.

Much of the erotics in Mrs Dalloway revolves around Peter Walsh, Clarissa’s sweetheart in girlhood, who returns to London from India (the “India topos” found in both Tibullus and Propertius) where he has spent the halcyon years since the War; India is frequently a site of reference in Propertius, where, for example, ”endearing verse” is more exciting than pearls from India (1.8.39, 2.10.15, 2.22.10, 3.17.22, 3.13.5). The War may be over, but as the Caledonian leader said after battle, they made a desert and called it peace (Tacitus Agricola): “The war was over … thank Heaven over” (MD 5). The obscure allusions appear in equally obscure passages. Even bookish Peter himself is puzzled when Clarissa, clearly an elegiac woman, refers to her imminent party, "Which I shan't ask you to" (MD 61). The reference is to the Greek pederastic epigram of Theognis 1207-8: "I won't invite you to the party, nor forbid you. When you're present, I'm distressed, but when you go away, you still are loved" (Trans. Dorothea Wender). Greek courtesans, Roman prostitutes, freedwomen and slaves and the pseudo-confidences of the elegiac tradition can be traced to Theognis. Although the erotic reference is about boy-love the scene has been carefully laid in the context of Clarissa's narrow bed (MD 45-46; Propertius 1.8b and 2.1) and her crystal dolphin, a symbol of Venus (MD 56-57). In Propertius, narrowness refers to his slender elegiac style opposed to the grand style of epic, a narrow bed for the poet’s slender body.

In the course of Peter’s surprise visit, Clarissa introduces Sleeping Beauty imagery, as though "any one can stroll in and have a look at her where she lies with the brambles curving over her" (MD 65). The Sleeping Beauty relates to Propertius 1.3, an elegy that is famously analyzed in Latin scholarship (See Greene, Noonan, Baker, Harmon and the detailed analysis in Miller Latin Erotic Elegy 170-174). In this coy elegy which is given in full at the end of this essay, the Roman speaker has been out drinking, and he stumbles in still wearing the garland that crowned his cup when Peter would have left his garland in the grass (MD 66). Upon returning to his puella he finds her sleeping. The scene for him and Clarissa as well is reminiscent of Ariadne, deserted by Theseus on the shore: "He has left me" (MD 70); next he appears as Bacchus who rescues her or even Andromeda supplicating Perseus: "Take me with you" (MD 70). All is interrupted by the intrusive moon penetrating the window: "There above them it hung, that moon" (Propertius lines 31-34; MD 63).

The idyllic scene is ruptured when Propertius's sleeping girl awakes and surmises that her lover has returned from an assignation with another, just as Peter has come from another woman, "in love with a girl in India": “He was in love! Not with her. With some other woman, of course” (MD 67).  Clarissa’s defensive protest tells us that we should not presume any jealousy on her part, however, unlike the puella in the elegy. The spell of Propertius’s erotic fantasy is broken by Cynthia’s shrill explosion of jealousy appropriate to the maenad in his third exemplum. References to the narrow bed (MD 45-70) and to the moon (MD 62-71) interlock in order to enclose chiastically the scenario. Organization is art (see Welleck and Warren as above).

This literary showpiece contrasts the inaccessibility of the matron, Clarissa in her Westminster drawing room, with the open availability of the mistress in her narrow bed, sexual mores representing aesthetic values. Matron versus meretrix, each constitutes similar yet opposing values, the deceptive inaccessibility of meaning versus the sleeping beauties of the narrative. High-class matrons correspond to "diction with a pedigree"; the shady lady illustrates the straightforward diction of elegiac opportunities for the lover (See Freudenburg 195). “Love is understood to be a poetic activity” (Wyke “Reading” 124).

The amorous career of Peter Walsh continues in his flashbacks from the past as he traverses London. His is the "walking muse," traveling by foot which signifies prose (Freudenburg 207). His earlier courtship of Clarissa includes  "arriving at Bourton early in the morning, hanging about till the servants were up" (MD 95) when he portrays the locked-out lover (paraclausithyron) convention. Then the afternoon when Richard Dalloway appears introduces the beginning of the end (MD 92) as an imitation of Theocritus's Idyll 14 wherein the heroine is secretly enamored of a visiting neighbor named Lykos (Wolf) and the hero calls his unfaithful beloved a perfect slut. The Bourton scene is embedded in an Alexandrian bucolic (Hoff Invisible; Explicator 206).

