The omniscient narrator is a commenting voice who knows everything about the characters. This voice appears occasionally among the subjective thoughts of characters. The critique of Sir William Bradshaw’s reverence of proportion and conversion is the narrator’s most sustained appearance. point of view · Point of view changes constantly, often shifting from one character’s stream of consciousness (subjective interior thoughts) to another’s within a single paragraph.
Woolf most often uses free indirect discourse, a literary technique that describes the interior thoughts of characters using third-person singular pronouns (he and she). This technique ensures that transitions between the thoughts of a large number of characters are subtle and smooth. Tone · the narrator is against the oppression of the human soul and for the celebration of diversity, as are the book’s major characters. Sometimes the mood is humorous, but an underlying sadness is always present.
Tense though mainly in the immediate past, Peter’s dream of the solitary traveller is in the present tense. Setting (time) · A day in mid-June, 1923. There are many flashbacks to a summer at Bourton in the early 1890s, when Clarissa was eighteen. Setting (place) · London, England. The novel takes place largely in the affluent neighbourhood of Westminster, where the Dalloways live. Protagonist · Clarissa Dalloway Major conflict · Clarissa and other characters try to preserve their souls and communicate in an oppressive and fragmentary post–World War I England.
Rising action · Clarissa spends the day organizing a party that will bring people together, while her double, Septimus Warren Smith, eventually commits suicide due to the social pressures that oppress his soul. Climax · at her party, Clarissa goes to a small room to contemplate Septimus’s suicide. She identifies with him and is glad he did it, believing that he preserved his soul. Falling action · Clarissa returns to her party and is viewed from the outside. We do not know whether she will change due to her moment of clarity, but we do know that she will endure.
At the opening of the novel, Clarissa recalls having a premonition one June day at Bourton that “something awful was about to happen. ” This sensation anticipates Septimus’s suicide. Peter thinks of Clarissa when he wakes up from his nap in Regent’s Park and considers how she has the gift of making the world her own and standing out among a crowd. Peter states simply, “there she was,” a line he will repeat as the last line of the novel, when Clarissa appears again at her party. Context Virginia Woolf, the English novelist, critic, and essayist, was born on January 25, 1882, to Leslie Stephen, a literary critic, and Julia Duckworth Stephen. Woolf grew up in an upper-middle-class, socially active, literary family in Victorian London.
She had three full siblings, two half-brothers, and two half-sisters. She was educated at home, becoming a voracious reader of the books in her father’s extensive library. Tragedy first afflicted the family when Woolf’s mother died in 1895, then hit again two years later, when her half-sister, Stella, the caregiver in the Stephen family, died. Woolf experienced her first bout of mental illness after her mother’s death, and she suffered from mania and severe depression for the rest of her life. Patriarchal, repressive Victorian society did not encourage women to attend universities or to participate in intellectual debate.
Nonetheless, Woolf began publishing her first essays and reviews after 1904, the year her father died and she and her siblings moved to the Bloomsbury area of London. Young students and artists, drawn to the vitality and intellectual curiosity of the Stephen clan, congregated on Thursday evenings to share their views about the world. The Bloomsbury group, as Woolf and her friends came to be called, disregarded the constricting taboos of the Victorian era, and such topics as religion, sex, and art fuelled the talk at their weekly salons. They even discussed homosexuality, a subject that shocked many of the group’s contemporaries.
For Woolf, the group served as the undergraduate education that society had denied her. The Voyage Out, Woolf’s first novel, was published in 1915, three years after her marriage to Leonard Woolf, a member of the Bloomsbury group. Their partnership furthered the group’s intellectual ideals. With Leonard, Woolf founded Hogarth Press, which published Sigmund Freud, Katherine Mansfield, T. S. Eliot, and other notable authors. She determinedly pursued her own writing as well: During the next few years, Woolf kept a diary and wrote several novels, a collection of short stories, and numerous essays.
She struggled, as she wrote, to both deal with her bouts of bipolarity and to find her true voice as a writer. Before World War I, Woolf viewed the realistic Victorian novel, with its neat and linear plots, as an inadequate form of expression. Her opinion intensified after the war, and in the 1920s she began searching for the form that would reflect the violent contrasts and disjointed impressions of the world around her. In Mrs. Dalloway, published in 1925, Woolf discovered a new literary form capable of expressing the new realities of post-war England.
The novel depicts the subjective experiences and memories of its central characters over a single day in post–World War I London. Divided into parts, rather than chapters, the novel’s structure highlights the finely interwoven texture of the characters’ thoughts. Critics tend to agree that Woolf found her writer’s voice with this novel. At forty-three, she knew her experimental style was unlikely to be a popular success but no longer felt compelled to seek critical praise. The novel did, however, gain a measure of commercial and critical success.
This book, which focuses on commonplace tasks, such as shopping, throwing a party, and eating dinner, showed that no act was too small or too ordinary for a writer’s attention. Ultimately, Mrs. Dalloway transformed the novel as an art form. Woolf develops the book’s protagonist, Clarissa Dalloway, and myriad other characters by chronicling their interior thoughts with little pause or explanation, a style referred to as stream of consciousness. Several central characters and more than one hundred minor characters appear in the text, and their thoughts spin out like spider webs.
Sometimes the threads of thought cross—and people succeed in communicating. More often, however, the threads do not cross, leaving the characters isolated and alone. Woolf believed that behind the “cotton wool” of life, as she terms it in her autobiographical collection of essays Moments of Being (1941), and under the downpour of impressions saturating a mind during each moment, a pattern exists. Characters in Mrs. Dalloway occasionally perceive life’s pattern through a sudden shock, or what Woolf called a “moment of being. ” Suddenly the cotton wool parts and a person sees reality, and his or her place in it, clearly. In the vast catastrophe of the European war,” wrote Woolf, “our emotions had to be broken up for us, and put at an angle from us, before we could allow ourselves to feel them in poetry or fiction. ” These words appear in her essay collection, The Common Reader, which was published just one month before Mrs. Dalloway. Her novel attempts to uncover fragmented emotions, such as desperation or love, in order to find, through “moments of being,” a way to endure. While writing Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf reread the Greek classics along with two new modernist writers, Marcel Proust and James Joyce.
Woolf shared these writers’ interest in time and psychology, and she incorporated these issues into her novel. She wanted to show characters in flux, rather than static, characters who think and emote as they move through space, who react to their surroundings in ways that mirrored actual human experience. Rapid political and social change marked the period between the two world wars: the British Empire, for which so many people had sacrificed their lives to protect and preserve, was in decline. Countries like India were beginning to question Britain’s colonial rule.
