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Day 11

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Part III, Chapters 1-2

May 11, 2023 by Mona Simpson

Chapter 1

“You find us much changed,” Mr. Ramsay says, about he and his children, to Lily Briscoe and Augustus Carmichael, the only two guests who’d attended Mrs. Ramsay’s glorious dinner party eleven years earlier who are present.

“Last night he had got up and stopped before her, and said that. Dumb and staring though they had all sat, the six children (only six now live) whom they used to call after the Kings and Queens of England—the Red, the Fair, the Wicked, the Ruthless—she felt how they raged under it. Kind old Mrs. Beckwith said something sensible. But it was a house full of unrelated passions—she had felt that all the evening. And on top of this chaos Mr. Ramsay got up, pressed her hand, and said: ‘You will find us much changed,’ and none of them had moved or had spoken.”

The Rayleys—Paul and Minta—were probably not invited. In a silent coda to all Mr. Bankes’ ruminations about his friendship with Mr. Ramsay having diminished to mere repetition, it now seems to have ended altogether.

Nancy is flustered, frantic even, wondering what one sends to the Lighthouse. For the expedition postponed, denied, is happening at last. Now they are going to the Lighthouse and James and Cam don’t want to.

Lily, still unmarried, feels Mr. Ramsay with his “imperious need” come to her.

“Here he was, close upon her again, greedy, distraught… Surely she could imitate from recollection the glow, the rhapsody, the self-surrender, she had seen on so many women’s faces (on Mrs. Ramsay’s, for instance), when on some occasion like this they blazed up—she could remember the look on Mrs. Ramsay’s face—into a rapture of sympathy, of delight in the reward they had, which, though the reason of it escaped her, evidently conferred on them the most supreme bliss of which human nature was capable. Here he was, stopped by her side.”

“It was all Mrs. Ramsay’s doing. She was dead. Here was Lily, at forty-four, wasting her time, unable to do a thing, standing there, playing at painting, playing at the one thing one did not play at, and it was all Mrs. Ramsay’s fault. She was dead. The step where she used to sit was empty. She was dead.”

Chapter 2

“Why, thought Mr. Ramsay, should she look at the sea when I am here? She hoped it would be calm enough for them to land at the Lighthouse, she said. The Lighthouse! The Lighthouse! What’s that got to do with it? he thought impatiently. Instantly, with the force of some primeval gust (for really he could not restrain himself any longer), there issued from him such a groan that any other woman in the whole world would have done something, said something—all except myself, thought Lily, girding at herself bitterly, who am not a woman, but a peevish, ill-tempered, dried-up old maid presumably.”

“Mr. Ramsay, as if he knew that his time ran short, exerted upon her solitary figure the immense pressure of his concentrated “woe; his age; his frailty; his desolation; when suddenly, tossing his head impatiently, in his annoyance—for after all, what woman could resist him?”

“Look at him, he seemed to be saying, look at me; and indeed, all the time he was feeling, Think of me, think of me.”

“A woman, she had provoked this horror; a woman, she should have known how to deal with it. It was immensely to her discredit, sexually, to stand there dumb. One said—what did one say?—Oh, Mr. Ramsay! Dear Mr. Ramsay! That was what that kind old lady who sketched, Mrs. Beckwith, would have said instantly, and rightly. But, no. They stood there, isolated from the rest of the world. His immense self-pity, his demand for sympathy poured and spread itself in pools at her feet, and all she did, miserable sinner that she was, was to draw her skirts a little closer round her ankles, lest she should get wet.”

Finally, unsatisfied, Mr. Ramsay takes off on the little boat with James and Cam.

“There was no helping Mr. Ramsay on the journey he was going.”

“But what a face, she thought, immediately finding the sympathy which she had not been asked to give troubling her for expression. What had made it like that? Thinking, night after night, she supposed—about the reality of kitchen tables.”

“Then, she recalled (standing where he had left her, holding her brush), worries had fretted it—not so nobly. He must have had his doubts about that table, she supposed; whether the table was a real table; whether it was worth the time he gave to it; whether he was able after all to find it. He had had doubts, she felt, or he would have asked less of people. That was what they talked about late at night sometimes, she suspected; and then next day Mrs. Ramsay looked tired.”

The awkwardness between people, the isolated feelings of misery, of inadequacy, which Mrs. Ramsay somehow soothed, remain ruffled now. There can be no doubt; if Part I was the mythologized past, with its candlelight and glow, this is the real, in the harsh bright daylight.

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