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She felt somehow very like him—the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away. The clock was striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun. But she must go back. She must assemble.
The Dalloway servants rush around and make last-minute party preparations. The prime minister is supposed to arrive, but this does not make any difference to the cook, Mrs. Walker, who is overwhelmed with work. Dinner over, the female guests go upstairs and the men call to the kitchen for the Imperial Tokay, a sweet wine. Elizabeth worries about her dog and tells a servant to check on it.
More people arrive and the men join the women upstairs. Clarissa says, “How delightful to see you!” to everybody, which Peter finds insincere. He wishes he had stayed at home. Clarissa fears her party will be a failure. She is aware of Peter’s critical eye but thinks she would rather be drenched in fire while attempting her party than fade like her meek cousin, Ellie Henderson.
The wind blows a curtain, and Clarissa sees a guest beat it back and go on talking. She thinks her party may be a success after all. Guests continue to arrive, but Clarissa does not enjoy herself. She feels anyone could take her role as hostess but is also somewhat proud of her party’s success. The hired butler, Mr. Wilkins, announces Lady Rosseter, who turns out to be Sally Seton, now married. Sally heard about the party through a mutual friend and has arrived unexpectedly. Clarissa remembers the moment in her youth when she was thrilled merely to think of being under the same roof with Sally. She thinks Sally has lost her luster, but they laugh and embrace and seem ecstatic to see one another. With her old bravado and egotism, Sally says she has “five enormous boys.”
The prime minister arrives, interrupting Clarissa’s reunion with Sally. He does his rounds and retires to a little room with Lady Bruton. Peter Walsh catches sight of Hugh Whitbread and criticizes him mercilessly in his thoughts. Meanwhile, he watches Clarissa in her “silver-green mermaid’s dress” and feels she still has the power to sum up all of life in a moment, merely by passing by and catching her scarf in some woman’s dress. Peter reminds himself that he is not in love with her anymore.
Clarissa sees the prime minister off and thinks she does not feel passionate about seeing anyone. She prefers the intense hatred inspired by Miss Kilman, since the emotion is heartfelt. She returns to the party and mingles with her guests, all of whom seem to have failed in their lives in some regard. Mrs. Hilbery tells Clarissa she looks like her mother, and Clarissa is moved. Old Aunt Helena arrives and talks about orchids and Burma. Sally catches Clarissa by the arm, but Clarissa is busy and says she will come back later, meaning that she will talk to her old friends when the others have gone. Everyone's thoughts dip constantly into the past.
Clarissa must speak to the Bradshaws. She dislikes Sir William but tolerates Lady Bradshaw, who tells Clarissa about Septimus’s suicide. Clarissa goes into the little room where the prime minister sat so she can be alone. She feels angry that the Bradshaws brought death to her party. She ruminates about Septimus’s death and thinks he has preserved something that is obscured in her own life. She sees his death as an attempt at communication. She remembers the moment she felt she could die at Bourton in total happiness. She considers the young man’s death her own disgrace.
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