Character of Peter Walsh in Mrs. Dalloway
Table of Contents
Peter Walsh Personality
Peter Walsh occupies an important place in the novel, which is second only to that of Clarissa Dalloway. He is a middle-aged man of over fifty years of age when he returns from India after an absence of five years. Clarissa thinks that he is the same, “the same queer look, the same check suit, a little out of the awfully well, and just the same.” He is habituated to fidgeting with a pocket-knife and is made real and vivid through this habit of his vanity, ambition, idealism, vain passion, courage.
His early interests
He is introduced to us first not directly, but through the “stream of consciousness” of Mrs. Dalloway. This is an indirect method of introducing a person. Mrs. Dalloway lived at Bourton about thirty years ago and it was at this time that Peter Walsh was a constant visitor to her home, being drawn towards her. He was at this time more interested in the world of men than of nature. He preferred “men to cauliflowers”. Science, politics, philosophy, poetry were subjects which were of interest to him rather than the activities around him. It was Clarissa, when she was in his company, who pointed out to him a scene or sight which would attract his notice.
An old lover of Mrs. Dalloway
He is an old lover of Mrs. Dalloway. In spite of the fact that she has been long married and both of them are on the wrong side of fifty she has a deep love for him. He found in her courage, sociability, power of carrying things through’; these were qualities in her which he admired. He loved her dearly and was attracted towards her greatly. He loved these qualities in her jealously, because he himself did not possess them. She, moreover, possessed the power to make decisions, which again he lacks. He had been a total failure in life. He was at first sent down from Oxford and later married a girl travelling in the boat going to India, and now he is thinking of marrying the wife of a major. He returned from India only the previous evening to fulfill the various formalities about getting his wife divorced and marrying the major’s wife. His attachment, nevertheless, for Mrs. Dalloway is deep. She appears to him so heavenly at this age even that when he thinks of Daisy, the major’s wife before her, the major’s wife appears to be just ordinary and insipid.
Peter Walsh: A Preserved Soul
Peter Walsh is just the opposite of the Dalloways, the Hugh Whitbreads, and Lady Bruton. He is a representative of disinterested intellectual pursuits unlike them who have set before them the ideal of material success. His life has been a failure when judged from their viewpoint. His means are very limited, so he is in search of a petty job which Richard and Hugh Whitbread can easily secure for him. His means are, indeed, too limited and narrow to even support a wife and family. He is regarded by all as an unfortunate failure. But he is proud of his attainments this we gather from his “stream of consciousness”, as he sits in the Regent Park. His lack of material comforts has been amply compensated by his journeys and hazardous adventures and expeditions, o which his life has had more than its full his hard incessant work. He received books from England in India, which he read with gusto. He served with credit and considers that the future of civilization lies with the youngmen like him, who are engaged in the pursuit of truth and knowledge. He is in a way better than the Dalloways; he has preserved his soul, while on account of materialism, their souls have been deadened.
- Themes in Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
- Stream of Consciousness in Mrs Dalloway
Peter Walsh’s critical attitude
This “stream of consciousness” of Peter Walsh sheds a gentle light on the character and personality of Clarissa and those around her. He called her “a perfect hostess”, by which be implies that her life has nothing else to show except insincerity, artificiality, hypocrisy and frivolity. He was always critical of her at Bourton. He called her cold, hard, intolerant and prudish. He called her sentimental and narrow in her views, and disliked both the things. They then frequently quarreled as a result and Clarissa was afraid of him and his cold critical gaze which she thought was always fixed on her.
Peter Walsh’s Feelings for Mrs. Dalloway
Peter Walsh no longer loves Clarissa, as she has been long married. But when he meets her after five years he is emotionally disturbed and agitated and his behaviour at this time clearly exhibits that he has not been fully able to suppress his passion for her. His enquiries for her, “Does Richard love her? Did Richard love her and take care of her”, are an evidence of his extreme solicitude for the woman whom he had loved in the past and still loves her in his heart of hearts. This bears out the nobility and generosity of his spirit.
His High Possessiveness
Clarissa loved Peter Walsh, but she married Richard. She is of the belief that in marriage there should be some liberty, even license, which Peter might not be able to allow her, as he was of too possessive a nature, she decides finally to marry Richard, who is more accommodating than Peter If she is to marry Peter, she is to share everything with him. The marriage with Richard was accomplished, but the delicacy of feeling for her on the part of Peter, still continues to haunt him. He is rather sensitive in his attitude towards her, her words, her movements and actions stir the innermost chords of his heart. He takes particular notice of every facet of her appearance. He does not like her introducing to him her daughter with the remark, “my dear Elizabeth“. He is a sentimental fool, who does not accept the reality, when he is actually faced with it.
Emotional and Highly Susceptible Nature
He is an extremely sensitive, emotional man, whose heart vibrates to every delicate touch around him. He starts crying bitterly when sitting with Clarissa. He begins to think that Daisy (His beloved) is nothing in comparison to her, and is only consoled, when she kisses him. He sees in her the same charm even now and after their meeting he feels that young once again. But he could not marry her, because the conspired that their matrimonial union should not take place. He goes in fit of gloom and depression, when this strikes his mind. He is a sentimental gentleman; as such he is given to varying moods. He recollects the lunch party where Clarissa had expressed her preference for Richard, throwing him in the fire of hell to burn constantly therein.
His Mental conflict
There is a mental conflict in Peter Walsh, as is perceptible from his consciousness. On reaching the hotel after going through the streets of London, he is handed over a few letters by a young lady. One of these letters is from Clarissa inviting him to the party. Suppose he goes to attend the party, his meeting with her is bound to be painful. It will be, indeed, almost heavenly to see her and talk to her. He thinks that it would have been better if she had not written. He is torn with a conflict, whether or not to go there. He then thinks of Daisy, his beloved, with whom there is perfect smooth sailing and she is an adorably pretty girl. A very serious thought soon takes hold of him; he is on the wrong side of fifty and she is only twenty-four. She will have to be a widow, if we think in terms of the normal age of man and woman. But he does not wish to die soon. Mrs. Burgeos had said that it would be better if Peter did not marry Daisy. He is again lost in the whirlpool of thoughts and he takes a decision to go to Clarissa’s party, where he will meet Richard and have time for gossip, music, play and politics.
When Peter has actually reached the party and finds that nobody knows him except her, he regrets having come there. He reads through the insincerity beneath Clarissa’s remark: “How delighted to see you”, with which she is greeting the guests and seems to criticize them by his wondering looks, which Clarissa alone realizes. There he is and he expected her to speak to him. But she does not get a chance to do so. Life, he realizes, is humiliation and renunciation. Richard sees the poor creature standing alone through the evening, so he comes over and exchanges a few words with her.