Mrs. Dalloway Summary
Part I, Section One:
Clarissa Dalloway decided to buy the flowers for her party that evening. Lucy had too much other work. Clarissa thought of the hush that fell over Westminster right before the ring of Big Ben. It was June and World War I was over. She loved life. Hugh Whitbread walked toward her and assured her that he would attend the party. Clarissa thought of her boyfriend before she married, Peter. She could not stop memories from rushing over her. She knew she had been correct not to marry Peter. Peter would not have given her any independence, but still her refusal bothered her. Clarissa realized her baseness, always wanting to do things that would make people like her instead of doing them for their own value.
Bond Street fascinated her. The same things did not fascinate her daughter, Elizabeth. Elizabeth was fascinated with callous Miss Kilman. Clarissa hated Miss Kilman. She entered Mulberry's florist and was greeted by Miss Pym. Miss Pym noticed that Clarissa looked older. Suddenly, a pistol-like noise came from the street.
Part I, Section Two:
The loud noise had come from a motorcar, likely carrying someone very important. The street came to a stop and Septimus Warren Smith could not get by. Septimus anticipated horror. His wife, Lucrezia, hurried him. She knew others noticed his strangeness. The car was delayed. Clarissa felt touched by magic. A crowd formed at Buckingham's gates. An airplane took to the sky, making letters out of smoke. The plane's trail mystified its observers.
In Regent's Park, Septimus believed the letters were signaling to him. Rezia hated when he stared into nothingness. She walked to the fountain to distract herself and felt alone. The doctor said nothing was wrong with him. When Rezia returned, he jumped up. Maisie Johnson, a girl from Edinburgh, asked the couple directions to the subway. Maisie was horrified by the look in the Septimus' eyes. Mrs. Carrie Dempster noticed Maisie and thought of her younger days. Carrie would do things differently if she had the chance. Flying over many other English folk, the plane's message writing continued aimlessly.
Part I, Section Three:
Clarissa wondered at what everyone was looking. She felt as a nun returning to her habit. Richard had been invited to lunch with Lady Bruton. Clarissa felt snubbed. She withdrew upstairs to the virginal attic room that she had occupied since her illness. She thought back to her old best friend, Sally Seton. She had known what men feel toward women with Sally. Sally taught Clarissa about all the things from which she was shielded at Bourton, her home before marriage.
Clarissa took her dress downstairs to mend. Abruptly, her door opened and Peter Walsh entered. Peter noticed that she looked older. Clarissa asked him if he remembered Bourton. It pained him to remember because it reminded him of Clarissa's refusal. He felt that Clarissa had changed since marrying Richard. Peter mentioned that he was in love with a girl in India. He had come to London to see about her divorce. Peter suddenly wept. Clarissa comforted him. She wished he would take her with him. The next moment, her passions subsided. He abruptly asked if she was happy with Richard. Suddenly, Elizabeth entered. Peter greeted her, said good-bye to Clarissa, and rushed out the door.
Part I, Section Four:
Peter had never enjoyed Clarissa's parties. He did not blame her, though. She had grown hard. He thought the way she had introduced Elizabeth was insincere. He had been overly emotional when he had visited Clarissa. Peter associated St. Margaret's bells with Clarissa as the hostess. He had never liked people like the Dalloways and Whitbreads. Boys in uniform marched by Peter. He followed them for a while. He had not felt so young in years. A young woman passed who enchanted Peter. He followed her until she disappeared
He was early for his appointment. He sat in Regent's Park and felt pride in the civility of London. Thoughts of his past continued to combat him, a result of seeing Clarissa. He settled next to a nurse and sleeping baby. Peter thought that Elizabeth probably did not get along with her mother. Smoking a cigar, he fell into a deep sleep.
Part I, Section Five:
Peter dreamed. The nurse beside Peter appeared spectral, like the solitary traveler. Suddenly Peter awoke, exclaiming, "The death of the soul." He had dreamt of a time when he loved Clarissa. One day they had gotten in a fight and Clarissa went outside, alone. As the day went on, Peter grew increasingly gloomy. When he arrived for dinner, Clarissa was speaking to a young man, Richard Dalloway. Peter knew Richard would marry Clarissa.
