Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 596
Clarissa Dalloway: the main character of the novel; spends the day preparing for a party she is hosting that evening Hugh Whitbread: a friend of Clarissa’s and of her husband Richard; holds a post in the Royal House; arrogantly self-assured, he is held in contempt by most of the characters in
Clarissa Dalloway goes to buy flowers, since Lucy, the maid, is already quite busy. It’s a June morning, and Clarissa compares it to the mornings at Bourton, the summer home where she had lived long before. It was there that she knew her closest friends, especially Peter Walsh, whom Clarissa recalls is due back from India some day soon, though she is not sure when.
The day is lovely weather for walking. A man named Scrope Purvis sees Clarissa, and thinks of her as charmingly bird-like. Big Ben, the famous London clock tower, tolls the hour of ten a.m. Clarissa’s thoughts flow from one subject to the next, and she sees Hugh Whitbread coming towards her.
Clarissa enjoys seeing Hugh, yet finds him slightly patronizing. Always concerned about looking her best, she feels that his perfect deportment contrasts with the minute flaws she perceives in herself. They chat about Clarissa’s party, and Hugh’s wife, Evelyn’s health, which as usual is poor. Clarissa commiserates.
After Clarissa and Hugh part, she thinks back to Peter and the others from those years at Bourton. She remembers how Peter detested Hugh, and the fact that Hugh was not completely stupid after all, as Peter had claimed. Clarissa recalls a quotation from Shakespeare, and imagines what she would look like if she had a choice; tall and imposing Clarissa decides, instead of stick-like and insignificant, as Clarissa sees herself.
A glove shop reminds Clarissa of her daughter, Elizabeth, who immediately reminds Clarissa of Doris Kilman, an older and very religious woman who seems to have attached herself to Elizabeth. Thinking about Kilman raises strong feelings of anger in Clarissa, which shock and displease her. Troubled by these emotions, Clarissa enters Mulberry’s, the florist, and is immediately soothed by the flowers. She notes the positive effects they seem to have on Miss Pym. While selecting flowers, Clarissa is startled by a car’s backfire.
The novel begins with its own title, and the reader is plunged into Clarissa’s day in the very first sentence. Clarissa is considerate of others and a very active person; this serves to keep her distracted from asking too many questions. Yet despite her errands, she is at the mercy of her memories. She spends much of this day mulling over the past, and the choices that led her to the present in which she lives. One great question in her life is about Peter Walsh, the man whose proposal she refused. The background material comes from both Clarissa’s thoughts, and from the invisible narrator, who informs the reader of the characters’ pasts.
As well as pondering her personal history, Clarissa thinks about her party. The chapter shows how Clarissa tends to overanalyze her perceptions of herself and of others. People recognize Clarissa and think well of her, but these thoughts do not change the recriminations that occupy part of her daily thoughts. Clarissa understands herself, but she does not seem to like who she is, and her feelings about her past have become obstacles in her present. Contrasted against the dark, brooding conflicts inside Clarissa is the city of London, lovely and filled with the sunshine of the June day.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support