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Free Study Guide-To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf-Free Online Book Notes
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Mr. Banks agrees with Lily Briscoe's idea that Mr. Ramsey frightens people by his rapid changes in mood. Mr. Banks says it is a thousand pities that Mr. Ramsey cannot behave more like other people. William Banks likes Lily Briscoe. He likes the fact that he can discuss Mr. Ramsey with her so openly. Mr. Banks says that is why the young people do not read the works of Thomas Carlyle anymore. They think of him as a crusty old grumbler. Banks thinks Carlyle was one of the greatest teachers of humankind. Lily Briscoe thinks to herself she is ashamed she has not read Carlyle since she was in school. Lily thinks people like Mr. Ramsey even more because of his egocentrism. She does not mind that character trait because it is not deceptive. She does dislike his narrowness and his blindness. Mr. Banks asks aloud, "A bit of a hypocrite?" Mr. Banks is thinking of his own friendship with Mr. Ramsey and of Cam refusing to give him a flower earlier and of the fact that Mr. Ramsey has so many children when he has none and his wife is dead. He wishes Lily Briscoe would agree with him about Ramsey.

Lily Briscoe is putting away her brushes. She wonders about Mr. Banks's idea that Mr. Ramsey is a hypocrite. She disagrees, thinking him the most sincere of men. However, she does not like the fact that he is so self-absorbed and tyrannical. She has to look down to have these thoughts because whenever she looks up she is flooded with a sense of "being in love" with them. Lily thinks about "how life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach."

She realizes she needs to answer Mr. Banks's question about Mr. Ramsey and she wants to give him a critical answer about Mrs. Ramsey when she sees him gazing at Mrs. Ramsey in rapture. She realizes it was the kind of love which mathematicians have for their symbols. It "was meant to be spread over the world and become part of the human gain."

Mr. Banks cannot think of why Mrs. Ramsey pleases him so much. Seeing her reading a fairy tale to her son makes him feel the way he feels when he solves a scientific problem. He rests in contemplation of it and feels "that barbarity was tamed, the reign of chaos subdued."

Seeing Mr. Banks in such a rapture, Lily Briscoe forgets what she was going to say. She feels it is helpful and exalting that Mr. Banks should have so much love. She cleans up her brushes and likes the sense of doing something menial because it gives her "shelter from the reverence which covered all women." She decides to steal a look at her picture. When she does she is horribly disappointed. She thinks it is bad. She thinks she could have done it differently, thinned the colors like Mr. Paunceforte did, but she does not see it like that. "She saw color burning on a framework of steel; the light of a butterfly's wing lying upon the arches of a cathedral." Instead, she has nothing, only a few random marks scrawled on the canvas. She remembers Mr. Tansley saying to her, "Women can't paint, women can't write . . "

Now Lily Briscoe remembers what she was going to say about Mrs. Ramsey, something critical. She looks at Mrs. Ramsey and thinks she is unquestionably the loveliest of people, but she is different. Lily tries to get at how Mrs. Ramsey is different as she scrapes her palette. She resolves to make her paints move and flow to her bidding tomorrow. She tries to get at what the spirit is in Mrs. Ramsey, the essential thing about her. She thinks Mrs. Ramsey is willful and commanding, at least in her relations with other women. She thinks of Mrs. Ramsey coming into her room and moving over to the window on the pretence that she must see the sun rising, when she really just wants to open it. She thinks of Mrs. Ramsey's ideas that all women must marry. Lily Briscoe would tell her she has to care for her father and that she wants to paint, but speaking of her painting in front of Mrs. Ramsey makes her feel little and virginal. Lily Briscoe would try to "urge her own exemption from the universal law," tell Mrs. Ramsey she likes to be alone, to be herself. Mrs. Ramsey would say "her dear Lily, her little Brisk, was a fool." She remembers laying her head in Mrs. Ramsey's lap and laughing hysterically at the thought of Mrs. Ramsey "presiding with immutable calm over destinies which she completely failed to understand."

