“For nothing was simply one thing.” And therein lies one of life’s great challenges - to pause and wait for the next thing to be revealed. Pause long enough for the wind to fill your sails again.

Expand full comment

Hmmm! I thought, re the “mania for marriage,” that Lily was considering Mrs. Ramsay’s mania for seeing others married. The paragraph begins with Lily recalling how Mrs. Ramsay had wanted to set her up with Bankes, “had planned it ... had she lived, she would have compelled it.” I am curious how others read this.

Expand full comment

Regarding Mona’s question: "Doesn’t every woman of the next generation think this of the older woman?” Indeed! Something about Woolf’s putting that in more than once in this book is haunting: to see the vanity of youth and have a sense of where that will go and to know how awful it feels when those you might have mocked are gone.

Ch. 5-Love the “pool of thought” that Lily Briscoe makes of the morning as she observes and tries to capture it; her anguish seems to provide her with more "micro-revelations” mentioned the previous chapter-Carmichael and Lily, Virginia and Vanessa, or both Virginia in the role of writer and visionary wanting something that lasts: “...nothing stays; all changes; but not words, not paint."

Ch. 7-In TTL, all objects, even cliffs, have a consciousness that brings on change (also another glimmering of Nabokov taking something for the "gesticulating trees" in "Symbols and Signs”?). I truly love Woolf's live, quivering world:

"And as happens sometimes when the weather is very fine, the cliffs looked as if they were conscious of the ships, and the ships looked as if they were conscious of the cliffs, as if they signalled to each other some secret message of their own."

Ch. 8-And James’ sudden early recollection of being with his mother, her rage at Mr. Ramsey’s attempt to crush his desire to go to the lighthouse led me back to the line repeated by Mrs. Ramsey in Chapter 11, Part 1: "Children don’t forget.” They don’t forget his cruelty. They don’t forget her.

Once again, I don’t want this live, quivering book to end.

Expand full comment

Love this description of the fate of the Rayner’s marriage “For things had worked loose after the first year or so; the marriage had turned out rather badly.”

Expand full comment

I was struck by this, from Lily: "She had been looking at the tablecloth, and it had flashed upon her that she would move the tree to the middle, and need never marry anybody, and she had felt an enormous exultation."

I went back to to the dinner party and this is the line I found: "She remembered, all of a sudden as if she had found a treasure, that she had her work." And then, of course, we get the bit about moving the tree. But I'm don't really see that flash of an understanding about marriage and a sense of relief. Did she feel that in the moment but we weren't privy to it? Or is this, more likely, the Lily of today, reframing the memory to fit the narrative?

Expand full comment

"That would have been his answer, presumably—how “you” and “I” and “she” pass and vanish; nothing stays; all changes; but not words, not paint. Yet it would be hung in the attics, she thought; it would be rolled up and flung under a sofa; yet even so, even of a picture like that, it was true. One might say, even of this scrawl, not of that actual picture, perhaps, but of what it attempted, that it “remained for ever,” she was going to say, or, for the words spoken sounded even to herself, too boastful, to hint, wordlessly; when, looking at the picture, she was surprised to find that she could not see it. Her eyes were full of a hot liquid (she did not think of tears at first) which, without disturbing the firmness of her lips, made the air thick, rolled down her cheeks. She had perfect control of herself—Oh, yes!—in every other way. Was she crying then for Mrs. Ramsay, without being aware of any unhappiness?"

What is happening here? Sadness at the narrative within her picture? The picture's inadequacy to preserve what it purports to represent? Nothing remains forever. Some kind of consolidation in her art even if her picture is rolled up and put away in the attic or beneath tge sofa?

"So fine was the morning except for a streak of wind here and there that the sea and sky looked all one fabric, as if sails were stuck high up in the sky, or the clouds had dropped down into the sea. A steamer far out at sea had drawn in the air a great scroll of smoke which stayed there curving and circling decoratively, as if the air were a fine gauze which held things and kept them softly in its mesh, only gently swaying them this way and that."

What an image! For the ages.

"No, the other was also the Lighthouse. For nothing was simply one thing. The other Lighthouse was true too. It was sometimes hardly to be seen across the bay. In the evening one looked up and saw the eye opening and shutting and the light seemed to reach them in that airy sunny garden where they sat."

