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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

SECTION THREE - "THE LIGHTHOUSE"

CHAPTER 1

Summary

"What does it mean, then, what can it all mean?" Lily wonders if she should go down to get another cup of coffee. The question of what it means repeats itself in her mind. She is wondering what she feels in coming back after all these years knowing that Mrs. Ramsey is dead. She cannot express anything. She has woken up early and is alone. She knows that the Ramseys have planned an expedition to the lighthouse, Mr. Ramsey, Cam and James. They are leaving late, having missed the tide, because Cam and James are not ready yet and Nancy has forgotten to order the sandwiches. Mr. Ramsey has slammed out in a temper. Nancy comes in and asks what one is supposed to send to the lighthouse. She seems to be forcing herself to do what she despaired of ever being able to do. Lily Briscoe cannot think of the answer on this morning when, usually, she would be able to think clearly that one sends tea, tobacco, and newspapers.

Sitting alone, Lily Briscoe feels cut off from other people as if she can only go on watching and wondering. She feels like she has no attachment here, no relations with it. She feels as if the link that usually binds things together has been cut. Everything seems aimless and chaotic. She thinks of Mrs. Ramsey, Prue and Andrew dead and can feel no feelings about it. It is a beautiful still day.

Mr. Ramsey looks straight at her as he passes by outside. She pretends to drink out of her empty coffee cup in order to escape him. She hears him say "Alone," and "Perished." and the words become symbols to her. Everything seems unreal. She sees only parts, but cannot see how to bring them together. She wants to escape somewhere to be alone. Suddenly she remembers that when she sat at this table ten years ago, there had been a leaf pattern on the tablecloth and there had been a problem about the foreground of a picture. She has never finished the picture and she decides she will paint it now.


She gathers her paint materials and sets up her easel outside on the lawn a distance from Mr. Carmichael. She realizes it was just here that she stood ten years ago. She cannot do anything, however, with Mr. Ramsey bearing down on her. Every time he approaches her, chaos approaches. She cannot paint. She fidgets with her things, but all she can to is ward him off. He told her last night, "You'll find us much changed." All six of the remaining children had sat silently and she had felt that they raged under his words. The house is full of unrelated passions. Then Mr. Ramsey had reminded Cam and James that they must be ready at half-past seven. At the door, he had stopped and demanded to know if they did not want to go. Lily knows that if they had dared to say yes, he would have tragically flung himself back upon the bitter waters of despair. He has a gift for gesture. Cam and James sullenly said, yes, they would be ready. Lily was struck that "this was tragedy-- not palls, dust and the shroud; but children coerced, their spirits subdued." James is sixteen and Cam is seventeen.

Lily sets her clean canvas on the easel as a barrier. No matter what she does, Mr. Ramsey permeates, prevails, and imposes himself. He changes everything. He wants something she feels she cannot give him. She feels angry at him, thinking that he never gives; he only takes. She also finds herself angry with Mrs. Ramsey. Lily is forty-four and feels she is wasting her time unable to do anything, playing at painting, and "it was all Mrs. Ramsey's fault. She was dead. The step where she used to sit was empty. She was dead."

She thinks she should not have come. She thinks painting is the one thing in the world that should not be played with. It is the one dependable thing in a world of strife. Here is Mr. Ramsey, greedy and distraught. She thinks it would be simpler to get it over with. She thinks that surely she can imitate what she has seen other women do, "the glow, the rhapsody, the self-surrender." She remembers the look on Mrs. Ramsey's face. Mr. Ramsey stops at her side and she decides to give him what she can.

Notes

Without Mrs. Ramsey acting as a buffer, the patriarchal family is unbearable. Mr. Ramsey is a tyrant, concerned about his own feelings, unable to break through them to see his children are suffering. Lily recognizes all of this from the outside. She is the target of his need only because she as the only available woman for giving him sympathy. It is clear that Lily has not spent her last ten years catering to men. She doubts whether she can do what Mr. Ramsey needs of her. However, he is so overbearing, she almost has no choice.

