The Car

Woolf’s works always leave me with the impression that a path has just been lighted for me. Yet, I am not exactly certain of the path or its end(s). For example, the mysterious car appears to me to be an emptiness and disconnection of the post-WWI society. The people watching the car pass are not certain who is in the car yet their interest is immediately drawn to it. They circulate rumors and begin to revere the car, the imagined passenger, and the relation to the British Empire. Their uncertainty is universal in that no one is certain of the identity of the passenger; “But nobody knew whose face had been seen…Nobody knew.” They, nevertheless, argue about their failing certainties, trying to assert their evidence as greater than that of another’s.

Furthermore, the spectators grasp the empty and intangible to fill the malformed voids that the war crafted. Woolf writes, “passing invisibly, inaudible, like a cloud, swift, veil-like upon the hills…mystery had brushed them with her wing; they had heard the voice of authority; the spirit of religion was abroad with her eyes bandaged tight and her lips gaping wide.” The spectators experienced an irreligious and, perhaps, nonspiritual reverence for their empire. I would equate their reverence with nationalist blind faith or awe. They saw the car as a representation of the British Empire. Perhaps, the Empire is the lasting impression of grandeur, seemingly untouched by the hardships and difficulties of regular life.

However, while the spectators are united in their wonderment and uncertainty they are also divided in their inability to communicate or experience the car passing as a whole. While the mysterious car passes them by with closed blinds, Clarissa and her fellow onlookers are described as straightening themselves. They try to present an image of austerity and “extreme dignity” but stand as disconnected individuals. As I pointed out earlier, everyone has their own ideas as to who might be the passenger and Woolf does not mention that anyone voices any agreement. They only agree that the car is transporting royalty based on fleeting perceptions because few saw the face and they disagree on the sex of the individual, as well as the identity. Clarissa’s knowledge that the car contained British royalty was even based on a guess, “Clarissa guessed; Clarissa knew of course; she had seen something.” Though they could not quite make sense of it, all the spectators felt something. They were all at a standstill and suspended in the moment but not in time. The readers are told, “Clarissa was suspended.” We know that Septimus’s paranoia places him at the center of the event and that the “tall men, men of robust physique, [and] well dressed men” position themselves awkwardly to receive the passing car “for reasons difficult to discriminate.”

Nonetheless, the descriptions transcend the explanations of the moment to capture the conflicting and confusing feelings of the spectators. I interpret the descriptions of the spectators reverence and awe as empty tradition, serving only to remind one of the former years of grandeur and current decadence. The reader is given the impression that the whole procession (the straightening and attentiveness) was performed “as their ancestors had done before them.” Also, the car or the Queen as the representation of the British Empire appears as a relic (“the enduring symbol of the state which will be known to curious antiquaries, sifting the ruins of time”). The car creates a nostalgic haze, “The car had gone, but it had left a slight ripple.” It seems to call on better times when the Empire held more global prestige and a better grasp on its imperial endeavors.