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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 4

Summary

Since the house is empty, its doors locked, the airs nibble and fan. The things that people had left are the only things that keep a human shape. "Now, day after day, light turned, like a flower reflected in water, its sharp image on the wall opposite." The shadows of the trees make a mark on the wall or the shadows of birds flying by make a soft spot on the wall. Only loveliness and stillness reign in the house. They repeat their questions over and over to the things in the house: "Will you fade? Will you perish?" They answer, "we remain." Nothing seems to be able to interrupt the stillness and the silence. Once a board comes loose just like a rock will come loose after being stuck on the side of a mountain for centuries. One fold of Mrs.. Ramsey's shawl comes loose and swings to and fro. Mrs. McNab comes, as she has been directed, to open the windows and dust the bedrooms.

Notes

Woolf's inclusion of Mrs. Ramsey's shawl in a list of things which have loosened and fallen gives the impression that what was for human beings a highly significant symbol which represented a vivid moment in time, is for the inanimate world of time passing, only one among many objects which succumb to the force of gravity.

CHAPTER 5

Summary

As Mrs. McNab lurches around the house, she hums a tune that is long out of fashion and has lost all meaning. It is like the "voice of witlessness, humour, persistency itself." She dusts and wipes. She is almost seventy years old. She moves around as if she had found some consolation, some "incorrigible hope." A mystic or visionary might look up into the night or stir a puddle and ask "What am I," "What is this?" Mrs. McNab, though, continues to drink and gossip as she always has.


Notes

Here, Woolf brings the caretaker into the world of the inanimate time. In doing so, she seems to be saying that different social classes experience time differently. Mrs. McNab continues on as does time, taking things in without bemoaning her fate.

CHAPTER 6

Summary

The spring, before leaves come in, is laid out on the fields.

In brackets: Prue Ramsey is married. Everyone thinks she looks beautiful.

As summer comes on, the wakeful and the hopeful experience the strangest kind of imaginings. To those minds, it is impossible to resist the impression that "good triumphs, happiness prevails, order rules." Even the earth seems to give off this message.

In brackets: Prue Ramsey dies that summer in an illness connected to childbirth. People say it is a tragedy since everything had been so promising.

In the heat of the summer, the wind sends out its spies to the house again. Flies weave webs in the rooms. Weeds tap against the windowpanes. At night, the stroke of the lighthouse comes in the soft light of spring. A rock is rent asunder and another fold of Mrs. Ramsey's shawl loosens. Mrs. McNab comes to the house and cleans it. Later in the summer, ominous sounds like blows of hammers further loosen the shawl and crack the teacups. Silence falls again.

In brackets: A shell explodes and twenty or thirty young men are killed in France. Andrew Ramsey is among them. His death is instantaneous.

That season, the people who go to the beach and ask questions of the sea and sky have to consider something was out of harmony with the serenity and happiness of the scene. There is an ash- colored ship in the distance and there is a purplish stain on the sea "as if something has boiled and bled, invisibly, beneath." It is hard to overlook them in viewing the landscape. Did nature supplement people? Did it complete what people began? Nature sees the misery and meanness and torture of humanity with equal complacency. It is impossible to pace the beach because contemplation is unendurable. "The mirror was broken."

In brackets: Mr. Carmichael publishes a volume of poems that spring that are immediately successful. People say the war has revived their interest in poetry.

Notes

In this chapter, the reader finds out that during the ten years of time which lapse during the passage of time it represents, a war occurs, specifically World War I. Virginia Woolf, among many other people of her generation, was horrified by the war. She regarded it as the end of all illusions about the safety of the world, the progress of civilization, the justness of those in power. Woolf registers the war in the measured blows like hammers, the grey warships seen from the beach, and the purple shadows of submarines off the coast. Unlike other human events, the war does make a mark on the temporality of nature. It is something which disrupts the natural order. It is also something which disables people from using nature as a convenient mirror to reflect their own happy states of mind. The war makes it impossible to rest in contemplation.

Also in this chapter, the deaths of Prue and Andrew are announced, again in the same kind of off-handed tone used to describe their mother's death. Of equal interest in the realm of "time passing" is the birth of Mr. Carmichael's book of poetry.

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