This reminds me of Borges. What we see in our minds is what is real to us.

Expand full comment

Many interesting and beautiful themes discussed by others. I cannot get over James’ deep hatred of his father, which appears to have been solely brought on by Mr. Ramsay, and the extreme vengeance James imagines. What a sad and distressing state of affairs between a father and his son.

Expand full comment

Some of my responses to these chapters remain how deeply I can feel Lily’s anguish, and Jame anguish, Cam and Mr. Ramsey. Mrs Ramsey was the one who knew the veneer of life is thin and what lies underneath is dark and filled with violence and suffering; yet it was Mrs Ramsey who wanted to will it to stay buried underneath and sometimes it did.

The line “but beauty was not everything . Beauty had this penalty- it came too readily, came too completely. It stilled life -froze it”

If that is all you see you miss the complicated and the the integrity of beauty. That was Mrs Ramsey

“The urgency of the moment always missed its mark.” Don’t get distracted, don’t be afraid don’t be apprehensive or you will never see the “essence”.

Woolf tells us that for an artist be a writer or a painter it is the attempt to portray that essence- that is the task. Lily was crying because she had experienced through Mrs Ramsey a deep profound sense of the human spirit.

In chapter 7 to me Wolf perfectly describes the dynamic of father /son another complexity. Father’s can be dream crushers and also interfere with the relationship between a mother and her son because sometimes the mother must be the wife first and gets pulled away from the son. But James realizes that his mother “she alone spoke the truth; to her alone could he speak it. How could we ask any more of Virginia Woolf who so beautifully steers us to the lighthouse

Expand full comment

Lily's schadenfreude at Minta and Paul's troubled marriage, after ten years ago she felt vulnerable when their engagement occurred as she contemplated her own inevitable non-marriage, is itself worthy of much discussion. Yet her memory of Paul and Minta nevertheless appearing as good companions at a practical level as she handed him tools, is one of my favorite passages.

Expand full comment

We cover a lot of ground - or water - in these few chapters. I wrote at the end of my notes today "a book that remembers itself." I think because of the feeling I had today after reading and have had before during this time that the book has a spiral structure, a spiral that is also rising in the air as it goes, and a consciousness of itself that allows it to look "up" or "back" at rings both "above" and "below."

But it was written in successive pages, like leaves ...

OK - I don't know if I really buy the story of the Raley's marriage that Lily gives us. She herself questions it. But also seems to believe it. A bit of both. And I'm left thinking that the patchy way VW deals with it - oh in the end Paul gets himself a mistress and Minta is relieved - hmmm I wonder. I'd rather that Minta packed a bag and with the hole still in her stocking took off for greener pastures ..

But there it is. The Raley's marriage is a broken down car on the side of the road that evidently can be cheerfully "fixed" with some modern adjustments that are anything but modern, in fact ...

There is nothing more useless than blaming the dead.

Also, in that chapter, the parenthetical paragraph about the fire and Paul that Lily imagines: I found it unbelievable. "Like savages on a distant beach." Really, savages? Oh dear, oh dear. But, again, there it is. VW wanted it in there. She was trying to create a contrast, I think. Visual, striking. But this one leaves me cold.

However, by the end of the very long chapter, Lily's grief makes landing like a storm and you feel it. It is real. VW again manages to avoid sentimentality which in this book seems to me like the finest of balancing acts ever.

Followed by the stunning brilliance of Ch. 6, (so take that, Amanda!) The fish is cut but thrown back, alive. Did these metaphors just come to her after hours of labor, like gifts or rewards?

Ch 7. Lily and her wreathly vision of Mrs. R., "it was some trick of the painter's eye." Of the visual imagination. Meanwhile, the boat is crossing the bay, is exactly in the middle between leaving and arriving.

Ch. 8 - But there is a lull. The wind drops. Of course there is a lull! Lull is VW's favorite place to be! Dilated time. James thinks of his father "They alone knew each other." And, "But the wheel is innocent." The extraordinary observation, that he can't blame his father for being himself. But he must still fight and resist him.

Has anyone else wondered why the word lighthouse is capitalized throughout? I only did today.

With James we go all the way back to the opening of the book, this chapter regards that one, looks at it with the same "the eye opening and shutting" of the Lighthouse. He tries to fix his mother in time, in memory, but his father gets in the way, just as he did the first time.

