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Mrs. Dalloway

Virginia Woolf

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Section 11 (Lunch at Lady Bruton's)

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Section 11 (Lunch at Lady Bruton's) of Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs. Dalloway.

Mrs. Dalloway | Section 11 (Lunch at Lady Bruton's) | Summary



A shop clock on Oxford Street announces it is 1:30 p.m. Hugh Whitbread goes into the shop, Rigby and Lowndes, to buy socks and shoes. Hugh, an efficient man, has a low-level job in the government and many hobbies. He keeps his friends close, and he has been behind a few civic reforms that he's proud of, such as improving public shelters and saving owls. Lady Bruton welcomes Richard Dalloway and Hugh. They eat a fancy meal, similar to many other wealthy Londoners in different houses who take lunch at the same time. Lady Bruton, at age 62, is a shrewd businesswoman and diplomat "more interested in politics than in people." Lady Bruton asks Richard about Clarissa, quietly acknowledging the bond between the two women, who dislike each other but feel a kinship as wives in a masculine world.

The three discuss Peter Walsh, recently arrived back in town. They all recall silently that Peter loved Clarissa once, and they guess that Peter is back because of trouble with a woman. Lady Bruton asks Hugh to help her write a letter to the Times, the popular newspaper, with Richard's advice. Her career involves assisting young people with emigration to Canada. She believes her efforts have been futile lately, despite her professional success.

Richard and Hugh argue over the tone of the letter, which discusses England's increasing population of young people and what the country owes to its veterans and dead, and how it should be written to push Lady Bruton's agenda of emigration. Richard reminds Lady Bruton of the Dalloways' party. He mentions that he'd like to write a history of her family. After her guests have left, Lady Bruton goes upstairs to rest.


Hugh Whitbread is one of the novel's symbols of "authority" and "proportion." He has no doubts about life, no worries or private tortures Woolf lets the reader know about, except for his wife's poor health. He has not ascended to a high level in politics (in Section 1, Clarissa refers to "his little job at Court"), and he keeps his friends close. Like Bradshaw, Hugh is proud of his accomplishments ("He had been afloat on the cream of English society for fifty-five years.") and considers himself a great helper to the poor (though he may be the exact opposite). He is known for being extremely efficient, and he remembers the little details, like bringing carnations to lunch. His friends, however, mainly tolerate him, use him for his connections, and quietly mock him behind his back.

Lady Bruton may prefer the more down-to-earth Richard, but she's similar to Hugh. She also attempts to keep her life in proportion. Her elaborate luncheons, like many other trappings of upper-class life, are a "mystery or grand deception." Even—or especially—when all's not well in the world, the rich still entertain guests at ornate events. Lady Bruton, who comes from a noble English family and doesn't read poetry, may be made of more pomp than substance. She does, however, have clear political ambitions and a savvy intellect. She's devoted to setting young people up with better lives abroad, in a form of "Emancipation" from what England has become.

Men, Lady Bruton thinks, understand "the laws of the universe" better than women do. She believes her womanhood is a burden, rather than an asset. Despite her connections, Hugh's voice will be heard when hers will not. As they write the letter supporting emigration, Richard and Hugh keep in mind the tension surrounding young veterans' needs and the effect of the war. Richard proposes risky honesty; Hugh would rather defer to people's delicate feelings. When Lady Bruton indulges in memories of her own, they're overwhelmingly happy ones. She feels grateful for her friends, even as she senses they're pulling away. Like other aging characters, Lady Bruton is heading for solitude.

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