Okay, I’m just going to make this quick. I’m taking the next month off from Inside Pulse. Not for anything bad or drama type reasons. I’m just going to be putting together the Best of 2005 feature for the Games section as well as spending this month working on a very large project that will end up taking up about 14 weeks of columns, and it’s going to involve a great deal of research and effort on my part. I’d rather ensure those upcoming columns are of super high quality, rather than give you something half assed as well as churning out some pretty poor Nyogtha’s to boot.
As those columns will be a crossover of sorts of things that I do, I figure why not make the first Nyogtha of 2006 and the last one for a few weeks into a crossover as well.
Our literature section has been amazingly vacant here at Inside Pulse, which is a disappointment to me, as Culture launched with some great writers and a lot of potential, but then it dropped off like you wouldn’t believe. Not much else to say save the disappointment comment. Anyway, what I’d like to do now is simply do a book review, but it total Nyogtha folklore/research behind the scenes style.
In the Mouth of Madness: The Mind of Septimus Smith
Within Virginia Woolf’s, Mrs., Dalloway, we meet Septimus Smith, a young man who has returned from the War quite mad. But what exactly was the problem dwelling in the psyche of Mr. Smith? To properly reveal what madness plagued this character, we must give him a thorough psychological evaluation by listing the symptoms, debating the possible maladies and then deciding his problem.
Mrs. Dalloway was written in 1925 and during that time, psychoanalysis was just beginning to emerge. Because of this, symptoms, diagnoses and cures for mental disorders were rare and hard to come by. Most often, treatments were based on educated guesswork at best, and by sheer trial and error at worst. Only a scant 100 years ago, they stopped treating the mad abominably in prison, If Septimus had ‘lived’ today, he would have been analyzed, and give a cure or treatment right away, with changes to medication and therapy made as improvements became noticeable.
In the time period in which Mrs. Dalloway occurs, Septimus Smith was diagnosed with ‘shell shock.’ Joan Bennett states that Septimus is only, “on the brink of a nervous breakdown” (49). But this is decidedly wrong. People with just a breakdown normally do not hear Shakespeare talk to them or throw themselves out a window. No, Smith was decidedly mad; but with what?
When we first encounter Septimus in the story, he stares at the mysterious motorcar, along with a menagerie of others. He feels the world is about to burst into flames. In addition to this, Lucrezia mentions that Smith has previous stated his desire to kill himself. Both of these glimpses into his thought process occur within a page of each other and gives us the knowledge that Septimus is none-too-well in the head. At this point, however, it is hard to say why is he mad or what specifically his insanity is. Hallucinations, paranoia, and suicidal depression all fall under a myriad of possible mental disorders.
As the tale progresses, we learn Septimus is constantly depressed, has little to no interest in anything (bordering on apathy), and in exceptionally indecisive. With these added symptoms, one could come out and make the educated guess that Septimus suffered from either clinical depression or Schizophrenia, it is better to wait and watch as more of Septimus’ mind is made apparent to the reader. A One-time incident is not enough to diagnose someone as mad.
Septimus and Lucrezia are in the park when skywriting takes place. He looks up and begins to cry from joy. Mania perhaps? He looks around at the trees, a horse, and a feather on a lady and states that all these sights would make him mad. “Men must not cut down trees. There is a God (NOTE: He made such revelations on the back of envelopes,) Change the world. No one kills from wickedness” (24). These are thoughts running through his head. Each by themselves is not bad. But here as a whole, they are jumbled; disoriented and pointless. “A sparrow perched on the railing opposite chirping Septimus, Septimus four or five times over and went drowning its notes out, to sing freshly and piercingly in Greek,” (24). He then sees Evan for the first time in the novel. Evan is sergeant/friend who died in the war. This is the catalyst and the major symptom of Septimus’ mental disorder. We do not find this information out until later, and so we are confused. Because of that, here it is again too soon to diagnose.
