Part III, Chapters 9-13
Here at the end, I’m grappling with Woolf’s title. Maybe the lighthouse embodies her method and message? Its three strokes of light, each falling on top of its predecessors, then beginning again, represents how she builds her narrative, and how she suggests we construct reality. Different points of view, at different times and different distances, apply layers of meaning. Mrs. Ramsey’s shawl can become a shield or a shroud, a token of affection or loss. Mr. Ramsey can be a beloved husband, a frail ego, an all-the-way-to-R philosopher, a sarcastic brute, a pathetic widower, a tyrant to his children . All of these in turn, as each perspective illuminates some, and not other, features. When the beam falls matters, and also its distance, as Lily suggests at the beginning of chapter 11.
Also, couldn’t agree more about Robinson’s Housekeeping. Spectacular writing, as clean and clear as a mountain lake.
In this last section, there are several echoes of Proust (Woolf read him obsessively while writing Mrs. Dalloway a few years earlier): the claim that "life was most vivid then," when you come back from a journey or are getting over being sick, before habit has crusted itself over experience again; the experience of seeing someone out the train window, rhyming with Marcel seeing and falling in love with the milkmaid he sees out the train window.
Maybe my favorite description of the effects of art in a book filled such descriptions: "There might be lovers whose gift it was to choose out the elements of things and place them together and so, giving them a wholeness not theirs in life, make of some scene, or meeting of people (all now gone and separate), one of those globed compacted things over which thought lingers, and love plays." One of those globed compacted things over which thought lingers, and love plays: that's "To the Lighthouse" for me!
I’m going to miss the characters VW created for us, those we loved, and also the others. Hang in there James. “Well done!”
A thought about Lily's "concluding" line - it might also be the lighthouse
The ending of this book was so satisfying to me, but I can’t adequately say why. Or maybe I just don’t want to overthink it right now. Only that it had for me the feeling of fitting the last piece into a jigsaw puzzle I’ve been laboring over.
Lily paints ghosts. The people have passed away, but their shadows keep passing across our vision. As a writer, this resonates. We write ghosts.
I wonder if anyone is interested in reading Robinson's Housekeeping together.
"But this was one way of knowing people, she thought: to know the outline, not the detail, to sit in one's garden and look at the slopes of a hill running purple down into the distant heather."
Love this line from Lily ("slopes of a hill running purple!"!) and I equate it with Vanessa Bell's paintings, including the cover for this book, her focus on shapes and lines. And it seems so fitting, then, that the final act of the book, and of Lily's painting, is the line drawn in the center.
Lily remembers Tansley. She deliberately attended a lecture he gave once, and saw that he had indeed achieved the kind of success he'd wanted. Lily acknowledges a redeeming quality and her own bias against him in one of my favorite passages in the novel that his an observation about human nature that I think is indubitably true and the passage turns out quite funny in a very modern way:
"He was educating his little sister, Mrs. Ramsay had told her. It was immensely to his credit. Her own idea of him was grotesque, Lily knew well, stirring the plantains with her brush. Half one’s notions of other people were, after all, grotesque. They served private purposes of one’s own. He did for her instead of a whipping-boy. She found herself flagellating his lean flanks when she was out of temper. If she wanted to be serious about him she had to help herself to Mrs. Ramsay’s sayings, to look at him through her eyes."
Mona, you write that "Mrs. Ramsay would continue to the death saying that tomorrow, it might be fine, she expected it would be fine… while what Mr. Ramsay said was true. It was always true. He was incapable of untruth. If novels had arguments (and some do, though, not, I don’t really think, the best ones) To the Lighthouse would seem to argue that happiness is made possible by kindness, by love, not by reality."
I wonder if both truthfulness and hope can co-exist, however-- if these two characters' attitudes were combined: both knowing tomorrow will not be fine, but hoping the future beyond tomorrow might be fine? Or knowing it might not be fine but seeing some other place to find a reason for optimism or hope?
Also, you remind us that in the middle section of the book, "Mrs. Ramsay notes ... They had been happier than they ever would be again."
Does this reflection of Mrs. Ramsay's seems to be a bitter-sweet acknowledgement of reality versus her usual hopeful attitude?
Another question: In ch 9, after Lily thinks about how Prue "drooped under those long silences between them," how Mrs. Ramsay promised Lily she would enjoy the same happiness she had, but how Prue had "enjoyed it for less than a year, however," the next paragraph begins: "She had let the flowers fall from her basket, Lily thought, ... scattered and tumbled them on to the grass and ... went too. Down fields, across valleys, white, flower-strewn--that was how she would have painted it. .. They went, the three of them together, Mrs. Ramsay walking rather fast in front, as if she expected to meet someone round the corner ..."
Who are the three? Mrs. Ramsay is one, of course. Who are the others? And what is this referring to?
Is she thinking of Mrs. Ramsay, Andrew, and Prue -- heading off to their deaths, Mrs. Ramsay first?
(I love that even here, wherever she is going (!), Mrs. Ramsay seems to be moving ahead with anticipation and not fear, anticipating someone will be ahead and looking forward perhaps to meeting them.)
I’m so pleased I made it to the lighthouse. Were those socks ever finished? I hope they were in that parcel. Sometimes in this read I was floundering and lost at others VW could see into my soul. Thanks to all the other readers for their generous comments and thoughts.
“ . . .catching here and there, a spark of light; Greece, Rome, Constantinople. Small as it was, and shaped something like a leaf stood on its end with the gold-sprinkled waters flowing in and about it, it had, she supposed, a place in the universe—even that little island?” Cam can still be excited and optimistic, even after the loss of her mother at such a young age.
Silent communication: Throughout the novel, characters seem to be silently interacting -communicating, struggling against each other, without saying a word.
"They had not needed to speak. They had been thinking the same things and he had answered her without her asking him anything. He stood there as if he were spreading his hands over all the weakness and suffering of mankind"
Are the characters really communicating? Or is this another example of the internal creative process of storytelling. Just to ourselves?