Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway Summary and Analysis of Part II, Sections 5-6

Part II, Section Five Summary (p.151-165 "One of the triumphs of civilisation...He opened the big blade of his pocket-knife."):

Peter appreciated the ambulance that sped past him as a sign of civility and communal empathy. He was pleased to watch the unselfish cars move over to let the ambulance pass. He was afraid to think too long on the morbid subject, but liked that it was his right to entertain such thoughts when he was alone. His tendency to become emotionally attached to people and events had always been a flaw. He especially enjoyed the company of women. He thought back to a time when he and Clarissa rode on top of a bus, and she came up with a transcendental theory for how she knew people simply by living in a society. Wherever she had been, a piece of her stayed behind. She diminished the finality of death this way. Peter did notice that her theory worked for their relationship. The meetings they had experienced over the years were often painful while happening but later gave Peter food for thought when he least expected it. Memories of Clarissa would pop up anywhere. His memories of her were mostly at Bourton.

At his hotel, Peter was handed his mail, including a letter from Clarissa. She must have written it right after he left her house. Her note stated only that she had loved seeing him, but it annoyed him. He wished she would just leave him alone. He would always feel bitterly that Clarissa had refused him, though he knew that their marriage would have failed. He thought of Daisy and his way of charming women. Daisy was only twenty-four and had two young children. One woman warned him that Daisy would be wrecked when he died and her reputation was tarnished. But he did not want to think about that. He cared less and less about what others thought. Still, maybe it was best if Daisy forgot about him.

At dinner, though alone, Peter commanded respect. A nearby family, the Morrises, liked Peter and after leaving the dining room for the smoking room, they engaged him in conversation. Peter liked being liked. He decided that he would attend Clarissa's party, in order to ask Richard what the English government was planning to do in India. Peter moved to the porch and watched the hot day dwindle into night. The prolonged summer evening was new to Peter. He enjoyed watching the young lovers dawdle. Peter looked at the newspaper, as he was quite interested in cricket matches. Finally, he left the hotel and slowly moved toward the Dalloway's home. The symmetry of London's squares and streets struck him as beautiful. It seemed as if everyone was dining out. Bustling, dressed up Londoners scattered to and fro. Reaching Clarissa's home, Peter breathed deeply to prepare himself for the challenge. Instinctively, his hand opened the knife blade in his pocket.

Part II Section Five Analysis:

Woolf writes, "It was as if he were sucked up to some very high roof by that rush of emotion and the rest of him, like a white shell­sprinkled beach, left bare. It had been his undoing in Anglo-Indian society ­ this susceptibility." Expanding on Woolf's theme of life as the sea, Peter Walsh too experiences the waves of emotion that rise and fall in Clarissa's life. He notes that his inability to weep or laugh at the right time has left him as empty and lonely as a beach that is washed clean after the sea pulls back. In this case, the thematic metaphor functions to illustrate Peter's societal isolation when he is stripped of the metaphoric sea that connects him to life. Immediately following Peter's thoughts in the text, Woolf describes Peter's memory of Clarissa's transcendentalist-like theory of living. The theory follows, "...since our apparitions, the part of us which appears, are so momentary compared with the other, the unseen part of us, which spreads wide, the unseen might survive, be recovered somehow attached to this person or that, or even haunting certain places after death..." Clarissa has served this purpose to Peter as thoughts of her frequently, or infrequently, occur to him, causing him to relive their times together at the most unexpected times. In this sense, Clarissa acts as metaphoric sea in Peter's life. Her absence leaves him empty and wondering; whereas her presence provides connections to a life that he desires for years after her presence has ceased.

Peter has trouble facing these reminders of Clarissa, these remnants of her unseen surviving, and thus, becomes embittered when he receives the note from her at his hotel. Unlike her husband, Clarissa has an easier time communicating and has successfully expressed herself in the written form and delivered this expression to Peter before he arrives back at his hotel. Peter feels bombarded by the memories he suffers of Clarissa, and her ghost makes an even greater appearance in the form of the note. The blue (symbolic of the sea) envelope, recognizably addressed in Clarissa's hand, stands as a symbol of Peter's continuing attachment to Clarissa and his proclaimed susceptibility. He looked at a picture he had carried with him of Daisy and felt a different sentiment entirely. With Daisy, "All [is] plain sailing." This ocean of feeling does not haunt Peter; this relationship he can navigate.

