Day 6To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Part I, Chapters 13-16
May 6, 2023 by Mona Simpson
Lily and William, again.
“Lily Briscoe reflected, perhaps it was better not to see pictures: they only made one hopelessly discontented with one’s own work. Mr. Bankes thought one could carry that point of view too far. We can’t all be Titians and we can’t all be Darwins, he said; at the same time he doubted whether you could have your Darwin and your Titian if it weren’t for humble people like ourselves. Lily would have liked to pay him a compliment; you’re not humble, Mr. Bankes, she would have liked to have said.”
“Anyhow, said Lily, tossing off her little insincerity, she would always go on painting, because it interested her. Yes, said Mr. Bankes, he was sure she would, and, as they reached the end of the lawn he was asking her whether she had difficulty in finding subjects in London when they turned and saw the Ramsays. So that is marriage, Lily thought, a man and a woman looking at a girl throwing a ball.”
“Mrs. Ramsay greeted them with her usual smile (oh, she’s thinking we’re going to get married, Lily thought)”
The marriage plot, relegated to the minor characters, the shadow couple, endures.
I can’t help but think that Virginia Woolf must have been so pleased when she found this way of alternating chapters: at the end of Chapter 13, several Ramsay are outside playing catch. Just after Prue leaps and gets the ball, Mrs. Ramsay worries that Andrew, Paul and Minta haven’t returned yet from their outing on the rocks.
The last line of the chapter is: “Did Nancy go with them?”
Chapter 14 opens:
“(Certainly, Nancy had gone with them, since Minta Doyle had asked it with her dumb look, holding out her hand, as Nancy made off, after lunch, to her attic, to escape the horror of family life. She supposed she must go then. She did not want to go. She did not want to be drawn into it all.”
Woolf lightly changes point of view like a game of ball itself.
And of course, we catch a rare glimpse of Nancy’s point of view. To escape the horror of family life. Far from that one would expect from inside the golden family.
We sense not only Nancy from this but the exact spot, on the long scale from sincerity to petulance, she means these words.
In its entirety:
“Yes,” said Prue, in her considering way, answering her mother’s question, “I think Nancy did go with them.”
Two of the children, Jasper and Rose, help dress Mrs. Ramsay, pick out her jewels.
“The (italics mine) gold necklace, which was Italian, or the opal necklace, which Uncle James had brought her from India; or should she wear her amethysts” recall other jewelry scenes in literature; the first chapter of Middlemarch when Celia and Dorothea go through their late mother’s jewelry box and they also situation Mrs. Ramsay economically. Unlike the Brooks young women, there are no emeralds or rubies here.
What Mrs. Ramsay says about Rose is most of what we learn about Rose in the book. Yet it’s enough.
“This little ceremony of choosing jewels, which was gone through every night, was what Rose liked best, she knew. She had some hidden reason of her own for attaching great importance to this choosing what her mother was to wear. What was the reason, Mrs. Ramsay wondered, standing still to let her clasp the necklace she had chosen, divining, through her own past, some deep, some buried, some quite speechless feeling that one had for one’s mother at Rose’s age. Like all feelings felt for oneself, Mrs. Ramsay thought, it made one sad. It was so inadequate, what one could give in return; and what Rose felt was quite out of proportion to anything she actually was. And Rose would grow up; and Rose would suffer, she supposed, with these deep feelings.”
What I can’t figure out, despite elaborate list-making, is how “fifteen” people are sitting down for dinner. By my count it’s fourteen.
- Mrs. Ramsay
- Mr. Ramsay
- The six eldest Ramsay children (James and Cam are upstairs in the nursery)
- Charles Tansley
- Lily Briscoe
- William Bankes
- Mr. Carmichael
- Minta Doyle
- Paul Rayley
Who am I missing?
Nonetheless, the dinner shall begin:
“The great clangor of the gong announced solemnly, authoritatively, that all those scattered about, in attics, in bedrooms, on little perches of their own, reading, writing, putting the last smooth to their hair, or fastening dresses, must leave all that, and the little odds and ends on their washing-tables and dressing-tables, and the novels on the bed-tables, and the diaries which were so private, and assemble in the dining-room for dinner.”