Mrs Dalloway
Virginia Woolf
Contributed by Harvey Landy
Chapter 6

The elderly nurse continued to knit. Peter Walsh snored. Suddenly, he woke up, saying out loud, "The death of the soul." The phrase arose from something he had been dreaming about, a real incident from his past, from that summer at Bourton, when he had been so in love with Clarissa.

What had happened at Bourton was this: A group of people were sitting around a table, gossiping about an upper-class neighbor who had married his housemaid. The couple had visited Clarissa earlier in the summer, and the housemaid, having just married into a higher class, had been over-dressed and unsure of how to behave. Snobbishly, Clarissa was now imitating the housemaid for the laughing guests. Then bold Sally Seton asked whether anyone cared that before the marriage, the housemaid had had a baby. Clarissa, shocked and offended, turned pink and said, "Oh, I shall never be able to speak to her again!" The party went uncomfortably silent. "Every one wobbled." Clarissa rose to leave. But then her big, shaggy sheepdog ran in, and Clarissa pointedly, dramatically hugged and kissed it, as if to show Peter that she was not as cold and unsympathetic as her reaction had made her seem. But the damage was already done: In his mind, he had marked the moment as "The death of her soul."

What had bothered him at the time was not her conventional morals (she had been sheltered, after all) but rather her arrogance and hardness, her lack of imagination. It had depressed him. He had been gloomy the rest of that day at Bourton, wanting to "have it out" with her but unable to see her alone. Then, coming down late for dinner, he had found Clarissa sitting beside a young man who had just arrived that afternoon. Noticing "something maternal; something gentle" in her manner as she talked with the fair, slightly awkward newcomer, Peter had been struck by a sudden, "blinding" revelation: "She will marry that man."

The man was Richard Dalloway.

Then, this had happened: After dinner, Clarissa tried to introduce Richard to him. Her manners, her social instinct, were perfect. This enraged Peter. He called her "The perfect hostess." It hurt her terribly, but he had meant to hurt her. She left him standing alone, while he suffered miserably, thinking everyone was against him. Then the whole party left (Sally had suggested they all go boating by moonlight), and he was alone. But Clarissa came back for him, which made up for everything, and he was happy again. As he walked to the boathouse with her, "he had twenty minutes of perfect happiness." But as the rest of the evening passed, Peter watched Richard and Clarissa falling in love. When it was over, he said again, "She will marry that man."

The rest of the summer had been an endless string of "letters, scenes, telegrams." Sally Seton had taken up his cause, but it was doomed. Then had come the "final scene, the terrible scene which he believed had mattered more than anything in the whole of his life." He had asked Clarissa to meet him in the garden. He felt desperate, terrified. "Tell me the truth, tell me the truth," he had said, again and again. "She seemed contracted, petrified." She was unyielding, "like iron, like flint, rigid up the backbone." He had wept; it seemed to go on for hours, until finally Clarissa had said, "It’s no use. It’s no use." They had parted. That was the end. Until today, he had not seen her again.

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