At home, the Labour Party, with its plans for economic reform, was beginning to challenge the Conservative Party, with its emphasis on imperial business interests. Women, who had flooded the workforce to replace the men who had gone to war, were demanding equal rights. Men, who had seen unspeakable atrocities in the first modern war, were questioning the usefulness of class-based sociopolitical institutions. Woolf lent her support to the feminist movement in her nonfiction book A Room of One’s Own (1929), as well as in numerous essays, and she was briefly involved in the women’s suffrage movement. Although Mrs.
Dalloway portrays the shifting political atmosphere through the characters Peter Walsh, Richard Dalloway, and Hugh Whitbread, it focuses more deeply on the charged social mood through the characters Septimus Warren Smith and Clarissa Dalloway. Woolf delves into the consciousness of Clarissa, a woman who exists largely in the domestic sphere, to ensure that readers take her character seriously, rather than simply dismiss her as a vain and uneducated upper-class wife. In spite of her heroic and imperfect effort in life, Clarissa, like every human being and even the old social order itself, must face death.
Woolf’s struggles with mental illness gave her an opportunity to witness firsthand how insensitive medical professionals could be, and she critiques their tactlessness in Mrs. Dalloway. One of Woolf’s doctors suggested that plenty of rest and rich food would lead to a full recovery, a cure prescribed in the novel, and another removed several of her teeth. In the early twentieth century, mental health problems were too often considered imaginary, an embarrassment, or the product of moral weakness. During one bout of illness, Woolf heard birds sing like Greek choruses and King Edward use foul language among some azaleas.
In 1941, as England entered a second world war, and at the onset of another breakdown she feared would be permanent, Woolf placed a large stone in her pocket to weigh herself down and drowned herself in the River Ouse. Plot Overview Mrs. Dalloway covers one day from morning to night in one woman’s life. Clarissa Dalloway, an upper-class housewife, walks through her London neighborhood to prepare for the party she will host that evening. When she returns from flower shopping, an old suitor and friend, Peter Walsh, drops by her house unexpectedly.
The two have always judged each other harshly, and their meeting in the present intertwines with their thoughts of the past. Years earlier, Clarissa refused Peter’s marriage proposal, and Peter has never quite gotten over it. Peter asks Clarissa if she is happy with her husband, Richard, but before she can answer, her daughter, Elizabeth, enters the room. Peter leaves and goes to Regent’s Park. He thinks about Clarissa’s refusal, which still obsesses him. The point of view then shifts to Septimus, a veteran of World War I who was injured in trench warfare and now suffers from shell shock.
Septimus and his Italian wife, Lucrezia, pass time in Regent’s Park. They are waiting for Septimus’s appointment with Sir William Bradshaw, a celebrated psychiatrist. Before the war, Septimus was a budding young poet and lover of Shakespeare; when the war broke out, he enlisted immediately for romantic patriotic reasons. He became numb to the horrors of war and its aftermath: when his friend Evans died, he felt little sadness. Now Septimus sees nothing of worth in the England he fought for, and he has lost the desire to preserve either his society or himself.
Suicidal, he believes his lack of feeling is a crime. Clearly Septimus’s experiences in the war have permanently scarred him, and he has serious mental problems. However, Sir William does not listen to what Septimus says and diagnoses “a lack of proportion. ” Sir William plans to separate Septimus from Lucrezia and send him to a mental institution in the country. Richard Dalloway eats lunch with Hugh Whitbread and Lady Bruton, members of high society. The men help Lady Bruton write a letter to the Times, London’s largest newspaper.
After lunch, Richard returns home to Clarissa with a large bunch of roses. He intends to tell her that he loves her but finds that he cannot, because it has been so long since he last said it. Clarissa considers the void that exists between people, even between husband and wife. Even though she values the privacy she is able to maintain in her marriage, considering it vital to the success of the relationship, at the same time she finds slightly disturbing the fact that Richard doesn’t know everything about her. Clarissa sees off Elizabeth and her history teacher, Miss Kilman, who are going shopping. The two older women despise one another passionately, each believing the other to be an oppressive force over Elizabeth. Meanwhile, Septimus and Lucrezia are in their apartment, enjoying a moment of happiness together before the men come to take Septimus to the asylum. One of Septimus’s doctors, Dr. Holmes, arrives, and Septimus fears the doctor will destroy his soul. In order to avoid this fate, he jumps from a window to his death. Peter hears the ambulance go by to pick up Septimus’s body and marvels ironically at the level of London’s civilization.
He goes to Clarissa’s party, where most of the novel’s major characters are assembled. Clarissa works hard to make her party a success but feels dissatisfied by her own role and acutely conscious of Peter’s critical eye. All the partygoers, but especially Peter and Sally Seton, have, to some degree, failed to accomplish the dreams of their youth. Though the social order is undoubtedly changing, Elizabeth and the members of her generation will probably repeat the errors of Clarissa’s generation. Sir William Bradshaw arrives late, and his wife explains that one of his patients, the young veteran (Septimus), has committed suicide.
Clarissa retreats to the privacy of a small room to consider Septimus’s death. She understands that he was overwhelmed by life and that men like Sir William make life intolerable. She identifies with Septimus, admiring him for having taken the plunge and for not compromising his soul. She feels, with her comfortable position as a society hostess, responsible for his death. The party nears its close as guests begin to leave. Clarissa enters the room, and her presence fills Peter with a great excitement. Clarissa Dalloway – The eponymous protagonist.
The novel begins with Clarissa’s point of view and follows her perspective more closely than that of any other character. As Clarissa prepares for the party she will give that evening, we are privy to her meandering thoughts. Clarissa is vivacious and cares a great deal about what people think of her, but she is also self-reflective. She often questions life’s true meaning, wondering whether happiness is truly possible. She feels both a great joy and a great dread about her life, both of which manifest in her struggles to strike a balance between her desire for privacy and her need to communicate with others.
Throughout the day Clarissa reflects on the crucial summer when she chose to marry her husband, Richard, instead of her friend Peter Walsh. Though she is happy with Richard, she is not entirely certain she made the wrong choice about Peter, and she also thinks frequently about her friend Sally Seton, whom she also once loved. Septimus Warren Smith – A World War I veteran suffering from shell shock, married to an Italian woman named Lucrezia. Though he is insane, Septimus views English society in much the same way as Clarissa does, and he struggles, as she does, to both maintain his privacy and fulfill his need to communicate with others.
