Day 5To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Part I, Chapters 11-12
May 5, 2023 by Mona Simpson
We’ve noticed, of course, by now that we’re still in the same day, the same late afternoon. All of “The Window” takes place in a matter of hours, the afternoon and evening of one day. Woolf achieves this continuity by her use of repeated phrases, to remind us that virtually no time has passed; the paragraph or pages we’ve just read are in someone’s head and they are still thinking of the same refrain, such as, in this chapter “children don’t forget, children don’t forget.”
Meanwhile her husband is chuckling over the thought of Hume, the philosopher, grown enormously fat, stuck in a bog.
“No happiness lasted; she knew that… She had known happiness, exquisite happiness, intense happiness, and it silvered the rough waves a little more brightly, as daylight faded and the blue went out of the sea… and she felt, It is enough! It is enough!”
While Mr. Ramsay frets over his books, their lack of appeal to the “young men” and worrying over how long they’ll be read after his death, happiness matters to Mrs. Ramsay. Happiness today. In the present. Her investment in this day can seem—at moments—almost an intimation of death.
The Ramsays are an idealized, golden family and their guests and children are characterized, in part, by how they respond to them. Their sparkle cannot be denied; royalty is evoked throughout; William Bankes sees the children in terms of the kings and queens of England, the older girls see their mother as a queen. “The Window,” Part 1 of the book, tinkers with the theme of generations. The Ramsay daughters don’t quite imagine their lives like their mother’s, centered around some man or other.
In Chapter 12, Mr. Ramsay worries about Andrew applying himself sufficiently to get a scholarship; Mrs. Ramsay sees Prue becoming a great beauty. We see the daily tensions of marriage.
We have the fourth reminder of Mrs. Ramsay’s worry that the repair of the greenhouse will cost fifty pounds, but though the reader has heard about it three times she hasn’t managed to say that out loud yet to her husband.
We understand more and more about the fragility of Mr. Ramsay’s professional ego.
He was about to say that Tansley (“the little atheist”) “was the only young man in England who admired his—when he choked it back.” Out of pride perhaps, or, as he tells himself “he would not bother her again about his books.”
“His arm was almost like a young man’s arm, Mrs. Ramsay thought, thin and hard, and she thought with delight how strong he still was, though he was over sixty…”
MR. RAMSAY IS OVER SIXTY!
And Mrs. Ramsay has grey hair.