The Hours Summary
After opening on a melancholy note with Virginia Woolf's willful death by drowning, The Hours branches out into three interconnected plotlines. The book goes back and forth between plots, but we're gonna break it down one by one to keep things simple for you. You're welcome.
In one plotline, Clarissa Vaughan—a middle-aged book editor living in 1990s New York—gets ready to throw a party. A beloved friend of hers is about to be awarded a distinguished literary prize, and Clarissa is arranging a private celebration where he'll be congratulated by supporters and close personal friends.
Clarissa's friend Richard Brown is dying from HIV/AIDS-related illnesses, and when Clarissa checks in on him in the late morning, she can tell that he's having one of his bad days. When she comes back later to help him get dressed for the party, things take a tragic turn: Richard slides himself out of a fifth-story window and is killed.
Rather than throwing a party for Richard, Clarissa now finds herself making arrangements for his funeral. In the last hours of the evening, she collects Richard's elderly mother, Laura Brown, and offers her a late-night meal.
In another plotline, that same Laura Brown is still a young woman living in a sunny, pristine suburb of Los Angeles. She wakes on the morning of her husband's birthday and eventually musters up the energy to get out of bed and face the day.
Throughout the morning, Laura and her three-year-old son, Richie, make a birthday cake together. It doesn't turn out as Laura hoped, and after receiving an unexpected visit from a neighbor, Laura dumps the cake in the garbage and starts again.
In the afternoon, Laura leaves Richie with a neighbor for a few hours so that she can "run some errands," by which we mean she steals away for a few hours so that she can enjoy some rare time alone. Laura checks herself into a hotel, then curls up to read Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.
Back at home that evening, Laura presides over her husband's birthday dinner. Later, once Richie is asleep, she and her husband get ready to head to bed. As Laura fiddles around in the bathroom, she thinks about how easy it would be to swallow a fatal number of sleeping pills and slip away from her life.
In the novel's third plotline, Virginia Woolf wakes up with an idea for the first line of a novel. After getting some coffee and checking in with her husband, she spends the morning drafting the first pages of the book that will eventually become Mrs. Dalloway.
In the afternoon, Virginia takes a walk and ponders her heroine's fate. Back at home, she lends a hand in the printing room, where her husband, Leonard, is preparing another book for publication. Virginia is expecting a visit from her sister, niece, and nephews, and soon the clan arrives. The children have found an injured bird in the yard, and before they all come inside, Virginia helps them to make a little deathbed for the creature.
In the early evening, after her extended family members are gone, Virginia slips outside for another walk. She heads toward the train station with a half-baked plan to run off to London for a few hours. She buys a ticket, then decides to walk around the block while she waits for the next train to arrive. As she does, she sees Leonard coming toward her. Playing it cool, she keeps her plans to herself and walks home.
Back at home, as bedtime approaches, Virginia makes a final decision about her novel. Instead of killing off her heroine, Mrs. Dalloway, she decides that "a deranged poet, a visionary" will die instead (20.13).
- The Hours opens with a blast from the past, starting us off with a prologue that's set in the English countryside, near Sussex, in 1941.
- Virginia Woolf—though we don't yet know that it's her—leaves her house and "walks purposefully toward the river, certain of what she'll do" (Prologue.1).
- At the bank of the river, Virginia finds a large stone that's "roughly the size and shape of a pig's skull" (Prologue.1). She puts it into her pocket, then begins to walk forward into the water.
- When she's up to her waist in the water, Virginia pauses to take in her "last moment of perception" (Prologue.1). Then, "[a]lmost involuntarily (it feels involuntary, to her) she steps or stumbles forward and the stone pulls her in" (Prologue.1).
- Later, at home, Virginia's husband Leonard heads back inside after doing some work in the garden.
- In the sitting room, Leonard finds a blue envelope with his name on it. When he opens it, he finds a letter from Virginia, bidding him goodbye.
- Leonard rushes out to look for Virginia, but he doesn't find her.
