Summary and Analysis
At Lady Bruton's
Halfway through Mrs. Dalloway, Richard Dalloway makes his first appearance. However, he is still not our main concern. Virginia Woolf is far more interested in showing us Lady Bruton and, to a lesser degree, Hugh Whitbread, than she is in introducing us to Clarissa's husband. In her diary, Mrs. Woolf wrote that she wanted to criticize the social system in this novel. Here, in the character of Lady Bruton and Hugh Whitbread, she makes a critical jab. In the preceding scene, she exposed Holmes and Bradshaw's slavish devotion to appearances; here she uses an entire scene to gently ridicule certain English manners. The small luncheon party scene is a foretaste, a miniature of the later, climactic party scene. It shows us the hypocrisy, the fear, and also the boredom which are beneath the surface of social amenities.
Virginia Woolf satirizes English pomp and stuffiness. As the scene begins, Lady Bruton is presented as monied, imperious, and brusque; by the time the scene is over, we have watched Lady Bruton weaken, grow fearful, and become downright obedient. Hugh Whitbread appears to be a milquetoast, but he is brutish in that he is robot-like — a specimen of super discipline. He has no imagination and little emotion; he has followed all the right roads, said all the right things, and, unlike Peter Walsh, he has never been caught in a social faux pas.
In contrast to Clarissa Dalloway (who admires but admits feeling inadequate next to Hugh), Lady Bruton does not admire Mr. Whitbread. He is able to impress Clarissa with a sense of sound money, gentle birth, and impeccable breeding, but Lady Bruton thinks of him as decidedly ill-bred. The only crack in Lady Bruton's polished manner is her inability to write well. To fill this deficiency she is dependent on a master of disciplined form, social and rhetorical: Hugh Whitbread. It is little wonder that, because her illustrious ancestors were responsible for vision and victory in Britain, she is pained at being dependent on this perfectly turned, un-human cog. But Lady Bruton is not the only one dependent on Hugh. So is Peter; Hugh already expects that he will have to write a letter of recommendation for Peter Walsh.
Besides revealing that sterility and sham lie under certain social manners, Virginia Woolf is also linking her "tunnels," as she calls them, that she is digging beneath each of her characters. All three of these people — Lady Bruton, Hugh Whitbread, and Richard Dalloway — were on the periphery of Peter and Clarissa's love affair. The past again intrudes on the present; no one at the luncheon party has forgotten Peter's passionate love for Clarissa. This germinates a vow in Richard Dalloway — one that he will repeat, in vain, to himself numerous times — that he will tell Clarissa that he loves her.