He shares so many traits with Clarissa that he could be her double. Septimus is pale, has a hawklike posture, and wears a shabby overcoat. Before the war he was a young, idealistic, aspiring poet. After the war he regards human nature as evil and believes he is guilty of not being able to feel. Rather than succumb to the society he abhors, he commits suicide. Peter Walsh – A close friend of Clarissa’s, once desperately in love with her. Clarissa rejected Peter’s marriage proposal when she was eighteen, and he moved to India. He has not been to London for five years. He is highly critical of others, is conflicted about nearly everything in his life, and has a habit of playing with his pocketknife. Often overcome with emotion, he cries easily. He frequently has romantic problems with women and is currently in love with Daisy, a married woman in India. He wears horn-rimmed glasses and a bow tie and used to be a Socialist. Sally Seton – A close friend of Clarissa and Peter in their youth. Sally was a wild, handsome ragamuffin who smoked cigars and would say anything. She and Clarissa were sexually attracted to one another as teenagers.
Now Sally lives in Manchester and is married with five boys. Her married name is Lady Rosseter. Richard Dalloway – Clarissa’s husband. A member of Parliament in the Conservative government, Richard plans to write a history of the great English military family, the Brutons, when the Labour Party comes to power. He is a sportsman and likes being in the country. He is a loving father and husband. While devoted to social reform, he appreciates English tradition. He has failed to make it into the Cabinet, or main governing body. Hugh Whitbread – Clarissa’s old friend, married to Evelyn Whitbread.
An impeccable Englishman and upholder of English tradition, Hugh writes letters to the Times about various causes. He never brushes beneath the surface of any subject and is rather vain. Many are critical of his pompousness and gluttony, but he remains oblivious. He is, as Clarissa thinks, almost too perfectly dressed. He makes Clarissa feel young and insecure. Lucrezia Smith (Rezia) – Septimus’s wife, a twenty-four-year-old hat-maker from Milan. Rezia loves Septimus but is forced to bear the burden of his mental illness alone. Normally a lively and playful young woman, she has grown thin with worry.
She feels isolated and continually wishes to share her unhappiness with somebody. She trims hats for the friends of her neighbor, Mrs. Filmer. Elizabeth Dalloway – Clarissa and Richard’s only child. Gentle, considerate, and somewhat passive, seventeen-year-old Elizabeth does not have Clarissa’s energy. She has a dark beauty that is beginning to attract attention. Not a fan of parties or clothes, she likes being in the country with her father and dogs. She spends a great deal of time praying with her history teacher, the religious Miss Kilman, and is considering career options.
Doris Kilman – Elizabeth’s history teacher, who has German ancestry. Miss Kilman has a history degree and was fired from a teaching job during the war because of society’s anti-German prejudice. She is over forty and wears an unattractive mackintosh coat because she does not dress to please. She became a born-again Christian two years and three months ago. Poor, with a forehead like an egg, she is bitter and dislikes Clarissa intensely but adores Elizabeth. Sir William Bradshaw – A renowned London psychiatrist. When Lucrezia seeks help for her insane husband, Septimus, Septimus’s doctor, Dr.
Holmes, recommends Sir William. Sir William believes that most people who think they are mad suffer instead from a “lack of proportion. ” He determines that Septimus has suffered a complete nervous breakdown and recommends that Septimus spend time in the country, apart from Lucrezia. The hardworking son of a tradesman, Sir William craves power and has become respected in his field. Dr. Holmes – Septimus’s general practitioner. When Septimus begins to suffer the delayed effects of shell shock, Lucrezia seeks his help. Dr.
Holmes claims nothing is wrong with Septimus, but that Lucrezia should see Sir William if she doesn’t believe him. Septimus despises Dr. Holmes and refers to him as “human nature. ” Dr. Holmes likes to go to the music hall and to play golf. Lady (Millicent) Bruton – A member of high society and a friend of the Dalloways. At sixty-two years old, Lady Bruton is devoted to promoting emigration to Canada for English families. Normally erect and magisterial, she panics when she has to write a letter to the editor and seeks help from Richard Dalloway and Hugh Whitbread.
She has an assistant, Milly Brush, and a chow dog. She is a descendant of General Sir Talbot Moore. Miss Helena Parry (Aunt Helena) – Clarissa’s aunt. Aunt Helena is a relic of the strict English society Clarissa finds so confining. A great botanist, she also enjoys talking about orchids and Burma. She is a formidable old lady, over eighty, who found Sally Seton’s behavior as a youth shocking. She has one glass eye. Ellie Henderson – Clarissa’s dowdy cousin. Ellie, in her early fifties, has thin hair, a meager profile, and bad eyesight.
Not trained for any career and having only a small income, she wears an old black dress to Clarissa’s party. She is self-effacing, subject to chills, and close to a woman named Edith. Clarissa finds her dull and does not want to invite her to the party, and Ellie stands alone nearly the whole time, aware that she does not really belong. Evans – Septimus’s wartime officer and close friend. Evans died in Italy just before the armistice, but Septimus, in his deluded state, continues to see and hear him behind trees and sitting room screens. During the war, Evans and Septimus were inseparable.
Evans was a shy Englishman with red hair. Mrs. Filmer – The Smiths’ neighbor. Mrs. Filmer finds Septimus odd. She has honest blue eyes and is Rezia’s only friend in London. Her daughter is Mrs. Peters, who listens to the Smiths’ gramophone when they are not at home. Mrs. Filmer’s granddaughter delivers the newspaper to the Smiths’ home each evening, and Rezia always makes the child’s arrival into a momentous, joyous event. Daisy Simmons – Peter Walsh’s lover in India, married to a major in the Indian army. Daisy is twenty-four years old and has two small children.
Peter is in London to arrange her divorce. Evelyn Whitbread – Hugh Whitbread’s wife. Evelyn suffers from an unspecified internal ailment and spends much of her time in nursing homes. We learn about her from others. Peter Walsh describes her as mousy and almost negligible, but he also points out that occasionally she says something sharp. Mr. Brewer – Septimus’s boss at Sibleys and Arrowsmith. Mr. Brewer, the managing clerk, is paternal with his employees and foresees a promising career for Septimus, but Septimus volunteers for the war before he can reach any degree of success.
