Mrs. Dalloway | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

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Mrs. Dalloway | Section 16 (Peter Receives Clarissa's Letter) | Summary

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Summary

Hearing Septimus's ambulance go by, Peter Walsh (not knowing who is in the ambulance) praises London's efficiency and organization. It is also, he thinks, a city prone to solitude and loneliness. For a moment life and death present themselves with unusual clarity. He thinks about Clarissa's sense of connection with people to whom she has never spoken.

Arriving at his hotel, Peter sees the letter Clarissa sent that day. He is both anxious to communicate with her again and distressed by her letter: "Why couldn't she let him be?" As he empties his pockets, he thinks about why he and Clarissa wouldn't have had a successful marriage anyway. He looks at the pictures of Daisy he carries and considers what it will mean to marry her. He goes to dinner with other wealthy guests at the hotel. They discuss the changes that have taken place in London in 30 years. Peter decides to go to Clarissa's party and enjoy the evening. On the way he observes the many Londoners around him.

Analysis

Peter thinks it could have been him or someone he loves in the ambulance, even though these thoughts aren't socially acceptable. It's a "privilege of loneliness" for him to indulge in emotion and speculation. He dwells on the surprises left in life and the importance of "the unseen part of us"—the soul, that may even linger after death. The death of the soul is different from the death of the body. These reflections come right after the death of Septimus's body, allowing readers to consider the impact that even strangers' deaths have on those around them.

Peter is still dwelling on missed opportunities in life, and the "mediocrity" he feels comes with middle age. Like Clarissa he's imagining parallel paths constantly, and he's concerned with how he appears to other people, though he doesn't want to be. The hotel symbolizes his wandering state. With no permanent home, Peter is forced to make a home with strangers, and truly attempt to connect to others while maintaining his privacy. He attempts to convince himself that the much younger Daisy is right for him. Daisy, dark haired, rash, not caring about other people's opinions, resembles the young Sally Seton in a way. Yet he realizes Clarissa has permanently caused him to put up his guard and kept him from loving anyone else fully.

His political concern for his adopted country feels connected to his soul, to his desire to participate in the world without getting drowned in it (like Septimus). He's concerned about London's imperialism, the way the city "rushed her bayonets into the sky" after nature—and its residents—simply want an end to conflict and strife. As Peter considers the death of Aunt Helena Parry, he realizes what a gift age is; perspective, "having done things millions of times," only enriches his life. He wants to continue having experiences, even if they bring him pain (like seeing Clarissa again) or overwhelm his senses (like watching everyone in London prepare to go out at the same time).

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