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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 8

Summary

Mr. Carmichael does not answer Mrs. Ramsey. Mrs. Ramsey remembers hearing her children say of him that he takes opium. She thinks it is obvious that Mr. Carmichael is unhappy, but she is more disturbed by the fact that he does not trust her. She thinks it is his wife's doing. She remembers a time when she saw his wife behaving badly toward him, making him leave the house by telling him she needed to talk a while to Mrs. Ramsey. From this request of wife to husband, Mrs. Ramsey imagines all the "innumerable miseries of his life." She is very upset by this thought.

Mrs. Ramsey does not usually have a hard time making people like her. She thinks of famous men who come to her just to talk to her . She knows she has been admired and loved. Both men and women had allowed themselves to be simple with her. It hurts her feelings that Mr. Carmichael shrinks away from her. She is worried that he suspects her of vanity in her desire to give to other people all the time. She thinks Mr. Carmichael is aware of the pettiness of a part of her that is self-seeking.

She decides to devote her mind to the story she is reading to James because she knows how sensitive he is and she wants to pacify him. Just as she resumes the story, Mr. Ramsey stops again in front of her. She wishes he had not chosen that moment to stop. He does not speak; he just nods approvingly and walks on.

Mr. Ramsey sees his wife, his children playing, the red geraniums, and he slips smoothly into speculation about an article he has read about how many Americans visit Paris ever year. He wonders if the progress of civilization depends on great men or average people. He wonders if the "greatest good requires a slave class." This idea is distasteful to him, so he avoids it by thinking of the arts as nothing but decoration "imposed on top of human life; they do not express it." Mr. Ramsey can spend hours with such thoughts walking alone the hedges and lanes.


He reaches the edge of the lawn and looks at the bay. He thinks it is his fate to come out to the edge of the land and watch the sea slowly eating the land away. He thinks of "how we know nothing and the sea eats away the ground we stand on." Standing out there alone, he inspires others like a stake driven into a channel makes the boat-loads of people feel grateful because the stake marks the channel and does so alone. He thinks to himself that as a father of eight, he has no choice. He turns from the profound thoughts of fate and aloneness and time taking away life to concentrate his attention on trifles. He feels a little guilty to be caught happy in a world of misery, but it is true; he is happy with his wife and his children.

Mr. Ramsey has promised to "talk some nonsense" to the male students at Cardiff about Locke, Hume, Berkeley, and the causes of the French Revolution. He calls it "talking nonsense" because he cannot face his own feelings; he cannot say, "This is what I like--this is what I am.." William Banks and Lily Briscoe think it is silly for him to need to conceal himself and to be so timid about life. They think it is strange that he is at one time venerable and laughable.

Lily puts away her painting things and thinks that teaching and preaching is beyond human power. She thinks Mrs. Ramsey gives Mr. Ramsey what he wants too easily. She thinks, however, that the shift must be severe for Mr. Ramsey to come home from his philosophical thinking to his family's game playing and talking nonsense. She sees Mr. Ramsey bearing down on them again, but he stops and looks at the silence of the sea, and then turns away again.

Notes

At the opening of the chapter, Mrs. Ramsey's speculations on her own limitations, her self-knowledge that all her charity and doing for others is somewhat selfish because it makes her the center of attention, the one others need, is echoed by Mr. Ramsey's speculations about himself. However, unlike her, he does not seem to reach the same level of self-criticism. Criticism of Mr. Ramsey is reserved for the bystanders, Lily Briscoe and William Banks.

In chapter 8, Woolf returns the reader to the larger social scene in which this family drama has played out. As readers, we see at the end of the chapter that Lily Briscoe and William Banks have somehow witnessed the scene between Mrs. and Mr. Ramsey. They provide another view of Mr. Ramsey and it is not the reverential one of Mrs. Ramsey.

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