Study Guide

Peter Walsh in Mrs Dalloway

By Virginia Woolf

Peter Walsh

Old Crushes Die Hard

Peter is Clarissa’s old suitor from the days of Bourton. He’s lives in India, but has come to London to arrange for the married woman he loves (Daisy) to get a divorce. It’s not totally convincing that Peter’s in love with Daisy, though. Actually, it's not convincing at all. Throughout the day, he’s deeply preoccupied by memories of Clarissa. He loved her deeply, and we're pretty sure he still does. Heck, even when he intends to announce his great love for Daisy, he ends up crying and asking Clarissa if she really loves Richard. Oops. He always was a little clingy, after all.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow More Observant

Peter’s views tell us a lot about the city of London. He’s been in India from 1918 to 1923, the years that followed World War I when just about everyone was suffering from the aftershocks of the war. Because he has had some distance, he’s able to note that things have changed dramatically – morals and manners have shifted, people behave differently. He is a major critic of British society, though he has played his own role in perpetuating its ideals by being part of colonial rule in India.

Everyone's a Critic

Peter is highly critical of others: Richard, Elizabeth, Hugh, and even Clarissa. Especially after having been away for so long, he is more judgmental of the shallow and superficial life he sees these others living. Now let's think about this for a second. In movies like Mean Girls, why are the mean girls mean girls? Because they're insecure, right? Right.

Peter is definitely insecure. His life has been uneven and he’s not confident in his accomplishments (he was kicked out of Oxford, after all). He compares himself to Richard Dalloway, and it's pretty obvious that compared to this stud of a man, Peter is unsteady and overly romantic. Although Peter claims not to care what anyone thinks, he's constantly comparing himself to others, and perhaps even wishes he were in Richard's shoes. Even the fact that he fidgets with his pocket-knife indicates that he's always a little preoccupied with something.

The funny part is that he's critical of people who he's a lot alike. One of the things he dislikes is people who dwell on the past, yet he spends most of him time doing just that. Take this moment in Peter's thoughts, for example:

There was Regent's Park. Yes. As a child he had walked in Regent's Park – odd, he thought, how the thought of childhood keeps coming back to me – the result of seeing Clarissa, perhaps; for women live much more in the past than we do, he thought. (3.18)

Really, Peter? Clarissa lives in the past? Now that's what we call the pot calling the kettle black. But don't worry, the narrator calls him out on it; in fact, the narrator is quick to expose this hypocritical side of Peter by having him use a lot of clichés and unnecessary rhetoric throughout the story.