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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
"Night after night, summer and winter," storms and still weather hold court without interference. If anyone had been present to listen, he or she would have only heard "gigantic chaos" in the darkness and the daylight. In the spring, the garden urns are filled with wind-blown plants which bloom brightly. The stillness of day is as strange as the chaos of night. The trees and the flowers stand there and look forward, but see nothing, "eyeless, so terrible."
In the last words of this paragraph, the reader gets a signal that the inanimate world is a terrible one because it has no agency. Things happen, but have no import. Beauty exists, but no one sees it.
When she comes to the house to clean, Mrs. McNab picks some flowers around the house and take them home with her. She thinks it is sad to see them waste. She thinks of the house standing for years without anyone in it. The books are moldy. The house has not been cleaned as it should have been since it is beyond one person's capacity to keep it so. The rain-pipe had broken and water had ruined the carpet. People should have come down to see to things. They had left clothes in the closets all these years. Mrs. McNab thinks about the death of Mrs. Ramsey. She thinks of Mrs. Ramsey gardening and thinks of how the garden has gone to waste with rabbits everywhere. Once, the family was supposed to come, but then put it off because of the war. She thinks of Mrs. Ramsey's pleasant manner. She remembers that Prue and Andrew have also died. Mrs. McNab can see Mrs. Ramsey in her mind's eye, carrying her heavy basket, stooping over her flowers. Mrs. McNab also remembers having had good times with the cook whose name she cannot quite remember: Mildred? Marian? She thinks, "Things were better then than now." She gets upstairs and comes upon James's skull and wonders why they would have left a horrible beast's skull around. She leaves the house, thinking how its upkeep is too much for one woman.
The key sentence here is Mrs. McNab's sentiment, "Things were better then than now." It captures the nostalgic tone of the novel. The time before the war is represented as rich and full of life. Mrs. Ramsey was alive then and her children were in the bloom of their childhood. Woolf allows this one family to stand in symbolically for all of England, even of Europe, before and after the war.
The house is left standing empty. The trifling airs seem to have triumphed. The saucepan has rusted. The mat has decayed. Mrs. Ramsey's shawl sways back and forth. "Tortoise-shell butterflies burst from the chrysalis and pattered their life out on the window- pane." Poppies bloom among the dahlias. The weed that tapped on the windowpane has become the steady drumming of trees and briars. The whole room is green in summer. "What power could now prevent the fertility, the insensibility of nature? Only the lighthouse beam enters the house. The moment comes when it is like one feather landing on a weight-scale and weighing it down. Everything is about to pitch forward into darkness. Instead, there is a force working; it is Mrs. McNab and Mrs. Bast, who have come back to get the house in order for the arrival of the Ramseys. The two old women "stay the corruption and the rot." They get all the books and lay them outside to sun. A "rusty laborious birth seemed to be taking place," as the women work hard to bring the house to order.
Mrs. McNab thinks of the old days at the Ramseys. She remembers an old gardener who never noticed her. "Someone said he was dead; someone said she was dead. Which was it?" She is sure the young gentleman is dead. She thinks of the cook whose name she still cannot remember and remembers having good times with her. "They lived well in those days. They had everything they wanted."
Mrs. Bast wonders why they have a beast's skull in the house. She thinks it must have been shot in foreign parts. She remembers ladies and gentlemen staying in the house and dinner parties of at least twenty people all dressed up with jewelry. Mrs. Bast says the family will find it changed. Her son scythes the grass outside.
After days of labor, they shut the windows and lock the door. Now a half-heard melody arises consisting of a bark, a bleat, the hum of an insect, the tremor of cut grass, the jar of a dorbeetle, all mysteriously related, always on the verge of harmonizing.
In brackets: Lily Briscoe has her bag carried up to the house in September.
In this chapter, the life of the house returns. Not only does it return with the help of the two old women who are cleaning, but also in some mystical way with the melody of the sounds of the world. If the war shut everything down and chaos ruled, now everything is starting back up again. The ebb and flow of life is reasserted.
Peace has come. Lily Briscoe goes to sleep. Through her open window she hears the "voice of the beauty of the world" murmuring. The house is full again. Mrs. Beckwith is staying there and Mr. Carmichael. If these people had come out to the beach, they would have seen night in its splendor. They would hear the waves break gently and see the light fall tenderly. Lily Briscoe, lies in her bed, her eyes open wide and she thinks here she is again. "Awake."
The last word in the chapter, "awake," indicates the life part of the death and life cycle has reasserted itself. Lily has awakened, an indication of more than just the physical act of waking up from sleep. She might have awakened to her vision as an artist.