Mr. Dalloway

By Robin Lippincott

Sarabande Books

Copyright © 1999 Robin Lippincott. All rights reserved.
ISBN: 1-889330-28-0

Chapter One

Mr. Dalloway said he would buy the flowers himself.

    For he wanted to surround Clarissa with them; to choosethose flowers, those colours, which would set her off to the bestpossible advantage; which would complement her. But whatcolours those would be, he had no idea. And so he had askedLucy (now he was applying his bowler hat as he examinedhimself in the hallway looking-glass). And what was it Lucy hadsaid (she was polishing silver at the time; he remembered therefracted artificial light slicing through the room): pinks;lavenders; shades of yellow; periwinkle blues? "Pale colours,sir," he thought she had said. Yes (he straightened his tie), thatwas it.

    Clarissa deserved it after all. For she (he thought now,pausing in the hallway and broodily pondering the past year,as a dark cloud may race across the sky on an otherwise sunnyday), she has been entirely patient and good throughout all ofthis. It was a phrase which had first come to him months ago,one which now, upon occasion, repeated itself—a bannermarched to and fro across the floor of his brain: Clarissa has beenentirely patient and good throughout all of this (he might have declaredon the floor of the House). Perhaps it was because she hadsurprised him so much, by her response: her tolerance, hergoodness, her acceptance (and because of his lack of thosequalities? he wondered now). And because it was true (thetruth does resound, he thought). He picked up his umbrella.

    "I understand," she had said.

    And so he was off (Big Ben chimed the hour—teno'clock); out the door, out of his house and the inherentinteriority of those—or any—walls. (But always, always, in theexhilarating moment of exit, he would recall his excitement,as a boy of seven, standing in the doorway at Fellstree, withhis brother Duncan just on the other side, calling to him tocome out. Oh, it was bracing! "My best ideas have come tome out of doors," Richard Dalloway had long said.) A man ofthe world he was now and had been for almost thirty years;yes, a former MP (he had resigned during the past year—hewould write a history of Lady Bruton's family); Mr. Dallowaywas off; out; walking; walking in the heart of London, hisLondon, his own Westminster.

    Through Dean's Yard he strode almost whistling—a grey,misty June morning, past Westminster Abbey, of course(where, crossing the street to Victoria, a former colleague—whatwas his name? Arnold? Alfred? yes, Alfred Hitchens—tippedhis hat). And how fine it all is, Mr. Dalloway thought ashe made his way through the neighborhood he had called hisown for the past—how many years? (He and Clarissa hadmoved there soon after marrying in, when was it? thirty fromtwenty-seven, ah yes, 1897, an occasion they would be celebratingthat very evening.) How free he felt, he reflected (for he wasstill, somewhat, in the interior mode, inside himself), how lightand able to enjoy it all, to embrace it and take it all in for the firsttime in—had a year really passed? This was, he felt now, hischance for a new beginning.

    Pay attention, he told himself as he walked. What was itBlitzer had advised? (For he did not have to see Dr. WilliamBradshaw, whom neither he nor Clarissa liked or trusted—andwho, in fact, Clarissa had said was a beast. For she would neverforgive him, she said—coming to her party several years backjust hours after that poor young man, his patient, had killedhimself; and then announcing it at her party! So they had foundBlitzer—"Blitzer-not-Bradshaw," Clarissa called him.) Exercise.Fresh air. That was what Blitzer had prescribed. And to noticethings outside of oneself: notice the park, the trees, the grass,the feel and the smell of the morning air ("take exercise;oxygenate yourself"), the sounds of the city, that building.Observe everything (Richard Dalloway told himself now)—forthis is life, and it does not last.

    And then there was the party to consider, the party thatvery night; he should turn his mind to that. It had struck himseveral months ago that Clarissa had always been the one togive parties (for she understood), and he thought it was timesomebody gave a party for her, particularly now, on the occasionof their thirtieth wedding anniversary, and at a time when hewas worried about her heart—an hour's rest every day afterlunch had been advised. And so he had decided to do it, to givea party for her, for their thirtieth anniversary. But then he hadimmediately wondered how on earth one gave a party? Hehadn't the foggiest; he would ask his sisters, Edith would know,she would help him. And so he had.

