To the Lighthouse

Essay Type E















Literatura Inglesa IV – Profa. Vera Lima

Turma LEJ

Grupo 3

Danielle de Rezende Santos - 102051993

Maíra Cunha de Carvalho - 102051765

Patrícia Valéria Gomes – 102003801



  1. Introduction


This paper talks about some aspects of Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse. In the first part there is a summary of the sixth chapter of the section “The Window”, in which Mrs. Ramsay tries to protect James from suffering and Mr. Ramsay thinks about his work and how far he has been able to go. The second part shows a general comment on the seventh chapter and on two specific issues. The first one is Mr. Ramsay’s demand for sympathy and Mrs. Ramsay’s response to that and the second one is Mrs. Ramsay and the model of virtue and generosity of Victorian woman. The third part is a comment on Lily’s process of painting, Lily’s feelings with the absence of Mrs. Ramsay and the issue of art as the capacity to immortalize special moments and sensations of life.


  1. A summary of chapter VI, section The Window


            Chapter VI begins with Mr. Ramsay saying “Some one had blundered”, a verse from the poem called “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, which he has been reciting in the previous chapters. Mrs. Ramsay looks at her husband, but she does not say a word to him because she realizes how anguished he is. She thinks that maybe he needs some privacy. While Mrs. Ramsay is measuring the stocking she is knitting against James’s leg, Mr. Ramsay passes them and tickles the boy’s legs with a sprig, but James brushes it away.

Mrs. Ramsay is trying to finish the stocking as soon as possible because she wants to send them to the Lighthouse keeper’s boy in the next day. At this point, a conflict emerges between them. According to Mr. Ramsay, it would be impossible to visit the place because the weather would not be fine, but Mrs. Ramsay does not agree with him. In her opinion, there is a chance that they could go there. Mr. Ramsay is very annoyed with her remark. He thinks that her comment would make their children hope for something that would surely not happen, it was a lie.  But for Mrs. Ramsay, her husband’s behavior shows his lack of consideration for other people’s feelings, that is, he keeps saying that the weather will not be fine, that it will not be possible to go to the Lighthouse and these words are very brutal, they destroy their children’s hope to visit the place.

            Despite the initial conflict, Mrs. Ramsay still respects him a lot. In fact, she reverences him. The fact that he said that it must rain and then that it will not, made her feel secure, and the initial conflict turned into a feeling of reverence. Mr. Ramsay, now ashamed of his previous petulance, prods again his son’s leg.

           Mr. Ramsay repeats the verse “Some one had blundered” again, but this time his note changes, he says it in a melodious way. Finally, he fells silent, he is now restored to his privacy. Mr. Ramsay thinks about his mind, his own intelligence. He mentions the letters of the alphabet as a metaphor for his philosophical skills. He could reach letter Q, not letter R. Because of that, he feels he is a failure; he did not go as far as he could. Mr. Ramsay is convinced that he is a failure as a philosopher; he will never reach R.


  1. General comment about chapter vii, section the Window, including the issues:

§   Mr. Ramsay’s demand for sympathy and Mrs. Ramsay’s response to that

§   Mrs. Ramsay and the model of virtue and generosity of the Victorian woman


In chapter seven, Mr. Ramsay’s conflicts continue. The difference is that, now, he will resort to his wife by demanding sympathy.

Although Mr. Ramsay was a highly appreciated man in the academic world, he was, now, feeling insecure about his philosophic capacity. A feeling of failure has surrounded him, so he turns to his wife demanding understanding. His attitude makes evident the fact that what Mr. Ramsay had in the academic world was not enough to complete him. He needed something more; something that only Mrs. Ramsay could have given him. She is the one who will give him life, meaning and all things he could never find in the academic world. This dialectic between real life and academic philosophy can be found throughout Woolf’s book – it consists in one of the various motifs, i.e., repetitive patterns found in the story – and characterizes very well Mr. And Mrs. Ramsay’s relationship.

In order to clarify the difference between Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, it is important to analyze the author’s lexical choice when referring to them. One good example of it is Woolf’s contrast between the “delicious fecundity”, the “fountain and spray of life” in reference to Mrs. Ramsay – and the “fatal sterility of the male” – in reference to Mr. Ramsay [p.37]. This idea of ‘fecundity’ vs. ‘sterility’ is also seen in a beautiful metaphor, through which Woolf connects Mrs. Ramsay to the image of a tree or flower: “and James, (…), felt her rise in a rosy-flowered fruit tree laid with leaves and dancing boughs into which the beak of brass, the arid scimitar of his father, the egotistical man, plunged and smote, demanding sympathy”[1]. As a tree, Mrs. Ramsay lays on him her fruits, fulfilling him with the life he lacks. In other words, she restores and renews him in response to his demand for sympathy.

