Mrs Dalloway
Virginia Woolf
Contributed by Harvey Landy
Chapter 8

It was now 1:30. As Lucrezia and Septimus walked away from Sir William’s office, they passed Hugh Whitbread, who was on his way to lunch at Lady Bruton’s, where Richard Dalloway was also heading.

Lunching with the formidable Lady Bruton, Hugh reveled in the rich food and atmosphere. Richard went somewhat deeper, meditating on the value to England of such "well-set-up old women of pedigree" who knew how to do things right. Lady Bruton asked after Clarissa, and she mentioned that Peter Walsh was in town. All three instantly remembered the story of Peter and Clarissa. Then Richard suddenly told himself that he would go to Clarissa right after lunch and "tell her, in so many words, that he loved her." All three reflected that it would be impossible to find Peter a job because there was a flaw in his character, though Hugh said he would certainly try.

Then Lady Bruton brushed aside such topics and turned the conversation to the cause that was her current obsession: Emigration. She fervently believed that the solution for England’s social ills was to send promising young people of both sexes to Canada. Herein lay her reason for inviting Hugh and Richard to lunch. She wanted to write a letter on Emigration to the Times, but she was not a good writer. So she wanted Richard, who knew the political landscape, to advise her, and Hugh, who "knew how to put things," to write for her. They did so, admirably, and left.

Richard decided to bring flowers to Clarissa. He hadn’t said the words "I love you" in a very long time. But today he was going to do it. He thought it was a miracle that he had married Clarissa and had lived so well, when so many others had been killed in the War or had been born with no hope of a good life. He resolved again and again that he would tell Clarissa he loved her, because "it is a thousand pities never to say what one feels." He surveyed the people in the park as he passed. He thought of various social problems and what could be done about them. He saw the vagrant woman who had been singing earlier, and considered "the problem of the female vagrant." He saw Buckingham Palace, and reflected that, although it was absurd, at least it gave the country a sense of tradition. He felt very happy to be carrying flowers to Clarissa, to be on his way to tell her he loved her. Big Ben struck the three-o’clock hour.

Meanwhile, Clarissa sat at her writing table, feeling annoyed because her friend Mrs. Marsham wanted her to invite Clarissa’s poor, dull cousin, Ellie Henderson, to her party. She was also agitated because Elizabeth was locked in her room with Miss Kilman, probably praying. But then Richard burst in upon Clarissa, holding out the flowers. "He could not bring himself to say he loved her, not in so many words," but she understood anyway, without his speaking. They sat on the couch, and each told the other, in rapid, confused snippets, what had happened during the day. As they talked, Richard held Clarissa’s hand and thought, "Happiness is this." But then, he briefly wondered if she wished she had married Peter. He told Clarissa that he worried this party would be too much for her. Before leaving to return to work (at the House of Commons), he ran out and returned with a pillow and quilt, reminding her, as her doctor had prescribed, to have "an hour’s complete rest after luncheon."

Clarissa lay on the sofa. After the excitement wore off, she felt unhappy, because neither Peter nor Richard understood why she liked to give parties. So she defended herself. She said her parties were "an offering"¾an offering to life, her gift to the world, the only thing she was capable of giving. Then Elizabeth came in.

Miss Kilman waited outside the door. Miss Kilman hated the upper classes and especially Clarissa. Miss Kilman pitied herself for being ugly, poor, and unlucky. She had had a promising start at school, had even taken a degree in history, but when the War came she had been dismissed because "she would not pretend that the Germans were all villains." Then Richard Dalloway had generously hired her as Elizabeth’s history tutor. Soon after, she had found God. Now, whenever she felt class envy and hatred boiling in her, she tried to think of God and the meaning of her suffering. Clarissa came out to see her and Elizabeth off. Miss Kilman wanted to knock the rich woman down, to bend her to her own will. Clarissa sensed something monstrous about Miss Kilman, then laughed it off. As they were leaving, Clarissa called out to Elizabeth, "Remember our party to-night!"

After they left, Clarissa meditated on "love and religion," on "how detestable they are," how cruel. Religion destroyed "the privacy of the soul," and love destroyed "everything that was fine, everything that was true," making people vulgar. She believed that life’s mystery does not lie in Miss Kilman’s bullying religion or in Peter’s self-degrading love. Big Ben struck 3:30 solemnly, then St. Margaret’s followed, more lively, as if reminding Clarissa to tend to the preparations for her party. 

Meanwhile, as Elizabeth and Miss Kilman walked, the latter felt a storm of conflicting, painful emotions. She had felt ugly, awkward, and humiliated in Clarissa’s presence, but at the same time she hated Clarissa and the money that made her beauty and elegance possible. Miss Kilman suffered miserably, knowing she would never be loved. Lately, the only thing that gave her pleasure, besides Elizabeth, was food. Elizabeth helped Miss Kilman buy a petticoat at the Army and Navy Store, then they had tea. Miss Kilman ate with intensity, while Elizabeth watched uncomfortably and pondered her character. Miss Kilman had taught her much¾she had never thought about the poor before, or that there were people who disputed England’s actions in the War. With her poverty, knowledge, and seriousness, "Miss Kilman made one feel so small." Still, Miss Kilman was a little repulsive and tiresome. Elizabeth tried to leave, but Miss Kilman, in secret agony, acted pathetic and made her stay. When Elizabeth finally left, Miss Kilman was "stricken once, twice, three times by shocks of suffering." Because Elizabeth had gone, "Mrs. Dalloway had triumphed." She lurched across the street to Westminster Cathedral, and sat in great disorder in a pew, trying to pray.

Elizabeth passed the next half-hour or so alone, riding a bus to the Strand and then walking, exploring. She was interested in things, but it bothered her to feel people watching her, as they had begun to do lately. People had begun to admire her strange, stately beauty, comparing her to "poplar trees, early dawn, hyacinths, fawns, running water, and garden lilies." Their admiration "made her life a burden to her, for she so much preferred being left alone to do what she liked in the country ... with her father and the dogs." At least now she was in the open air and free of Miss Kilman. She was not sure what to think of Miss Kilman anymore. Miss Kilman played a part in the world, but that part seemed less important the more Elizabeth explored the bustling, active world. Miss Kilman had given Elizabeth the idea of having a career, however. Elizabeth thought she might like to be something¾a doctor, a farmer, a member of Parliament. She wanted to do things, be things. She absorbed the sights and sounds of the city, felt the shifting winds and noticed the play of light and shadow on the buildings. Then, "calmly and competently," she boarded the return bus and headed home.

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