Apparently Richard had visited previously when Peter, similarly, represents the scene in terms of Catullus 51 (see Wills) which is, in turn, a Latin version (perhaps translation) of Sappho's famous Greek fragment from Longinus’s On The Sublime (it is not a complete poem) which is known as 31 L-P. (NB: A lovelorn “Sappho” rather pointedly writes in Latin in Ovid’s elegiac Heroides 15). Peter assumes Clarissa will marry "that man" with a phrase that recalls the first line of Sappho's poem, "He must be like a God”; this fragment well-known in antiquity has been interpreted as a conventional makarismos, a religious scene of blessedness in which “that man” is like a god and thus virile enough to survive in the presence of a beautiful woman whereas the speaker is near death (Wills 177–183). The obscurity of this mythic context is typical of the quirky and obscure antiquarian interests characteristic of Callimachus (Cairns Tibullus 13-14, 18, 69, 79).

Sadly Peter has experienced the misfortune of meeting an intruder (a vir, the Rival, in the elegiac convention) into his happy life. Now he is reduced to "teaching little boys Latin" (MD 112), “the last career of babbling old age” again like the shopworn personified book of Horace's Epistle 1.20.17 (trans. Fuchs), whose career began as a polished but discarded book put now on the bookseller’s shelf, pawed over by the crowd; yet Peter is still adventurous enough to pursue an ecdysiastic (Fuchs’s diction) woman, shedding “veil after veil” up Cockspur Street in imitation of Terence's little sit-com Eunuchus (MD 78-81). This comedy as the parent of Wycherly’s The Country Wife, both concerning a pseudo-eunuchus, is merely a bit of self-torture as he undresses her mentally. The Eunuchus conceit resumes much later upon reading Clarissa’s letter (MD  234-236) in a scene alluded to in Horace Satires 3.260-264. He recognizes her handwriting through the blotches of tears much as in Terence’s cynical comments and in “Sappho’s” Latin letter in Ovid’s Heroides 15 (Rosenmeyer 35). “He could see her with the tears running down her cheeks” (MD 236). Inasmuch “as entrances in comedy are frequently heralded by a door’s  creaking” (Yardley “Propertius” 184) this matter is featured in Mrs Dalloway “with a little squeak of the hinges” (MD 3) at the outset.

Mrs Dalloway, by way of several allusions to Roman comedy, reflects the scholarship which regards Roman comedy as a proximate source for  “the naughtiness” (Yardley “Propertius” 180) in Latin elegies by way of its cast of characters and its comic situations. Thus the above sequence from Terence is in good company with the scene in Mrs. Dalloway’s cloakroom which houses a parallel sequence from the Mostellaria, ca. line 260: “You don’t need any make-up at all at your age,” (“The Haunted House” of Plautus) . “Young ladies did not use to rouge, … Miss Alice didn’t need rouge.” Thus we have Mrs. Barnet as a “lena,” (a bawd), “knowing perfectly well … which were nice ladies and which were not.”(MD 253). The comic relationship among the elegies of Propertius 4.5 containing the lena’s instruction on the art of being a meretrix, Scapha in Plautus’s similar situation, and Mrs. Barnet who knows which were not nice ladies, is pertinent. Again, Sally Seton’s entrance suggests an early scene from Plautus’s Pseudolus in which written words are all on top of each other as if making babies ca. line 23. “All on top of each other … words tumbled out” (MD 260). Further, Clarissa suggests the situation in the Amphitryo of Plautus ca. line 250 in which Jupiter lengthens the night he enjoys with Alcmena at the conception of Hercules: “Thanks, Night, for waiting for me. {The day} will have to be shorter than usual, I’m afraid, owing to the unusual length of the night.” Clarissa ponders, “Nothing could be slow enough; nothing last too long. No pleasure could equal … as the sun rose” (MD 282). There may be other such allusions for scholars to discover, and with much of Mrs Dalloway deriving from Roman comedy and the playfulness of Latin elegy, one might surmise that this novel is to be viewed in a similar manner – comic and playful.