- As the prologue draws to a close, Virginia's body floats down the river. Eventually, the current brings her up against the underwater pillars of a bridge.
- As Virginia's body lies dead under the water, life goes on in the world above her. A young boy and his mother walk along the bridge, and a military truck full of British soldiers drives across.
- From underneath the water, the novel's narrator tells us, Virginia's body "absorbs it all" (Prologue.7).
Chapter 1: Mrs. Dalloway
- After starting us off with the death of Virginia Woolf, The Hours begins its first true chapter with flowers and a party.
- We're now in New York City at some point in the 1990s, and a woman named Clarissa Vaughan is stepping out of her West Village home on a sunny June morning, on her way to buy flowers for the party that she'll be throwing that night.
- As Clarissa walks to the florist's, she takes in the sights and sounds of her neighborhood and reflects on a cherished memory from her youth—a summer morning when she was eighteen years old and in love with her friend Richard Brown, who nicknamed her Mrs. Dalloway.
- When Clarissa stops to wait for the light "at the corner of Eighth Street and Fifth Avenue," she is observed by a random passer-by.
- Clarissa walks on, and soon she runs into an acquaintance—a successful and well-known novelist named Walter Hardy.
- Clarissa and Walter stop to chat, and Clarissa invites Walter and his partner Evan to the party she's throwing that night. As we now learn, the party is being thrown in Richard's honor, to celebrate the fact that he's being given a prestigious literary award called the Carrouthers Prize.
- As she invites Walter and Evan to the party, Clarissa realizes that Richard will probably hate having Walter there. Richard believes that Walter is trivial and shallow, and he seems to suspect that Clarissa is "a little vain and foolish herself" for liking him (1.25).
- Clarissa and Walter part ways, and Clarissa keeps on thinking of Richard as she walks. As she does, we learn that Richard is slowly succumbing to AIDS, and his good days are growing fewer and farther between.
- Soon, Clarissa pauses in front of a bookstore on Spring Street, thinking that it might be nice to buy a gift for Walter's partner, Evan, who is also living with AIDS.
- Clarissa eventually decides that none of the books on display would convey the right message, and so she continues on toward the florist's as her thoughts turn towards her daughter, Julia.
- When Clarissa reaches the florist's, she chats with the proprietor, Barbara, and gets to work choosing flowers for her party.
- As she and Barbara move around the room, they hear "a huge shattering sound" from the street. The two women go to the window to look, and Clarissa decides that it must have come from "the movie people"—a film crew that's been working out in the street "all morning" (1.45).
- Barbara moves away from the window, but Clarissa stays put for a few more seconds. Suddenly, she sees "a famous head" emerge from one of the trailers at the film site (1.47). She can't quite place it—she thinks it may have been Meryl Streep or Vanessa Redgrave—but "she knows without question that the woman is a movie star" (1.47).
- As the star pulls her famous head back inside her trailer, Clarissa watches from the window and reads the subtle social atmosphere of the scene.
Chapter 2: Mrs. Woolf
- The novel's second chapter whisks us back to the life of Virginia Woolf, but this time we find ourselves in Richmond, England, in 1923. (For those of you without your calculators handy, that's eighteen years before the death by suicide that we witness in the novel's Prologue.)
- Inside her bedroom in a suburban home, Virginia wakes up after dreaming the first line of the new novel she's writing.
- As she lies in bed, Virginia dozes off again and dreams of walking through a park.
- When she wakes for the second time, Virginia feels good and ready to get up and write.
- After washing up, Virginia goes downstairs, gets a cup of coffee, and visits her husband, Leonard, in their printing room.
- The Woolfs exchange pleasantries—"Good morning," "How was your sleep," etc. (2.9-10)—and Virginia announces that she's going to spend the morning writing. Leonard agrees not to bug her while she's at it, and soon she heads back upstairs.
- Upstairs in her study, Virginia sits down to face her paper and pen. When she picks up her pen and begins to write, the tentative line from her dream flows fully-formed onto the page: "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself" (2.30).