England as society and civilization passes by and impresses Peter. Yet, he still is incapable of escaping the past. His thoughts, and Woolf's prose, merge and blur with the past as the two are expressed interchangeably. They exist as one for Woolf's characters. The intersection of time and timelessness most noticeably occurs directly in front of Peter's gaze as he sits on the veranda of the hotel and as he slowly ambles to the party. London had changed since Peter last visited, and the changes that he can perceive pass by him on his journey back to Clarissa's house.

Since time stands as Woolf's greatest marker of life and living, it is not surprising that she signals the changes that have occurred since Peter's last appearance in England with a reference to time. Peter sits on the porch of the hotel and Woolf writes, "For the great revolution of Mr. Willett's summer time had taken place since Peter Walsh's last visit. The prolonged evening was new to him. It was inspiring, rather." Mr. Willett's summer time is an allusion to the adoption of daylight savings time. The lengthened evening allows Peter to observe much of London as he slips in and out of his own memories. In this artificial expansion of day, Peter is transported to a space and time where age and being seem less established and immoveable. He remarks that he is "as young as ever." Past and present intersect in Woolf's writing, which lacks transitions and purposely avoids specifying pronouns in order to emphasize the blurred distinction between the two. The immediacy of the moment is blended beautifully and generously with the timeless memories of the past.

Part II, Section Six Summary (p. 165-194):

Lucy and the other servants ran around in final preparation for the party. They had heard that the Prime Minister was coming. Guests were already arriving and the ladies began to move upstairs, with Mrs. Dalloway last. Mrs. Walker, one servant, worried about the salmon. Lucy reported to the others how lovely Elizabeth looked. A few servants were hired for Clarissa's parties every year. As the guests entered, they were each announced and Clarissa would say to each, "How delightful to see you!" Peter felt that Clarissa was insincere and wished he had gone somewhere else for the evening. Clarissa noticed Peter and felt ashamed. His presence made her judge herself. She wondered why she threw parties and felt instantly that this party would fail. It angered Clarissa that Peter came to criticize. And, yet, she thought her parties did matter.

Ellie Henderson, Clarissa's poor cousin, stood in the corner, not talking to anyone but enjoying a chance to observe. She would tell her friend, Edith, all about it later. She guessed that Clarissa had not meant to invite her. Richard was kind enough to say hello. A moment later, Peter greeted Richard and they walked off. Clarissa continued greeting all who entered. She felt tired and rote. Suddenly, Lady Rosseter was announced. Her voice struck a chord. Clarissa realized the title was Sally Seton's married name! She was passing through London and came to the party, uninvited. Clarissa was overjoyed to see her. She noticed that Sally looked older; Sally told her that she had five boys. The Prime Minister was announced and Clarissa had to attend to him. Surprising to most, he was an ordinary looking man. He walked about with Clarissa, then Richard, acting as a symbol of English society.

Peter thought the English were snobs. Soon, Peter spotted Hugh Whitbread, another reminder of society. To Peter, Hugh appeared bloated and self-important. The student near Hugh seemed much more worthwhile in Peter's eyes. Lady Bruton met privately with the Prime Minister. Then, Clarissa continued to lead the Prime Minister around, making him feel at ease. Though intoxicated with the energy of her party, Clarissa retained a hollow feeling. As she grew older, parties were somewhat less fulfilling. On the other hand, hatred, brought about by a picture that triggered thoughts of Miss Kilman, managed to fulfill her. Clarissa caught sight of Sir Harry and greeted him with love. As much as he liked Clarissa though, he still found this social circle stale.

Clarissa had to move on to another group of people. She came upon Professor Brierly, an expert on Milton, and Jim Hutton, who shared Clarissa's love for Bach, not getting along. Clarissa wished she could have Hutton play on the piano, but the party was too loud. She, then, greeted Lord Gayton and Miss Blow, who were not speaking much. Clarissa wished she had dancing for the young people, but there was no room. Spotting her aunt, Clarissa went to old Helena Parry. She had gotten along so well with Peter, so Clarissa brought Peter to her. Clarissa promised Peter that they would speak later. Clarissa met with Lady Bruton briefly. They were very different and did not have much to say. Lady Bruton joined Peter near Miss Parry, and invited him to lunch. Sally noticed Peter with Miss Parry. She tried to make Clarissa join them, but Clarissa could not be stopped. Clarissa hoped they would wait until she had time. She remembered Sally's vigor from youth, her insatiable vivacity. Sally did not illuminate a room as she once had. Settling down to a normal marriage was not expected of her, Clarissa thought. Sally sat with Peter. Clarissa saw them as the link to her past.