Later on that day, Septimus and his wife walk home. “When they got back, he could hardly walk. He lay on the sofa and made her hold his hand to prevent him from falling down,” (60). Lethargy is a sign of depression, especially when coupled the previously mentioned problem that Septimus had shown earlier in the story. Septimus then sees faces mocking him and laughing at him. More delusions.
As the hallucinations begin anew, Septimus notices his wife is not wearing her wedding ring. He gazes off and has a paranoid delusion about his marriage being over. Insecurity and suspicion. He begins to babble incoherently about love and truth. Septimus retreats further into his madness with this event.
Later on, a terrier sniffs Septimus, and he envisions the canine transforms into a man. This is obviously not an event that could occur outside the realm of a Lon Chaney film. And with this peculiar observation, we have witnessed many symptoms of madness that fester within the subconscious mind of Septimus Smith. Septimus is paranoid, hallucinations, disjumbled in thought and word (much like this sentence), and not at all there is respects to what we common consider reality. But what is the cause behind all of this?
From pages 82-94, we learn the tragic past of Mr. Smith. He was once a shy man who enjoyed reading and writing poems. He joined the war to make a man out of himself. He met an officer named Evans with whom he became good friends. Evans was killed before the Armistice and Smith was afraid to show emotions for his death. Because of this, he feels tremendous guilt and sees Evans everywhere, as if he was a specter hanging over him. Survivor’s guilt? David Daiches claims this is only, “…the delayed reaction of shell shock,” (68). But if Septimus actually suffered from a clinical style case of shell shock, Septimus would ONLY have images of Evan, or he would be in a state of Catatonia. In order to explain all the problems that plague Septimus, he must be suffering from something worse.
Septimus comes to Milan, and fears he no longer feels emotions. It is for that reason he marries the woman Lucrezia. Yet, if he felt no emotion as he thought, the grief and guilt would be non-existent. Rather, Septimus felt too much emotion and it was out of his conscious control. In a twisted manner, Septimus replaced Evans with Lucrezia, hoping it would stop the guilt. His obvious fear of losing Lucrezia stems back to the loss of Evans, with his inability/unwillingness to go through that style of trauma again. Far worse than losing Lucrezia to Septimus is the thought of losing Evans for a second time. Then Lucrezia brings up he desire to mother a child and Septimus refuses.
“Far away he heard her sobbing; he heard it accurately, he noted it distinctly; he compared it to a piston thumping. But he felt nothing. His wife was crying but he felt nothing; only each time she sobbed in this profound, this silent, this hopeless way, he descended another step further into the Pit” (90).
The Pit comprises the afflictions of the mind that he has allowed to well up inside of him over the years. It symbolizes the deeper states of Depravity and Insanity. Septimus begins to over dramatize his sins and believes he was jeered for marrying a woman he didn’t love; yet somehow he cares not about her or himself. This paradoxical state of mind is best explained with earlier statements now reiterated. Septimus was not an emotionless automaton. He in fact cared TOO MUCH, enough so that he allowed his passionate emotions to be that which inevitably destroys him.
The coming of Doctor Holmes actually makes things worse for poor Septimus. By stating that there was no problem with Septimus, he all but causes Septimus’ tragic end. Had Septimus been given an adequate doctor, his affliction would have been noticed immediately and he would have been treated Of course, turn-of-the-century ‘cures’ were usual just as bad as the ‘disease.’
After Holmes leaves, Septimus takes a dramatic turn for the worse. He begins to debate whether to kill himself with a knife or to instead suck gas and die from asphyxiation. Septimus then hears Evans speaking to him, and he finally breaks down into gibberish. Holmes returns and sticks the final nail in Septimus’ soon to be literal coffin by chastising the insane man. This paints a picture of evil in the mind of Septimus towards his doctor. He no longer trusts Holmes or even likes the doctor who assumed all Smith needed was a nice game of Cricket.