When Lily Briscoe looks back at Mrs. Ramsey from her thoughts, she sees something different about her, some wisdom or knowledge. She wonders if it is just the deception of Mrs. Ramsey's beauty. Lily Briscoe wonders what kind of art could capture its object like water poured into a jar, which became one with the shape of the jar. She wants not knowledge of Mrs. Ramsey, but unity with her. She wants intimacy itself, which is knowledge.

As she had leant her head on Mrs. Ramsey's knee, nothing had happened. She had not attained the intimacy she desired. She knows knowledge and wisdom are sealed in Mrs. Ramsey's heart, but she cannot imagine how anyone can know another person "sealed as they are." For days after her talk with Mrs. Ramsey in which she laid her head on the older woman's lap, Mrs. Ramsey became like a dome of a beehive and Lily Briscoe became the bee.

Lily Briscoe sees that William Banks has stepped back form admiring Mrs. Ramsey, has put on his spectacles. He was looking at her picture. Lily Briscoe wants to snatch the painting off the easel but makes herself stand and bear his gaze upon her work. Mr. Banks taps the canvas with the bone handle of his knife and asks Lily Briscoe about the triangular shape in the center of the canvas. She knows he has an objection to it because it cannot be seen as a human shape. Mr. Banks wonders how she can reduce the mother and child--objects of universal veneration--to "a purple shadow without irreverence." Lily explains that the picture is not of them. She explains to him the concept of the painting's composition, the idea that a light here requires a shadow there. He examines her canvas with a scientific eye. He asks her to explain it to him. She cannot explain it. She cannot even see it "without a brush in her hand." She tries to stand in front of it and take on an absent-minded manner, "subduing all her impressions as a woman to something more general." She tries to come again under the power of the vision. Her problem had been how to connect the mass on the right hand with that on the left. She needs to break the vacancy of the forefront with an object. The danger is that the unity of the whole might be broken. She worries that she is boring him and takes the canvas from the easel.

Yet she has been able to share it with him. He had shared something profoundly intimate with her. She is exhilarated by the thought. She shuts the paint box loudly and the sound seems to encompass the whole scene of the lawn, even "that wild villain, Cam, dashing past."


In Mr. Banks's rapture in seeing Mrs. Ramsey reading to her son, Woolf shows that the image of a mother nurturing her son is central to the British man's sense of civilization and is on a par with the solving of scientific problems or the proving of something absolute about the universe.

Lily Briscoe provides the critique of this kind of admiration. She is relieved not to be the object of such rapturous love which covers all women because it does not allow them thoughts of their own; it does not allow them to be artists. She is grateful to see William Banks looking at Mrs. Ramsey because it gives her a chance to get back to looking at her art. However, when she does, she is horribly disappointed to see that what she has gotten down own canvas is nothing like what she had envisioned. She sees it is only a mass of brush strokes and she feels the insecurities of her abilities as an artist come on. Here, Woolf comes to a central concern she felt about the difficulties of being a woman artist. In her long essay A Room of One's Own, Woolf writes of how likely it is that the art would suffer from the time of its conception in the mind of the artist to the completion of the work when the artist is scorned, is told she cannot paint or write, is forced into roles which suck all her energies away, and is trivialized by her society. Lily Briscoe runs through all these fears in her mind as she looks at her day's work.

The object of her painting--Mrs. Ramsey--is hard to capture. Lily is trying to paint the "angel in the house," the mother so venerated by men, the woman who tells her that her painting is a trivial pursuit, a woman whom Lily herself venerates and admires, but is also vexed by.

When Mr. Banks asks Lily to explain her painting, Woolf has the opportunity to let the reader see Lily's power of conception, her seriousness as an artist, her sense of the composition of the whole scene. The description indicates that Lily is painting in an impressionist mode. She seems to be painting in a non- representative style, or at least non-representative in the conventional sense of that term. It seems clear, at least, that she is not attempting a photographic resemblance to the scene in front of her.

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