Mrs. Dalloway | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

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Mrs. Dalloway | Section 12 (Richard Buys Clarissa Flowers) | Summary

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Summary

Richard and Hugh walk through town, lethargic and not wishing to talk to each other. The hot day makes Richard think of summers in Norfolk. Hugh looks in a shop window and considers buying a necklace for his wife. Richard, though he has no interest, follows Hugh into the shop out of politeness. Richard reveals he wasn't interested in Lady Bruton's emigration project either. Richard rarely gives Clarissa presents; he gave her a necklace once, which she never wore. He begins to imagine Peter with Clarissa. Hugh's rudeness to the shopkeepers irritates Richard, who leaves.

Richard decides to buy Clarissa flowers and tell her he loves her. He buys red and white roses and heads home, thinking of how miraculous his life is. He sees vagrants and children crossing the street unattended, and becomes angry at London's broken social system. As Big Ben rings 3:00 p.m., Richard feels content—he loves the continuity and order that the clock represents, and he's eager to see his wife. Clarissa, meanwhile, is at home worrying over party guests. Ellie Henderson, a dull woman Clarissa dislikes, wants to come to the party despite being uninvited. When the bell rings 3:00 p.m., she is surprised that the time has passed so quickly and is shocked to see Richard at home.

Analysis

The heat of the sun at midday hangs over these passages, making everyone tired and sentimental. Richard is struck by "the worthlessness of this life" as he sees Hugh's rank materialism and devotion to image. He decides to get Clarissa a simple, natural gift, rather than an expensive one.

Richard realizes, too, what a miracle it is that he and his family have survived the war intact. He feels thankful, not guilty. He also seems to feel true empathy for the poor people and children he passes, wanting to improve their situation but not knowing how. He wants to let his wife know how much he loves her, but he isn't sure how to do that either. Both Richard and Clarissa are stymied when they face expressing their gratitude to a world that has rewarded them with comfort and friends. Richard also wants to "support" Clarissa's decision to marry him, as he is feeling subtly threatened by Peter's intentions.

As Big Ben rings again, Richard is feeling the pressure of time. Clarissa notes the clock's "directness and dignity." No matter how often people try to stop time with their memories, the clock will go on striking. The citizens of London reappear, this time crowded around Buckingham Palace to see the King. The awe in which they hold English royalty, even after the war, shows a simple patriotism, enthusiasm, and hope. After the loss of so many soldiers, the hope seems tragically misplaced, but it's still there. Richard, "bearing his flowers like a weapon," is a little wary of the poor in the crowd, but he still desires a human connection with a stranger.

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