    It was splendid—his particular idea, his vision for the party.In his more grandiose moments, which had been few and farbetween during the past year, he thought of it as the perfectunion of man and nature; or, at the very least, when he was notfeeling so grand, it was simply a marvelous, lucky confluence.But how it would come off now rested almost exclusively onthe weather and whether or not it would clear. ("Whether theweather," he thought he had heard someone say.) It was notlooking good, particularly in London; but he had bought uptwo cars of the special trains that were being run, which wasterribly expensive but, he hoped, worth it in the end. And hehad read in the morning Times that Sir Frank Dyson, theAstronomer Royal, had said about the all-important weather: "Ishall go to bed hopeful." And so he, too, would hope for the best.

    But almost immediately another of Richard Dalloway'sconcerns invaded his mind: how would it go, his being aroundso many people at once, with his nerves so recently shot andfrayed and still somewhat raw? Clarissa had always handledthings. Would he be able to cope with it all—the demands, theattention, the stimulation? And would people know about him;would they know his secret? Or would he merely spend theentire time paralyzed with the fear that they knew?

    Trying to heed his own command to pay attention, Mr.Dalloway now noticed a young mother and her two chubby-kneedsons sitting on a bench in the park. The mother herselfappeared frightfully young and pale and waif-like and bothboys had to be less than five. Looking at them sitting on thebench dressed in matching navy blue suits, kicking their feettogether and giggling as a duck defecated in front of them, theirwhite teeth a milky blue in that light, it was all he could do tostay on the path; all he could do to keep himself from wavering,from falling off, into the abyss; from collapsing in a heap, rightthen and there. Of course the mere configuration—two youngboys so close together in age—reminded him powerfully ofDuncan and himself. But not only that: he had always wishedhe and Clarissa had had a boy—a son or sons; but afterElizabeth was born it wasn't possible. He walked on.

    Still a handsome man, thought the wealthy widow StellaBowles, a Westminster neighbour, as she spotted RichardDalloway walking along a path in Green Park; a strappingspecimen of a man, really. Must be in his mid-fifties by now,she reasoned; but he looks at least ten years younger, noticingthat he hadn't yet gone white, just grey at the temples, which,people said, was distinguished. Always did take care of himself;he reminded her of a country gentleman, he did; a countrygentleman just returned home from fox-hunting.

    "Will we see you at the party?" he called to her across thesurrounding din of traffic—omnibuses, motor cars, vans, taxicabs. They were on separate, distant paths, and she couldn'tpossibly risk the damp grass with her white shoes; so shenodded and answered "yes," that "they" would see her. Thoughtruth be told (now she looked away from him), truth be told shewould rather not go, though she knew it was something special;knew that Richard himself and not Clarissa was giving theparty (she had never cared much for Clarissa—she was tootinselly); and so go she supposed she must (her George wouldhave wanted it). It was a bit of a surprise, this party—theinvitation saying merely to meet at the entrance of King's CrossStation at nine-thirty that evening. Most curious. And quiteuncharacteristic of him too, she thought; what did he have inmind? But go she would, to King's Cross, at nine-thirty, to theirparty—out of respect and admiration and, yes, something of aneye for Richard Dalloway (she turned back to look at him a finaltime as he proceeded up the path). How the world loves sucha man, she thought, noticing the spring in his walk. The worldloves such a man and it is his, the world is his.

    Jolly to be recognised, Mr. Dalloway mused, noticing howthe ducks in the pond seemed to glide across the surface of thewater (he saw something of Clarissa in them}; to see and beseen by those one knows (but did one know anyone, really?); tohave recognition. But then the dark cloud raced across his mindagain, obscuring brighter thoughts: If she, Stella Bowles, only knew thetruth. If she only knew. It was one of the refrains or chants which hadhaunted him over the past year (for there were many—thetruth resounds). If she only knew. If he only knew. If they only knew.What? What would happen? (Well, Mr. Dalloway thoughtnow, pulling at his lapels, that is a thought I do not have toentertain, nor should I, on this historically important, thispersonally significant June day—a point on which he wascertain Dr. Blitzer would concur. For only Clarissa knew. Andshe had understood.)

