Study Guide

Mrs Dalloway Memory and the Past

By Virginia Woolf

Memory and the Past

Section 1
Mrs Dalloway (Clarissa)

She remembered once throwing a shilling into the Serpentine. But every one remembered; what she loved was this, here, now, in front of her; the fat lady in the cab. (1.16)

Her memory of throwing the coin may seem silly but it was a big deal to Clarissa. This act of throwing the coin is her moment of greatest risk and daring.

Section 2
Mrs Dalloway (Clarissa)

Then came the most exquisite moment of her whole life passing a stone urn with flowers in it. Sally stopped; picked a flower; kissed her on the lips. The whole world might have turned upside down! (2.17)

Clarissa cherishes the memory of being kissed by Sally. Nothing could ever be that wonderful.

Peter Walsh

I was more unhappy than I've ever been since, he thought. And as if in truth he were sitting there on the terrace he edged a little towards Clarissa; put his hand out; raised it; let it fall. (2.62)

Peter recalls the misery of being rejected by Clarissa. Even in present day, he feels the misery just as keenly as he felt it before.

Section 3
Peter Walsh

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)

Clarissa represents Peter’s past. He can’t stop dwelling on memories of her – and yet he believes that women are way more sentimental than men! Try again, Pete.

Section 4
Lady Millicent Bruton

And Millicent Bruton was very proud of her family. But they could wait, they could wait, she said, looking at the picture; meaning that her family, of military men, administrators, admirals, had been men of action, who had done their duty […]. (4.185)

Lady Bruton rides on the reputation of her family. She identifies with the great men of her family's past much more than with the sick wives of men she knows.

Peter Walsh

It was at Bourton that summer, early in the 'nineties, when he was so passionately in love with Clarissa. (4.12)

The summer at Bourton was a formative experience for Peter. He has never felt passion as great as the love he felt for Clarissa that summer. Do you think he's idealizing things in his memories, or was this actually the case?

Through all ages – when the pavement was grass, when it was swamp, through the age of tusk and mammoth, through the age of silent sunrise, the battered woman – for she wore a skirt – with her right hand exposed, her left clutching at her side, stood singing of love – love which has lasted a million years […]. (4.75)

This homeless woman seems to have been singing the same song for thousands of years. She just can’t forget her lost love – sound familiar?

Section 6
Peter Walsh

She and Peter had settled down together. […] They would discuss the past. With the two of them (more even than with Richard) she shared her past; the garden; the trees; old Joseph Breitkopf singing Brahms without any voice; the drawing-room wallpaper; the smell of the mats. (6.76)

Peter and Sally haven’t seen each other since the days of Bourton. To Peter, Sally is one of the only people who understands the depth of his love for Clarissa.

Sally Seton (Lady Rosseter)

Oh yes, Sally remembered; she had it still, a ruby ring which Marie Antoinette had given her great-grandfather. She never had a penny to her name in those days, and going to Bourton always meant some frightful pinch. But going to Bourton had meant so much to her – had kept her sane, she believed, so unhappy had she been at home. But that was all a thing of the past – all over now, she said. (6.103)

Sally recalls when she pawned her jewelry to get to Bourton that summer. Bourton was a totally different world – one she would never forget.

But everybody adored her (except perhaps Papa). It was her warmth; her vitality – she would paint, she would write. Old women in the village never to this day forgot to ask after "your friend in the red cloak who seemed so bright." (6.75)

Once people meet Sally, they never forget her. Sally – at least the Sally of the past – really stands out from the type of people Clarissa’s family typically hangs out with. Has this changed now that Sally has become Lady Rosseter?