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Mrs Dalloway
Mrs Dalloway
by Virginia Woolf
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Mrs Dalloway Section 4 Summary

  • Peter sits on a bench next to a nurse with a baby. He begins to drift off to sleep while smoking a cigar and thinking about what an odd girl Elizabeth is.
  • The nurse next to Peter knits as he sleeps.
  • Mr Player has a dream involving various women. In the dream, he’s a "solitary traveler" (4.2). One woman is made of branches; she’s compassionate and generous. Next he imagines an elderly woman seeking a lost son. He walks down a street, imagining everyone succumbing to complete annihilation. Next he dreams about his landlady cleaning up for the evening. (Yeah, dreams are strange, even in literature.)
  • He wakes up and says aloud, "The death of the soul" (4.10). These words take him back to a summer at Bourton, when he was deeply in love with Clarissa.
  • Flashback alert!
  • In the flashback, Peter and Clarissa are talking about a neighborhood woman who had a baby out of wedlock. Clarissa is totally shocked by this, and her prudishness disturbs Peter. He knows she was brought up in a strict, proper family, but her reaction is still pretty scornful.
  • Clarissa knows her reaction bothers him and she tries to convince him that she is, in fact, a sympathetic person too – she swears! Still, she knows that inside he’s criticizing her. They were always able to communicate without words. Her coldness depresses him.
  • At dinner one night, Peter sits next to Clarissa’s Aunt Helena, a kind but impressive figure of a woman.
  • Clarissa sits across the table from a man Peter doesn’t know, but he thinks to himself, "She will marry that man" (4.17).
  • That man is Richard Dalloway, whom Clarissa accidentally calls Wickham (Jane Austen shout-out, anyone?).
  • Peter remembers feeling devastated, abandoned by Clarissa. He is left behind to talk to Aunt Helena, while Clarissa is off conspiring against him with this new guy.
  • Clarissa comes back and asks him to join her and her friends outside. Peter is immediately giddy with delight, but he still somehow knows she will marry Richard. (Pretty impressive psychic work, Pete!)
  • All summer, it’s clear that Clarissa is in love, sending and receiving letters, acting all emotional.
  • Peter decides to talk to her. He can’t sleep; he knows he is losing her. He begs her to tell him the truth and she does: whatever they had is over.
  • He’s devastated and leaves Bourton, never to return.
  • End of flashback. Peter returns to present day, sitting on a bench in Regent’s Park, watching a little girl play.
  • Nearby sits Lucrezia, suffering, resenting Septimus’ talk of suicide. The child runs into her and begins to cry. Lucrezia watches the girl run over to her nurse, who’s sitting next to Peter.
  • Lucrezia wonders why she suffers so much. What did she do to deserve it?
  • It’s almost time to leave the park. Septimus has an appointment with Sir William Bradshaw. Meanwhile, Septimus sits under a tree talking to himself, or perhaps to Evans, his friend who was killed in the war.
  • Lucrezia met Evans once. He seemed like a nice man.
  • But Septimus had changed since the war. He imagines people talking behind the walls and has visions of a woman’s head in a fern. He talks about killing himself. He reads peoples’ thoughts as they go down the street. He fears falling into flames. (All of this can probably be attributed to post-traumatic stress disorder, often suffered by war veterans.)
  • Septimus speaks of death and of Miss Isabel Pole.
  • Lucrezia wants to go home to Italy. She’s getting so thin that her wedding ring no longer fits.
  • Septimus feels like their marriage is over; it turns out this is a great relief to him.
  • He’s burdened by the truths he knows about love and crime, civilization and great men. He is eager to pass these truths on to everyone, including the British government.
  • In a moment of terror, he sees a dog turn into a man. His body is melting; flowers are growing through his flesh; he hears the sound of a penny whistle. He imagines himself a drowned sailor on a rock. The birds and the sun oppress him. He feels deep fear, but beauty surrounds him. The trees wave at him.
  • This is all very scary to think about, even as readers. We can't even begin to imagine what Septimus is going through.
  • Lucrezia urges him to leave the park, but Septimus is frozen: he sees Evans singing behind a tree. Evans comes toward him. Okay, never mind: it’s really just Peter Walsh.
  • Peter is watching Septimus and Lucrezia. He sees them as a young couple just having a lover’s quarrel.
  • Peter has been off in India for five years and a lot has changed: these days, newspapers discuss unseemly subjects and women apply make-up in public. (The horror!) It’s definitely not the same place it used to be.
  • Peter remembers Sally Seton (the same one Mrs Dalloway was thinking about before). He can’t believe that liberated, free-spirited Sally has gotten married.
  • She was always Peter’s favorite among Clarissa’s friends. She shared Peter’s dislike of Hugh Whitbread, for one thing.
  • Hugh always worshiped the aristocracy; he was a stiff, a do-gooder, and Sally saw through that. This guys was also judgmental, condescending, and a conservative about women’s rights. One time, he actually kissed Sally. She saw it as as punishment for her different views on women.
