Filling the story gaps of literary characters:

Virginia Woolf’s novel "Mrs Dalloway", originally published in 1925, details a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway and her preparations to host a party for old friends. Memories return to her of a past life with these characters, and one moment stands out for most readers. The kiss she shares as a young woman, with her friend Sally Seton. Even in older age, it becomes clear, Clarissa and Sally love each other. Theirs seems to be the only completely requited love in the whole novel. Yet, due to society standards, these two women were unable to spend their lives together. Here are my imaginings on how that kiss between the two women came about.

Clarissa was walking the rose garden, her favourite part of the grounds, when she heard hurried footsteps coming up behind her. She had been daydreaming on her current dilemma of choosing between the two men, who she inevitably felt she had to either say yes or no to. Clarissa had to be married at any rate, so why not to one of these agreeable men. She had been trying to focus on their features before her inner eye. Which one would be nicer to look at through the years? Richard Dalloway or Peter Walsh? And which last name would fit better with Clarissa? She liked them both, there was no way around it. She had a friendship with Peter, but there was an air of mystery around Richard that fascinated her.

The footsteps came closer now and Clarissa made sure her hair was appropriately tucked away and her dress was flowing to her best advantage. In that moment, she knew she was hoping not for Mr. Dalloway nor for Mr. Walsh to turn the corner and face her. No, Clarissa was hoping for Sally to join her. Sally Seton, the girl who had a cheeky word for any man she met. Clarissa was surprised at the fluttering in her stomach, thinking of Sally. She blushed, just as the person came around the hedge. Of course, it was not Sally. Before her stood Peter, a little out of breath, no doubt having some tidbit of gossip to report. Clarissa smiled at him non-chalantly and walked on, gesturing for him to join her. He dipped his head in greeting and found his place next to her, half a step behind her.

“How are you, Peter?”, she asked him over the shoulder, with a shy smile, because she knew he liked her attentive manner.

“I have some news.”, he exclaimed with a tremor in his voice which revealed his utter excitement. “Hugh kissed Sally, that charlatan.”

Clarissa held her breath in surprise. The torment of feelings raging inside of her at this small piece of information threw her off guard. The mental picture that formed behind her eyes disgusted her.

“Did she enjoy it?”, Clarissa heard herself asking Peter, realising as she said it, what an appropriate sentence she had just uttered. Peter regarded her with a newfound curiosity. They had both come to a stop, without Clarissa even realising. She seemed to have an out of body experience. Why, she was not entirely sure.

“Would it make it all right, if she enjoyed it?”, Peter asked now, cocking his head in a challenge that made Clarissa blush. She knew he asked this for himself. Did he want to kiss her? Clarissa turned away from him, walking on, down the path, past the most beautiful rose bushes of the county.

“No,” she answered him, much to his apparent disappointment. “It does not make it all right. A gentleman should never kiss a lady before they are married.”

“Or at least engaged”, Peter added just loudly enough for Clarissa to hear. She realised she needed to get rid of him as soon as possible. He was gearing up to an intimate moment between them and Clarissa had not made up her mind yet which man she wanted to marry. Devising an exit plan in her mind, she was distracted by the sight of Sally walking down to the little stream just in front of them. Peter hadn’t spotted her yet and Clarissa turned abruptly, causing him to also face away from Sally.

“Peter, would you be so kind to leave me to my own thoughts for now”, Clarissa improvised. Seeing his crestfallen face, she added: “I have some letters I brought with me to read out here and I will see you later for dinner, won’t I?” Clarissa gave him her most heart-warming smile and she saw him melt before her. She felt guilty for manipulating his feelings thus, but she knew she wanted to speak to Sally. Alone, preferably. Peter took his leave as graciously as one can, when dismissed on sight, and made his way out of the rose garden. Watching him disappear behind the hedges; Clarissa then turned towards the stream but could not see a sign of Sally anymore. She might have walked on. Clarissa considered for a moment, would it make sense to start after her, not knowing which direction she had walked? At the very least she could go down to the stream and just check if Sally was visible from there. Reaching the water, Clarissa heard a cackle behind her. She gave a start but quickly realised it was Sally. She had hidden behind a tree, who from Clarissa did not know.

“Ha, I got you, didn’t I?”, Sally exclaimed, with her characteristic cheeky grin. Clarissa couldn’t help but smile at her broadly. “I saw you up there with Peter, that old bore. I did not want to interrupt what I’m sure was a most stimulating conversation.” The vitriol in Sally’s voice surprised Clarissa.

“Why do you say such mean things? Peter is a lovely man, he has never been anything but a friend to me.”, Clarissa said, oddly protective over him.

“Just a friend then?”, Sally asked with a quizzical brow, causing Clarissa once again to blush. This woman had the devil in her. But instead of scaring her, it excited Clarissa. She wished she could be a bit more like her. Not deigning the impertinent question with a response, Clarissa turned the tables on Sally and asked: “I heard you kissed Hugh?”

The shock in Sally’s face was startling. Clarissa wondered what had shocked her so much. Her frank way of asking Sally, or maybe that anyone knew about it? Or maybe Sally was shocked because Clarissa specifically wasn’t supposed to know? Clarissa knew she would have been mortified, had Peter kissed her up there in the Rose Garden and had Sally witnessed it. The silence between the two young women became uncomfortable but when their eyes met, the energy changed. There was a charge between them, a spark that Clarissa had never felt before. Sally’s eyes became liquid pools she wanted to drown herself in and without knowing what she was doing, Clarissa stepped closer to her, feeling a pull that was hard to deny. Sally wore an expression of wonder and Clarissa was sure, something big, something fundamental was about to happen. But then Sally broke their connection by looking down, next to Clarissa.

“Look, this is a camellia japonica”, Sally said, stooping down, right next to her, plucking a small white flower. “My uncle used to call these Clarissas.”, Sally rose with the flower in her hand, once again looking at Clarissa with an intensity that electrified her. “Just like you.”, Sally whispered, handing her the flower. Clarissa took it with a feeling of deep reverence over this divine moment. She smiled down at the flower and then up at Sally and she saw something in her face that made her breath stop.

A moment later, Clarissa felt Sally’s lips on hers and she just melted into her. They kissed for what felt like hours. When they came up for a breath, the air between them was laden with unsaid emotions. Clarissa was about to tell Sally how wonderful that had been, when she felt Sally straightening herself, still in Clarissa’s arms. She took a step back and Clarissa realised that Sally must have seen someone approach. Before she could say anything, Sally brushed her cheek quickly and simply said: “You’re lovely”, before turning to hurry away.

Clarissa was dumb struck. She did not know up from down, she hardly remembered her own name. Hearing footsteps once again approach her, she collected herself, realising that she needed to appear as proper as was expected of an English lady. Checking her appearance, Clarissa turned to see who was approaching and saw Mr. Dalloway making his way down from the rose garden. He had evidently been searching for her. Clarissa knew what Sally had realised at that moment. Clarissa was going to marry this man. Because what else could she do – marry Sally? What a thought. No, she would marry Richard Dalloway, and she would lock that kiss away in her heart and never let anyone touch it. Except for Sally.

Note from the author:

This text is the fourth part of a series of "Literary Gap" texts. Thank you for reading!

Literary Gap Story No. 1

Literary Gap Story No. 2

Literary Gap Story No. 3