CHAPTER 2

Summary

Mr. Ramsey thinks Lily Briscoe has shriveled slightly. He thinks she looks a little skimpy, but "not unattractive." He likes her. He has these moments when he feels an enormous need to approach any woman and force them to give him sympathy. He asks her if anyone is looking after her, if she has everything she needs. She assures him she is fine. She feel stuck. They both look at the sea. Mr. Ramsey wonders why she is looking at the sea when he is there. Lily Briscoe says she hopes it is calm enough for a landing at the lighthouse. He is impatient with her talk of the lighthouse. He groans loudly, "such a groan that any other woman in the whole world would have done something, said something," Lily Briscoe thinks. She bitterly talks to herself, saying she is "not a woman, but a peevish, ill-tempered, dried-up old maid." He sighs profoundly again. He sighs significantly. She wishes she could do something to get him to leave her. He says "such expeditions are painful." He thinks to himself that she is a stone. He gives her a sickly look that nauseates her. She sees that he is acting, dramatizing himself. She finds it indecent. Still she can say nothing. She cannot find anything to talk about. His gaze seems to fall on the grasses and discolor it. She sees the "entirely contented figure" of Mr. Carmichael sunning himself drowsily nearby. Lily Briscoe thinks that as a woman, she should know how to deal with Mr. Ramsey's demands. She chastises herself for her inability to console him. She finally hears sounds from the house indicating that Cam and James are coming out. Mr. Ramsey feels the time runs short and exercises on her the immense pressure of his concentrated woe. He is annoyed that any woman can resist him.

He notices his bootlaces are untied. Lily Briscoe notices them and thinks they are remarkable boots. She thinks the boots are very much like Mr. Ramsey. She exclaims over them, "What beautiful boots!" She feels ashamed of herself to remark on his boots when he wants her solace for his soul. She thinks he will roar with temper and annihilate her, but instead he smiles and his sadness falls away from him. He holds up his foot for her to look at it and tells her they are first-rate boots. He tells her only one man in England can make them. He tells her "boots are among the chief curses" of humankind. He thinks bookmakers make it their business to torture and cripple people. He shows her the shape of his boots, tells her about the leather. She realizes they have reached peace and sanity, having reached "the blessed island of good boots." She feels warmly toward him. He asks her to show him how she ties a knot and shuns her feeble system, to show her his own invention. He knots her shoe three times and then unknots it three times. She wonders why at such an inappropriate moment as when he is bending over her shoe should she feel sympathy for him. She feels tears coming on. He seems "a figure of infinite pathos."

She sees Cam and James coming slowly toward them. She feels annoyed with them for coming so reluctantly. She feels an emptiness since her feeling had come too late. He has become a very distinguished elderly man. He looks like a leader getting ready for an expedition. Cam and James look miserable about having to go with him. As they walk off, she thinks of what made his face so sad.

She imagines him thinking night after night about kitchen tables. She remembers that Andrew had given her that image. She thinks of Andrew's death by a splinter of a shell. She thinks the kitchen table is bare, austere, and not ornamental. It has no color and is all edges and angles. It is uncompromisingly plain. Nevertheless, Mr. Ramsey always kept his eyes on it. She thinks he must have had his doubts about that table, whether is was a real table, or whether he was wasting his time on it, whether he was able to find it. She thinks he must have had doubts and that was why he demanded so much of people. She imagines that he and Mrs. Ramsey must have stayed up late some nights. She thinks that now he has no one to talk to about that table or his boots or his knots and "he was like a lion seeking whom he could devour." He alarms her. He was always changing. She sees him leading the little procession out of her range of vision. "The gate banged."

Notes

In this scene between Lily and Mr. Ramsey, Woolf depicts the farce of patriarchy. The separation of people into genders, apportioning emotion to women and reason to men makes the man helpless to deal with his own emotions. He must force any woman at hand to sympathize with him. Lily has partially stepped outside the roles of patriarchy in deciding not to marry and so is unable to meet his needs as most women are. Out of simple human connection, however, she finds the ability to sympathize with him. He becomes child-like when she admires his boots and he can display them for her to admire further. He is, after all, very easy to please.

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