Finally, Septimus meets his all-too foreshadowed fate. He has become easily excited and sees Evans singing behind a screen. He also begins to fantasize Holmes as an ‘evil grinch.’ “Dr. Holmes seemed to stand for something horrible to him,” (140). Septimus’ paranoid delusions make him think Holmes is out to destroy him. Again the visions of flames from the beginning of the novel return to Septimus, brining everything to an eerie full circle.
Suddenly, Septimus begins to ‘act like his old self.’ Joan Bennett states, “For a brief time, Septimus recovers his sanity,” (49). And again, she is sadly mistaken. Many insane people can appear to be their old selves from time to time. And that is when you should worry about them the most. In hundreds of recorded cases, a suicide victim appears manic and overly friendly; almost happy and gay. Then of course, they have a bullet lodged in their brain pan the next day. As well, this state of being for Septimus could also be the “upper” part of being a manic-depressive. Mood swings in this type of mental disorder are sudden and have been known to last for months, not just hours or days. No, where Ms. Bennett mistakenly sees a light for Septimus, it is actually his darkest hour.
Rezia is working on her hat while Septimus merely watches her. It is a quaint scene that ends abruptly when Sir Williams Bradshaw enters the picture and tries to convince Rezia that Septimus belongs in an asylum. He states, “The people we are most fond of are not good for us when we are ill” (147). Septimus over hears this and begins to worry. When Rezia hands Bradshaw Septimus’ notes on topics like talking to Shakespeare, Dead Evans, dead people singing behind rhododendron bushes and more madness induced ramblings, Septimus becomes enraged and feels he has been betrayed by his wife.
And the worst possible scene happens next as Mr. Holmes pays a visit to the Smith family. Rezia refuses to let the doctor see her husband. Smith however, in his paranoid state, feels his wife will eventually relent and allow the doctor to take him away to a madhouse. Septimus chooses to throw himself out a window and into the arms of Evans rather than face treatment. It is a tragic ending for a tragic man. Yet after all this, we can finally decide what malady troubled Septimus Smith in his last moments of life.
Septimus has signs of many different mental disorders. The signs are there for Major Depressive Disorder. After all Smith shows a depressed mood throughout most of the text. He has a marked and diminished interest in things that he normally found pleasurable. He is consumed with feelings of worthlessness and inappropriately placed guilt. He demonstrates an inability to think clearly and constant recurring thoughts of death. This type of depression is caused by anxiety, stressful situations and negative cognition about one’s self and the world around them. This certainly fits Mr. Smith.
Septimus’ depression could best be described as Personalization Depression, which Ronald Smith states is, “Incorrectly taking blame or responsibility for events that are unintended or beyond one’s control,” (517). Septimus blames himself for Evans’ death, and the atrocities and misery of the war are hard to stay chipper about. The guilt dogs him throughout the novel, as Septimus knew going into the war it was not something a man like him would be able to stand up to mentally. This depression is most likely what led Smith to commit suicide. According to the 1993 edition of Psychology, Fifteen percent of all clinically depressed people kill themselves. However, this is not the only possible mental disorder that Smith might have had. Axis One of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) reveals Septimus has many more possibilities that he can fit into.
First is anxiety disorder. This is when an amount or duration of anxiety is out of proportion with the situation or object that triggers it. Obviously, a dog sniffing Septimus is not cause for wild hysteria about the dog somehow managing to overcome millenniums of evolution to assume a hominid type form. The exact name of Septimus’ anxiety would be Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It is a free floating disorder and is not attached to any one thing specifically. Smith writes, “The person feels jittery, tense, and constantly on edge,” (506). This is all too true for Septimus. He is always on edge and expects horrible things to befall him at any moment. He lives his entire life in paranoid dread. He also seems to suffer from something called “Moral Anxiety.” Moral Anxiety is defined as, “Stemming from fear of punishment by the superego for morally unacceptable impulses,” (505). This could stem from his lack of love for his wife and lack of emotion at the death of Evans. It could even be warranted to unacknowledged homosexual desire for Evans, as homoerotic undertones was hinted at by Woolf in regards to Evans and Septimus’ friendship.
