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Day 9

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Part I, Chapters 18-19

May 9, 2023 by Mona Simpson

Chapter 18

Mrs. Ramsay feels happy and woozy with the triumph of her party.

“They would, she thought, going on again, however long they lived, come back to this night; this moon; this wind; this house: and to her too. It flattered her, where she was most susceptible of flattery, to think how, wound about in their hearts, however long they lived she would be woven; and this, and this, and this, she thought, going upstairs, laughing, but affectionately, at the sofa on the landing (her mother’s); at the rocking-chair (her father’s); at the map of the Hebrides. All that would be revived again in the lives of Paul and Minta; “the Rayleys”—she tried the new name over; and she felt, with her hand on the nursery door, that community of feeling with other people which emotion gives as if the walls of partition had become so thin that practically (the feeling was one of relief and happiness) it was all one stream, and chairs, tables, maps, were hers, were theirs, it did not matter whose, and Paul and Minta would carry it on when she was dead.”

Peoples’ happy memories will be her posterity, she thinks.

In the nursery, Mrs. Ramsay negotiates a fight between Cam and James, one who can’t go to sleep seeing the pig’s skull, the other who screamed if the maid tried to take it down, by wrapping her shawl around it.

James asks about going to the Lighthouse once more.

“No, not tomorrow, she said, but soon, she promised him; the next fine day. He was very good. He lay down. She covered him up. But he would never forget, she knew, and she felt angry with Charles Tansley, with her husband, and with herself, for she had raised his hopes.”

When Prue says, like a child:

“We thought of going down to the beach to watch the waves,”

“Mrs. Ramsay became like a girl of twenty, full of gaiety. A mood of revelry suddenly took possession of her. Of course they must go; of course they must go, she cried, laughing.”

Chapter 19

Most of the Ramsays’ conversations take place in silent telepathy.

“For Charles Tansley had been saying… that people don’t read Scott any more. Then her husband thought, ‘That’s what they’ll say of me;’ so he went and got one of those books. And if he came to the conclusion ‘That’s true’ what Charles Tansley said, he would accept it… He would always be worrying about his own books—will they be read, are they good, why aren’t they better, what do people think of me? Not liking to think of him so, and wondering if they had guessed at dinner why he suddenly became irritable when they talked about fame and books lasting, wondering if the children were laughing at that, she twitched the stocking out.”

So Mr. Ramsay wages a bet; if Walter Scott still has a chance at posterity, so does he.

“Their eyes met for a second; but they did not want to speak to each other. They had nothing to say, but something seemed, nevertheless, to go from him to her. It was the life, it was the power of it, it was the tremendous humor, she knew, that made him slap his thighs. Don’t interrupt me, he seemed to be saying, don’t say anything; just sit there. And he went on reading. His lips twitched. It filled him. It fortified him. He clean forgot all the little rubs and digs of the evening, and how it bored him unutterably to sit still while people ate and drank interminably, and his being so irritable with his wife and so touchy and minding when they passed his books over as if they didn’t exist at all. But now, he felt, it didn’t matter a damn who reached Z (if thought ran like an alphabet from A to Z). Somebody would reach it—if not he, then another. This man’s strength and sanity, his feeling for straightforward simple things, these fishermen, the poor old crazed creature in Mucklebackit’s cottage made him feel so vigorous, so relieved of something that he felt roused and triumphant and could not choke back his tears. Raising the book a little to hide his face, he let them fall and shook his head from side to side and forgot himself completely… Well, let them improve upon that, he thought as he finished the chapter. He felt that he had been arguing with somebody, and had got the better of him. They could not improve upon that, whatever they might say; and his own position became more secure… That’s first-rate, he thought, putting one thing beside another… if young men did not care for this, naturally they did not care for him either. One ought not to complain, thought Mr. Ramsay, trying to stifle his desire to complain to his wife that young men did not admire him. But he was determined; he would not bother her again. Here he looked at her reading. She looked very peaceful, reading. He liked to think that everyone had taken themselves off and that he and she were alone.”

The actual conversation they have, out loud, is more banal than their internal back and forth.

“They’re engaged,” she said, beginning to knit, “Paul and Minta.”

“So I guessed,” he said.

They sit in silence. She knows he wants her to tell him she loves him.

“You are more beautiful than ever. And she felt herself very beautiful. Will you not tell me just for once that you love me? He was thinking that, for he was roused, what with Minta and his book, and its being the end of the day and their having quarreled about going to the Lighthouse. But she could not do it; she could not say it. Then, knowing that he was watching her, instead of saying anything she turned, holding her stocking, and looked at him. And as she looked at him she began to smile, for though she had not said a word, he knew, of course he knew, that she loved him. He could not deny it. And smiling she looked out of the window and said (thinking to herself, Nothing on earth can equal this happiness)—

“Yes, you were right. It’s going to be wet tomorrow.” She had not said it, but he knew it. And she looked at him smiling. For she had triumphed again.”

This is both a prelude to and the sex scene itself.

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