Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 495
Sylvia: Clarissa’s late sister
Observing Septimus and Lucrezia in their “squabble,” Peter feels that he sees a picture of youth. The narrator discloses Peter’s history regarding relationships, and his perceptions of his choices. That he had always been too susceptible to impressions is blamed for his troubles, and his moodiness has stayed with him, from adolescence to the present.
Peter sums up the last five years, and the women he has thought about. These thoughts lead to Sally Seton, and how Sally was the most authentic of all the people in Clarissa’s circle. Peter appreciated Sally’s integrity, and he is surprised that she married a rich man and settled into a conventional life.
The tale of Bourton continues, told in a combination of Peter’s and the narrator’s points of view. We find that Sally hated Hugh, and Peter agrees with her. (Clarissa had commented in the first reading section that Peter despised Hugh.) Sally and Peter also discussed Richard Dalloway. They met in the garden one night and talked about saving Clarissa from those who would stifle her soul. Still, Peter recognized Richard, even then, as a basically worthy man.
There are many separate incidents and myriad details from those times. Peter denies that he still loves Clarissa. His thoughts run between himself and her, the lives each has built, and how his choices have put him at the mercy of others instead of in control of himself. Peter broods on Clarissa’s sister, who was killed accidently by a falling tree. He sums up his feelings about Clarissa, and his outburst at her home.
In the middle of his mental journeys through the past is this: “(it was extraordinary how vividly it all came back to him, things he hadn’t thought of for years,)”. This is an important point. Even if Peter has not thought of these subjects for years, that did not make them go away. In India he may have been too busy to think about Clarissa and memories of Bourton. However, the hurtful memories have been repressed, and his return to London and to people of his past thawed the feelings he had kept frozen.
This would explain his emotional outburst in front of Clarissa. When he thinks about whether he loves Clarissa, he has his pocketknife in his hand. As well as a possible phallic image,this is also a display of hidden or displaced violence, no matter how innocent it may seem.
Clarissa never mentions or thinks about her sister, and this is curious. Although it is possible that Clarissa did not love and does not miss Sylvia, it is likelier that the incident was so traumatic that Clarissa does not think about it at all. Considering Clarissa’s unnamed “illness” mentioned in section three, and the connections between the mental illness in the novel and in Woolf’s life, perhaps her sister’s death harmed Clarissa profoundly.
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