After dinner, Clarissa tried to introduce Peter to Richard. Peter retorted insultingly that Clarissa was the perfect hostess. Later, the young people decided to go boating. Clarissa ran to find Peter. He was suddenly happy. Yet, Peter still felt that Dalloway and Clarissa were falling in love. Following that night, Peter asked ridiculous things of Clarissa. Finally, she could take it no longer and ended their relationship.
Part II, Section One:
Rezia wondered why she should suffer. When Septimus saw that Rezia no longer wore her wedding band, he knew that their marriage was over. She tried to explain that her finger had grown too thin, but he did not care. His nerves were stretched thin. Still, he believed that beauty was everywhere. Rezia told him that it was time to go. Septimus imagined Evans approaching. Rezia told Septimus she was unhappy.
Peter Walsh thought of how Sally Seton had unexpectedly married a rich man. Of all of Clarissa's old friends, he had always liked Sally best. Clarissa, though, knew what she wanted. When she walked into a room, one remembered her. Peter struggled to remind himself that he was no longer in love with her. Even Clarissa would admit that she cared too much for societal rank. Still, she was one of the largest skeptics Peter knew. Clarissa had so affected him that morning because she might have spared him from his relationship problems over the years.
A tattered woman's incomprehensible song rose from the subway station. Seeing the woman made Rezia feel that everything was going to be okay. She turned to Septimus, thinking how he did not look insane. When Septimus was young, he had fallen in love with a woman who lent him books on Shakespeare. He became a poet. Septimus was one of the first volunteers for the army in World War I. He went to protect Shakespeare. He became friends with his officer, Evans, who died just before the war ended. Septimus was glad that he felt no grief, until he realized that he had lost the ability to feel. In a panic, he married. Lucrezia adored his studiousness and quiet. Septimus read Shakespeare again but could not change his mind that humanity was despicable. After five years, Lucrezia wanted a child. Septimus could not fathom it. He wondered if he would go mad.
Dr. Holmes could not help. Septimus knew nothing was physically wrong, but he figured, his crimes were still great. The third time Holmes came, Septimus tried to refuse him. He hated him. Rezia could not understand and Septimus felt deserted. He heard the world telling him to kill himself. Upon seeing Holmes, Septimus screamed in horror. The doctor, annoyed, advised that they see Dr. Bradshaw. They had an appointment that afternoon.
Part II, Section Two:
At noon, Clarissa finished her sewing and the Warren Smiths neared Sir William Bradshaw. Bradshaw knew immediately that Septimus had suffered from a mental breakdown. Bradshaw reassured Mrs. Smith that Septimus needed a long rest in the country to regain a sense of proportion. Septimus equated Bradshaw with Holmes and with the evil of human nature. Rezia felt deserted. The narrator describes another side to proportion, conversion. One wondered if Bradshaw did not like to impose his will on others weaker than he. The Smiths passed near Hugh Whitbread.
Though superficial, Hugh had been an honorable member of high society for years. Lady Bruton preferred Richard Dalloway to Hugh. She had invited both to lunch to ask for their services. The luncheon was elaborate. Richard had a great respect for Lady Bruton. Lady Bruton cared more for politics than people. Suddenly, Lady Bruton mentioned Peter Walsh. Richard thought that he should tell Clarissa he loved her. Lady Bruton then mentioned the topic of emigration to Canada. She wanted Richard to advise her and Hugh to write to the London Times for her.
As Richard stood to leave, he asked if he would see Lady Bruton at Clarissa's party. Possibly, she retorted. Lady Bruton did not like parties. Richard and Hugh stood at a street corner. Finally, they entered a shop. Richard bought Clarissa roses and rushed home to profess his love.
Part II, Section Three:
Clarissa was very annoyed, but invited her boring cousin Ellie to the party out of courtesy. Richard walked in with flowers. He said nothing, but she understood. Clarissa mentioned Peter's visit, and how bizarre it was that she had almost married him. Richard held her hand and then hurried off to a committee meeting. Clarissa felt uneasy because of the negative reactions both Peter and Richard had toward her parties. Yet, parties were her offering to the world, her gift.
Elizabeth entered. She and Miss Kilman were going to the Army and Navy surplus stores. Miss Kilman despised Clarissa. Whenever Miss Kilman was filled with sinister thoughts, she thought of God to relieve them. Clarissa despised Miss Kilman as well. She felt that the woman was stealing her daughter. As they left, Clarissa yelled after Elizabeth to remember her party.
Clarissa pondered love and religion. She noticed the old woman whom she could view in the house adjacent. It seemed to Clarissa that the ringing of the bell forced the lady to move away from her window. All was connected.