Mr. Brewer promotes Septimus when he returns from the war, but Septimus is already losing his mind. Mr. Brewer has a waxed moustache and a coral tiepin. Jim Hutton – An awful poet at the Dalloways’ party. Jim is badly dressed, with red socks and unruly hair, and he does not enjoy talking to another guest, Professor Brierly, who is a professor of Milton. Jim shares with Clarissa a love of Bach and thinks she is “the best of the great ladies who took an interest in art. ” He enjoys mimicking people. Analysis of Major Characters Clarissa Dalloway
Clarissa Dalloway, the heroine of the novel, struggles constantly to balance her internal life with the external world. Her world consists of glittering surfaces, such as fine fashion, parties, and high society, but as she moves through that world she probes beneath those surfaces in search of deeper meaning. Yearning for privacy, Clarissa has a tendency toward introspection that gives her a profound capacity for emotion, which many other characters lack. However, she is always concerned with appearances and keeps herself tightly composed, seldom sharing her feelings with anyone.
She uses a constant stream of convivial chatter and activity to keep her soul locked safely away, which can make her seem shallow even to those who know her well. Constantly overlaying the past and the present, Clarissa strives to reconcile herself to life despite her potent memories. For most of the novel she considers aging and death with trepidation, even as she performs life-affirming actions, such as buying flowers. Though content, Clarissa never lets go of the doubt she feels about the decisions that have shaped her life, particularly her decision to marry Richard instead of Peter Walsh.
She understands that life with Peter would have been difficult, but at the same time she is uneasily aware that she sacrificed passion for the security and tranquility of an upper-class life. At times she wishes for a chance to live life over again. She experiences a moment of clarity and peace when she watches her old neighbor through her window, and by the end of the day she has come to terms with the possibility of death. Like Septimus, Clarissa feels keenly the oppressive forces in life, and she accepts that the life she has is all she’ll get. Her will to endure, however, prevails.
Septimus Warren Smith Septimus, a veteran of World War I, suffers from shell shock and is lost within his own mind. He feels guilty even as he despises himself for being made numb by the war. His doctor has ordered Lucrezia, Septimus’s wife, to make Septimus notice things outside himself, but Septimus has removed himself from the physical world. Instead, he lives in an internal world, wherein he sees and hears things that aren’t really there and he talks to his dead friend Evans. He is sometimes overcome with the beauty in the world, but he also fears that the people in it have no capacity for honesty r kindness. Woolf intended for Clarissa to speak the sane truth and Septimus the insane truth, and indeed Septimus’s detachment enables him to judge other people more harshly than Clarissa is capable of. The world outside of Septimus is threatening, and the way Septimus sees that world offers little hope. On the surface, Septimus seems quite dissimilar to Clarissa, but he embodies many characteristics that Clarissa shares and thinks in much the same way she does. He could almost be her double in the novel. Septimus and Clarissa both have beak-noses, love Shakespeare, and fear oppression.
More important, as Clarissa’s double, Septimus offers a contrast between the conscious struggle of a working-class veteran and the blind opulence of the upper class. His troubles call into question the legitimacy of the English society he fought to preserve during the war. Because his thoughts often run parallel to Clarissa’s and echo hers in many ways, the thin line between what is considered sanity and insanity gets thinner and thinner. Septimus chooses to escape his problems by killing himself, a dramatic and tragic gesture that ultimately helps Clarissa to accept her own choices, as well as the society in which she lives.
Peter Walsh Peter Walsh’s most consistent character trait is ambivalence: he is middle-aged and fears he has wasted his life, but sometimes he also feels he is not yet old. He cannot commit to an identity, or even to a romantic partner. He cannot decide what he feels and tries often to talk himself into feeling or not feeling certain things. For example, he spends the day telling himself that he no longer loves Clarissa, but his grief at losing her rises painfully to the surface when he is in her presence, and his obsession with her suggests that he is still attracted to her and may even long for renewed romance. Even when he gathers his anger toward Clarissa and tells her about his new love, he cannot sustain the anger and ends up weeping. Peter acts as a foil to Richard, who is stable, generous, and rather simple. Unlike calm Richard, Peter is like a storm, thundering and crashing, unpredictable even to himself. Peter’s unhealed hurt and persistent insecurity make him severely critical of other characters, especially the Dalloways. He detests Clarissa’s bourgeois lifestyle, though he blames Richard for making her into the kind of woman she is.
Clarissa intuits even his most veiled criticisms, such as when he remarks on her green dress, and his judgments strongly affect her own assessments of her life and choices. Despite his sharp critiques of others, Peter cannot clearly see his own shortcomings. His self-obsession and neediness would have suffocated Clarissa, which is partly why she refused his marriage proposal as a young woman. Peter acquiesces to the very English society he criticizes, enjoying the false sense of order it offers, which he lacks in his life.
Despite Peter’s ambivalence and tendency toward analysis, he still feels life deeply. While Clarissa comes to terms with her own mortality, Peter becomes frantic at the thought of death. He follows a young woman through the London streets to smother his thoughts of death with a fantasy of life and adventure. His critical nature may distance him from others, but he values his life nonetheless. Sally Seton Sally Seton exists only as a figure in Clarissa’s memory for most of the novel, and when she appears at Clarissa’s party, she is older but still familiar.
Though the women have not seen each other for years, Sally still puts Clarissa first when she counts her blessings, even before her husband or five sons. As a girl, Sally was without inhibitions, and as an adult at the party, she is still effusive and lacks Clarissa’s restraint. Long ago, Sally and Clarissa plotted to reform the world together. Now, however, both are married, a fate they once considered a “catastrophe. ” Sally has changed and calmed down a great deal since the Bourton days, but she is still enough of a loose cannon to make Peter nervous and to kindle Clarissa’s old warm feelings.
Both Sally and Clarissa have yielded to the forces of English society to some degree, but Sally keeps more distance than Clarissa does. She often takes refuge in her garden, as she despairs over communicating with humans. However, she has not lost all hope of meaningful communication, and she still thinks saying what one feels is the most important contribution one can make to society. Clarissa considers the moment when Sally kissed her on the lips and offered her a flower at Bourton the “most exquisite moment of her whole life. Society would never have allowed that love to flourish, since women of Clarissa’s class were expected to marry and become society wives. Sally has always been more of a free spirit than Clarissa, and when she arrives at Clarissa’s party, she feels rather distant from and confused by the life Clarissa has chosen. The women’s kiss marked a true moment of passion that could have pushed both women outside of the English society they know, and it stands out in contrast to the confrontation Peter remembers between Sally and Hugh regarding women’s rights.