Chapter 3: Mrs. Brown
- Our third chapter begins with the same line that ended its second chapter: "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself" (3.1).
- We've now been whisked to a suburban neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, in 1949.
- There, a woman named Laura Brown is reading Mrs. Dalloway and "trying to lose herself" (3.4).
- It's early morning, "well past seven," and Laura hasn't yet got herself out of bed. She can hear her husband, Dan, puttering around the kitchen downstairs, making breakfast for their son, Richie.
- Feeling depressed and lethargic, Laura is struggling to muster up the energy to get out of bed and do what's expected of her.
- Laura decides to read one more page of Mrs. Dalloway, and we readers read along with her as she does.
- As Laura reads, she thinks about the end of the Second World War, and about "the new world, the rescued world," of America's booming economy and blooming suburbs (3.8).
- Laura also thinks of her husband, Dan, who returned from the war and so seemed to deserve an ideal American life, complete with a loving wife, a suburban home, a good job, children, and supper on the table every night.
- Laura reads for a little while longer, then works up the energy to get out of bed and go downstairs.
- Downstairs, Dan and Richie are eating cereal at the kitchen table, where a bouquet of white roses is sitting splendidly. Dan has bought Laura flowers on his own birthday, and she doesn't quite know what to say.
- After a few minutes of morning chitchat, Dan heads off to work. Once he's gone, Laura tells Richie that they're going to make a cake for his father's birthday. As she does, she steels herself to get through the day.
Chapter 4: Mrs. Dalloway
- Clarissa exits the florist's with the flowers for her party. She heads towards the film set where the "famous head" had emerged and stands there with the small crowd that has gathered to watch the goings-on.
- Clarissa waits for almost ten minutes before walking away again, having failed to catch a second glimpse of the movie star (whoever she may have been).
- Rather than turn back toward home, Clarissa heads uptown toward Richard's apartment, where she plans to stop in for a few minutes to check on him.
- As she walks, Clarissa thinks about the ending of the summer romance that she and Richard shared when they were eighteen and nineteen, respectively. They ended things in this very neighborhood, and she muses on the changes that the neighborhood has seen since then.
- When she reaches Richard's building, Clarissa lets herself in and tries to take the elevator up to his floor. When it doesn't work, she takes the stairs instead, feeling relieved to have a good reason not to trust her life to the run-down machine.
- Upstairs, Clarissa knocks and lets herself in to Richard's cluttered and dimly lit apartment. She can hear Richard talking to himself, and when she heads in she finds him sitting alone in his favorite chair.
- Clarissa opens a window to let in more light, then asks Richard whether "they" are with him today—"they" being the unearthly beings that Richard claims to be able to see and hear.
- Richard says no.
- When Clarissa reminds Richard about the party and awards ceremony that night, he seems confused. Specifically, he tells Clarissa that he thought these events had already happened. As he says, he seems to have "fallen out of time" (4.71).
- As Clarissa tries to put him right, Richard confesses that he's nervous about the party. He says he doesn't want to have to be "proud and brave in front of everybody"—especially when, in his opinion, he's only getting the prize "for having AIDS and going nuts" (4.83-85).
- Clarissa tries to convince him that this isn't true, and that he's getting the prize for his talent, not for his suffering.
- Eventually, she talks Richard into taking a nap. As she gets ready to leave, she promises to come back later that afternoon to help him get dressed.
Chapter 5: Mrs. Woolf
- We're back in 1923 with Virginia Woolf now, and it's still the same June morning where we left her writing the sentence "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself." It's been nearly two hours since Virginia sat down to write, and she's filled a solid three pages with good writing.
- As she decides to stop for the day, Virginia reflects on the painful illness that inspired Leonard to move her from London to the suburbs. She's afraid of relapsing, but, more than anything, she's sick and tired of living in Richmond.
- Soon, Virginia heads back downstairs to visit Leonard again in the printing room.