  • But now, Peter thinks, Hugh is successful and married to the "Honorable Evelyn" (4.64). Now that Peter needs a job, he has to humble himself to the likes of Hugh and Richard – ugh. Richard isn't such a bad guy, but Clarissa’s admiration for him is a little nauseating.
  • In their days at Bourton, Sally begged Peter to rescue Clarissa from men like Hugh and Richard. There was something special about Clarissa – not her looks or her mind, just something.
  • He insists to himself that he’s not still in love with her. He thinks about all the things he dislikes about her: she’s worldly, cares too much for society matters, and dislikes failure. Not to mention, Richard’s patriotism influences her.
  • Together, Richard and Clarissa concern themselves with political parties, tradition, and society gatherings; they’re very middle class.
  • But Clarissa had read Huxley and Tyndall (two scientists who wanted to separate religion from science back in the day), so Peter wonders if the ideas in their books affected her at all. Did she have a profound philosophy?
  • Clarissa had seen her sister Sylvia killed by a falling tree at Bourton. Somehow, Clarissa handled it well and didn’t become bitter.
  • It seemed that she always enjoyed life no matter what. And she liked what Peter believed were silly, inconsequential things: flowers in the park, a lunch conversation, endless social events. She enjoyed with no discrimination whatsoever. Still, she made Peter suffer.
  • Daisy, on the other hand, doesn’t make Peter suffer at all. Is he really in love with her then? Is she in love with him? He went long periods without even thinking about her. Maybe he just didn’t want her to marry anyone else.
  • Clarissa is so cold, he thinks.
  • Peter walks down the street, observing a vagrant woman singing some meaningless sounds outside the Regent’s Park tube station. (The tube is what they call the Subway in London.) Her voice is like the sounds of the earth and the past. She seems to be singing about a lost lover, memory and death, loss and the universe. She seems to be part of earth itself. Deep.
  • Lucrezia and Septimus walk past the old woman and Lucrezia pities her. In any case, she must get Septimus to Sir William Bradshaw.
  • From the outside, Septimus looks like a normal man; perhaps a clerk, a self-educated man with an apartment and a motor car.
  • Before the war, he left home leaving only a note behind. He came to London, anxious to better himself. He attended lectures on Shakespeare by Miss Isabel Pole. He read Darwin, George Bernard Shaw, and Keats, and loved Miss Isabel Pole more than all of them.
  • Septimus had worked for Mr Brewer at Sibleys and Arrowsmiths, auctioneers, valuers, land and estate agents in London. Mr Brewer thought Septimus needed some manning up, and he encouraged him to try playing football.
  • Septimus volunteered at the very start of the war. He got very close to his senior officer, Evans.
  • But when Evans was killed right before the Armistice, Septimus felt nothing. The war taught him to be a man, to be brave and stoic, to be reasonable about violence and death.
  • Then he met Rezia (Lucrezia) and got engaged to her one night, and it occurred to him that he couldn’t feel anything (emotionally). Located in Milan, he had watched Rezia and her sisters making hats. Rezia loved the fabrics and ribbons; she admired hats and loved ice cream. Random, but we agree.
  • But Septimus was numb.
  • He read Dante’s Inferno and started to believe in the possibility that the world has no meaning.
  • After the war, he returned to work for Mr Brewer. He continued to read but now felt like Shakespeare both loathed humanity (4.95) and thought that "[l]ove between a man and a woman was repulsive" (4.78).
  • He and Lucrezia could not bring children into this world, thought Septimus. To do so would be to create more misery. He felt that humans were like animals. He drew pictures of the horror he imagined, of the ugliness of people. He thought he might go mad.
  • Back in the present day, Lucrezia bears the pain of her suffering, shell-shocked husband. But he feels no sympathy for her. He feels nothing, just like the day they got engaged.
  • Dr Holmes says there’s nothing wrong with Septimus; everything can be explained.
  • But Septimus believes he’s been condemned to death for the sin of having no feeling. He has been accused of crimes, such as marrying Rezia without being in love with her. People on the street shuddered at his sins.
  • Dr Holmes recommends that Septimus gain some weight and suggests that his health is all in his control. He refers to Septimus' suffering as a "funk," and says that what Septimus really needs is a hobby. He has to stop making his wife anxious – that’s selfish. Pretty harsh, Doc.
  • Dr Holmes has visited Septimus every day. To Septimus, Dr Holmes represents the brutality of human nature punishing him for his inability to feel.
  • The world wants Septimus to kill himself. But how should he do it? Evans speaks to him from a screen.
  • Septimus' distraught mumbling scares Rezia. She sends for Dr Holmes. He tells them that if they have no confidence in him, they should see Sir William Bradshaw instead.
  • A quick peek back into Mrs Dalloway's whereabouts. Clarissa lays out her green dress as Big Ben strikes twelve o’clock.
  • And...back to Septimus and Lucrezia. The Smiths arrive at Harley Street to visit Sir William Bradshaw. His stately car is parked outside.