One morning at Bourton, Sally angrily told Hugh he represented the worst of the English middle class and that he was to blame for the plight of the young girls in Piccadilly. Later, Hugh supposedly kissed her in the smoking room. Hugh’s is the forced kiss of traditional English society, while the kiss with Clarissa is a revelation. Ultimately, the society that spurs Hugh’s kiss prevails for both women. Richard Dalloway Richard’s simplicity and steadfastness have enabled him to build a stable life for Clarissa, but these same qualities represent the compromise that marrying him required.
Richard is a simple, hardworking, sensible husband who loves Clarissa and their daughter, Elizabeth. However, he will never share Clarissa’s desire to truly and fully communicate, and he cannot appreciate the beauty of life in the same way she can. At one point, Richard tries to overcome his habitual stiffness and shyness by planning to tell Clarissa that he loves her, but he is ultimately too repressed to say the words, in part because it has been so long since he last said them. Just as he does not understand Clarissa’s desires, he does not recognize Elizabeth’s potential as a woman.
If he had had a son, he would have encouraged him to work, but he does not offer the same encouragement to Elizabeth, even as she contemplates job options. His reticence on the matter increases the likelihood that she will eventually be in the same predicament as Clarissa, unable to support herself through a career and thus unable to gain the freedom to follow her passions. Richard considers tradition of prime importance, rather than passion or open communication. He champions the traditions England went to war to preserve, in contrast to Septimus, and does not recognize their destructive power.
Despite his occasional misgivings, Richard has close associations with members of English high society. He is critical of Hugh, but they revere many of the same symbols, including the figure of the grand old lady with money, who is helpless when it comes to surviving in a patriarchal society. Richard likes the fact that women need him, but sometimes he wrongly assumes they do. For example, he does not recognize that a female vagrant may not want his help but may instead enjoy living outside the rules of his society. For Richard, this sort of freedom is unimaginable. Themes
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. Communication vs. Privacy Throughout Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa, Septimus, Peter, and others struggle to find outlets for communication as well as adequate privacy, and the balance between the two is difficult for all to attain. Clarissa in particular struggles to open the pathway for communication and throws parties in an attempt to draw people together. At the same time, she feels shrouded within her own reflective soul and thinks the ultimate human mystery is how she can exist in one room while the old woman in the house across from hers exists in another.
Even as Clarissa celebrates the old woman’s independence, she knows it comes with an inevitable loneliness. Peter tries to explain the contradictory human impulses toward privacy and communication by comparing the soul to a fish that swims along in murky water, then rises quickly to the surface to frolic on the waves. The war has changed people’s ideas of what English society should be, and understanding is difficult between those who support traditional English society and those who hope for continued change.
Meaningful connections in this disjointed postwar world are not easy to make, no matter what efforts the characters put forth. Ultimately, Clarissa sees Septimus’s death as a desperate, but legitimate, act of communication. Disillusionment with the British Empire Throughout the nineteenth century, the British Empire seemed invincible. It expanded into many other countries, such as India, Nigeria, and South Africa, becoming the largest empire the world had ever seen. World War I was a violent reality check.
For the first time in nearly a century, the English were vulnerable on their own land. The Allies technically won the war, but the extent of devastation England suffered made it a victory in name only. Entire communities of young men were injured and killed. In 1916, at the Battle of the Somme, England suffered 60,000 casualties—the largest slaughter in England’s history. Not surprisingly, English citizens lost much of their faith in the empire after the war. No longer could England claim to be invulnerable and all-powerful.
Citizens were less inclined to willingly adhere to the rigid constraints imposed by England’s class system, which benefited only a small margin of society but which all classes had fought to preserve. In 1923, when Mrs. Dalloway takes place, the old establishment and its oppressive values are nearing their end. English citizens, including Clarissa, Peter, and Septimus, feel the failure of the empire as strongly as they feel their own personal failures. Those citizens who still champion English tradition, such as Aunt Helena and Lady Bruton, are old.
Aunt Helena, with her glass eye (perhaps a symbol of her inability or unwillingness to see the empire’s disintegration), is turning into an artifact. Anticipating the end of the Conservative Party’s reign, Richard plans to write the history of the great British military family, the Brutons, who are already part of the past. The old empire faces an imminent demise, and the loss of the traditional and familiar social order leaves the English at loose ends. The Fear of Death Thoughts of death lurk constantly beneath the surface of everyday life in Mrs.
Dalloway, especially for Clarissa, Septimus, and Peter, and this awareness makes even mundane events and interactions meaningful, sometimes even threatening. At the very start of her day, when she goes out to buy flowers for her party, Clarissa remembers a moment in her youth when she suspected a terrible event would occur. Big Ben tolls out the hour, and Clarissa repeats a line from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline over and over as the day goes on: “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun / Nor the furious winter’s rages. ” The line is from a funeral song that celebrates death as a comfort after a difficult life.
Middle-aged Clarissa has experienced the deaths of her father, mother, and sister and has lived through the calamity of war, and she has grown to believe that living even one day is dangerous. Death is very naturally in her thoughts, and the line from Cymbeline, along with Septimus’s suicidal embrace of death, ultimately helps her to be at peace with her own mortality. Peter Walsh, so insecure in his identity, grows frantic at the idea of death and follows an anonymous young woman through London to forget about it. Septimus faces death most directly.
Though he fears it, he finally chooses it over what seems to him a direr alternative—living another day. The Threat of Oppression Oppression is a constant threat for Clarissa and Septimus in Mrs. Dalloway, and Septimus dies in order to escape what he perceives to be an oppressive social pressure to conform. It comes in many guises, including religion, science, or social convention. Miss Kilman and Sir William Bradshaw are two of the major oppressors in the novel: Miss Kilman dreams of felling Clarissa in the name of religion, and Sir William would like to subdue all those who challenge his conception of the world.
Both wish to convert the world to their belief systems in order to gain power and dominate others, and their rigidity oppresses all who come into contact with them. More subtle oppressors, even those who do not intend to, do harm by supporting the repressive English social system. Though Clarissa herself lives under the weight of that system and often feels oppressed by it, her acceptance of patriarchal English society makes her, in part, responsible for Septimus’s death. Thus she too is an oppressor of sorts. At the end of the novel, she reflects on his suicide: “Somehow it was her disaster—her disgrace. She accepts responsibility, though other characters are equally or more fully to blame, which suggests that everyone is in some way complicit in the oppression of others. Motifs Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. Time Time imparts order to the fluid thoughts, memories, and encounters that make up Mrs. Dalloway. Big Ben, a symbol of England and its might, sounds out the hour relentlessly, ensuring that the passage of time, and the awareness of eventual death, is always palpable.