The sequence from Eunuchus looks forward to Peter’s later self-avowed erectile dysfunction, that “Clarissa had sapped something in him permanently,” leaving him unable “to come up to the scratch” (MD 240-241). It is, perhaps, the consequence of his having burst into the women’s ritual conducted between Clarissa and Sally, the conventional erotodidact (MD 53; Hoff “Coming of Age”); this is a big no-no in Roman folk wisdom which punished such men with impotence, an antiquarian nuance typical of Callimachus. “Erotic elegy was a genre in which fun could be poked at holy things” (Veyne 27). Peter’s erotic dysfunction tropes textual pathology as the anatomical metaphor. (McCoskey 25). The image, failing to come up to the scratch (scribo), puns on inability to write (scribere) and impotence as well (Kennedy 51). Peter’s shrivelled appearance suggests the “weakness and impotence” of elegiac rhetoric, according to Cicero (Keith 43 who cites Quintilian’s association of bodily appearance with textual style).

The Old Man in Love such as Peter is a stock figure in Roman comedy; impotence has become a perennial joke ­– see Tristram Shandy  which is pervaded by literary impotence for example. Similarly, with the impotence convention as a carnal metaphor for writer’s block, Propertius describes himself, a blocked poet, as a trough run dry, a dried up puddle (2.14). Ovid, unable to rise to the occasion, his stalk refusing to burgeon, is eunuch of all he surveyed (Amores 3.7, trans Humphries). The speaker’s failure at sexual arousal is equated with failed literary competence (Keith 58). Most of us must “laugh in English” (CR 36). Had Peter written? Sally asked since “in those days he was to write”; “Not a word!” he answers (MD 285-286).

Second-hand fragments of Augustan literature are arched over by Peter’s abbreviated impersonation of Odysseus, both Trojan War hero and soldier in the militia amoris, allusions which began in Clarissa's drawing-room and concluded at his hotel  (MD 70, 242-244; Hoff “Pseudo-Homeric”). Like Calypso, Clarissa had given Peter a Homeric send-off (a propempticon), “cigars, notes, a rug for the voyage,” for his passage to India, alluding to the Forster novel (MD 120; Odyssey 5 233, 258-268). Peter's odyssey serves as an obscure Alexandrian jab at Homeric epic excess, its imitations, and at James Joyce's Ulysses as well which Woolf thought was very obscure. This epic parody is an instance of the “elegiacization” of Homer (Benediktson). As elsewhere, his conciseness and abbreviation must convey the sources which consist of many lines in the original which here are reduced to a short but revealing phrase, clean and brisk as opposed to extended exposition. Studied brevity characterizes Peter's introspective voyage which itself is a version of the metaphor of the journey of life and the walking muse as well (See Freudenburg 201-202).

Returning to Miss Pole, we see that she and Septimus are ultimately separated by the European War, rather than Jove (Propertius 2.7.6) after a bomb shattered a bust of Ceres.  Septimus's patriotism takes a messianic turn. As one of the prophetic Christs and Christesses (MD 150), this unstated claim which Bradshaw considers symptomatic, is "to save an England which consisted almost entirely of Shakespeare's plays and Miss Isabel Pole" (MD 130). He had done his duty even to “winning crosses” (MD 133) in order to develop manliness as Mr. Brewer advised. "It was sublime." Septimus violates the fundamental elegiac parameter, the refusal (recusatio) to write epic, or big books, or even go to war at all. Elegists are lovers, not fighters. Amor is the divine patron of peace.

The renunciation of epic issues in the consequent poetic imperative to compose elegies, short poems, small verses of slender import. Elegists typically disregard “what is commonly thought big” and create poems “commonly thought small” as Woolf suggests (CR 150). The poet's physique corresponds accordingly as metaphorical playfulness. Septimus, "always thin" (MD  221), and his “trailing” gait as a reference to metrics (MD 126) are comparable to Clarissa, "a narrow pea-stick figure," "a little skimpy" (MD 221, 8, 14), and here we have the sane and insane side by side once again. This is the iconography of the Callimachean ideal, as Horace, admits that brevity makes for obscurity (brevis esse laboro obscurus fio –“Ars Poetica” 25-26); the elegiac poet flaunted his slender means for his slender style, an important polemical signifier  (Hoff “Feast” 92, 95). If Septimus goes in weighing seven stone and, fed with porridge as Holmes prescribes, comes out weighing twelve  (MD 150) he has violated a basic elegiac criterion in terms of the metaphor of the body. “What porridge had John Keats?” (Robert Browning “Popularity”).