This process is related to the role of the Victorian woman, represented in the story by Mrs. Ramsay. She is the one who will unite people, fill her house with life and meaning, protect and take care of everybody around her, create affection and welfare bonds. All things she was creating with her needles – “she created drawing-room and kitchen, set them all aglow; bade him take his ease there, go in and out, enjoy himself” [2] – while knitting, she created in her life as well for those who were around her. This was her role as a Victorian woman, a model of virtue and generosity.

In the end of this chapter it is possible to see that she is quite uncomfortable with what has happened between her and Mr. Ramsay. She thinks he should be stronger than her for she did not like to feel finer than him. This is also, evidently, a Victorian female behavior.

By representing Mrs. Ramsay as a Victorian woman, Woolf pays homage to that age and contributes to the reader in a very special way: as the narrating voice passes through each character’s thoughts, the readers are able to know more about this woman, what would be more difficult to do in the works written during the Victorian age.




  1. Chapter V, section The Lighthouse


The modernist writers tried to escape the literary conventions of the 19th century.  In modernist writing there is mixture of art and philosophy; there are no boundaries between them. Virginia Woolf built the novel To the Lighthouse following these modernist ideas of mixing thought and art.

In the fifth chapter of “The Lighthouse”, especially, Virginia Woolf depicts the process of creation and the work of the artist, who is someone that is able to take moments from life and immortalize them, through the character of Lily Briscoe.

Virginia Woolf shows Lily on the lawn, trying to finish her painting, which still has a blank space. To create her painting Lily performs a movement from thought to painting, which might be related to the modernist mixture of art and philosophy. She dives into her memories of the past so as to be able obtain the material she will use for immortalizing Mrs. Ramsay, and what it was like to have her around, so that she can finally put it onto her canvas. 

However, it is a difficult process. It seems that in her memories Mrs. Ramsay is still alive but, in fact, she has to deal with a reality in which Mrs. Ramsay is not there anymore, which brings her bad sensations:


The physical sensations that went with the bare look of the steps had become suddenly extremely unpleasant. To want and not to have, sent all up her body a hardness, a hollowness, a strain. And then to want and not to have – to want and want – how that wrung the heart, and wrung it again and again! Oh, Mrs. Ramsay! she called out silently, to that essence which sat by the boat, that abstract one made of her, that woman in grey, as if to abuse her for having gone and then having gone, come back again. [3]


This passage shows very well Lily’s feelings at the sight of the empty drawing-room steps.  It is interesting how, after ten years have passed, Mrs. Ramsay comes back in Lily’s thoughts and memories, how Lily misses her and how she wishes Mrs. Ramsay could come back. Although they are two completely different types of woman and do not share the same ideas, she tries to make solid these memories she has, creating a unit out of them through her painting. 

However, after thinking, wondering and recalling during this chapter, Lily has not filled the blank yet. It seems that she is still trying to achieve her goal: to find a way to paint Mrs. Ramsay and to immortalize her, for, as she imagined Mr. Carmichael would have said, “all changes; but not words, not paint.”[4].                                                                                                  

 At the end of the chapter, she starts crying without knowing exactly the reason why. It might be because she feels desperate with the absence of Mrs. Ramsay, whom she had felt safe thinking about, and now it is not anymore. This last moment of the chapter represents Lily’s final attempt and her dive into chaos so that she can finally finish her painting of Mrs. Ramsay, bringing back, together with it, the harmony and the meaning she used to give to things.


  1. Conclusion


            To the Lighthouse is a novel written in a very different style. After finishing this paper, it was possible to realize that this book contains many different sub-themes that can be explored and that are not noticed at first. As an example, in To the Lighthouse, there is a narrating voice amplifying the characters’ thoughts and simply expressing their sentiments instead of judging them. This is another kind of narrator, different from the past tradition’s ‘omniscient narrator’, who imposed an absolute truth to the work. This is just one example of Woolf’s breaking conventions. Another important example is in the way she expresses time. There is no linear sequence of facts or thoughts in To the Lighthouse. Instead of succession, she uses simultaneity exactly the way our mind works. These two characteristics are clearly seen in the chapters analyzed before.

            Another important theme of this book is the focus given on the relationship of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay. Since we have access to their thoughts, we can realize that there is a strong feeling between them. Woolf shows how complex a relationship can be, that is, she presents the natural conflicts between man and woman. Despite their conflicts, they love each other even without saying it. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay’s marriage is based on their differences, but it is also based on respect for each other because any relationship demands tolerance.

  1. Bibliography


WOOLF, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. Orlando: Harcourt. Inc, 1981

[1] WOOLF, V.,1981, p.38

[2] WOOLF, V.,1981, p.37-38

[3] WOOLF, V.,1981,p.178.

[4] WOOLF, V.,1981,p.179