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She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.
Clarissa enters her home, feeling like a nun who has left the world and now returns to the familiar rituals of a convent. Although she does not believe in God, the moment is precious to her, like a bud on the tree of life. She is upset to learn that Richard has been invited to lunch at Lady Bruton’s house without her. Ascending to her attic bedroom, Clarissa continues to reflect on her own mortality.
As Clarissa takes off her yellow-feathered hat, she feels an emptiness at the heart of her life. She has slept alone since she was ill with influenza but is happy to be solitary. She does not feel passionate about Richard and believes she has failed him in this regard. She feels sexual attraction to women and thinks she was in love with her friend Sally Seton, who spent a summer at Bourton.
Sally Seton, in Clarissa’s memory, was a wild, cigarette-smoking, dark-haired rebel. Once Sally ran naked through the hallway at Bourton. Her behavior frequently shocked Clarissa’s old Aunt Helena. Clarissa and Sally planned to change the world. Under Sally’s influence, Clarissa began to read Plato in bed before breakfast and to read Shelley for hours. Clarissa remembers going downstairs in a white dress to meet Sally, thinking of a line from Shakespeare’s play Othello—if it were now to die ’twere now to be most happy.” Like Othello, she believes that if she were to die at that moment, she would be quite happy. Othello kills his wife, Desdemona, out of jealousy, then kills himself when he finds out his jealousy is unwarranted. The most exquisite moment of Clarissa’s life occurred on the terrace at Bourton when, one evening, Sally picked a flower and kissed her on the lips. For Clarissa, the kiss was a religious experience. Peter Walsh interrupted the young women on the terrace, as thoughts of him now interrupt Clarissa’s recollection of Sally. Clarissa always wanted Peter’s good opinion, and she wonders what he will think of her now.
The house buzzes with pre-party activity, and Clarissa begins to mend the green dress she will wear that night. She shows an interest in her servants and is sensitive to their workload. She wants to be generous and is grateful to her servants for allowing her to be so. She sits quietly with her sewing, thinking of life as a wave that begins, collects, and falls, only to renew and begin again.
The front doorbell rings, and Peter Walsh surprises Clarissa with an unexpected visit. Peter plays with his pocketknife, as he always did, and feels irritated with Clarissa for the kind of life she’s chosen to live with conservative Richard. Seeing that she’s been mending a dress, he assumes she has simply been wasting time with parties and society since he left for India, shortly after Clarissa rejected his marriage proposal. He says he is in town to arrange a divorce for his young fiancée, Daisy, who lives in India and has two children. He imagines the Dalloways consider him a failure. Clarissa feels like a frivolous chatterbox around Peter. Moved by his memories and made sensitive by the sheer struggle of living, Peter bursts into tears. To comfort him, Clarissa takes his hand and kisses him. She wonders briefly to herself whether she would have been happier if she had married Peter instead of Richard. Peter asks Clarissa if she is happy, but Elizabeth enters the room before she can answer. As Peter leaves, Clarissa calls after him, “Remember my party to-night!”
Middle-aged Clarissa struggles to find her role in a society that places great importance on fulfilling sexual stereotypes. Clarissa feels invisible, virginal, and nunlike now that she is over fifty and will not have any more children. She feels silly in her yellow-feathered hat in front of Hugh, because Hugh is handsome and well dressed, and in some ways Clarissa now feels as if she has no sexuality. Clarissa’s daughter, Elizabeth, is nearly grown, and now, with mothering behind her, Clarissa tries to discover her purpose in life, since women of her class and generation were not trained for careers. Clarissa feels her role is to be a meeting-point for others. She gathers people together, as she will at her party that night. No matter how uneasy she feels in her own life, she hides it so that others can feel comfortable. She sews the torn folds of her party dress back into place, masking both the flaws in the fabric and her own uneasiness. She even gathers herself together by pursing her lips and making her face into “one diamond.” She feels it is her job to be a refuge for others and to conceal the strain and artificiality of gathering diverse parts of life together.
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