The writings of soldier poets, ultimately, became a popular British patriotic genre, illustrated in Lady Bruton's extreme nationalistic spirit by a travesty of Rupert Brooke’s "The Soldier," (buried in “some corner of a foreign field that is forever England”): "To be not English even among the dead - no, no!" (MD 275; see also Hoff "Feast"). According to Rose, the ”discrepancy between the parodied text and its new context is one of the chief sources of the comic effect” (Rose 23). No one, however, alludes to Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et decorum est," the old lie about patriots dying for their country (Horace Odes 3.2.13).  For Propertius however it is glorious to die for love (2.1.47). "There in the trenches the change toward manliness which Mr. Brewer desired when he advised football was produced in Septimus instantly" (MD 130) although it seems that Rezia also may have made a man of him when peace came. Even Dr. Holmes had counseled "a nice out-of-door game" like cricket to instill manliness, "the very game for her husband" (MD 37).

When Septimus lapses into paranoid utterances, his sense that people were making up lies, he even sees a dog in Regent’s Park “becoming a man” (MD 102, 39).  Dogs being traditional in elegy, such referential thinking consists of irrelevant ideas occurring in reality that take on personal significance; on the metaliterary level, these same irrelevancies imply obscure literary significance.  And when he asserts "Now we will kill ourselves" linked to the passing train (MD 100) just as Anna Karenina's suicide (Tolstoy) had ended her short unhappy life, these matters so strangely consonant with his suicidal proclivities fail to impress Dr. Holmes. He is not attuned to the Russian point of view (CR 173).

The game, lusus, is a word often used for sexual play which prefigures several subtle literary "games" (Hutchinson). It is used by the neoteric Catullus, a forerunner to elegy, in poem 50 which  "mixes the vocabulary of sexual attraction with that of literary admiration to create an image of ideal homosocial, homoerotic bonding between two poets" (Miller Subjecting 79), reworked in Propertius 1.13a, “and then what happened, friend, my modesty conceals.” The world of amor shifts away from Miss Pole to arma and Evans just as Propertius moves away from Cynthia to Hylas, the eromenos of Heracles, in Propertius 1.21. Thus with the appearance of war, the military metaphor for sex (Wyke “Elegiac” 169) introduces Evans and "brotherly love" (MD 151); it appears that Septimus and Evans share an erastes / eromenos relationship, penetrator and penetrated, which composes a counterimage of Septimus's elegiac calling.

In Socrates's  erotics of narrativity, Phaedrus and Symposium being examples of the pederastic narrative tease, the text "creates desire in its readers"; "the seeker after truth is [...] an erastes of knowledge" (Cairns 107, 110). The narrative here departs from the Propertian context and enters the Tibullan which, ironically, is the antithesis of the soldier's life, the pederastic mode featured in often seemingly incoherent absurdist poetry. Although Delia is his docta puella, "Tibullus" is also tortured by his love for Marathus (1.4.81; Miller Subjecting 99). Please refer to the little how-to book on boy-love (Tibullus 1.4) in its entirety, where in summary, Priapus, an ithyphallic erotodidactic garden figure, a garrulous fertility god, advises that the successful lover should yield to the boy's every wish; "where he leads, you will follow" (Miller Latin Erotic Elegy 136-143).

Attracting the affection of Septimus's officer is an example of understatement which utilizes Goldman’s “signifying dog” again: "It was a case of two dogs playing [lusus] on a hearthrug; … they had to be together, share with each other, fight with each other, quarrel with each other “ (MD 130). The “signifying dog” here opens a resumé of the famously erotic wrestling episode, "Gladiatorial," chapter 20 in D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love which features two men wrestling on "the carpeted floor" and involves language such as "piercing" and "penetrating" that culminates in seeming to "drive their white flesh deeper and deeper" until one finally enters into the flesh of the other. (See erotic wrestling in Propertius 2.1.13 “she wrestles [luctatur] with me” and 2.15.5 “she wrestled [luctata] with me.” See also Cahoon “Bed as Battlefield”). According to Plutarch, the wrestler answers to the hormonal imperative by entering the contest “with the object of his wiles” (Wheeler “Erotic Teaching” 61-63). “For a man to be penetrated sexually by another man was referred to as pati mulieribra. To suffer such an act entailed a counterproductive loss of manhood (virtus) in Roman sexual ideology” (Miller Latin Erotic Elegy  213 on Propertius 3.11). Eventually, in Lawrence, the disclaimer comes -- the inability of the men to love a woman as they love one another (See Hoff Invisible Presences). Juvenal 6 in this context associates the story of Nisus and Euryalus in Virgil's Aeneid.

