Elizabeth enters the room where her mother rests, while Miss Kilman waits outside on the landing, wearing an unflattering mackintosh coat. She is poor and feels Clarissa is foolish and condescending. Miss Kilman thinks she has been cheated out of happiness. She was a victim of anti-German discrimination during the war, due to her German ancestry and to the sympathetic attitude she displays toward the Germans, and the school where she taught fired her. She became religious two years and three months ago. Now she feels she does not envy women like Clarissa but merely pities them.
When Clarissa gets up to greet Miss Kilman, Miss Kilman wishes to fell her like a tree. She wants to make Clarissa cry. Clarissa is shocked by the hateful look in Miss Kilman’s eyes and feels Miss Kilman has stolen Elizabeth from her. After a moment, Miss Kilman’s threat seems to shrink for Clarissa, and Clarissa laughs and says goodbye. She calls out to remember her party. When they are gone, Clarissa thinks that love and religion are the cruelest things in the world.
Clarissa watches an old woman in the house opposite hers climb the stairs and look out the window, unaware that anybody watches. Clarissa often watches her do this and feels it means something good, which she thinks is the possibility of true privacy. She does not think Miss Kilman’s religion or Peter Walsh’s being in love solves the mystery of the human soul. She has her room and the old woman has hers.
Miss Kilman thinks Clarissa laughed at her for her ugliness. She struggles to control her desire to resemble Clarissa and prays to God. All she lives for, besides Elizabeth, is food, tea, and a hot-water bottle at night. Miss Kilman thinks it is unjust that she must suffer while Clarissa has no hardships.
At the Army and Navy Stores, Miss Kilman buys a petticoat. Elizabeth guides her around like an unwieldy battleship. They have tea and Miss Kilman eats greedily, feeling resentment when a child next to them eats a pink cake she had her eye on. Miss Kilman tells Elizabeth that all professions are open to women of her generation and makes her consider the plight of the poor. Elizabeth regrets that Clarissa and Miss Kilman do not get along, though she is aware that Clarissa makes an effort. When Clarissa offered Miss Kilman flowers sent from Bourton, Miss Kilman squashed them in a bunch. Miss Kilman’s self pity becomes overwhelming, and Elizabeth longs to leave her. Miss Kilman is desperate to keep Elizabeth at the table with her, but eventually Elizabeth leaves. Miss Kilman goes to Westminster Abbey and prays.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth gets on an omnibus to the Strand and rides through a busy working-class neighborhood that her family never visits. People have begun to notice Elizabeth’s beauty, and she is obliged to go to parties. She would rather be in the country with her father and the dogs. She considers what she might do for a career, such as become a doctor or a farmer or go into Parliament. She is lazy and feels these ideas are silly, so she will say nothing about it. Elizabeth knows Clarissa will want her at home, so she boards another bus and returns home.
Miss Kilman bullies with her religion just as Sir William Bradshaw bullies with his science. The world has treated Miss Kilman badly because of her poverty, her ugliness, even her German name. She seeks revenge and wants to make Clarissa, who is likeable and attractive, unhappy the way she is. A falling tree killed Clarissa’s sister, and Miss Kilman would like to “fell” Clarissa. Trees, with their extensive root systems, are like the soul, so this metaphor suggests that Miss Kilman is out to kill souls, just as Sir William is. Clarissa feels this murderous impulse masquerades as love and finds the deception horrifying, especially since she believes Elizabeth is vulnerable to it. Clarissa sees religious, scientific, and romantic belief as false justification for the flaws and weaknesses in people’s characters, and she does not feel that these beliefs can explain the mystery of human beings’ isolation in a world of activity. Clarissa believes that everyone is responsible for themselves and for others. As a born-again Christian, Miss Kilman seeks to convert Elizabeth to her beliefs the way Sir William seeks to convert people to his idea of sanity. Because Miss Kilman is a woman, she does not have the opportunities for success as Sir William, but both characters thirst after domination in similar ways.
Elizabeth does not return Miss Kilman’s lesbian attraction, as Clarissa suspected, but she is attracted to the new ideas and options that Miss Kilman puts before her, even if her laziness precludes her from pursuing them. Elizabeth enjoys exploring London for an afternoon and considers career options, but she is not a complex thinker like Clarissa. Though new careers are now open to women, Elizabeth is too passive to delve deeply into new territory. Richard says that if he had had a boy, he would have encouraged him to work, but he does not encourage Elizabeth in this regard. While the social climate is changing for women, it does not seem as though Elizabeth will take a groundbreaking path; it seems likely that she will probably follow her parents into an upper-class life.
The old woman Clarissa watches in the window reveals the human conflict at the heart of the novel—the interplay between communication and privacy. Clarissa struggles to understand why people need privacy, if they need it at all, and what makes communication so difficult. Clarissa and the old woman have been neighbors for years, but, though Clarissa knows the woman’s movements, she does not know the woman’s name. The woman is a mystery, and her distance is both a comfort and an ache for Clarissa. The human soul must exist alone and look to itself for answers, but it also craves communication and the company of others. The rooms of a house are a metaphor for the soul, a safe but empty place where one can hide from or ignore the judgmental eyes of the world. Like the house metaphor, the figure of the old woman also suggests both the solace of the human soul and its loneliness. The soul can be shared with others only to a small degree, though Clarissa tries to solve this dilemma by throwing parties and constantly calling out to people to remember them. Clarissa’s reaching out is also limited, and no one even considers that Clarissa will invite Miss Kilman to the party that evening. Before Septimus’s suicide, he sees an old man on the staircase opposite his window, a scene that parallels Clarissa’s watching the old woman and emphasizes the extreme loneliness of characters living in their own private rooms.
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