    At the busy intersection of Picadilly, a lovely, young, red-hairedwoman wearing a red coat and sitting on the top of amoving omnibus stood up—clutching onto the rail—andwaved, then blew kisses to a handsome, somewhat older man ina black mackintosh standing on the ground. The man receivedthem with a smack to the side of his face and waved back. (Ah,love, Richard Dalloway thought. Love.)

    But then a panic! Where was Clarissa, his Clarissa, this Juneday, this very morning, now, this instant (just after ten)? For amoment he did not know, could not remember. His mindraced back to earlier in the day: breakfast; Clarissa—her blueeyes blazing (still lovely in the morning light)—trying tohoodwink him into telling her more about the party (and histeasing her); saying how much she was looking forward toseeing their Elizabeth, who would be coming in on the trainafter noon; Grizzle's animation upon hearing his mistress'sname (and Clarissa giving him a scrap of bacon from the table,which she knew he frowned upon, but that was Clarissa); andLucy coming in and out of the room, and ...? Oh yes, that wasit: she had said she had an appointment with Dolly Lansdown,her new dressmaker, in Bloomsbury; then lunch in Mayfairwith Lady Hosford.

    Yes, now he remembered, for she had said, too, thatperhaps their paths would cross that morning, perhaps theywould run into each other; and he had taken her hand and saidthat he would like that (for they had grown closer in the pastyear). And then together, at Clarissa's instigation and with herencouragement, they had set about remembering those many,many years ago when they had first come in to London together.

    Was it sentimental to be thinking of the past? he hadwondered aloud. Perhaps. But Clarissa said it was onlyappropriate, only right, on their anniversary. And what fun ithad been (Clarissa said), coming in to London together. Whata treat. It was one of the things which had drawn them togetherfrom the beginning—both of them raised in the country, rarelybrought to London: the Parrys had taken Clarissa and her sisterSylvia to Kensington Gardens once in the spring to see QueenVictoria, she said; and his parents had brought in their brood—thefour girls, and him and Duncan, on the very same occasion(for he could still remember Duncan, a year younger than hewas—four at the time—standing in the lush grass, pointing andsaying, "Look, Dickie. The Queen's fat!" How they had laughed.But oh, how their father had reprimanded them afterwards:"Such disrespect for Her Majesty. Really. Well, I won't have it").Had they met then, as children, that day in KensingtonGardens—she and Richard? Clarissa often wondered aloud. Itwas possible. But then, and still today, they had that thrill for,that appreciation of the city which only those not raised therecould have.

    How they loved it. Adored it, really. And they had sharedthat adoration, which appeared to double, to be a looking-glassimage of their growing love for one another, so that the words"London" and "The Dalloways" seemed to join hands anddance. But nearing Bond Street—he had just passed St.James's—Mr. Dalloway was saddened by the realisation that itwas now most unlikely that his and Clarissa's paths would crossthat morning; for he was almost there. Perhaps they wouldmeet on his return, he thought. He would like that. And he felthe needed it, to see her. For he had grown less sure of himselfover the past year; had been shaken to his very core; everything,absolutely everything that he had ever known—beliefs,ideas, thoughts, feelings—all had been thrown off. But it wouldbe all right, he reassured himself now—relaxation was the key,Dr. Blitzer had said: his and Clarissa's paths were inextricablycrossed, mixed. There was a connecting thread between themwhich stretched as far away as one had to go from the other, athread which not only connected them, that very moment andforever, but which also always pulled them back together fromwherever they had been.

