Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 562
Sally Seton: an old friend of Clarissa
Lucy: the Dalloway’s maid
Lady Bruton: vivacious woman who invites Richard Dalloway and Hugh Whitbread to her home for a luncheon
Richard Dalloway: Clarissa’s husband
Returning from the florist, Clarissa finds that Richard is lunching at Lady Bruton’s. Excluded and hurt, Clarissa appreciates Lucy’s sympathy. The two share a moment of silent communication. Clarissa’s disappointment affects her thoughts. She overreacts internally, imagining herself ancient and alone, because she was not invited. She worries about the extent of her social graces.
Climbing the stairs, Clarissa thinks of the attic, where she reads late at night. The couple has an understanding that since Clarissa’s unexplained “illness,” she sleeps alone, and she feels she has failed Richard because some part of her has kept her apart from him physically. This part of her centers on “a virginity preserved through childhood which clung to her like a sheet.” Clarissa’s thoughts about love lead directly to Bourton and Sally Seton. Clarissa recalls those times in great detail, both the events and people’s comments about what others did. More than anyone else, it is Sally who occupies Clarissa’s memories.
Clarissa remembers Peter Walsh, and wonders what he might say about her now. She thinks about her age, and she ponders her own face. She finally shrugs off these broodings, and selects the dress she wishes to wear for that night’s party, but it’s torn. Planning to repair it later, she descends the stairs and talks to Lucy about the silver.
This reading section contains the first highly detailed account of Bourton, where Clarissa once lived. Woolf makes the past at least as important to the characters as the present. It is an important factor in their lives, and often a major obstacle to their happiness.
Many memories about Bourton regard a particular summer, full of incidents and conversations that occurred thirty-four years before. We learn that Clarissa is 52-years-old in the novel’s present, and remembered being eighteen at the beginning of the novel, when the sounds of windows opening “transported her back” to Bourton.
These memories raise questions about love and the mystery of emotions. From her habit of reading alone late at night, the reader can suppose that Clarissa’s marriage with Richard is not especially sexual. That Clarissa reads about Baron Marbot is not significant. What is significant is that she and Richard do not share the same bed. Although “a virginity” is mentioned regarding Clarissa, her relationship with Richard cannot have been entirely celibate, because they have a daughter. Clarissa’s feelings about love lead to a new revelation: the statement that Clarissa feels differently about women than about men. This immediately calls up the image of Sally Seton. Clarissa wonders if perhaps she was in love with Sally at Bourton.
Clarissa’s memories suggest feelings of bisexuality, and she seems aware of these feelings. Yet some of her thoughts conflict with this interpretation. True, Sally had once kissed Clarissa on the lips, and Clarissa has treasured that moment as a great gift. Yet she also says that her love was “disinterested,” unlike the love she would have for a man. Ultimately, Woolf leaves the question of sexuality a mystery, emphasizing the idea that much about a person can never be known.
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