The Bradshaws entered and Clarissa hurried to greet them. Clarissa and Richard had never liked the couple, especially the doctor. They were so late because, as Lady Bradshaw intimated to Clarissa, Sir William had received a call about a young man who had killed himself. Clarissa was appalled that Lady Bradshaw was bringing death into the party. Distraught, Clarissa wandered into a little room but no one was there. The thought of death overwhelmed her. She could feel the man, who had been Septimus, fall and his body hit the metal spikes as if it were she. She thought of her past, Peter, and Sally, and she wondered if the man had been happy. Clarissa realized why she despised Sir Bradshaw; he made the life of his patients intolerable. The death seemed her disgrace, a fate into which she might have slipped if it had not been for Richard. He made her life happy, she thought. Clarissa looked out the window and noticed that the old woman across was looking back toward her. She thought it bizarre to watch the old woman prepare for bed while her party roared in the next room. Clarissa felt revived by the knowledge that Septimus had thrown his life away. She returned to the party, to find Peter and Sally.

Peter was still sitting with Sally but he wondered where Clarissa had gone. Sally figured that the people at the party were all important politicians, like Richard. Richard, however, had never made the Cabinet. Sally had changed, Peter thought. Peter had not, Sally thought. Sally remembered the scene at Bourton the first day Richard had come. It had triggered the three of them parting. They spoke a little of Sally's home near Manchester and Sally invited Peter to visit. Clarissa had never visited. They noticed Elizabeth standing across the room; she seemed so unlike Clarissa. Sally mentioned that she loved Clarissa, but Clarissa lacked something. Sally wondered how Clarissa could have married Richard. As Hugh passed, Peter asked Sally whether Hugh had really kissed her at Bourton. Sally still stuck to the story. After Hugh passed, Sally asked about many people in the room, but Peter only knew about a few. He kept looking for Clarissa. Sally felt that they had grown to the age that one must say what they feel. Peter said he did not know what he felt. He admitted that his relationship with Clarissa had spoilt his life. One could only be in love once, he reasoned. When Sally said Clarissa must have loved him more than she loved Richard, Peter felt she had gone too far. Looking at Elizabeth again, Peter felt that one knew people better as one grew older whereas Sally felt that one never knew anything.

Richard stood talking to the Bradshaws before they left. Elizabeth caught his eye and wandered over to him. Richard was amazed how grown up she looked. Sally could tell that Elizabeth and Richard shared a special bond. Almost everyone had left the party now. Sally rose to speak with Richard. Peter waited a minute, soon overcome by great elation. He realized that he was happy because Clarissa had finally come.

Part II Section Six Analysis:

Clarissa's role of the hostess is fulfilled with the occurrence of the actual party in the last section of the novel. The final preparations take place as the servants hurry around with last minute additions and gossip. People begin arriving and Clarissa is put into play. For the rest of the novel, she rarely has time to stand with any one guest and speak with him before she must run off to greet another. She is a servant to societal conventions and her offering to society forces her to sacrifice herself to its performance. One can see this best when Clarissa's great old friend, Sally Seton (now Lady Rosseter), is surprisingly introduced. Even though Sally has lost some of her old luster, Clarissa is overjoyed to see her. Yet, a moment later, she is called upon to attend to another guest. She is pulled away before she knows whom the guest is, and after hearing that it is the Prime Minister, she must show him around the party personally.

As the Prime Minister walks around the party, Woolf describes the guests trying not to laugh or notice how common the man looked. She writes, "He tried to look somebody. It was amusing to watch. Nobody looked at him." How one is perceived is examined in this section, as the partygoers clearly notice that the man is trying to look important and yet, they are still impressed. Their perception of the name, the symbol, the status of the Prime Minister overcomes any physical evidence in the contrary. The prestigious car that slowly made its way through London, peaking everyone's curiosity and wonderment, foreshadowed this moment of the Prime Minister's actual appearance. In a similar fashion, the onlookers of the event feel important simply to have been present. Woolf's description of the reaction to the Prime Minister parallels the earlier viewing. She describes the crowd, "...they all knew, felt to the marrow of their bones, this majesty passing; this symbol of what they all stood for, English society." The figure of the Prime Minister symbolizes the hierarchy of English society and the deeply encoded sense of civility and status that still ruled the society even after the devastation of World War I. The society continues to look down upon young men such as Septimus who have suffered in the War while also continuing to glorify men such as Hugh Whitbread who do little else but write pithy articles and attend meetings.

