Mrs. Dalloway | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

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Mrs. Dalloway | Section 4 (Peter Goes to the Park) | Summary

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Summary

Peter Walsh walks toward the street as Big Ben chimes 11:30 a.m. He feels Clarissa Dalloway has grown both "hard" and "sentimental," and that she's refused him. The bells of St. Margaret's sound, reminding Peter of Clarissa's punctuality and her frequent illnesses. He sees soldiers marching by and feels he can no longer keep up with the young men, physically or intellectually. He considers the great "renunciation" he's made by choosing a bureaucratic career, and worries about his divorce.

Since few people know he's in London, Peter feels unencumbered and free. Enjoying this new freedom, he sees an attractive young woman in Trafalgar Square and begins to follow her home. He feels a connection, assuming from her clothing and her red carnation that she's witty and respectable. After the woman enters her house, Peter decides to walk to Regent's Park. He sits down in the park beside a nurse, still thinking of Clarissa and her daughter Elizabeth and their odd habits. He naps on the park bench.

Analysis

Like Clarissa, Peter feels strong connections with strangers. He creates "the better part of [his] life" in his mind. Peter believes, as do the Modernist writers, that people can take control of their own narrative, write their lives, make up their stories. The price for these unique perspectives, though, is remaining alone.

He first follows a group of soldiers, imagining what the young men think and feel about their "renunciation" or sacrifice to the war—projecting his own idea of England and its noble military onto them. Then he follows a strange woman to her apartment, idealizing her in his head. Peter feels unmoored, an observer to his own life, like Clarissa. He challenges these feelings through romantic pursuit. His fantasies are like a storybook; he imagines himself as an adventurer, freshly returned from India, a land Londoners considered exotic. He tells himself a story about the young men serving bravely in the war—a story he himself wants to hear.

The cloud passing over the sun, a recurring image, signifies changes in mood for the characters. The "voice of the hostess" that follows, a metaphor for the clock at St. Margaret's, clearly represents Clarissa and her struggle to find her individual voice—between "grief for the past" and "concern for the present." Peter's observation that women attach themselves to places also recalls Clarissa's love of place, and the meaning that spots like the flower shop, the house in Bourton, and her own Westminster home have to her.

Peter treasures the civilization the city represents. He is critical of England's wide-ranging empire and its tendency to take over countries like India. But Peter appreciates the workers who make society thrive, such as "doctors and men of business and capable women." As the reader will find out, not all do their work perfectly. But Peter admires "the show" and its appearance of order.

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