There's Shaftesbury, Clarissa Dalloway thought as sheapproached it (for she had to be especially attentive to the streetnames this morning, as she had never before been to the homeof Dolly Lansdown, her new dressmaker, since Sally Parker hadretired to Ealing). But she knew the city well—there was a mapin her mind; she would find it. She knew the city well becauseshe had walked it time and time again; first with Richard, earlyon in their courtship, and then alone, as herself, as Mrs.Dalloway. And how she loved it—walking in London. Whatjoy, she thought. She and Richard had, that very morning, beenremembering when they had used to come in to Londontogether. How exciting and exhilarating it was (she could feelthe excitement now; her heart was racing), walking aboutLondon. (It was still exciting.) But then. Together. It was almosttoo much.

    Richard had always loved Trafalgar Square best; he hadsaid it was his favourite place in all of London—its vast, open,welcoming space. There was the statue of Nelson, of course, ofwhom Richard knew a great deal, having read history. But also,what was it he always said?—that it somehow took him back tothe time when the Romans had landed in England. Yes, thatwas it. (Did he still feel that way? she wondered. She wouldhave to ask.) And what did she love best? she asked herself now.Kensington Gardens? The Serpentine? Bond Street? Oh, itwas so like her not to be able to choose one thing.

    "There's Clarissa," the well-upholstered Hugh Whitbreadexclaimed to his wife Evelyn, pausing at the corner of CharingCross and Tottenham Court Roads and watching the figure ofClarissa Dalloway proceed down the latter. They had knowneach other since they were children. And didn't she lookmarvelous, strolling along (he thought to himself); the verypicture of June—all in yellow like a parakeet (and the yellow insuch stark contrast to the grey day, so that she presented quitethe silhouette), wearing a feathered yellow hat and carryingherself so upright. Always so stylishly dressed.

    "She looks well," Evelyn Whitbread said, in a tone implyinginsult, perhaps because she herself was not.

    "Clarissa!" Hugh Whitbread called out to her, waving hishand about in the air (he was genuinely glad to see her). Butshe did not hear him (his spirits fell). It was all right, HughWhitbread told himself, for he would see her that very night,both she and Richard, at their party. (What could they have planned?Hugh Whitbread had wondered since receiving the invitation.What could it be?) Well, he finally had an idea—an informed ideaat that, and he was certain he was right; but Evelyn would notenter into the spirit of the thing, of trying to guess; for Evelyn,who had said she would not go to their party, was not amused:"Who ever heard of such a thing?" she said. "A party that latein the evening. And at a railway station, no less. Really!"

    Ah, London, Mr. Dalloway continued, now entering BondStreet (Bond Street shimmered and shone before him; aresplendent, glittering stretch). Back when he and Clarissawere courting he would pick her up at Bourton, and theywould take the train in together, arriving at Waterloo, thenwalk across the great Hungerford footbridge. The arrival wassplendid, always splendid. (The city was quieter then, henoticed.) It seemed to open up to them, to extend its huge armsand embrace them, to invite them, pull them in, like a favouriteuncle does his niece (just as he himself did with his own nieces).And then once they had arrived at Trafalgar Square; well, itwas—what? Splendour. Glory. Rapture. It took his breath away!

    But here Richard Dalloway paused at the curb: wherewas it Clarissa had said she went to buy flowers? She hadtold him the rummaged through his mind) ... J, K, L, M (forso his conscious mind worked), oh yes, that was it: M—Mulberry's.

    Mulberry's, Mulberry's, Mulberry's, he mumbled to himself—amouthful. But there was Hatchards' book shop. Hestopped and looked in the window: announcements fromDuckworth, Faber (Robbie!), the Hogarth Press. What wasnew? Well now let's see (Mr. Dalloway took out his spectacles):something by that Freud fellow, a Viennese doctor, a psychologist,whose theories everyone, or so he had heard, was discussing atthe moment—perhaps it was Blitzer who had mentioned him;rather controversial he gathered. What else? A Mr. T. S. Eliot,a poet; he did not read poetry; leave poetry, Shakespeare and allthat, to Clarissa, to the ladies (he thought reflexively); the latestnovel by that Mrs. Woolf (who, he thought now, adjusting hishat in the window, despite her keenly perceptive mind and—hemust admit—considerable descriptive powers, had notcaptured it all, not all of it, in her novel of two years past: for shedid not know; could not have known—only Clarissa knew); and thenew Keynes—The End of Laissez-Faire. Should he pop in, just for amoment? he wondered. Buy a novel for Clarissa? Something onanimals for Elizabeth (for she was studying to be a veterinarian)?Or some new history, or a biography, for himself? No, not thismorning: he would continue on his way, fulfill his mission.