When Septimus says "those who are about to die are alone" (MD 140) he alludes to the Roman gladiatorial salute, morituri te salutamus which gives structure to his ravings; this suggests the Roman games, a theatrical means of executing criminals, those troublesome Christians, the gladiators who faced the dogs and other animals in the arena, in the ad bestias contest. “He had committed an appalling crime and been condemned to death by human nature” (MD 145). In elegiac tradition the crime that Septimus assumes is infidelity: “He had not cared when Evans was killed {MD 137), here given in a forensic context for “the criminal who faced his judges” (MD 146). “He had committed an appalling crime and been condemned to death by human nature” (MD 145). The Russian point of view, here as Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, properly continues. No small wonder he fears the brute with the blood-red nostrils, i.e. Dr. Holmes, his bête noire (MD 139, 213); and he finds himself among the fallen they tear to pieces (thus Tacitus). "Once you stumble [and fall...] human nature is on you" (MD 139) suggesting a proleptic awareness of the threat Holmes poses through the all-purpose omen of bad luck for Romans. The combat of gladiators which, as in Horace Satires 1.7, is a literary Stilkampf, a battle between modes of rhetoric, here elegy versus epic (Freudenburg 208). The pun on stumbling with elegiac metric feet is a bad omen in battle, in starting on a journey, and in composition as well (Tibullus 1.3.19; Keith 48-49, 55-56).

Such animal invective as “dogs,” for example, to pillory an enemy is found in the satires  of Catullus 25, 69, and 97. Invective in satire, however, is typically Juvenalian, that form of satire in which the pose of making scurrilous observations is shaped as righteous indignation. Preoccupied first with "how Shakespeare loathed humanity [...] the sordidity of the mouth and the belly" disguised as "loathing, hatred, despair" (MD 134), Septimus next launches into his office mates with Brewer "all coldness and clamminess within," next "Amelia Whatshername [...] a leering, sneering obscene little harpy," and finally "the Toms and Berties [...] oozing thick drops of vice [...] naked at their antics" (MD 135). The polluted mouth (oral sex) produces foul oratory as well according to the metaphor of the body (Nicholson). The soldier poet Siegfried Sassoon in his poem says "soldiers don't go mad/Unless they lose control of ugly thoughts/That drive them out to jabber among the trees" ("Repression of War Experience," (lines 6-8). He too senses "ghosts among the trees," old men "Who wore their bodies out with nasty sins" (lines 27-31). See Woolf Essays 2.269-272.

The appearance of Peter Walsh in Regent's Park stimulates Septimus's hallucination of Evans in the form of Hector (Aeneid 2.225-284 and Iliad 6.268) returned from battle covered with dirt and blood, but as with Peter's appearance "no mud was on him; no wounds" (MD 105). On the other hand he punishes himself that "he had not cared when Evans was killed" unlike Achilles who was spurred into battle at the death of Patroclus; and "he had married his wife without loving her, had lied to her, seduced her; outraged Miss Isabel Pole" (MD 137). Here is the elegiacization of Homer (Benediktson), a montage of epic allusion typical of Roman erotic elegy (Veyne 4). The intermittent "reappearances" of Evans and the brute with red nostrils restore the gladiatorial context at frequent intervals as a threat to Septimus's physical and mental well-being. The dual role of Dr. Holmes in this context is often scissored out of analyses on Mrs Dalloway. The significance of these allusions suggest that it is a matter of not knowing Latin, let alone Greek (CR 23).

"In Propertius 4.7, Cynthia is dead [at least in a dream], in 4.8 alive again" (Miller Subjecting 185). Propertius marvels that "death is not the end” (4.7), a thought upon which Clarissa, too, speculates (MD 12). In Italy, Evans is dead, in London alive again (at least in Septimus's hallucinations). Soon, the threat to gladiators like Septimus approaches, largely in the person of Dr. Holmes who exhibits the  vir-ility that Septimus obviously lacks. The introduction of the vir, the Rival, that man who intrudes into the elegiac relationship is covered ad nauseam in Ovid's Amores (usually including the guard dogs barking at the intruder) 1.4, 2.5, 2.19, and 3.4. Septimus, who “heard dogs barking and barking” (MD 211), is oblivious to the nature of the over-friendly approaches of Dr. Holmes, unlike Ovid's knowing amator as cuckold, being too obsessed with the threat to himself. In either case Holmes is the intruding vir who, had Rezia succeeded in blocking the way Verdun-wise, would have been locked out (as a paraclausithyron).