- After checking in, Virginia tells Leonard that she's going to go out for a walk, and she promises to come back soon to lend a hand.
Chapter 6: Mrs. Brown
- Back in her suburban Los Angeles home, Laura Brown is starting the cake for her husband's birthday.
- After sifting flour into a bowl, Laura lets Richie measure out the cups they'll need for the batter.
- Laura is imagining a beautiful cake—one that "will speak of bounty and delight the way a good house speaks of comfort and safety" (6.9). She imagines it being perfect and glossy, like a photograph.
- Three-year-old Richie measures cautiously, terrified of doing something wrong and disappointing his mother.
- The two work together slowly, with Richie doing his best to please his mother, and Laura doing her best to convince herself that she's happy with the life she has.
Chapter 7: Mrs. Woolf
- Lost in thought, Virginia walks along the streets of Richmond, planning the plot of her novel.
- Virginia plans to give her heroine, Clarissa Dalloway, a girlhood love. She also plans to have Clarissa kill herself toward the novel's end, but she doesn't yet know why or how.
- When another pedestrian gives her a strange look, Virginia realizes that she's been talking to herself aloud. She keeps walking on, and as she makes a loop back toward home, she reflects on the nature of sanity and insanity.
- Virginia returns to the house, and stops to have a conversation with Nelly, the cook. As Nelly announces what she plans to make for lunch, Virginia grows frustrated by the subtle, almost unspoken challenges that the servant throws her way. She knows that Nelly doesn't think much of her ability to manage the household.
- Virginia reminds Nelly that visitors will be arriving in the afternoon. Virginia's sister Vanessa will be coming with her sons and daughters, and they'll be staying for tea. To remind Nelly who's boss, Virginia says that she'd like to serve China tea and candied ginger when Vanessa and the children arrive. Nelly will have to take the train all the way to London to get it, but Virginia insists.
- As she fumbles her way through this little power-play, Virginia reflects on her mother's and sister's talents for managing servants. She decides that her heroine, Clarissa Dalloway, will have this talent, too.
Chapter 8: Mrs. Dalloway
- Chapter 8 brings us back to the life of Clarissa Vaughan, who returns to her West Village apartment just in time to catch her partner, Sally, on her way out the door.
- Sally tells Clarissa that she's off to have lunch with the famous actor and gay activist Oliver St. Ives, and she dashes off as Clarissa heads into the apartment alone.
- Inside, Clarissa reflects on the great good luck that brought them their apartment, which has "two floors and a garden," "pine-planked floors," and lots of light (8.22). Looking around at all of their things, she thinks, just for a just a teensy little moment, of how easy it would be to "slip out of this life" and find another one (8.22).
- As Clarissa starts to putter around, she thinks about Sally's lunch with Oliver St. Ives. She feels slighted because she wasn't invited, and it bugs her to imagine that Oliver must think of her as a boring old wife rather than an interesting woman in her own right.
- Soon, Clarissa's thoughts turn back to that fateful summer when she was eighteen years old and she and Richard were lovers. She thinks about the tangled love triangle that she and Richard and Richard's other lover, Louis Waters, had created, and she reflects on all of the love and pain that it brought them.
- Clarissa wonders, too, if she missed out on something by choosing not to stay with Richard in the end. What might her life had been like?
- Looking back now, Clarissa feels that there has never been another moment in her life that was as perfect as the moment when she and Richard first kissed.
Chapter 9: Mrs. Brown
- Back in suburban Los Angeles in 1949, Laura Brown's birthday cake hasn't turned out quite like she hoped. "It looks amateurish, handmade," she thinks, and she had wanted it to be "more lush and beautiful, more wonderful" (9.1).
- Laura knows that her husband, Dan, will love the cake, love all of his gifts, and love her for them, too. Still, she feels disappointed and dissatisfied.
- As Laura washes the dishes, her neighbor, Kitty, knocks at the door.
