Clarissa had a theory in those days . . . that since our apparitions, the part of us which appears, are so momentary compared with the other, the unseen part of us, which spreads wide, the unseen might survive, be recovered somehow attached to this person or that, or even haunting certain places after death . . . perhaps—perhaps.
Peter watches a child in Regent’s Park run into Rezia’s legs. Rezia helps the child to stand up and thinks that she cannot tolerate Septimus’s disturbing behavior anymore. Septimus says people are wicked. Once, by the river, he even suggested that he and Rezia kill themselves. He feels he knows the meaning of the world. A dog seems to become a man in front of his eyes. Rezia wishes she were back in Milan, making hats with her sisters. She tells Septimus it is time to go for his doctor’s appointment. Septimus believes his dead friend, Evans, is walking toward them in the park, but the man approaching is actually Peter Walsh.
To Peter, the Smiths are simply a young couple having a lovers’ quarrel. Peter marvels over the changes that have taken place in London since he was there five years ago, in 1918. Women are dressed well, and he likes their new habit of wearing makeup. He is impressed by the open-minded tone of newspapers and by the new sexually liberated generation.
Peter remembers Sally Seton flaring up at Hugh Whitbread in Bourton for his conservative views on women’s rights. Sally told Hugh he represented all that was detestable about the British middle class. Peter loathes Hugh and his pretentiousness but also envies Hugh’s success. He finds Richard Dalloway a dull but good man. Richard once said nobody should read Shakespeare’s sonnets, because doing so was like listening at a keyhole.
Constantly returning to thoughts of Clarissa, Peter tells himself he is not in love with her anymore and reflects on her worldliness and her love of rank and tradition. Peter laments Clarissa’s marriage, which forces her to quote Richard constantly, thus withholding her own thoughts. Peter feels that she has a genius for making her home a meeting place for young people and artists. He wonders if she gains insight from the philosophers she read as a girl, Huxley and Tyndall. When Clarissa was young, she saw a falling tree kill her sister, Sylvia. She did not become bitter, however, and continues to enjoy nearly everything.
Peter wonders if he is truly in love with Daisy, since he is not tortured over his relationship with her in the way he was with Clarissa. He is aware that he wants to marry her mainly because he doesn’t want her to marry anyone else. Peter hears someone opposite the Regent’s Park Tube station singing a song about love and death. The voice comes from a decrepit old woman, who at first seems sexless. She sings the line, “and if some one should see, what matter they?” Peter feels sorry for her and gives her a coin.
The point of view shifts to Rezia, who is also in the park. Initially, Rezia shares Peter’s pity for the old woman, but the more Rezia listens, the more the song comforts her. She becomes hopeful that the psychiatrist Sir William Bradshaw will cure Septimus.
The point of view changes again, becoming closer to that of a traditional omniscient third-person narrator. We see Septimus and Rezia crossing the street and learn something of Septimus’s past. Before the war, he was an aspiring poet and fell in love with Miss Isabel Pole, who gave lectures on Shakespeare. The point of view changes for a brief time to that of Mr. Brewer, Septimus’s boss at the time at Sibleys and Arrowsmith, auctioneers, valuers, land and estate agents in London. Mr. Brewer thought Septimus had potential and, noticing that Septimus looked weak and unhealthy, recommended he play football. When Septimus went to fight in World War I, he became inseparable from his officer, Evans. Evans died, however, and Septimus felt nothing. Scared by his own lack of emotion, he married a young Italian woman, Lucrezia, when he was billeted in Milan.
Septimus begins to see ugliness in everything. Rezia wishes to have children, but Septimus does not want to bring children into the world or perpetuate the suffering he endures. His illness grows more severe, and Dr. Holmes comes to treat him. Holmes says Septimus is in a funk and that a trip to the music hall and a healthy diet should solve the problem. He feels the trouble is Septimus’s nerves. Septimus sees Holmes as the embodiment of human nature, which has condemned him to death for his inability to feel. Finally, Holmes suggests that if the Smiths have no confidence in him, they should visit a specialist named Sir William Bradshaw.
Despite the disconnect between people in a modern urban setting like London, in this section we can see clearly the connection between Peter and Rezia. Woolf believed a complex web existed behind the “cotton wool” of the everyday, and this web allows her to make natural transitions between characters’ points of view. Often a memory or a visual image links characters, and in this section several major links appear. One is the child Peter watches as it runs into Rezia’s legs; another is the feeling of pity that an old woman singing in the street inspires in both Peter and Rezia. Parallels between Peter and Rezia allow us to compare as well as link them. Peter thinks of his rejection by Clarissa and cries that it was “awful, awful!” Several moments later, Rezia refers to Septimus’s mental illness with precisely the same expression. Peter’s self-pity at being spurned in love seems self-indulgent compared to the difficulties the Smiths must endure.
The old woman singing an ancient song is an affirming life force for Rezia. At first the woman seems sexless, and the song makes little sense. Both her physicality and her song become clearer under close observation. Though she is ancient, her song seems as though it will continue indefinitely, as will the love and death she sings of. Peter does not sense the joyfulness of this figure and feels only pity. Rezia, however, after her initial pity, draws strength from the woman and her words, “and if some one should see, what matter they?” Rezia is always very conscious of others’ watchful eyes, such as those belonging to her neighbor Mrs. Filmer, but the song gives her renewed hope and faith in life. Rezia feels that outside observers keep her and Septimus continually under their judging gaze, and when she listens to the old woman she is able to step outside the judging gaze, if only for a moment.
Members of the upper class, such as Peter, Hugh, and Mr. Brewer, often turn a blind eye to the suffering of others. Though Peter criticizes Clarissa’s worldliness, he is no better. He loves artifice and surfaces as much as anybody, admiring women’s makeup and a military parade. When he passes by the distressed Smiths in the park, he knows Clarissa would likely have stopped to talk with them to find out what was wrong. Though Clarissa does not run bazaars or take an organized interest in the plight of the poor, she might have spoken to them because of her interest in the world, an interest that keeps her from becoming callow. Hugh Whitbread, on the other hand, never looks beyond the socks displayed in a department store window, and Septimus’s boss, Mr. Brewer, resents the war mainly for what it did to his geranium beds. Though Clarissa is often as blind as anyone else, she is at least a close observer. She notices the world around her and wonders about the feelings of people beyond herself and her class.
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