Clarissa, Septimus, Peter, and other characters are in the grip of time, and as they age they evaluate how they have spent their lives. Clarissa, in particular, senses the passage of time, and the appearance of Sally and Peter, friends from the past, emphasizes how much time has gone by since Clarissa was young. Once the hour chimes, however, the sound disappears—its “leaden circles dissolved in the air. ” This expression recurs many times throughout the novel, indicating how ephemeral time is, despite the pomp of Big Ben and despite people’s wary obsession with it. It is time,” Rezia says to Septimus as they sit in the park waiting for the doctor’s appointment on Harley Street. The ancient woman at the Regent’s Park Tube station suggests that the human condition knows no boundaries of time, since she continues to sing the same song for what seems like eternity. She understands that life is circular, not merely linear, which is the only sort of time that Big Ben tracks. Time is so important to the themes, structure, and characters of this novel that Woolf almost named her book The Hours.
Shakespeare The many appearances of Shakespeare specifically and poetry in general suggest hopefulness, the possibility of finding comfort in art, and the survival of the soul in Mrs. Dalloway. Clarissa quotes Shakespeare’s plays many times throughout the day. When she shops for flowers at the beginning of the novel, she reads a few lines from a Shakespeare play, Cymbeline, in a book displayed in a shop window. The lines come from a funeral hymn in the play that suggests death should be embraced as a release from the constraints of life.
Since Clarissa fears death for much of the novel, these lines suggest that an alternative, hopeful way of addressing the prospect of death exists. Clarissa also identifies with the title character in Othello, who loves his wife but kills her out of jealousy, then kills himself when he learns his jealousy was unwarranted. Clarissa shares with Othello the sense of having lost a love, especially when she thinks about Sally Seton. Before the war, Septimus appreciated Shakespeare as well, going so far as aspiring to be a poet. He no longer finds comfort in poetry after he returns.
The presence of an appreciation for poetry reveals much about Clarissa and Septimus, just as the absence of such appreciation reveals much about the characters who differ from them, such as Richard Dalloway and Lady Bruton. Richard finds Shakespeare’s sonnets indecent, and he compares reading them to listening in at a keyhole. Not surprisingly, Richard himself has a difficult time voicing his emotions. Lady Bruton never reads poetry either, and her demeanor is so rigid and impersonal that she has a reputation of caring more for politics than for people.
Traditional English society promotes a suppression of visible emotion, and since Shakespeare and poetry promote a discussion of feeling and emotion, they belong to sensitive people like Clarissa, who are in many ways antiestablishment. Trees and Flowers Tree and flower images abound in Mrs. Dalloway. The color, variety, and beauty of flowers suggest feeling and emotion, and those characters who are comfortable with flowers, such as Clarissa, have distinctly different personalities than those characters who are not, such as Richard and Lady Bruton.
The first time we see Clarissa, a deep thinker, she is on her way to the flower shop, where she will revel in the flowers she sees. Richard and Hugh, more emotionally repressed representatives of the English establishment, offer traditional roses and carnations to Clarissa and Lady Bruton, respectively. Richard handles the bouquet of roses awkwardly, like a weapon. Lady Bruton accepts the flowers with a “grim smile” and lays them stiffly by her plate, also unsure of how to handle them. When she eventually stuffs them into her dress, the femininity and grace of the gesture are rare and unexpected.
Trees, with their extensive root systems, suggest the vast reach of the human soul, and Clarissa and Septimus, who both struggle to protect their souls, revere them. Clarissa believes souls survive in trees after death, and Septimus, who has turned his back on patriarchal society, feels that cutting down a tree is the equivalent of committing murder. Waves and Water Waves and water regularly wash over events and thoughts in Mrs. Dalloway and nearly always suggest the possibility of extinction or death.
While Clarissa mends her party dress, she thinks about the peaceful cycle of waves collecting and falling on a summer day, when the world itself seems to say “that is all. ” Time sometimes takes on waterlike qualities for Clarissa, such as when the chime from Big Ben “flood[s]” her room, marking another passing hour. Rezia, in a rare moment of happiness with Septimus after he has helped her construct a hat, lets her words trail off “like a contented tap left running. ” Even then, she knows that stream of contentedness will dry up eventually. The narrative structure of the novel itself also suggests fluidity.
One character’s thoughts appear, intensify, then fade into another’s, much like waves that collect then fall. Traditional English society itself is a kind of tide, pulling under those people not strong enough to stand on their own. Lady Bradshaw, for example, eventually succumbs to Sir William’s bullying, overbearing presence. The narrator says “she had gone under,” that her will became “water-logged” and eventually sank into his. Septimus is also sucked under society’s pressures. Earlier in the day, before he kills himself, he looks out the window and sees everything as though it is underwater.
Trees drag their branches through the air as though dragging them through water, the light outside is “watery gold,” and his hand on the sofa reminds him of floating in seawater. While Septimus ultimately cannot accept or function in society, Clarissa manages to navigate it successfully. Peter sees Clarissa in a “silver-green mermaid’s dress” at her party, “[l]olloping on the waves. ” Between her mermaid’s dress and her ease in bobbing through her party guests, Clarissa succeeds in staying afloat. However, she identifies with Septimus’s wish to fight the cycle and go under, even if she will not succumb to the temptation herself.
Symbols Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. The Prime Minister The prime minister in Mrs. Dalloway embodies England’s old values and hierarchical social system, which are in decline. When Peter Walsh wants to insult Clarissa and suggest she will sell out and become a society hostess, he says she will marry a prime minister. When Lady Bruton, a champion of English tradition, wants to compliment Hugh, she calls him “My Prime Minister. ” The prime minister is a figure from the old establishment, which Clarissa and Septimus are struggling against.
Mrs. Dalloway takes place after World War I, a time when the English looked desperately for meaning in the old symbols but found the symbols hollow. When the conservative prime minister finally arrives at Clarissa’s party, his appearance is unimpressive. The old pyramidal social system that benefited the very rich before the war is now decaying, and the symbols of its greatness have become pathetic. Peter Walsh’s Pocketknife and Other Weapons Peter Walsh plays constantly with his pocketknife, and the opening, closing, and fiddling with the knife suggest his flightiness and inability to make decisions.