- Laura lets Kitty in, and, when Kitty says that she needs a favor, Laura invites her to sit down.
- The two women look at Dan's birthday cake, and Laura is doubly embarrassed by its flaws now that someone else is seeing them, too. She gives Kitty a cup of coffee, and the two of them sit down at the table.
- Laura makes small talk with Kitty until Kitty comes out with the favor she needs. She tells Laura that she needs to check into the hospital for a day or two, so that her doctors can take a look at an abnormal growth that they've found in her uterus. She wants to know if Laura will feed her dog.
- Laura moves closer to Kitty and wraps her in a hug, and Kitty starts to cry.
- As Kitty cries and Laura holds her, Kitty turns her face up towards Laura's. "They touch their lips together, but do not quite kiss" (9.78).
- Kitty pulls away first, and calmly gets up to go. She gives Laura final instructions about the dog, then leaves.
- Laura takes a moment to process how tired and detached she feels. After a few moments, she dumps Dan's birthday cake into the garbage can. She has decided to make another, better one.
Chapter 10: Mrs. Woolf
- As we're whisked back to Richmond, England in 1923, we find Virginia Woolf sitting in the printing room with her husband, Leonard, and his assistants.
- The Woolfs are working away on page proofs when the maid comes in to announce that Virginia's sister, niece, and nephews have arrived. They've come an hour and a half before they were expected, and Virginia is surprised.
- Virginia realizes that she doesn't look particularly good at the moment—she hasn't had time to do her hair or change into a nicer dress—but she goes and meets her sister, anyway.
- Virginia's sister tells her that the children are outside in the yard, deciding what to do with a dying bird that they found in the road.
- The sisters head outside and find the children kneeling in the grass. They're looking at the dying bird, and soon they decide to make a deathbed for it.
- Virginia helps her niece, Angelica, make a bed of grass for the bird, then watches as Angelica places roses carefully around the mound. When the youngest nephew, Quentin, lays the bird onto the bed, Virginia sees that it has already died in his hands.
- As Vanessa and the children begin to head inside, Virginia lingers for a few more moments beside the bird. As she looks at it, she decides that her heroine, Clarissa Dalloway, won't die, after all.
- Instead of being "the bride of death," Virginia thinks, Clarissa will be "the bed in which the bride is laid" (10.64).
Chapter 11: Mrs. Dalloway
- Back in New York City, Clarissa Vaughan is puttering around her apartment, getting things ready for the party.
- After she arranges a big bouquet of yellow roses on her coffee table, Clarissa hears the buzzer buzz.
- Turns out it's Clarissa's old friend Louis Waters at the door—the third corner of the love triangle that Clarissa and Richard had created together when they were eighteen and nineteen years old.
- Clarissa buzzes him in, and when Louis appears in the hallway they hug and take stock of each other, each evaluating what age has done to the other.
- Louis and Clarissa make small talk, and Louis looks around the apartment as Clarissa goes into the kitchen to get them some water. Then, the two old friends sit together in the living room and talk.
- Clarissa and Louis talk about the state of Richard's health, about Louis's life in San Francisco, about Richard's novel (which none of the critics, and few of its readers, seemed to like), about the old days and their teenage love affairs, and about Louis's current infatuation with one of his students.
- As Louis tells Clarissa about the student he's dating, he starts to cry.
- After a moment, Louis and Clarissa hear a key turning in the door, and Clarissa realizes that her daughter, Julia, is coming in.
- Louis tries to dry his eyes before Julia comes in, but he doesn't quite succeed. He stays just long enough to exchange polite "Hellos," then makes a quick exit.
- As Louis walks out into the sunshine and begins to make his way along West Tenth Street, he decides to move back to New York City, live in the West Village, and enjoy what remains of his youth. As he does, he remembers the feeling of total liberation that he felt more than twenty years ago, on the day he left Richard for good.
