For in marriage a little license, a little independence there must be between people living together day in day out in the same house; which Richard gave her and she him.
Clarissa makes clear that this “little license” is one of the main reasons she chose Richard over Peter. Peter wanted to share everything with her and wanted her to give up her privacy entirely to be with him. He wanted to talk about everything, and Clarissa found that intolerable. Although she does not love Richard passionately, they do have a solid marriage and a mutual restraint. They each respect the other’s freedom.
[O]ne doesn’t want people after fifty; one doesn’t want to go on telling women they are pretty; that’s what most men of fifty would say, Peter Walsh thought, if they were honest.
While walking in Regent’s Park, Peter Walsh muses about getting older and how perspectives change. People want to be more alone, he thinks. They crave their privacy in both thought and action. This idea seems incongruous with his earlier behavior in front of Clarissa and also with the jealousy he sometimes feels with Daisy. Peter lives as a man consumed and confused by conflicting emotions. He wants to love, but he remains unsuccessful at love. He cares what others think of him, but he doesn’t truly care about others.
And there is a dignity in people; a solitude; even between husband and wife a gulf; and that one must respect, thought Clarissa, watching him open the door; for one would not part with it oneself, or take it, against his will, from one’s husband, without losing one’s independence, one’s self-respect—something, after all, priceless.
Clarissa reflects on how she views a healthy marriage. Before he headed off to the House of Commons, Richard brought Clarissa roses, and the two shared a loving moment. During this time, he intended to tell her he loves her, but instead they held hands and felt happy. As a married couple, they both value their privacy. They are not demonstrative with each other. They are not passionate. Their lives intersect, but they do not overlap.
Somehow one respected that—that old woman looking out of the window, quite unconscious that she was being watched. There was something solemn in it—but love and religion would destroy that, whatever it was, the privacy of the soul.
After Elizabeth leaves to go shopping with Miss Kilman, Clarissa is alone again to think about her situation and what she cares about most. Seeing an older woman through a window in a nearby building leads her to think about dignity and privacy, two principles she holds most dear. She believes that love and religion threaten these qualities. This moment foreshadows her private musings, during the party, about life and death as she ponders Septimus Warren Smith’s suicide.
[I]t is the privilege of loneliness; in privacy one may do as one chooses. One might weep if no one saw.
Peter Walsh has just seen and heard the ambulance, likely bearing Septimus Warren Smith, which leads him to think about death and hospitals and time and friendships. Peter, an emotional man by nature, prone to passions and melancholy and making mistakes, contrasts with the prudent, steady, and conservative Richard Dalloway. He wept in front of Clarissa, to his shame, and questions his current predicament of loving a married woman with two children.