Septimus Smith’s war experiences severed his ability to cope with daily life. After witnessing the horrors of the war and the death of his friend Evans, Septimus finds himself disconnected and unfeeling. His inability to come to terms with his relationship with Evans and the loss of his ability to feel eat away at him– he panics and impulsively marries an Italian girl Rezia and returns home to England – a last-ditch effort to break through to the world – but regrets not loving or ever loving her.
Septimus is unable to work. He dictates fragmented nonsensical poems to his wife, who is desperately lonely and terrified at her husband’s delusions. She turns to Dr. Holmes to diagnose and help her husband – but Holmes insists that there is nothing at all really wrong with Septimus – unable to accept shell shock as a real and debilitating condition. Septimus despises Holmes:
“‘Holmes is on us,’ he would say, and he would invent stories about Holmes; Holmes eating porridge; Holmes reading Shakespeare–making himself roar
with laughter or rage, for Dr. Holmes seemed to stand for something
horrible to him. ‘Human nature,’ he called him.”
Like Mrs. Dallowy, Septimus doesn’t see the world as focused, daily occurrences – see things broadly, a wide, panoramic perspective. Unlike Mrs. Dalloway Septimus can’t bridge the divide between himself and the universe – he can only observe, disconnected, seeing meaning and the infinite in the mundane and trivial – “He lay very high, on the back of the world. The earth thrilled beneath him.” Septimus is broken by the war – he couldn’t reconcile its meaningless horror with life afterwards. Mundane events can’t exist – everything has to mean something. Septimus’s suicide is motivated by Holmes barging up the stairs past Rezia. Septimus sees Rezia’s failure to stop Homes as the world caving in, as the ultimate failure to cope – suicide seemed the only escape.
Peter Walsh is an old acquaintance from Clarissa’s past. They were somewhat romantically involved when they were younger, but she turned him down when he asked her to marry him. After her refusal, he left for India and does not return until the day in which the novel is set.
Walsh is an intellectual. He is “bookish” (152) and “had been a Socialist” when he was in school (49). His interests lie in “the state of the world” rather than pragmatic concerns in every day life. Essentially, he is more inclined toward ideas than to observations of life; as Clarissa puts it, “He would put on spectacles, if she told him to” (7), but otherwise he does not live in the moment as she does.
More so than living life, Walsh feels it. He acts impulsively and with great passion, but he rarely follows through with his ambitions. When he does carry through one of his capricious acts, he ends up in a situation that he would prefer not to be in. Take, as examples, his quick marriage to a girl he met on the boat to India, his current love affair with a married woman, and his sudden stalking of the girl described on pages 52 and 53. His lack of follow-through is seen as a character flaw by other characters, such as Hugh Whitbread and Richard Dalloway. They see him as a failure, and though they will try to help him find work, they know they won’t be successful at finding him something, as Whitbread puts it, “permanent, because of his character” (105).
“…his lack of the ghost of a notion what anyone else was feeling…” (45) is a part of his personality that annoys Clarissa. He is incapable of seeing what people are feeling to the point that he cannot even admit to himself what his real feelings are. Instead he attempts to convince himself of what he’s feeling. For instance, his trying to convince himself he is not still in love with Clarissa.
A final trait I think is important in Walsh’s character is his dependency on people. He particularly enjoys the presence of women (152), though this quality has contributed to his problems with them. Walsh does admit this trait to himself, and it is part of the reason he goes to the party at the end of the novel, the other part being to see Clarissa.