This thread of society, symbolized by the figure of the Prime Minister, carries the reader through the novel, from the car that stirs all of London's citizens to Richard's post in Parliament to Hugh Whitbread's gatherings at Buckingham Palace to Lady Bruton's luncheon to the party where the Prime Minister appears in the flesh. The Prime Minister is a metonym for English society itself. Even Peter Walsh recognizes that England has not changed much in this sense during his absence. He comments, "Lord, lord, the snobbery of the English!" Peter had foreshadowed the role that Clarissa would play in the furtherance of English snobbery in his retort to her that she would someday be the Prime Minister's wife. Standing atop the stairs, greeting the guests of her party, leading around the Prime Minister, she nearly fulfills this prophecy. And, as one critic states, Richard's career is not over, and so she may someday be married to the Prime Minister.

The break in the mood of the party occurs with the arrival of the Bradshaws. After hearing of Septimus' death, Clarissa is no longer worried about making sure everyone is happy or leading around the prestigious members of the crowd. She retires to a small room in order to deal with the feeling of death that has invaded her party and her being. She, of course, does not know the stranger who committed suicide, but the doppelgangers of Woolf's imagination become connected in this moment. They become physically connected as Clarissa reflects the feelings of pain and death experienced by Septimus through her body. She identifies with the fall he experienced and the rusty spikes piercing his body.

She, then, realizes that his death is a sacrifice for her, and for the others at her party and everywhere, to allow them to continue living. Septimus' role as a Christ figure becomes apparent. Woolf originally planned for Clarissa to commit suicide, or simply die, at the end of the novel. Instead, she decided that a part of Clarissa, constructed in the form of a man destroyed by war and society, would take his own life in order for the rest of Clarissa's being to appreciate the life she had. Clarissa believes, "A thing there was that mattered...This he had preserved. Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate." The Œthis' to which Woolf refers is purposely ambiguous. Life could obviously be inserted in its place, but the essence of life, "the thing that mattered," is impossible to define. Yet, the essence is possible to preserve and Septimus' decision to throw it all away has done so. The words of Shakespeare come to Clarissa, linking her undeniably to the young Septimus. The words tell her, "Fear no more the heat of the sun." Septimus, who had gone to war so that he could protect Shakespeare, stands in the heat of the sun immediately before jumping to his death.

Woolf is borrowing from Shakespeare's play Cymbeline, as she had earlier in the novel when Clarissa notices the same words in an open book as she walks through Bond Street. The repetition of the statement emphasizes its significance to the thematic progression of the novel. Critic, Avrom Fleishman, notes that, though the quotation has generally been understood as an illustration of Clarissa's strength in the face of death and disillusionment, "Clarissa's affinity for the refrain may be taken as a mark of her strong propensity for death ..." Clarissa notes, before returning to her party, "She felt somehow very like him ­ the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away." His sacrifice, his affirmation of life's inconstancy and immediacy, allows Clarissa to face her own fears and desires. His death permits her to "feel the beauty" and "feel the fun." As critic Isabel Gamble concludes, "In comprehending Septimus' death ­ he has Œplunged holding his treasure' ­ Clarissa herself discovers her own identity and becomes whole."

The short time Clarissa spends in the little room is saturated with significant images and allusions. This time is the climax of the novel. The old lady appears in the neighboring house at this moment as well. Because of Septimus' death and the old lady, Clarissa steps out of the social circle of her party and connects to the larger sense of life and death occurring around her. The text states, "It was fascinating, with people still laughing and shouting in the drawing-room, to watch that old woman, quite quietly, going to bed." Just as the woman connected Clarissa to the movements of life after Miss Kilman and Elizabeth depart for the stores, she once again creates in Clarissa a wonderment for life and being.

Clarissa returns to the party charged with a sense of life and with a need to "assemble" with the people important to her. She has conquered the sense of isolation and returned to social connection. The novel ends with a scene that can be considered a microcosm of the novel. Peter is suddenly filled with a sense of ecstasy. He had been looking for Clarissa for a long time and suddenly she was there. Woolf writes in a simple structure, reminiscent of the short sentences that begin the novel and permeate its body, "It is Clarissa, he said. For there she was." The reader is filled with an "extraordinary excitement" as she becomes increasingly involved in the discovery of Clarissa's being throughout the novel. As critic Lucio P. Ruotolo analyzes, "During her parties it was not what she did or said that one remembered but rather the extraordinary sense of her being there, ŒThere she was.'" The conclusion of the novel is as much an end as a beginning.