Miss Kilman lived to eat food and love Elizabeth. After shopping, Miss Kilman declared that they must have tea. Elizabeth thought of how peculiar Miss Kilman was. Miss Kilman detained her by talking, feeling sorry for herself. She drove a small wedge between them. Elizabeth paid her bill and left.
Part II, Section Four:
Miss Kilman sat alone, despondent, before heading to a sanctuary of religion. In an Abbey, she knelt in prayer. Elizabeth enjoyed being outdoors alone and decided to take a bus ride. Her life was changing. She felt that the attention men gave her was silly. She wondered if Miss Kilman's ideas about the poor were correct. She paid another penny so that she could continue riding. Elizabeth thought she might be a doctor or a farmer.
Septimus looked out the window and smiled. Sometimes, he would demand that Rezia record his thoughts. Lately, he would cry out about truth and Evans. He spoke of Holmes as the evil of human nature. This day, Rezia sat sewing a hat and Septimus held a normal conversation with her, making her happy. They joked and Septimus designed the pattern to decorate the hat. Rezia happily sewed it on.
Septimus slowly slipped from reality. Rezia asked if he liked the hat, but he just stared. He remembered that Bradshaw had said that he would need to separate himself. He wanted his writings burned but Rezia promised to keep them from the doctors. She promised no one would separate her from him either. Dr. Holmes arrived. Rezia ran to stop him from seeing Septimus. Holmes pushed by her. Septimus needed to escape. After weighing his options, he threw himself onto the fence below.
Part II, Section Five:
Peter appreciated the ambulance that sped past him as a sign of civility. His tendency to become emotionally attached to women had always been a flaw. He remembered when he and Clarissa rode atop a bus, and she spoke of a theory. Wherever she had been, a piece of her stayed behind. She diminished the finality of death this way. For Peter, a piece of Clarissa stayed with him always, like it or not. At his hotel, Peter received a letter from Clarissa. She wrote that she had loved seeing him. He wished she would just leave him alone. He would always feel bitterly that Clarissa had refused him. He thought of Daisy, the young woman in India. He cared little about what others thought.
Peter decided that he would attend Clarissa's party, in order to speak with Richard. Finally, he left the hotel. The symmetry of London struck him as beautiful. Reaching Clarissa's, Peter breathed deeply to prepare himself for the challenge. Instinctively, his hand opened the knife blade in his pocket.
Part II, Section Six:
Guests were already arriving and Clarissa greeted each one. Peter felt that Clarissa was insincere. Clarissa felt superficial when Peter looked on. Ellie Henderson, Clarissa's poor cousin, stood in the corner. Richard was kind enough to say hello. Suddenly, Lady Rosseter was announced. It was Sally Seton. Clarissa was overjoyed to see her. The Prime Minister was announced and Clarissa had to attend to him. He was an ordinary looking man. Peter thought the English were snobs. Lady Bruton met privately with the Prime Minister. Clarissa retained a hollow feeling. Parties were somewhat less fulfilling recently. A reminder of Miss Kilman filled her with hatred.
Clarissa had so many to greet. Clarissa brought Peter over to her old aunt and promised they would speak later. Clarissa wished she had time to stop and talk to Sally and Peter. Clarissa saw them as the link to her past. Then, the Bradshaws entered. Lady Bradshaw told Clarissa about a young man who had killed himself. Distraught, Clarissa wandered into a little, empty room. She could feel the man, who had been Septimus, fall. She wondered if the man had been happy. Clarissa realized why she despised Sir Bradshaw; he made life intolerable. Clarissa noticed the old woman in the next house. She watched the old woman prepare for bed. Clarissa was glad that Septimus had thrown his life away. She returned to the party.
Peter wondered where Clarissa had gone. Sally had changed, Peter thought. Peter had not, Sally thought. They noticed that Elizabeth seemed so unlike Clarissa. Sally mentioned that Clarissa lacked something. Peter admitted that his relationship with Clarissa had scarred his life.
Richard was amazed how grown up Elizabeth looked. Almost everyone had left the party. Sally rose to speak with Richard. Peter was suddenly overcome with elation. Clarissa had finally come.
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- Character List
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Part I, Sections 1-3
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- Summary and Analysis of Part II, Sections 1-2
- Summary and Analysis of Part II, Sections 3-4
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