Chapter 12: Mrs. Brown
- Back in Los Angeles in 1949, Laura Brown is driving along the Pasadena Freeway in a Chevrolet. Richie is being babysat by a neighbor who lives down the street, and Laura is pretending to run "a last-minute errand related to her husband's birthday" (12.1).
- Back at the house, Laura has everything laid out for Dan's birthday party. She has even finished the second cake, which looks much better than the first (though she still isn't satisfied with her work).
- As she drives, Laura thinks about the kiss she shared with Kitty, and she compares it to the kisses she has shared with her husband. She desires both, she thinks.
- Laura doesn't quite know where she's headed; after toying with a few different ideas, she decides to head into the city. Once there, she figures, she'll check into a hotel room and enjoy a few hours of total privacy before heading back to collect Richie.
- She chooses the Normandy—a clean and not-at-all-sketchy place—and is soon alone in her room. There, she gets herself comfortable on the bed and settles in to continue reading Mrs. Dalloway.
- As Laura reads a passage in which Virginia Woolf's heroine, Clarissa Dalloway, muses about death, she begins to consider the possibility of suicide. She imagines that it might be strangely beautiful to simply step away from life, but she can also imagine how much pain her death would bring to Dan and Richie.
- What comforts Laura most, in the end, is the thought that she could die if she wanted to. She tells herself that she would never do it, but she finds it comforting to know that the possibility is there.
Chapter 13: Mrs. Woolf
- As we return to the world of Virginia Woolf, we find her sitting in the kitchen with her sister, drinking tea.
- As Vanessa chats about domestic matters, Virginia keeps on thinking about her heroine, Clarissa Dalloway. If Clarissa won't die, someone else will—"someone with sorrow and genius enough to turn away from the seductions of the world, its cups and its coats" (13.8).
- Just as Virginia brings herself back to her conversation with Vanessa, the cook, Nelly, returns from her errand to London.
- Nelly is in a foul mood—having been forced to go to into the city for China tea and candied ginger has put her into a funk—but Virginia feels "unaccountably happy" to be sitting in her kitchen with her sister, appreciating life.
- As Nelly turns her back to them, Virginia leans forward and kisses Vanessa happily. Vanessa kisses her back.
Chapter 14: Mrs. Dalloway
- In Clarissa Vaughan's apartment in New York City, Clarissa's daughter Julia spends a moment feeling glum on Louis Waters's behalf. After the moment passes, she becomes her cheerful self again.
- Julia tells her mother that she's come to pick up the backpack that she left behind on the previous day. She also informs Clarissa that she's going to go shopping with her professor, the queer theorist, Mary Krull.
- When Clarissa realizes that Mary Krull is waiting downstairs, she tells Julia that Mary should come up and say hello. Julia goes down to get her, and soon the famed theorist appears.
- As Clarissa and Mary take each other in (not for the first time), each of them thinks about how little she likes the other. They make small talk, and although Mary does her best to be polite and charming, Clarissa knows perfectly well that Mary thinks of her as unacceptably bourgeois and quaint.
- For her part, Clarissa thinks that Mary's radical gender politics and inflamed sense of moral superiority make her "just as bad as most men, just that aggressive, just that self-aggrandizing" (14.58).
- As Julia and Mary get ready to leave, Clarissa wonders once again why her straight daughter is so interested in a woman like Mary Krull.
- Whatever Julia's reasons are for hanging around with Mary, it's perfectly clear why Mary hangs around with her. As they leave, Mary follows Julia patriotically, "as if Julia were the distant country in which Mary was born and from which she has been expelled" (14.66).
Chapter 15: Mrs. Woolf
- After Vanessa and the children have gone, Virginia watches from the parlor as the sun goes down outside.
- Virginia suddenly decides, half unconsciously, to take a walk. Quickly and quietly, without telling anyone that she's going, she gets dressed and slips out the door.
- As she crosses through the garden, Virginia stops to take another look at the dead bird on its bed of roses and grass. It doesn't seem as beautiful now as it did in the sunny afternoon; now it just looks like a piece of waste that needs to be thrown out.
