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Her remembrances of Peter, though, are different because they have the effect of affirming for her that she made the right decision in rejecting him. As she thinks of him, her conflict is not that she regrets not marrying him. Instead, the conflict for her is that it underscores how it is hard to actually know oneself and others. She calls him "her dear Peter" and says "he could be intolerable; he could be impossible; but adorable to walk with on a morning like this." She also remarks that "they might be parted for hundreds of years, she and Peter; she never wrote a letter and his were dry sticks; but suddenly it would come over her, If he were with me now what would he say?" (8-9). The past has a powerful effect on Clarissa Dalloway, but the effect is not the same as it is on Peter. Perhaps the reason for this is that she was the one in control of the decision regarding her marriage.
The world of flux in which post-WWI Britain found itself shows in Clarissa's thoughts. In considering her life and how she had gotten by with her amount of knowledge, she thinks, "She would not say of any one in the world now that they were this or were that [...] and she would not say of Peter, she would not say of herself, I am this, I am that" (11). Like Peter, Clarissa is not entirely sure that she knows herself. Clarissa is more in control of her own life than Peter is, though. When she thinks of Peter, she thinks of his foolishness. Clarissa considers her irritation with Peter and reflects that "it was his silly unconventionality, his weakness; his lack of the ghost of a notion what any one else was feeling that annoyed her, had always annoyed her; and now at his age, how silly!" (69). Yet, her feelings for him show the flux of the time period.
Despite her assertions that she is glad she did not accept and marry him thirty years ago, she has moments where she considers how she feels "extraordinarily at her ease with him and light-hearted, all in a clap it came over her, If I had married him, this gaiety would have been mine all day!" (70). She even has a romanticized notion of Peter going on a heroic voyage and impulsively wishes he would take her, too. The feelings subside as quickly as they came, though, and Peter is left to wonder how "she still had the power, as she came tinkling, rustling, still had the power as she came across the room, to make the moon, which he detested, rise at Bourton on the terrace in the summer sky" (71). It is no wonder that Peter could not get over his rejection from Clarissa, he had not been able to replace her affection and esteem with anything else throughout his half a century of life.
The time period of the setting has a great effect upon Peter and his way of dealing with the losses of the past. England suffered greatly during WWI and the society was profoundly affected. Peter Walsh had been away for five years following the Great War, and, as an indication of its impact on him, he says, "Those five years -- 1918 to 1923 -- had been, he suspected, somehow very important. People looked different" (108). Although Peter cannot come to grips with the idea of loss, he also recognizes what he has gained in his life. He considers it "the compensation of growing old" that "the passions remain as strong as ever, but one has gained -- at last! -- the power which adds the supreme flavour to existence, -- the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it round, slowly, in the light. A terrible confession it was...at the age of fifty-three one scarcely needed people any more. Life itself, every moment of it...was enough" (119-120). For him, though, Clarissa is like the life that had eluded him.
The interruption of the Great War is, itself, a powerful force in the novel. It not only helps explain why Peter cannot come to grips with his past, it also points to a fundamental flaw in human relationships. Clarissa had married Richard Dalloway and had been, as she asserts, very happy as a result. However, their relationship is strong because they both retain privacy within it. Had Clarissa married Peter, there would have been too much intimacy, and she seems to believe that would not have been good for her. The failure or lack of communication shows the disconnect that pervaded modernist society. Richard Dalloway rushes home with flowers with a heroic intention of proclaiming his love for his wife, but he finds that he cannot say the words. He explains, "the time comes when it can't be said; one's too shy to say it, he thought...'I love you.' Why not? Really it was a miracle thinking of the war, and thousands of poor chaps, with all their lives before them, shoveled together, already half forgotten; it was a miracle. Here he was walking across London to say to Clarissa in so many words that he loved her" (174). When faced with his wife, though, "he could not bring himself to say he loved her; not in so many words," and, yet, "she understood; she understood without his speaking; his Clarissa" (179). The kind of unspoken language between them could be reticence and could be understanding, but it is clear that the dialogue would have been much different had Clarissa married the considerably more emotional Peter Walsh.
Clarissa Dalloway has room for one great passion in her life -- she loved life. Her grand parties that others considered frivolous were her "offering" to life. Perhaps it is the powerful force of life that Clarissa represents that continues to draw Peter toward her and also back toward their youthful times at Bourton. How can he relinquish life or accept the fact that it rejected him? In the end, he wonders "What is the terror? What is this ecstasy? [...] What is it that fills me with extraordinary excitement? It is Clarissa, he said. For there she was" (296). The powerful life force that Clarissa represents will not allow him to escape her. The post-war uncertainty and flux of his time period leaves Peter drifting and searching for meaning.
In both Pride and Prejudice and Mrs. Dalloway, the social norms of courtship and marriage encounter rough terrain. Darcy endures a rejection, but is able to clear up the misunderstanding that precipitated it. His happy ending was part and parcel of his time period when happy endings were plausible. Peter Walsh endures a rejection that he has no opportunity to rebut because Clarissa's betrothal to Richard Dalloway had the form of an unarguable understanding. Peter's loss colored his entire life and caused him, in the opinion of others, to make a fool of himself over and over with women. Because Virginia Woolf was writing during a time when the old rules were out and the new ones were unwritten, her characters reflect the uncertainty with which people conducted their lives in the post-World War I era. Happy endings were not perhaps, impossible, but it was unclear what form such a happy ending would take. For Peter, having a glimpse of his unrequited love, Clarissa, fills him with "extraordinary excitement," but the party comes to a close and nothing changes for him.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice.…[continue]
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