Holmes remarks, "What a very pretty comb, if he might say so, Mrs, Warren Smith was wearing." Later "he had to give that charming little lady a friendly push," entering by force and finally commenting, "quite a girl, a foreigner, wasn't she." Again, he comments on "that charming little lady" and finally oversteps the bounds of professional propriety by inviting her to tea which rather turns Rezia’s head (MD 138-139). His deliberately deceptive approaches, poaching in Septimus’s territory, seem innocent yet are overly warm toward another man's wife, let alone a patient's wife. Holmes is a figure of Tarquin who raped Lucrezia, wife of Collatinus (Propertius 3.11.47-48). See also Shakespeare’s “Rape of Lucrece” and Chaucer’s “Legend of Lucrece.”

The irony in the perceived attack on Septimus himself as one of the fallen gladiators attacked by dogs is his erroneously incongruent construct. "Holmes was coming upstairs. Holmes would burst open the door [...] Holmes would get him" (MD 226). Escaping the beast with the blood-red nostrils results in his suicidal plunge, a wearily melodramatic gesture (MD 136, 226), a self-conscious metacritical comment on his own death. The Horatian narrator would suggest, if he wants to jump, then let him jump (Horace Ars Poetica 455-469). He “flung himself … down on to Mrs. Filmer’s [pointed] area railings” (MD 226). The ironic consequence of Septimus’s error when a man in his wits might have confronted the Rival offers a bit of dark humor “for her husband was horribly mangled” (MD 227), i. e. penetrated by a long pointy weapon. (Shakespeare 5 Henry 4.4.39: “mangled shalt thou be by this my sword.” See also Homer Iliad 22.72 “to lie mangled by the bronze spear.”). We are shocked but should not remain so because the scene is immediately followed by some slapstick on the part of Holmes and Mrs. Filmer. Besides, Propertius has claimed that death is not the end.

To Clarissa Dalloway's thinking, it seems that Sir William Bradshaw gets the blame for what Holmes has done, forcing the soul as Holmes forced the door (MD 281), a suggestion of the room as Woolf’s symbol for one’s interior state of being; the privacy of the soul being analogous to the privacy of Septimus’s room, Holmes appears as a beast “snuffing into every secret place” (MD 223). She fantasizes the death of Septimus impaled on the rusty spikes as if he had fallen on his sword, a Roman death, just as Septimus hallucinates Evans's return, sane and insane side by side; “there he lay with a thud, thud, thud in his brain," a fortuitous association which gives structure to her contemplation. Again studied brevity makes the source apparent (MD 280). He seems to revive, come to life in the words of the soldier poet, Siegfried Sassoon: "you can hear the guns./ Hark! Thud, thud, thud" … I’m going stark, staring mad because of the guns” ("Repression of War Experience" lines 35, 38).

By comparison, gazing into the abyss, Clarissa’s social career seems petty; she, like Septimus and “in character” as Shaw’s Mrs. Warren, deplores her life consisting of corruption, lies, chatter (MD 280), the myth of human "security" in any of its forms (Freudenburg 224 note 103). Inevitably a part of life (Mrs. Hilbery reminds us that all must die - MD 267), death has come to her little symposium which for Clarissa bears the trappings of social status and now seems worthless to her by comparison. This assumes the magnitude of the memento mori convention– et in Arcadia ego (Virgil Eclogues 5.42). Death comes, even at a party which is dedicated to life (MD 183), yet “writing is not something we should take for granted”; “the very writing which distances us from the dead past also keeps it alive” (See Beard and Henderson 113-121 on the death of Virgil’s young Daphnis). The mad associations of Septimus, symptomatic of disease, for her become symptoms of Clarissa’s hypocrisy which inspire feelings of guilt that are exposed, “let drop every day in corruption, lies, chatter” (MD 280). Death levels all, yet the paradox consists in that writing (text) as monument itself traditionally provides an immortality of fame (Ovid Amores 3.15.20), a philosophy endorsed by Horace as well. Since Clarissa conceives that death at the party and failure to communicate in writing means death for the personified text as well (MD 280) here she correctly divines the circumstances of his career: “This he had preserved” (MD 280).

