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Free Study Guide-To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf-Free Online Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 3

Summary

Lily sees that they are gone and she is both relieved and disappointed. Her sympathy falls back on her like a bramble on her face. She feels divided. One part of her is drawn out there with the others and the other part stays where she is with her canvas. It is "white and uncompromising" staring at her. She remembers the relations of the lines in the scene before her. She begins painting, "untying the knot in imagination." She realizes in her upset over Mr. Ramsey standing over her, she had picked up the wrong brush. She gets the right brush and it makes her remember who she is and what her relation is to other people. She feels an exciting ecstasy at beginning the painting. Yet, she cannot think of where to begin. Any beginning would commit her to innumerable risks and irrevocable decisions. The idea seems simple, but the practice is complex.

With a strange physical sensation, as if she is held back and pushed forward at the same time, she makes her first stroke. Then she attains a dancing rhythm. "Down in the hollow of one wave she sees the next wave towering higher and higher above her." She thinks, there she is again, drawn out of community with people and living in the presence of a formidable enemy of hers, "this other thing, this truth, this reality." In moments "before she exchanged the fluidity of life for the concentration of painting she had a few moments of nakedness when she seemed like an unborn soul, a soul reft of body." She wonders why she does it. She thinks her painting will be hung in the servants' bedrooms or rolled up and stuffed under a sofa. She hears a voice saying she cannot paint, that she cannot create. She repeats the words, "Can't paint, can't write," monotonously to herself over and over while she is considering what her plan of attack will be on the painting. The mass looms at her, then she spontaneously begins dipping among blues and umbers, moving her brush fast and then slow, as if it had "fallen into a rhythm which was dictated to her." She loses consciousness of outer things and her name and her personality and her appearance and Mr. Carmichael's presence. Her mind keeps coming up with scenes, names, sayings, memories, and ideas like a fountain spurting over the difficult white space.


She remembers it was Charles Tansley who used to say "Women can't paint, can't write." She remembers he used to stand over her and talk about how he bought cheap shag tobacco, "parading his poverty, his principles." She remembers his actions, but she remembers the scene at the beach, when they had all gone down, and Mrs. Ramsey had sat and written letters by a rock. She had looked up asking what she was seeing in the distance since she was shortsighted. Lily Briscoe had then seen Charles Tansley become nice as he could be. He played ducks and drakes with Lily Briscoe. She had been highly conscious of Mrs. Ramsey watching them. As she thinks these thoughts, she is looking at her canvas an she realizes it must have altered the design a good deal when Mrs. Ramsey was sitting on the step with James. She realizes there must have been a shadow. When she thinks of the scene on the beach, it all seems to rely on the fact that Mrs. Ramsey was sitting there writing letters. She thinks of what power was in the human soul. She is amazed that seeing Mrs. Ramsey sitting there under a rock writing letters resolved everything into simplicity, made the angers and irritations fall off. Mrs. Ramsey brought together this and that and "so made out of that miserable silliness and spite something--this scene on the beach for example, this moment of friendship and liking--which survived, after all these years complete." Lily Briscoe can dip into that memory and re-fashion her memory of Charles Tansley. That memory has stayed in her mind and affected her like a work of art.

Lily Briscoe asks herself what is the meaning of life. She realizes that question comes on her with more frequency as she gets older. She knows the great revelation had never come to her. "Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one." The idea that Mrs. Ramsey had brought them all together that day, saying "life stand still here." She knows Mrs. Ramsey made something permanent of the moment as in another sphere Lily Briscoe was doing that with her painting. She realizes this is the nature of a revelation. "In the midst of chaos there was shape; this eternal passing and flowing was struck into stability." She calls out Mrs. Ramsey's name and knows she owes it all to her.

There is silence. No one is moving about in the house. She hopes no one will come out of the house so she can be left alone thinking. She looks off at the water and sees Mr. Ramsey and the others departing. She sees the boat make its way past the other boats to sea.

Notes

This chapter is very significant in that it brings together the theme of what art is. Lily Briscoe recognizes Mrs. Ramsey's artistry in bringing people together, just at the same moment when she is producing art herself. For Lily Briscoe, art is the act of crystallizing a moment, making it permanent instead of passing. Mrs. Ramsey did that for her when she brought her together with Charles Tansley and the others on the beach. She remembers that scene vividly and it shapes her personality. It is a moment in time that with other moments in time makes up her personality and her sense of the world and her place in it. She, too, performs this act of art. The reader is shown to the process of turning a moment into a still point in time. The process of making art for Lily is tied intricately with her thoughts, feelings, and memories as she is painting the scene of memory. So, too, is Virginia Woolf making art in writing this novel, giving her readers sharp, clear moments to remember which will shape the readers' life and their sense of their place in it.

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