Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 476
Sir and Lady Bradshaw arrive late and apologetic at Clarissa’s party. She greets them, though she is not very fond of this couple. She sees in Sir William a man at the peak of his career, wearied by the misery he has seen. Yet she perceives his cold detachment. He talks with Richard about a recent case. Lady Bradshaw tells Clarissa how, as they were leaving, a call came about a suicide. The news shatters Clarissa. Feeling that death has invaded the party, she goes to an empty room. She is upset at the Bradshaws for introducing the subject; the fact that it was a suicide is the worst part.
She understands the choice of suicide. Her busy habits and parties seem like unworthy trifles, while suicide is a statement about life. She senses the great chasm between those who make this statement and herself.
Life with Richard is good, and she is happy. Yet Clarissa admires the man who killed himself, and she feels a kinship with him. The party is ending, and she will go to bed soon, but she must go to Sally and Peter. They compare the past to the present. Peter wanted to write, but never did. Sally had fire in her, but it mellowed. They think about Clarissa and what she became.
People are leaving. Peter shares more with Sally, and they wonder where Clarissa has gone. Their conversation turns to those still at the party, and they comment on Elizabeth. Richard hardly recognizes her. Playing with his pocketknife, Peter waits for Clarissa. Sally leaves, but Peter remains for a moment, aware of the joy and terror in his heart when Clarissa reappears.
Though Clarissa was not obsessing about the party during the day, it clearly bothered her. The party is her way of expressing herself, of participating in the world, but at the same time it is a great risk to her self-esteem. The party went well, and in this section dies a slow death, as guests leave and conversations end.
Outside of Septimus, whose story is resolved, the main force of the novel is the legacy of Bourton. This section does not finish those tales, for the characters will go on and have their failures and some triumphs as well. But the past serves to contextualize the present, and it helps us understand the day in the lives of these “people.”
Far more than most novels, Mrs. Dalloway concentrates on how people are the product of their decisions, and that the greatest threat to happiness is other people. Even more destructive is obsessively valuing other people’s perception of us.
Many small details remain mysterious, but overall the novel ends with a feeling of closure. In Peter, the readers see what the characters have perceived: the potential of love to undermine one’s mental constitution.
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