    Mulberry's, Mulberry's, he munched the words. Palecolours at Mulberry's. Ah, there it was. He pushed through theswing doors and was greeted by a myriad of scents waftingthrough the air. There were so many scents and colours, in fact,that he felt submerged into an altered reality, a thick, viscous,overly pungent fantasy world; it was daunting (his nerves werestill raw}.

    Advancing through the shop like a lioness traverses thejungle terrain, a red-handed Miss Pym (Clarissa had said to askfor her, that she would assist him) approached, asking if shemight help.

    Indeed, she could, Richard Dalloway thanked her,introducing himself; for he knew nothing of flowers (he lookedaround again—rainbows. He took a deep breath—perfume).He told her what he wanted—pale colours—and she noddedand smiled (for that was her job). Inquiring after Mrs. Dalloway(a fine lady she is, Miss Pym thought; she had always liked her),she proceeded to name the flowers as she pulled them out ofthe water: delphiniums, carnations, sweet peas, dahlias,peonies, anemones, roses, irises, freesia, lilac, lilies of the valley,the list went on. But he knew nothing of flowers, he said (treeswere more in his line). And so he would leave it to her. Theywere to be delivered.

    But just when he said "delivered," as if a judgement hadbeen cast down upon him from out of the heavens, a loudnoise—a pop, a boom—sounded from the street outside.Richard Dalloway and Miss Pym both rushed to the window.Had someone, someone important perhaps, been shot?

    "Sounded like a cannon going off, it did," Miss Pym said,scouring the street scene, laying one hand against the side of herface. "Or a rifle shot."

    A crowd gathered, descended (like crows to carrion, RichardDalloway thought) in the direction of the offending noise.

    Millicent Gordon, a healthy, middle-aged, heavily paintedBath matron in London for the day, said she was sure it was theQueen, that the Queen had been shot (and here she clutchedher heart).

    But wizened old Aaron Frye, who had seen it all in hisseventy years, who had been a lamplighter in Chelsea in themid-to-late seventies; who had lost a grandson in the War,Aaron Frye heard Millicent Gordon and laughed out loud."The Queen!" he cried, amused. He was sure it couldn't be theQueen—for the Queen was in the palace.

    So they hoped, said the Hughes's, a young couple fromAmerica on their honeymoon, upon hearing Aaron Frye. "Ihope it's not the Queen," said Cindy Hughes. "That would ruineverything." For like hundreds of thousands (millions, perhaps)of others who had made the pilgrimage before them, they wereon their way to Buckingham Palace.

    "A tyre," Richard Dalloway surmised, deflating the momentas he took in view—amidst the crowd—one corner of an off-balancemotor car standing in a small, black puddle of rubberdirectly across the street. It was nothing. And yet it was somethingin that it had completely exploded his composure; hissureness—both the noise and the ensuing, hungry crowd. Orperhaps it was the stimulation of the shop that was affecting himpoorly, for now he felt not quite like himself. Did she reallythink pale colours, he asked Miss Pym; did she really think palecolours best for Clarissa, or rather Mrs. Dalloway—his wife,for she knew her after all?

    Indeed, she did, Miss Pym assured him; it was a fine choice,the best (impressed she was that a man would know thesethings. How she longed for such a man).

    Big Ben struck the hour as Richard Dalloway exited theflorist shop, though not, of course, until he had profuselythanked Miss Pym (who had become positively coquettish).As he listened to the bells—one, two, three—he imaginedconcentric golden rings floating through the air, then settling,melting into the earth. Time was passing. Four, five, six (thegolden rings floated, fell); seven, eight, nine (the rings melted;the earth absorbed them); ten, eleven. The bells stopped, andthe quiet brought with it now a sense of expectation. Ofanticipation. Would something, would someone, answer?