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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 12

Summary

Out on the boat, Mr. Ramsey is almost finished with his book. James thinks he looks very old, like some old stone lying on the sand. He reads quickly to get to the end. They are very close to the lighthouse. James is amazed to see what the lighthouse looks like, It is a stark tower on a black rock. He feels satisfied by it. It reminds him of his own character. James feels the stark contrast between what the lighthouse looks like and how the old ladies like Mrs. Beckwith experience the world. Mrs. Beckwith always exclaims over how nice things are and how sweet things are, but James feels as though things are really like this lighthouse. He thinks he and his father share this knowledge. James says "We are driving before a gale--we must sink," just like his father said it.

Cam is tired of looking at the sea. The fish are dead in the bottom of the boat. She watches her father read and remembers her pact with James to fight tyranny to the death. She thinks her father reads to escape. She looks for the island and it looks like the top of a rock as if a big wave could cover it. She thinks of all the paths and terraces of their house and imagines they are disappearing, "and nothing was left but a pale blue censer swinging rhythmically this way and that across her mind. It was a hanging garden; it was a valley, full of birds, and flowers, and antelopes . . She was falling asleep."

Mr. Ramsey shuts his book suddenly and calls out "come now." Cam wakes up and imagines he means to lead her to some extraordinary adventure. Mr. Ramsey calls for lunch. Macalister praises James at the sails. James thinks his father never praises him. Mr. Ramsey gets out the sandwiches and hands them around. He feels happy eating with the fishermen. James imagines that his father would love to live in a cottage and spit and talk to old fisherman.


Cam thinks everything is right. She feels as she did in the study with the old men reading The Times. She thinks she can go on thinking anything because her father is there and he will watch over her. Cam keeps up her story of an adventure, imagining them to be making for safety after a great shipwreck, "telling herself a story but knowing at the same time that it was the truth." Mr. Ramsey is telling Mr. Macalister they will soon be out of it but that their children will see strange things in their lifetimes. Mr. Macalister tells Mr. Ramsey that he has never seen a doctor and had never lost a tooth. Cam is sure her father is wishing such a life for his children. He tells Cam not to waste her sandwich. He gives her a gingerbread nut as if he were a great Spanish gentleman handing a lady a flower.

Macalister's boy points out the spot where three men were drowned. James and Cam worry that their father will burst out with the lines, "But I beneath a rougher sea." They think if he does do that, they will shriek aloud in embarrassment. He does not do so, he only takes out his watch and looks up to James and says, "Well done!" thinking how James had steered them like a born sailor. Cam silently addresses James. She knows this is what James has been wanting from his father. She knows he is so pleased that he will not let anyone share in his pleasure. They sail swiftly along beside the reef. The waves slap the rocks and make a shower. Those on board see the two men on the lighthouse. Mr. Ramsey, with his long-sighted eyes looks back at the island. Cam wonders what he sees. Cam and James watch their father. They want to ask him what he wants. They both want to say to him "Ask us anything and we will give it you." He puts on his hat and tells them to bring the parcels for the lighthouse men. He stands at the bow of the boat and James thinks it is as if he were saying "There is no God," and Cam thinks it is as if her father were leaping into space. They both stand up to follow him as he jumps onto the rock.

Notes

In this chapter, the points of view shift rapidly from Cam to James as they watch their father. The increase in the pace of shifting points of view prepares the reader for the coming together of Mr. Ramsey and his estranged children.

As Cam drifts into sleep, her mother's images of mixed elements comes to her, a confirmation of Mrs. Ramsey's idea that her children would remember that night for the rest of their lives.

Just as Cam had repeated her father's phrase earlier when she was softening toward him, so does James do so now as they approach the lighthouse. Just as James thinks angrily of how his father never praises him, Mr. Ramsey praises him with a Biblical sounding "Well done!" James has been won over, Cam knows. As Mr. Ramsey jumps from boat to shore, the two follow him eagerly.

CHAPTER 13

Summary

Lily Briscoe thinks they must have reached the lighthouse. She feels suddenly exhausted. The effort of watching the lighthouse and imagining Mr. Ramsey landing on it have exhausted her, but she feels relieved. She had given him what she wanted to give him that morning. "'He has landed, she said aloud, 'It is finished.'"

Mr. Carmichael stands up beside her like an old pagan god. He says, they have landed. Lily thinks she must have been right to think that they were on the same wavelength in both thinking of the same thing. He stands there and reaches out his arms toward the water "as if he were spreading his hands over all the weaknesses and suffering" of humankind. He has crowned the occasion and lets his hands fall.

Lily turns to her canvas. She worries that it will be hung in an attic or be destroyed. Then she wonders what that matters after all. She takes up her brush again and looks at the empty steps. She suddenly draws a line in the center. "It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision."

Notes

The novel ends in completion. James has made it to the lighthouse, a desire that was thwarted at the opening of the novel, and Lily has completed her painting of Mrs. Ramsey, something she started at the beginning of the novel.

Mr. Carmichael's place here is interesting. For such a silent character, he certainly gets at good part to play at the end, crowning it all with a sign of benediction.

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