In Mrs. Dalloway, why did Clarissa reject Peter Walsh and marry Richard? Does she regret her decision? Is theirs a successful marriage? How has her rejection affected Peter?
The relationship between Clarissa Dalloway and Peter Walsh is one of the most important components of Mrs. Dalloway.
Peter and Clarissa had once been good friends. They were very intimate and familiar with each other. Apparently, Peter could "see through" Clarissa, an extremely powerful trait in a novel in which everyone is constantly positioning, posturing, and performing in a complex social milieu. Clarissa, a high-society woman, is particularly adept at playing this game.
Peter remembers of their friendship:
"They had always had the queer power of communicating without words. She knew directly he criticized her. Then she would do something quite obvious to defend herself... but it never took him in, he always saw through Clarissa."
It is suggested in the book that this was the reason Clarissa rejected Peter: he made her feel vulnerable, by "seeing through" her performances.
Clarissa instead chose to marry Richard Dalloway, a reliable, if unimaginative, man. In the novel, they don't share the intimacy that she shared with Peter, which is something she both longs for and fears, as that intimacy also makes her vulnerable.
Clarissa continues to be affected by her memory of Peter. She thinks of him the morning of her party, when she believes he is still in India and hasn't seen him for many years, wondering what it would have been like to marry him. When he visits her, unannounced, that afternoon, she thinks to herself, "Now of course... he's enchanting! perfectly enchanting!", before becoming annoyed at him again, and then becoming emotional when he tells her that he's going to marry a woman he met in India.
Peter, similarly, continues to be affected by his memory of Clarissa. He revisits in his mind the moment when he first saw her together with Richard Dalloway, and he had the "sudden revelation... 'She will marry that man'... He didn't even know his name." When he visits her, he breaks into tears.