- In fact, under the evening sky, everything suddenly seems like "rubbish" to Virginia (15.6-7).
- Virginia leaves the garden and heads out into the street, and she soon she decides to head toward the train station. "She will go, she thinks, to London; she will simply go to London, like Nelly on her errand," and, once there, she will simply keep on walking from one street to another (15.11).
- When she gets to the train station, Virginia learns that she will have to wait twenty-three minutes for the next train to London. She considers her plan, imagining how worried Leonard will be if she gets on a train. She could be back home before midnight, but she knows that Leonard "will be insane with worry" while she's gone (15.12).
- Virginia decides to go to London, anyway, and to call Leonard once she's there so that he'll know where she is at least.
- Virginia buys a ticket, then sits on a bench to wait for her train.
- When there are just fifteen minutes left before the train arrives, Virginia decides to take a quick walk around the block to help pass the time.
- As she walks, Virginia suddenly notices Leonard coming towards her. Rather than run away, she decides to walk towards him.
- Virginia doesn't tell Leonard that she nearly got on a train to London. Instead, as they walk back home together, she says: "It's time for us to move back to London, don't you think?" (15.34)
- Realizing how badly Virginia craves the hustle and bustle of the city, Leonard agrees to talk about it as they eat supper at home.
Chapter 16: Mrs. Dalloway
- We're back in New York City again, but, this time, we find ourselves in a strange apartment with Clarissa's partner, Sally, who is having lunch with Oliver St. Ives and Walter Hardy.
- Oliver has invited Sally and Walter over so that he can pitch an idea for a movie he wants to make.
- Sally isn't sure if backers or critics will go for it. Oliver's idea is to make an action thriller with an openly gay hero, whose "companion" would also be his sidekick.
- As the lunch meeting wraps up, Sally realizes that Oliver and Walter will probably go ahead with their plans without her. She doesn't feel too glum about it, but it makes her feel a little abandoned all the same.
- Walter and Sally walk out together when it's time to go, and, as they make small talk, Walter stops in front of a high-end clothing store. He decides to go in to buy a shirt for his partner, Evan, and he drags Sally along with him.
- After watching Walter shop around for a few minutes, Sally makes her escape and leaves.
- Sally decides that she'd like to find something for Clarissa while she's out, and so she stops at a flower stall on her way home. Eventually, she settles on a bouquet of yellow roses.
- When Sally gets home, she finds Clarissa sitting glumly on the living room couch. She wonders for a moment if she's done something wrong, or failed to do something that she was supposed to, but things become clear when Clarissa tells her that Louis Waters, Julia, and Mary Krull have all been to visit that morning.
- The women laugh together when they realize that they've both brought yellow roses home, and Sally thinks happily of all the years that they have gone on loving each other.
Chapter 17: Mrs. Brown
- Laura Brown collects Richie from the babysitter, and mother and son drive home.
- On her way to Mrs. Latch's house, Laura admits to herself that she's "been thinking kindly, even longingly, of death" (17.2).
- Richie is overjoyed to see Laura and starts crying when she arrives. A few minutes later, as they're driving in the car, his voice takes on a strange and unusual tone as he tells her that he loves her.
- Laura has never heard Richie use a tone like that before, and she feels that he must know her secret. He knows that she is lying about where she's been, and he knows that something is wrong.
- Laura does her best to reassure Richie that they're going to have a wonderful birthday party with his father when they get home.
Chapter 18: Mrs. Dalloway
- Back in the world of Clarissa Vaughan, it is now mid-afternoon, and Clarissa has returned to Richard's apartment to help him get dressed for the party.
- When Clarissa steps into Richard's apartment, she's taken aback by how sunny it is. Richard has pulled up all of the blinds and opened all of the windows.
- As she heads further in, Clarissa finds Richard sitting on one of his windowsills, straddling it like a horse. They're five stories up, and so she tells him (trying to contain her panic) that he needs to get down.
