Mrs Dalloway
Virginia Woolf
Contributed by Harvey Landy
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Chapter 5

[Note: This strange interlude, in which a solitary traveller has an ecstatic vision and then returns to ordinary life, occurs while Peter is asleep. It could be a dream that Peter is having. Or it could be a composite dream, a dream that, in one way or another, all of the characters have. Or it could be something else¾an allegory perhaps, or an inspired description by a semi-omniscient observer (the narrator) of the spiritual uncertainty shared by some or all of the characters, and by their country during this period. There are many more possibilities.]

Sitting beside Peter on the bench was an elderly nurse with a baby asleep in its pram. As Peter snored, the nurse knitted swiftly and quietly. She seemed like some kind of guardian angel, like one of those "spectral presences" that "the solitary traveller," nearing the end of his journey through the woods, might see hovering in the night sky.

The solitary traveller might be an atheist. But seeing the specter rise before him, he feels for a moment exalted, thinking that, since he can conceive of her, she must in some way exist. As he walks toward her, she grows larger and more majestic. The vision overpowers him. He feels a sense of peace, as if she might "shower down from her magnificent hands compassion, comprehension, absolution." Expectantly, the solitary traveller advances toward her, wishing to "blow to nothingness" and never return to earthly life.

When he reaches the edge of the woods, he finds an elderly woman standing in a doorway. She is searching, it seems, for a lost son. She is, perhaps, a mother "whose sons have been killed in the battles of the world." The solitary traveller continues down the village street, where men and women seem to be waiting, without fear, for something to sweep through and annihilate them. Indoors, among ordinary things, the solitary traveller watches his landlady clear the table. In his sight, she becomes "an adorable emblem which only the recollection of cold human contacts forbids us to embrace." She asks him if he needs anything more tonight. He longs to reply, but he does not know how, or to whom.

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