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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 5

Summary

Mrs. Ramsey is telling Charles, "Even if it isn't fine tomorrow, it will be another day." As she says this, she notices Lily Briscoe and William Banks strolling together and thinks it would take a clever man to see the charm of Lily's face. She has James stand so she can measure a stocking she is knitting against his leg. It is a stocking for the lighthouse keeper's little boy. James fidgets because he is subtly jealous of his mother's attention. She looks up at him and notices how shabby the furniture looks, but then thinks it does no good to buy new chairs when they sit in the house all winter with only one old woman as caretaker, and the house "positively dripped with wet." She is happy with the summerhouse as a retreat from London for her husband. She has a few pictures and books in the house. She thinks books grow of themselves. She never has time to read them, even those inscribed particularly to her by the hand of the poet. She worries about the house getting too shabby. She wishes the children would at least wipe their feet. She thinks of her children's various projects, Andrew's dissection of crabs, Jasper's making soup from seaweed, Rose collecting objects, and thinks all her children are gifted. Even so, things get shabbier and shabbier. She is bothered that every door is left open. She likes the windows to be kept open, but is always finding the maids have theirs shut. One of the maids is Swiss and misses the beautiful mountains. Mrs. Ramsey knows this woman's father is dying of throat cancer.


She decides the stocking is too short. "Never did anybody look so sad." What was behind the looks. Was it her "beauty and splendor?" People wondered if some other, earlier lover had killed himself the week before they were married. Or did her sadness come of nothing? She could easily have told of her own deep emotions--"great passion. love foiled, ambition thwarted--but she was always silent. "Her simplicity fathomed what other people falsified." Her singleness of mind allows her to rise and fall with truth "which delighted, eased, sustained--falsely perhaps."

Once when Mr. Banks had called her to check on a train schedule, he had told her that "Nature has but little clay like that which molded you." He always thought of her as very Greek, like one of the Graces, and it seemed odd to talk on the telephone to such a woman. When he had hung up, he had thought that she was no more aware of her beauty than a child.

Mrs. Ramsey sits knitting her stocking with her head outlined absurdly by the gilt frame on which hangs a green shawl she had tossed onto its edge. She kisses James and tells him they will find him another picture to cut out of the magazine.

Notes

The novelist captures several somewhat incongruous images of Mrs. Ramsey in this chapter. She is a middle-class housewife married to a philosopher, whose life and her children's lives she puts above her own. She worries about the details of her household, the shabbiness of the aging furniture, the doors being left open and windows being left closed. These mundane thoughts make up an important picture of Woolf's character, one whom critics have said is based on Woolf's own mother, the novel being her successful attempt to come to grips with her memory of her mother. A more traditional focus of a novel would have been Mr. Ramsey, with Mrs. Ramsey being left in the background providing pleasant context for the more important philosophical character. Woolf and other modernist novelists chose the un- heroic and the mundane focus for their novels, the every day instead of the epic.

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