He cannot decide what he feels and doesn’t know whether he abhors English tradition and wants to fight it, or whether he accepts English civilization just as it is. The pocketknife reveals Peter’s defensiveness. He is armed with the knife, in a sense, when he pays an unexpected visit to Clarissa, while she herself is armed with her sewing scissors. Their weapons make them equal competitors. Knives and weapons are also phallic symbols, hinting at sexuality and power. Peter cannot define his own identity, and his constant fidgeting with the knife suggests how uncomfortable he is with his masculinity.
Characters fall into two groups: those who are armed and those who are not. Ellie Henderson, for example, is “weaponless,” because she is poor and has not been trained for any career. Her ambiguous relationship with her friend Edith also puts her at a disadvantage in society, leaving her even less able to defend herself. Septimus, psychologically crippled by the literal weapons of war, commits suicide by impaling himself on a metal fence, showing the danger lurking behind man-made boundaries. The Old Woman in the Window
The old woman in the window across from Clarissa’s house represents the privacy of the soul and the loneliness that goes with it, both of which will increase as Clarissa grows older. Clarissa sees the future in the old woman: She herself will grow old and become more and more alone, since that is the nature of life. As Clarissa grows older, she reflects more but communicates less. Instead, she keeps her feelings locked inside the private rooms of her own soul, just as the old woman rattles alone around the rooms of her house. Nevertheless, the old woman also represents serenity and the purity of the soul.
Clarissa respects the woman’s private reflections and thinks beauty lies in this act of preserving one’s interior life and independence. Before Septimus jumps out the window, he sees an old man descending the staircase outside, and this old man is a parallel figure to the old woman. Though Clarissa and Septimus ultimately choose to preserve their private lives in opposite ways, their view of loneliness, privacy, and communication resonates within these similar images. The Old Woman Singing an Ancient Song Opposite the Regent’s Park Tube station, an old woman sings an ancient song that celebrates life, endurance, and continuity.
She is oblivious to everyone around her as she sings, beyond caring what the world thinks. The narrator explains that no matter what happens in the world, the old woman will still be there, even in “ten million years,” and that the song has soaked “through the knotted roots of infinite ages. ” Roots, intertwined and hidden beneath the earth, suggest the deepest parts of people’s souls, and this woman’s song touches everyone who hears it in some way. Peter hears the song first and compares the old woman to a rusty pump. He doesn’t catch her triumphant message and feels only pity for her, giving her a coin before stepping into a taxi.
Rezia, however, finds strength in the old woman’s words, and the song makes her feel as though all will be okay in her life. Women in the novel, who have to view patriarchal English society from the outside, are generally more attuned to nature and the messages of voices outside the mainstream. Rezia, therefore, is able to see the old woman for the life force she is, instead of simply a nuisance or a tragic figure to be dealt with, ignored, or pitied. Part 1: From the opening scene, in which Clarissa sets out to buy flowers, to her return home. Early morning–11:00 a. . For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. Summary Clarissa Dalloway, an upper-class, fifty-two-year-old woman married to a politician, decides to buy flowers herself for the party she is hosting that evening instead of sending a servant to buy them.
London is bustling and full of noise this Wednesday, almost five years after Armistice Day. Big Ben strikes. The king and queen are at the palace. It is a fresh mid-June morning, and Clarissa recalls one girlhood summer on her father’s estate, Bourton. She sees herself at eighteen, standing at the window, feeling as if something awful might happen. Despite the dangers, and despite having only a few twigs of knowledge passed on to her by her childhood governess, Clarissa loves life. Her one gift, she feels, is an ability to know people by instinct.
Clarissa next runs into her old friend Hugh Whitbread. Hugh and Clarissa exchange a few words about Hugh’s wife, Evelyn, who suffers from an unspecified internal ailment. Beside the proper and admirable Hugh, Clarissa feels self-conscious about her hat. Past and present continue to intermingle as she walks to the flower shop. She remembers how her old friend Peter Walsh disapproved of Hugh. She thinks affectionately of Peter, who once asked her to marry him. She refused. He made her cry when he said she would marry a prime minister and throw parties.
Clarissa continues to feel the sting of his criticisms but now also feels anger that Peter did not accomplish any of his dreams. She continues to walk and considers the idea of death. She believes she will survive in the perpetual motion of the modern London streets, in the lives of her friends and even strangers, in the trees, in her home. She reads lines about death from a book in a shop window. Clarissa reflects that she does not do things for themselves, but in order to affect other people’s opinions of her. She imagines having her life to live over again.
She regrets her face, beaked like a bird’s, and her thin body. She stops to look at a Dutch picture, and feels invisible. She is conscious that the world sees her as her husband’s wife, as Mrs. Richard Dalloway. Clarissa looks in the window of a glove shop and contemplates her daughter, Elizabeth, who cares little for fashion and prefers to spend time with her dog or her history teacher, Miss Kilman, with whom she reads prayer books and attends communion. Clarissa wonders if Elizabeth is falling in love with Miss Kilman, but Richard believes it is just a phase.
Clarissa thinks of her hatred for Miss Kilman, which she is aware is irrational, as a monster. A car backfires while Clarissa is in the flower shop, and she and several others turn to observe the illustrious person passing in a grand car. They wonder if it is the queen or the prime minister behind the blinds. The car inspires feelings of patriotism in many onlookers. Septimus Warren Smith, a veteran of World War I who is about thirty years old, also hears the car backfire. He suffers from shell shock, a mental illness brought on by the horrors of war, and believes he is responsible for the traffic congestion the passing car causes.
Lucrezia, or Rezia, his young Italian wife, is embarrassed by his odd manner and also frightened, since Septimus recently threatened to kill himself. She leads him to Regent’s Park, where they sit together. Septimus’s thoughts are incomprehensible to his wife. He believes he is connected to trees and that trees must not be cut down. He believes that if he looks beyond the park railings he will see his dead friend, Evans, and fears the world might burst into flames. Septimus, Rezia, and many minor characters observe a plane overhead writing letters in the sky. The letters eventually seem to read “TOFFEE. Septimus believes someone is trying to communicate with him in a coded language. Rezia cannot stand to see him so broken, staring and talking out loud, and she walks to the fountain. She sees a statue of an Indian holding a cross. She feels alone and for a moment is angry with Septimus—after all, Dr. Holmes has said that Septimus has nothing at all the matter with him. Suddenly, Rezia feels her devotion to her husband clearly and returns to where he sits. A young woman, Maisie Johnson, asks them directions, and as she walks away she thinks about how strange the couple is.
