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Free Study Guide-To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf-Free Online Book Notes
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Cam barely grazes the easel as she runs past. Mr. Banks thinks he would have liked to have a daughter like Cam. She also barely grazes her father and then runs past her mother, who calls her and tells her she wants her for a moment. She does not stop. Mrs. Ramsey sees her and wonders what makes her run so furiously. Mrs. Ramsey calls her as second time and Cam stops. Mrs. Ramsey has to repeat her instructions twice. She wants Cam to ask Mildred, the maid, if Andrew, Miss Doyle, and Mr. Rayley have come back yet from their hike along the beach. Cam returns momentarily and tells her they have not returned.

Mrs. Ramsey thinks their not having come back can only mean one thing. She knows Paul Rayley was set to ask Minta Doyle to marry him. They had gone off after lunch for a walk and Mrs. Ramsey knows it must mean Paul was going to propose. James tugs at her to go on reading the Fisherman and his wife. As she does she thinks of Paul. She thinks he will be a good husband, because he is not a genius, but a "boobie," and she prefers boobies to clever men who wrote dissertations like Charles Tansley. Mrs. Ramsey wonders if Nancy is with them. She tries to picture them, but cannot decide if she remembers Nancy with them when they left. She reads the part of the story in which the man says he does not want to be king and the woman says then she will be king. She sees Cam standing over them and she tells her to come in or go out because she knows if Cam stays she will pick a fight with James. The story goes on with the man speaking to the magic flounder and asking it to come to him because his wife does not want him to have her will. The Flounder asks, "Well, what does she want then?" and Mrs. Ramsey wonders where Paul and the others are.

Mrs. Ramsey thinks of Minta's parents, whom she has dubbed the Owl and the Poker. She finds them boring. All conversation centers on their parrot. Minta's mother had not wanted her to come with the Ramseys on vacation. Mrs. Ramsey worries about an accusation another woman had made against her, that Mrs. Ramsey had robbed her daughter's affections. Mrs. Doyle had said something to her about her wish to dominate and interfere and make people do was she wanted them to. Mrs. Ramsey thinks it is an unjust charge. She cannot see how anyone could say she took pains to impress people since she is often ashamed of her own shabbiness of dress.

She knows she is not tyrannical. She thinks what is truly tyrannical are hospitals, drains, and the dairy. She would like to take people by the scruff of their necks to make them see. She thinks it is a disgrace that there is not a hospital on the whole island. She thinks is should be made illegal that milk could be delivered to her door brown with dirt. She wishes she had time to organize to get a model dairy on the island and a hospital. She thinks she might have time when the children are grown up, and then she thinks she never wants James or Cam to grow up. She thinks "nothing made up for the loss" of her children growing up. She thinks of her children in turn: James, the most sensitive and gifted; Prue, an angel with others; Andrew, with his gift for mathematics; Nancy and Roger, wild creatures now; Rose, whose mouth is too big, but who has a wonderful gift with her hands; Jasper, who she does not like shooting birds, but it was only a stage. She wishes she could always have a baby. She thinks James will never be so happy again. She thinks of how happy her children are.

She thinks how odd it is that with all of Mr. Ramsey's gloom, he is happier than she is and more hopeful. She guesses it is because he is less exposed to human worries. She thinks of her fifty years and thinks of life. Her sense of it is that it is something real, something private which she shares with neither her children nor her husband. She thinks of life as a transaction in which she is on one side and life is on the other and she is always trying to get the best of it. She thinks of life as a terrible, hostile thing that is quick to pounce on her if she gave it a chance. She thinks of the eternal problems: the poor, death. She thinks of her children who will all have to go through it. She is driven on, as if in an attempt at an escape, to tell people they must marry and have children.

She worries that she has put undue pressure on Minta to marry. She keeps reading, now of the man who puts on his trousers and runs outside in the raging storm. She realizes it is the last page and decides to finish the story even though it is past James's bedtime. She worries about Paul and the others not coming back yet when it has gotten so late. She finishes the story, "And there they are living still at this very time." As she ends the story, she sees a stroke of light from the lighthouse that has been lit. She knows that in a moment James will ask her if he will get to go to the lighthouse the next day and she will have to tell him no. She thinks "he will remember that all his life."


Mrs. Ramsey moves always back and forth from the joy of the moment to the sometimes-paralyzing fear that it will be over in a very brief time. She thinks of Mr. Ramsey as being happier than she is because he is less exposed to human worries. Perhaps in being protected from the human worries of how to scrape together enough money to pay for the greenhouse repairs or how to console a woman dying of cancer or how to deal with his children changing and growing up, Mr. Ramsey lives in a sort of timeless world. Mrs. Ramsey, on the other hand, seems to live with a dual sense of time. She experiences the present moment intensely, but always sees it as soon to be over. The end of the story she reads-- "And there they are living still at this very time"--echoes the theme of Mrs. Ramsey's thoughts on the passing moment. It also echoes the sense of the novel as a collection of very significant moments in the life of this family. Family memories are often of sharp moments in time when realizations were made or visions were seen of wholeness or fragmentation. In a sense, those moments are ever present. They are still living at every subsequent moment of a person's life.

The story--or the novel, or the painting--can also provide a sense of life going on at the present time, when actual life is fleeting and passes before one is prepared for it to pass.

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Free Study Guide-To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf-Free Chapter Summary


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