The two Lighthouses, one of memory, one that is real. I think this is also a tricky thing to pull off in stated words. It has to work on different levels. The remembered and the real. His mother is a memory, his father is sitting in the boat right in front of him turning the pages of a book. Which is more real? "He was reading a shiny little book with covers mottled all over like a plover's egg." Sounds real enough! (I looked up images of plover's eggs - just to reinforce the realness of it for myself!)

Expand full comment

Grief rendered so accurately and with complexity in these chapters (as elsewhere in the book). From the end of Ch 5: "Could it be...that this was life?--startling, unexpected, unknown? For one moment she felt that if they both got up, here, now on the lawn, and demanded an explanation, why was it so short, why was it so inexplicable, said it with violence, as two fully equipped human beings from whom nothing should be hid might speak, then, beauty would roll itself up; the space would fill; those empty flourishes would form into shape; if they shouted loud enough Mrs. Ramsay would return." The absence of Mrs. R felt by what/who surrounds it. Felt profoundly, not only remembered. And like the lighthouse, she (as anyone) is not simply one thing. Human complexity at the roots of desire and obstruction of desire. Like Jennifer Sears mentioned, "I don’t want this live, quivering book to end."

Expand full comment

Lily and her reverie, her flood of memories as she paints, "... thinking again of Mrs Ramsay on the beach ... Why, after all these years had that survived, ringed round, lit up, visible to the last detail, with all before it blank and all after it blank, for miles and miles?"

It's pretty clear to me (has been all along) that Lily loves Mrs Ramsay, was devastated by her death, is haunted by her spirit, and now finds herself in a place where she's trying to understand and deal with profoundly deep grief, her love and loss.

"But one only woke people if one knew what one wanted to say to them. And she wanted to say not one thing, but everything. ... For how could one express in words these emotions of the body? express that emptiness there? ... 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. It had seemed so safe, thinking of her. Ghost, air, nothingness, a thing you could play with easily and safely at any time of day or night, she had been that, and then suddenly she put her hand out and wrung the heart thus."

And her struggle with her painting echoes her struggle with her emotions, imagining the answer of Carmichael the poet, "She looked at her picture. That would have been his answer, presumably–how "you" and "I" and "she" pass and vanish; nothing stays; all changes; but not words, not paint."

Expand full comment

I found myself noticing the many holes in chapter 5--a hole poked in the sand, in Minta’s stocking, in Bankes’s carpet, all within a short space while Lily is questioning “what we are, what we feel” and thinking about Mrs. Ramsay and the Raley marriage. A nod to various kinds of emptiness, maybe? Then the horrifying short chapter in which the Macalister boy mutilates the fish by cutting a hole (a square one) in its side.

Expand full comment

While it is true, as the narrative consciousness embodies it so often, that "nothing was simply one thing," it is also true that Woolf's bracketed interruptions are irreducible fact breaking in. The one here, near the novel's end, echoing the earlier brackets of Mrs. Ramsay's and Pru's deaths: “[Macalister’s boy took one of the fish and cut a square out of its side to bait his hook with. The mutilated body (it was alive still) was thrown back into the sea.]” The mutilated body of the fish is the mutilated body thrown into the sea. There are things the imaginative vision cannot, in fact, transform.

Expand full comment

I'm struck by the motifs of impermanence and permanence of our lives and what we make.

"stepping back a foot or so, oh, the dead! she murmured, one pitied them, one brushed them aside, one had even a little contempt for them. They are at our mercy. Mrs. Ramsay has faded and gone, she thought." but..how far gone is she?

"hose empty flourishes would form into shape; if they shouted loud enough Mrs. Ramsay would return. "Mrs. Ramsay!" she said aloud, "Mrs. Ramsay!" The tears ran down her face."

Expand full comment

the limits of words to get at the truth of the matter. VW layer her artistic struggles out there.

"The limits of language, on how to tell the story

The urgency of the moment always missed its mark. Words fluttered sideways and struck the object inches too low. Then one gave it up; then the idea sunk back again; then one became like most middle-aged people, cautious, furtive, with wrinkles between the eyes and a look of perpetual apprehension. For how could one express in words these emotions of the body? express that emptiness there? (She was looking at the drawing-room steps; they looked extraordinarily empty.)"

Expand full comment