Time After Time (After Time, After Time, After Time, After–You Get the Drift): How Rezia Experiences the Temporal Maze of London in Mrs. Dalloway

In Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway, Lucrezia has arguably the tensest experience of time and space in London out of all the featured characters, for she is the only non-English individual who has to navigate what it means to be a Londoner. Wife to a PTSD-afflicted Septimus Warren Smith, Lucrezia’s experience of London is quite restricted, for it is only filtered through the lens of an English’s soldier’s foreign wife.

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An aerial view of today’s Regent’s Park (where we first meet Rezia)

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A photo in Regent’s Park

In a heartbreaking passage that provides insight into young Rezia’s view of British space, the narrator notes how she liked that “[t]he English are so silent … She respected these Englishmen, and wanted to see London, and the English horses, and the tailor-made suits, and could remember hearing how wonderful the shops were, from an Aunt who had married and lived in Soho” (88). This innocent desire to break free of a familiar land and explore what she idealizes to be a dignified and respectable city starkly contrasts her updated opinion that Londoners are “half alive … huddled up in Bath chairs, looking at a few ugly flowers stuck in pots” (23). From horses, suits, and shops to chairs and ugly flowers, Rezia’s imagery of London is fragmented into mere objects whose grand symbolism devolves as her timeline evolves. The more time passes, the more Rezia connects back to her past, demonstrating the ability of London as a suffocating space to transport individuals to other places unique to them. Her lamentation that “Far was Italy and the white houses … and the streets crowded every evening with people walking, laughing out loud” speaks to not only the geographic distance from England, but the emotional as well (23). The Italian lifestyle where crowdedness works to bring people together and not stifle them like in London lives only in her memory. From the notable perspective of a young foreigner, London transforms from an abstract space of possibility to a depressing epicenter of banality where she is separated from others because “[t]o love makes one solitary” (23).

The fact that by the end of the novel we know nothing of Rezia’s fate other than her newfound status as a soldier’s widow contributes to the mystique of London as a dynamic force that sweeps individual timelines into layers of temporalities. As she falls under the effects of Dr. Holmes’s sleeping potion, a strange medley of final images are strewn together as “[t]he clock was striking–one, two, three: how sensible the sound was … She was falling asleep. But the clock went on striking, four, five, six” (150). This suddenly linear and illogically rushed progression of time acts as a final meditation on Rezia’s relationship to London. Her storyline appears to rush to an abrupt ending and gives way to scenes from Clarissa’s party, but it is this leap through hours that reflects how Rezia is now another Londoner who occupies both ancient and future time. Even in regards to space, in her drowsiness, “[s]he put on her hat, and ran through cornfields–where could it have been?–on to some hill, somewhere near the sea … In London too, there they sat … strewn she felt, like flying flowers over some tomb” (150). Like Septimus, Rezia occupies multiple spaces in her half-conscious state, for she presumably recalls both scenes from her youth in Italy and from her marriage to Septimus. She herself is “strewn” across identities for the entire novel, but now her ubiquity extends to the ghosts of London. As flowers spread over her husband’s tomb, Rezia experiences the haunted nature of London as a land of past, present, and future individualities that are embedded in the city’s memories.

Although we don’t know exactly what becomes of her, the novel leaves her in a shroud of ambiguity that leaves us to surmise perhaps she is a Londoner now more than ever…

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