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Free Study Guide-To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf-Free Online Book Notes
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Mrs. Ramsey rouses herself to ask, "But what had happened?" and the phrase Mr. Ramsey has been saying as he has walked through the garden, "Some one had blundered" comes to her mind. She comes out of her musing and fixes her shortsighted vision on Mr. Ramsey who is coming toward her. She sees him run into Lily Briscoe and William Banks. She would never interrupt him when he was in the midst of his fierce concentration. She strokes her son's head instead, transferring to him what she is feeling for her husband. When she looks back up at her husband she is relieved to find "that the ruin was veiled; domesticity triumphed; custom crooned its soothing rhythm." When he passes by her again, he teases James's leg with a sprig he is carrying and Mrs. Ramsey scolds him for leaving behind poor Charles Tansley.

James hates his father and flicks the sprig away. Mrs. Ramsey tells Mr. Ramsey she is working on stockings for Sorely's boy of the lighthouse. Mr. Ramsey insists there is no chance of going to the lighthouse tomorrow. She argues with him, telling him the wind could change. He is frustrated by the "extraordinary irrationality" of her thinking. "The folly of women's minds enraged him." He stamps his feet and says, "Damn you." and immediately realizes she has not said anything so bad. In fact, the weather might be fine tomorrow.

Mrs. Ramsey is outraged by his strict conformity to truth. She cannot imagine what motivates him to discard other people feelings so easily, "to rend the thin veils of civilization so wantonly, so brutally." She does not reply to him, but just bends her head, feeling as if she has been pelted by hail or drenched by dirty water. Mr. Ramsey stands by her silently and humbly. He offers to go and ask the coastguards. She tells him she will take his word for it.

Mrs. Ramsey feels like a "sponge sopped full of human emotions." They come to her all day long with their needs, her children and her husband, "naturally, since she was a woman." However, when he said "damn you," and that it must rain, she feels an instant "Heaven of security." She reverences him. He tickles James's leg once more and then plunges off again, repeating the phrase, "Someone had blundered," but in a totally changed tone of voice. He says it almost melodiously.

Mr. Ramsey feels safe, restored to his privacy. He pauses and looks up for a moment to look at his wife and son and returns, "fortified, satisfied, and consecrated in his effort to arrive at a perfectly clear understanding of the problem which now engaged the energies of his splendid mind." If thought is like the alphabet, Mr. Ramsey had reached the letter "Q" in his thinking. Very few philosophers had gone so far, and he wishes he could go further and continually strives to do so, but at least he has reached Q. As he thinks these thoughts, he dimly perceives his wife and child sitting together. He thinks of them as needing his protection and he gives it to them, all the while thinking "But what after Q?" He imagines there are two classes of philosophers. There are those who steadily plod forward systematically running through all the letters of the alphabet and there are those who instantly perceive all the letters of the alphabet in one flash. He belongs to the former group. He worries about what people will think of him, if they will think of him as having fallen short or if they will see him as valiantly trying. He imagines himself like a soldier who dies at his post and he squares his shoulders. Who can blame him for dwelling on fame, the narrator asks. The narrator asks, who will not secretly rejoice when the hero puts off his armor and rests a moment to gaze at his wife and son. Who can blame him for doing homage to "the beauty of the world?"


The almost entirely unspoken encounter between Mrs. Ramsey and her husband reveals Virginia Woolf's subtle depiction of and critique of Victorian patriarchy. The genders are so severally divided in their function, that the woman is assigned the irrational mind and the man is assigned the rational mind. Each one firmly believes the foundation of good sense and civilization rests on her or his way of thinking. Each one also realizes she or he relies on her or his opposite to feel settled with the world. Mrs. Ramsey both takes pride and resents her role as an emotional sponge ready to supply anyone of her family with the sustenance they need to go on. Mr. Ramsey gains the sustenance he needs to go on with his philosophical speculations. Woolf represents Mr. Ramsey's kind of thinking with the quantified, categorized alphabet.

His grand philosophical contribution to the word seems fairly trivial when described in the letters of an alphabet. Mr. Ramsey sees himself as a hero struggling to reach the next letter, to be found dead at his post, not having given up. He worries about fame. He seems self-involved and small-minded for a moment, but the narrator ends the chapter sort of taking up for him, asking who can blame the man for thinking of his reputation and for stopping his abstract speculations to admire the beauty of his wife and son.

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