- Richard doesn't get down. Instead, he lifts one of his dangling legs up onto the sill and stays perched right where he is.
- As Richard tells Clarissa that he doesn't think he can make it to the party after all, Clarissa asks him again to get down. They go back and forth like this for a minute, until Richard confesses that he doesn't feel like he can continue to face the days and the hours ahead of him.
- Richard asks Clarissa to tell him a story, and, after protesting, she tells him about going out to buy flowers that morning.
- Together, the two old friends reminisce about the summer when they were eighteen and nineteen years old and in love with each other, and Richard tells Clarissa that he feels like a failure for never having been able to capture their lives in writing.
- Then, after telling Clarissa that he loves her, Richard shifts his body and lets himself fall from the window.
- Clarissa screams and runs to the window to look down at his body below. Then, she turns and runs out of the apartment and down the stairs, and she soon finds her way out of the building and into the space where the body is lying.
- Richard's house-robe is bunched up around his head, and when Clarissa pulls it away she sees how badly his skull has been destroyed.
- Clarissa pulls the robe back again and sits there kneeling over him, trying to think of what to do, and of what she would say to Richard now if she could only bring herself to speak.
Chapter 19: Mrs. Brown
- Whisked back to Los Angeles in 1949, we find Laura Brown, Dan, and Richie sitting at the table together as Dan blows out the candles on his birthday cake.
- As Laura watches her husband, she struggles to reconcile herself to the fact that she'll be "trapped here forever, posing as a wife" (19.3). As she does, she returns to her earlier thoughts of suicide.
- Dan and Richie slice the cake, and Laura brings dessert plates and dessert forks to the table. For a brief instant, she suddenly feels happy and hopeful, but the feeling passes just as quickly as it came.
Chapter 20: Mrs. Woolf
- Back at home in her house in Richmond, Virginia sits with a book and thinks excitedly of everything she'll do once she and Leonard are living in London again.
- As her thoughts turn back to the kiss that she shared with Vanessa that afternoon, Virginia makes some final decisions about her heroine, Clarissa Dalloway, who's going to have loved and kissed a woman just once when she was young, and who'll "carry the memory of that kiss, the soaring hope of it, all her life" (20.7).
- As Virginia gets up to walk around, Leonard tells her that she should go to bed by eleven o'clock at the latest.
- Virginia agrees, then wanders into the empty dining room, where she stands lost in thought as she pieces together the plot of Mrs. Dalloway.
Chapter 21: Mrs. Brown
- After supper has been finished and Richie has been put to bed, Laura Brown washes up in the bathroom as Dan waits for her in bed.
- Laura knows that Dan will want to have sex tonight, and she knows that she'll go along with it despite the fact that she isn't in the mood.
- Laura spends a moment looking at the bottle of sleeping pills that she keeps in the medicine cabinet, and she thinks again how easy it would be to step away from her life.
- Soon, Laura closes the medicine cabinet and walks into the bedroom, where Dan is waiting.
- When she reaches the edge of the bed, she pauses there, lost in her thoughts.
Chapter 22: Mrs. Dalloway
- We find ourselves back in New York City with Clarissa Vaughan, who is shepherding an elderly woman into her apartment.
- That elderly woman is Laura Brown.
- Clarissa brings Laura into the sitting room, where Julia tells Clarissa about the people who showed up for Richard's party and had to be sent away with the bad news.
- As Julia and Sally go into the kitchen to make tea and put out some food, Clarissa and Laura sit together on the couch.
- As they sit together in silence, Clarissa thinks of everything she knows about Laura—that she tried to commit suicide when Richard was young, and that later she left her family for good.
- Tentatively and awkwardly, the two women start to talk about Richard.
- Soon, feeling overwhelmed, Clarissa goes into the kitchen to check on Julia and Sally.
- There, Clarissa finds the food for the party laid out for them to eat. After thinking for a moment about life and death, she returns to the living room and invites Mrs. Brown to come in and eat.