  • He’s a dedicated physician and a good husband. He has actually been knighted and is respected by patients and the public alike.
  • Upon first glance at Septimus, Bradshaw can tell that he’s a mess, that he is having a complete nervous breakdown. (Thank goodness for a second opinion, right?)
  • Bradshaw asks questions and writes answers on little pink cards. Had Septimus served with distinction in the war? Septimus thinks of the war as "that little shindy of schoolboys with gunpowder" (4.113)
  • Rezia insists that he served with distinction, but that Septimus believes he has been "condemned to death by human nature." Septimus tells the doctor he has "committed a crime" (4.116-17).
  • He has threatened to kill himself, Rezia tells Bradshaw. Bradshaw tells her that Septimus needs rest, in the country, away from her.
  • Septimus thinks about his crime. Should he tell them? Should he communicate his message?
  • Bradshaw is above all a scientist. There is no such thing as madness, just a lack of Proportion (whatever that means!). Septimus simply needs rest, no friends or books, and he has to gain some weight.
  • This doctor is respected, has a wife devoted to the right causes (and who allows him complete power over her, by the way), and a son.
  • He lives life around the philosophy of Proportion and Conversion. This man puts lunatics in their proper place: where no one can see them. His patients must conform, or be put away.
  • People he calls crazy definitely can’t have children. They must stop thinking about themselves and instead think of "love, duty, self sacrifice" (4.151). They have to be courageous, dedicated to career, and in control.
  • To Bradshaw, questions of God’s existence don’t matter. He is the one in power. His patients must succumb to his will. Those in his care are not so much patients as they are victims. Rezia doesn’t like the guy. (Neither do we, to be frank.)
  • We are now with Hugh Whitbread, who’s examining socks in the window of a shop on Oxford Street. He is on his way to lunch at Lady Bruton’s house.
  • No one knows exactly what he does as a profession, and some gossip suggests that he’s pretty low on the totem pole, but he is associated with some work as a guard at Buckingham Palace.
  • He goes through the motions of doing all the right things that someone of his social standing does: he concerns himself with morality and writes editorial letters in to the London Times.
  • Hugh brings carnations to the lunch, as he always does. He greets Lady Bruton’s secretary, Miss Brush, believing incorrectly that her brother lives in South Africa. He’s oblivious to everyone’s strong dislike of him; he is simply too pompous to notice.
  • Lady Bruton is a social force at sixty-two years old. She much prefers Richard to Hugh, but Hugh is good for some things. A parade of servants brings in their meal.
  • The hostess descends from great military generals and in fact, she herself almost looks like one. She has an impressive pedigree and some important stuff lying around her house: a vine under which some famous poets once sat and a framed telegram of an important military order.
  • Though she asks about Clarissa, Lady Bruton has never been interested in women. She especially doesn’t like it when women get in their husband’s way professionally, or when they become ill and demanding. Yikes.
  • Hugh announces that he saw Clarissa that morning, then the conversation turns to Peter Walsh.
  • Lady Bruton, Hugh, and Richard all think of how in love Peter had been with Clarissa, how he had gone to India and gotten into a mess, and how he’s essentially a flawed man. These people really aren't very nice to each other, geez.
  • Richard thinks about his own love of Clarissa and decides that after lunch he’ll go home and tell her that he loves her. (Sound like that's not really a regular occurrence.)
  • Lady Bruton, Hugh, and Richard all gather over coffee to write an editorial letter to the Times about emigration to Canada. Emigration is her "cause," and her solution to overpopulation in England.
  • They compose several drafts of this letter. Richard feels that Hugh’s work on the letter is mediocre, but Hugh makes some encouraging remarks about getting the letter to the editor of the Times.
  • Lady Bruton is so delighted that she absurdly puts the bouquet of carnations down her blouse and calls Hugh "My Prime Minister!" (4.186). Yeah, we’re still trying to figure out that one, too.
  • Richard wants to write a history of Lady Bruton’s family, which is full of "military men, administrators, admirals [and] men of action, who had done their duty" (4.185). She reminds Richard that all of the family papers are ready whenever he needs to consult them for his book.
  • The lunch party breaks up. Lady Bruton takes a nap, drifting off and thinking about her youth and about Richard and Hugh.
  • The two men look in an antique shop window. Hugh considers buying a Spanish necklace for his wife, Evelyn.
  • Richard feels underwhelmed by life. He doesn’t care at all about emigration. He never bought Clarissa jewelry, and she didn’t care. Peter loved her so much, he thinks. Hugh is a blow-hard. Interesting thought process.
  • Richard decides to buy Clarissa flowers. He thinks to himself that what’s left of life after the war is a miracle; just think about all the death and the forgotten men. Richard has tried his best to help people, to commit himself to social reform. He pities people who are on the streets and believes that the police aren’t doing right by them.
  • He has to get home and tell Clarissa that he loves her.
  • Thoughts of Buckingham Palace and its dignity and tradition soothe him, and once again, he feels happy.
Next Page: Section 5
Previous Page: Section 3

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