The narrative now follows Peter Walsh as he leaves Clarissa’s house. He criticizes Clarissa angrily to himself, thinking that she has grown sentimental and insincere. Her coldness as a youth has turned into conventionality in middle age. Peter then feels ashamed that he wept and confessed to Clarissa, and he suddenly feels again the blow of Clarissa rejecting him thirty years before.
Woolf shows how immature Peter still is even as he has grown older. He is a kind of double to Rezia (as Clarissa is to Septimus), lamenting that he is alone in his suffering and distant from the person he loves. His sufferings in love seem paltry compared to Rezia’s plight, though.
The St. Margaret’s bell rings (a few minutes after Big Ben) and it makes Peter think of Clarissa’s illness and the fact that she will die someday. He reassures himself that she is not dead and that he is not old yet. He knows he will soon have to ask Richard for help in finding work, but he reassures himself that he does not care what people like the Dalloways and Whitbreads think of him.
Peter often chooses to indulge in fantasy instead of accepting the reality of time – which means old age and death – and the fact that he hasn’t accomplished anything substantial in life. Despite his reassurances to himself, Peter still clearly seeks Clarissa’s approval even thirty years after her refusal of him.
Peter recognizes that he has been a failure in some sense, as he was expelled from Oxford, but he still feels justified in being an idealistic young man. A group of military boys marches by carrying guns, and Peter feels respect for them, though he does not respect the traditional England they defend.
Peter recognizes that he doesn’t live up to his own critical expectations, and so he chooses to distract himself with fantasies, in this case the youth and idealism of the military boys, and the fantasy of a righteous, hopeful England.
Peter stands in Trafalgar Square and feels a sudden sense of freedom, as if he was young again. He sees an attractive young woman walking past and he starts to follow her at a distance. He never approaches her, but imagines her as his ideal woman as he watches her – not worldly or rich like Clarissa. He imagines how he would first greet the young woman, and Peter feels like a “romantic buccaneer,” delighting in his own recklessness.
Peter seeks comfort in his relationships with women, but because he is very sensitive and needy these usually don’t work out. Instead of taking part in real communication, Peter chooses this imaginary “courtship” with an idealized woman. He creates meaning for himself through an imaginary interaction.
The woman finally reaches her house, takes out her keys, and goes inside. Peter’s fantasy disappears, but he isn’t upset. He recognizes that “one makes up the better part of life,” and he thinks of Clarissa’s parting plea that he remember her party. Peter keeps walking, feeling optimistic because it is “still very early,” and he heads for Regent’s Park.
Peter is not delusional – he recognizes that his fantasies are fantasies, and doesn’t try to cling to them. His optimism about the day is similar to his forced optimism about his life, as he tells himself that he is not getting old yet, and at least he isn’t conventional like Clarissa.
Peter comes to Regent’s Park and observes the London life passing by. He is proud of its civilization, which he finds ironic because he dislikes the idea of the English empire and army. He starts reminiscing, and realizes that it is his meeting with Clarissa that is making him nostalgic. He remembers how he could never get along with Clarissa’s father.
Peter criticizes Clarissa and Hugh for their shallowness and conformity, but Peter has the same pride in the comforts and extravagances of English culture – excesses that come at the expense of places like India, where Peter just came from.
Peter sits down on a bench next to a gray-haired nurse with a baby in a stroller. Peter remembers Elizabeth, and suspects that she and Clarissa don’t get along, as Clarissa tends to trust her own charm too much and overdo things. Peter smokes a cigar and then falls asleep.
Just as Clarissa never reminisces about Richard, so Peter seems to thinks much more about Clarissa than about Daisy. The present action for these characters is small and mundane, while their pasts and memories loom larger in comparison.