Thus Clarissa's perspective frames the elegiac conclusion of Septimus's narrative. Doubleness characterizes elegy, and Mrs Dalloway is as elegiac as the poems of the Roman soldier poets. It is a polyglot literary tapestry that conforms to Forster's simple definition of Alexandrian style: "decorative method, mythological allusiveness, and the theme of love" (Forster Alexandria 33). Forster’s little book on Alexandria says in a few words what the Oxford Classical Dictionary gives in great detail; for Forster, however, a close friend of Virginia Woolf. Propertius subtly exposes what Ovid overtly requires, that the lover’s art be used to explore the poet’s art (Myerowitz 10). “Both lover and artist face a challenge of a similar kind, that of imposing form and restraint on a particularly seductive type of natural energy, called eros in the case of the lover, inspiration, talent, or ingenium in the case of the artist” whose creative impulse is supplied by the woman he loves (Myerowitz 73; Alessi “Furor” 228).

Like all Latin elegy the obscure Dalloway pathway is erotic, comic, ironic, parodic and anything but candid. Propertius dubs his work as a fallax  opus (4.1.135) sometimes translated as "two-faced," as "tricky work," "deceitful work," and a "difficult business." The double entendre is typically featured. Ambiguity, referential duplicity, and indirection are all characteristic of elegy as perfidious; and these are all prominent in Mrs Dalloway. “The nexus ‘mendacity-credulity’ [is] a central theme” (Bennett 39). Falseness is the name of the game. (See Bennett for a discussion of the “elegiac lie”.) As George Burns once said, "Sincerity is everything. If you can fake that, you've got it made." So much for the so-called sincerity topos.

As erotic elegy Mrs Dalloway is remarkably overdetermined. Riffaterre styles this phenomenon as "the interaction of linguistic and thematic structures and their multiple relationships" so that "each word thus appears multiply necessary; its relation with other words seem multiply compelling" (18); "the signifiers [are] associated with one another in accordance with the structure of a central signified" (22). This suggests an aspect of Clive Bell’s principle of aesthetics which he called “significant form. Organization is art. Clarissa’s narrow bed, the text in which she reposes, describes the world where the events transpire as well as the discourse that elicits it. The uses of Alexandrian poetics partially accounts for the ensorcelling effect of this work. Mrs Dalloway is a narrative tease, creating desire in her readers. As elegy the whole remains a splendid lie, and is unique in the oeuvre of Virginia Woolf.

                                                                        Molly Hoff

 

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  • Context

 

Propertius 1.3

Like Ariadne lying on the shore

from which the ship of Theseus sailed away,

or like Andromeda, freed from the rock,

who at long last in softer slumber lay,

or like a Maenad, dizzy with the dance,

flinging herself beside the river-bed,

so did my Cynthia seem the soul of rest,

her slender hands beneath her sleeping head.

So did she seem when I came reeling home,

drunk and disheveled, and the dying light

of the slaves’ torches lit the dying night.

 

Stumbling, I came and stood beside her couch,

drunk,  yet not too drunk to be unaware

that love and wine conspired within me now

to drive me to a double madness there.

And so I tried to hold her, rosy-warm

and sleeping, and my toll of kisses take ­–

quietly, for I know her sudden temper.

I knew how it would rage if she should wake.

Feasting my eyes, I gazed like Argus gazing

on Io’s horned head, and smoothed her hair,

and the wreath I had worn laid lightly there.

 

Apples for your delight; each gift I had

I lavished upon Cynthia whom I love ­ –

placing them stealthily, with hollowed hands,

holding my breath to watch, leaning above,

startled each time you stirred or sighed (although

these were vain terrors) lest your dreaming’s course fright, or lest you picture someone ­–

someone not me – who took your love by force.

But now the moonlight (O officious moon,

trying the window with its lengthening beams!)

wakens her, and with wakening rage she screams,

 

“Tell me the truth; whose anger, or whose boredom,

has sent you forth from her bed now to mine where have you spent the night?

whose arms have held you

                 and left you pale as a ghost and rank with wine?

                            O may you know the tortures you have taught me;

                 may you for me that same vain vigil keep –

                 see my  embroidery, see my useless lyre,

                 how I  beguiled the hours I could not sleep.

                And while you lay with her, I wept, I wept,

                            till  slumber’s kind wings touched me and I slept.”

 

   (Carrier 28-29)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Custom