An older woman, Carrie Dempster, observes Maisie and feels regret about her own life. Analysis Woolf wrote much of Mrs. Dalloway in free indirect discourse. We are generally immersed in the subjective mental world of various characters, although the book is written in the third person, referring to characters by proper names, as well as the pronouns he, she, and they. Woolf seldom uses quotation marks to indicate dialogue, as in most of Clarissa’s encounter with Hugh Whitbread, to ensure that the divide between characters’ interior and exterior selves remains fluid.
In this way, Woolf allows us to evaluate characters from both external and internal perspectives: We follow them as they move physically through the world, all the while listening to their most private thoughts. The subjective nature of the narrative demonstrates the unreliability of memory. In this section, Clarissa, Septimus, and other characters interpret and reinterpret themselves and others constantly—changing their minds, misremembering, contradicting previous statements. Even simple facts, such as somebody’s age, are occasionally vague, since people’s memories are different and sometimes wrong.
Clarissa gains texture and depth as her thoughts dip frequently into the past and begin to edge around the future and her own mortality. Clarissa is full of happy thoughts as she sets off to buy flowers that beautiful June morning, but her rapture reminds her of a similar June morning thirty years earlier, when she stood at the window at Bourton and felt something awful might happen. Tragedy is never far from her thoughts, and from the first page of the book Clarissa has a sense of impending tragedy. Indeed, one of the central dilemmas Clarissa will face is her own mortality.
Even as Clarissa rejoices in life, she struggles to deal with aging and death. She reads two lines about death from an open book in a shop window: “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun / Nor the furious winter’s rages. ” The words are from one of Shakespeare’s later plays, Cymbeline, which is experimental and hard to classify, since it has comic, romantic, and tragic elements, much like Mrs. Dalloway. The lines are from a funeral song that suggests death is a comfort after life’s hard struggles. Both Clarissa and Septimus repeat these lines throughout the day.
Though Septimus shares many of Clarissa’s traits, he reacts differently to the passing car that thrills Clarissa and other bystanders. World War I has prompted changes in traditional English society, and many of London’s inhabitants are lost in this more modern, more industrial society. People in the street, including Clarissa, seek meaning in the passing car, whose grandeur leads them to suspect it may carry the queen or a high-ranking government official. They want desperately to believe that meaning still exists in tradition and in the figureheads of England.
For Septimus, the car on the street in the warm June sun does not inspire patriotism but rather seems to create a scene about to burst into flame. He has lost faith in the symbols Clarissa and others still cling to. The car’s blinds are closed, and its passenger remains a mystery. Any meaning the crowd may impart on the car is their own invention—the symbol they want the car to be is hollow. Woolf reveals mood and character through unusual and complex syntax. The rush and movement of London are reflected in galloping sentences that go on for line after line in a kind of ecstasy.
These sentences also reflect Clarissa’s character, particularly her ability to enjoy life, since they forge ahead quickly and bravely, much as Clarissa does. As Clarissa sees the summer air moving the leaves like waves, sentences become rhythmic, full of dashes and semicolons that imitate the choppy movement of water. Parentheses abound, indicating thoughts within thoughts, sometimes related to the topic at hand and sometimes not. Simple phrases often appear in the flow of poetic language like exclamations, such as when young Maisie Johnson encounters the strange-seeming Smiths and wants to cry “Horror! orror! ” This line echoes Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, in which a character despairs over humanity’s cruelty. Later in the novel, we learn that Clarissa herself said “Oh this horror! ” when Peter Walsh and Joseph Breitkopf, an old family friend, interrupted her encounter with Sally on the terrace. Society closes in on both Septimus and Clarissa, and the effect, conveyed through language and sentence structure, is terrible. Part 2: From Clarissa’s return from the shops through Peter Walsh’s visit. 11:00 a. m. –11:30 a. m.
She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day. Summary Clarissa enters her home, feeling like a nun who has left the world and now returns to the familiar rituals of a convent. Although she does not believe in God, the moment is precious to her, like a bud on the tree of life. She is upset to learn that Richard has been invited to lunch at Lady Bruton’s house without her. Ascending to her attic bedroom, Clarissa continues to reflect on her own mortality.
As Clarissa takes off her yellow-feathered hat, she feels an emptiness at the heart of her life. She has slept alone since she was ill with influenza but is happy to be solitary. She does not feel passionate about Richard and believes she has failed him in this regard. She feels sexual attraction to women and thinks she was in love with her friend Sally Seton, who spent a summer at Bourton. Sally Seton, in Clarissa’s memory, was a wild, cigarette-smoking, dark-haired rebel. Once Sally ran naked through the hallway at Bourton. Her behavior frequently shocked Clarissa’s old Aunt Helena.
Clarissa and Sally planned to change the world. Under Sally’s influence, Clarissa began to read Plato in bed before breakfast and to read Shelley for hours. Clarissa remembers going downstairs in a white dress to meet Sally, thinking of a line from Shakespeare’s play Othello—if it were now to die ’twere now to be most happy. ” Like Othello, she believes that if she were to die at that moment, she would be quite happy. Othello kills his wife, Desdemona, out of jealousy, then kills himself when he finds out his jealousy is unwarranted. The most exquisite moment of Clarissa’s life occurred on the terrace at Bourton when, one evening, Sally picked a flower and kissed her on the lips. For Clarissa, the kiss was a religious experience. Peter Walsh interrupted the young women on the terrace, as thoughts of him now interrupt Clarissa’s recollection of Sally. Clarissa always wanted Peter’s good opinion, and she wonders what he will think of her now. The house buzzes with pre-party activity, and Clarissa begins to mend the green dress she will wear that night. She shows an interest in her servants and is sensitive to their workload.
She wants to be generous and is grateful to her servants for allowing her to be so. She sits quietly with her sewing, thinking of life as a wave that begins, collects, and falls, only to renew and begin again. The front doorbell rings, and Peter Walsh surprises Clarissa with an unexpected visit. Peter plays with his pocketknife, as he always did, and feels irritated with Clarissa for the kind of life she’s chosen to live with conservative Richard. Seeing that she’s been mending a dress, he assumes she has simply been wasting time with parties and society since he left for India, shortly after Clarissa rejected his marriage proposal. He says he is in town to arrange a divorce for his young fiancee, Daisy, who lives in India and has two children. He imagines the Dalloways consider him a failure. Clarissa feels like a frivolous chatterbox around Peter. Moved by his memories and made sensitive by the sheer struggle of living, Peter bursts into tears. To comfort him, Clarissa takes his hand