Besides Depression and Anxiety, Septimus seems to have Paranoia (delusion) Disorder. Septimus hears birds sing his name and speak in Greek. He believes he is hated by nonexistent people for being in a loveless marriage and not feeling emotion for Evan’s death. He thinks people like Homes and Bradshaw are out to get him, imagines dogs assume a more lycanthropic form, and constantly visualize flames.
The definition of Paranoia is, “Problems involving false belief (Delusion) of being important or being persecuted against,” (502). Septimus truly does suffer from many delusions and conspiracy theories. These, coupled with the depression are what sends him over the edge. Yet there remains one other mental disorder that could be the cause behind Septimus’ descent into madness and death.
Schizophrenia also fits the bill as Septimus’ mental disorder. Schizophrenic signs include: jumbled thoughts, bizarre and unexplainable behaviors, delusions, hallucinations and a fragmented mind (not meaning multiple personalities…). In simple terms, a Schizophrenic does not have a defined sense of reality, at least not one according to what is generally assumed to be real and probable.
There are two kinds of Schizophrenia: acute and chronic. Septimus appears to have Acute, as it is characterized by a sudden and rapid onset of very intense emotions caused by a stressful incident in one’s life. I’d go out on a limb to wager both the War and Evans’ death count as those.
The subtype of Schizophrenia Septimus would suffer from is called ‘positive symptoms.’ PS are delusions, hallucinations, and disordered speaking and thinking. These symptoms are called positive because they represent psychological excesses of normal procedures.
So, Septimus has depression, anxiety, paranoia and Schizophrenia. All of these are separate mental disorders on their own, but there is all one big mental disorder than encompasses them all. It is known as Paranoid-Schizophrenia and neatly ties all of Septimus’ problems up into one treatable and easily diagnosed problem.
Paranoid-Schizophrenia is described by Robert Smith as, “Delusions of persecution, in which they believe that others mean to harm them, and elusions of grandeur in which they are equally important. Suspicion, anxiety, and anger may accompany the delusions and hallucinations may also occur in this type,” (523).
So as we can now plainly see, the thought that Septimus suffers from mere shell-shock is, to put is bluntly, pure bunk. When a fellow reader accepts Holmes’ belief that nothing is truly wrong with Septimus, or that Septimus merely suffers from shell-shock, they are playing into the hands of Woolf and misdiagnosing Smith, in exactly the same manner the doctor did. In fact, the reader becomes Holmes, both guilty of inadequately doing their job and condemning a befuddled man to an early demise.
Although it would be a nice touch to think Woolf had planned this, at the time this book was written, so little was known about mental disorders, especially P-S, that it is highly unlikely she would have come up with this idea. However, it is easily conceivable Woolf encountered a person suffering from undiagnosed P-S and used that as the basis of Smith.
Through all this we have learned Septimus in all probability, suffered from a treatable but incurable mental disorder known as Paranoid-Schizophrenia. Had proper action or care been administered to Septimus Smith, hew might have survived to the end of the novel. But alas, treatment, drugs, and decent doctors were still decades away. In the end, Woolf has given readers of her day a sharp look into the mind of the mad and shown us how insanity can easily be mistaken for a bit of stress or a dollop of sadness.
Bennett, Joan. Virginia Woolf: Her Art as a Novelist. Cambridge: University Press, 1949.
Daiches, David. Virginia Woolf. Norfolk: New Direction Books, 1942.
Smith, Ronald. Psychology. St. Paul: West Publishing Company, 2003.
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1990.
That’s it for this week. I’m not really in the mood to do a cooking segment, as I’m still wiped from New Years and the thought of food makes me amazingly ill. I’ll see you back here with the best of 2005 Gaming Awards, an eventual Samurai Shodown V Review, and back here in February when I do a new take of something everyone enjoyed a scant two years ago.