Part III, Chapters 3-4
“Life stand still here” seems like a fine intention for a morning meditation practice. Matches struck unexpectedly in the dark. Shape in the midst of chaos. And as I write these words, the croak of a roadrunner hunting for lizards in my back yard. Part Two of this book was rough sailing for me at this particular moment in my life, but I have reached calm waters again. Story stand still here.
Love and agree with everything Mona writes today about the beautiful and surprisingly hopeful (for me anyway) revelation on time: "Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark."
And in the next chapter, amid James' conflicted thoughts of his father, his sudden riff on time in the next chapter also adds to VW's idea of these accumulated "moments of being":
"He began to search among the infinite series of impressions which time had laid down, leaf upon leaf, fold upon fold softly, incessantly upon his brain; among scents, sounds; voices, harsh, hollow, sweet; and lights passing, and brooms tapping; and the wash and hush of the sea, how a man had marched up and down and stopped dead, upright, over them."
"Life stand still here." But of course it is impossible for life to stand still. Only in death does life still. Only in a work of art (a novel, a painting) can life be stilled. "Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark." This is the revelation, then. To love the moment. It seems to me the kind of thought that comes to a person when in a depressed state, something to hold on to. "Little daily miracles," we tell ourselves, hoping they will be enough. Does the person who is not depressed have such thoughts?
"There was a flash of blue, he remembered, and then somebody sitting with him laughed, surrendered, and he was very angry." Again, Mrs. Ramsay knows all: she predicted that James would never forget the disappointment of not going to to the Lighthouse. Interestingly, though, although he is remembering that afternoon, he is also remembering his mother's acquiescence to his father. And that "flash of blue." I like how it echoes the flash of the knitting needles in that moment, but what else? A shadow created by the presence of his father? A glimpse of the sea that was then blocked by him? His father's eyes? Perhaps all of the above.
"he [Mr. R] liked men to work like that, and women to keep house, and sit beside sleeping children indoors, while men were drowned, out there in a storm. So James could tell, so Cam could tell (they looked at him, they looked at each other)..." James and Cam have learned to communicate in that silent way Mr. and Mrs. R communicated before her death, and also like Mrs. R, both have learned to tether their gaze to their father, note his narcissism, and simultaneously rage against it and allow themselves to be seduced by it.
Mr R is really a sad old man. He must be nearing his 70s and there he is demanding the attention of the younger woman. An object of derision in my mind. He sparkles up when Lily directs her attention to him (or at least his boots’. How about this for mansplaining at its worst. “Now let me see if you can tie a knot,” he said. He poohpoohed her feeble system. He showed her his own invention. Once you tied it, it never came undone. Three times he knotted her shoe; three times he unknotted it.” Really women can’t tie knots?
This encapsulates what Cam is feeling as they sail to the lighthouse:
"He looked proudly where Macalister pointed; and Cam thought, feeling proud of him without knowing quite why, had he been there he would have launched the lifeboat, he would have reached the wreck, Cam thought. He was so brave, he was so adventurous, Cam thought. But she remembered. There was the compact; to resist tyranny to the death. Their grievance weighed them down. They had been forced; they had been bidden. He had borne them down once more with his gloom and his authority, making them do his bidding, on this fine morning, come, because he wished it, carrying these parcels, to the Lighthouse; take part in these rites he went through for his own pleasure in memory of dead people, which they hated, so that they lagged after him, and all the pleasure of the day was spoilt."
Hard to know the full welter of James's feeling, as we are mostly in Cam's POV and hear him through that medium.
"For his own pleasure in the memory of dead people" is key. They want to deny their father even this solace in grieving for their dead mother, as in some instinctual way, they blame him for that.
Note the artistry in the way the word pleasure appears twice. Pleasure in honoring dead people spoiling the pleasure of the day. What matters more? Pleasure in honoring the dead or honoring life, living for today?
I wonder if there are any painters in the group and if they can agree with the process as Lily experiences it in Ch 3? I can only compare it to my own experience of writing. The self doubt, and questioning of why I would do it, no one will see it, what's the point. And the awful emphasis on beginnings, on making the first mark (which is misguided, but hard to avoid). As well as echoes of past criticisms .. from men mostly ... the truth is, as VW knew, anything can be re-written, and anything can be painted over and begun again .. but you have to make a start somewhere. Did Jackson Pollack waver over his canvases? Did Hemingway hesitate?
Aside from making some beginning marks, Lily does not get much painting done in this chapter, as she is hijacked by memories that turn out to be good, mostly. Mrs. R. and even Charles T. are softened by time and absence.
In Ch. 4 Cam goes through much the same thing that Lily did with Mr. R., with the added twist (in the finger of the glove?) of being his daughter. What I love most about this chapter I think is the complicated understanding passing between the two siblings as they try to negotiate the tricky island of their father. It would be so easy for the siblings to compete and throw allegiances against one another and yet their pact to resist tyrrany seems as if it will hold. The last line of the chapter. "They have no suffering there." Is a heartbreaker.
He’s not only cantankerous, he’s surly, without grace, and, in his ill-treatment of all, just about without humanity. Not happy to have to spend so much time with Mr. Ramsay.
Something that's standing out for me but is also in concert with VW's mastery of movement: Nearing the end of Ch 2, Mr R with Lily's shoes: "Once you tied it, it never came undone. Three times he knotted her shoe; three times he unknotted it." And then in an echo of tying/untying knots, at the middle of the first paragraph of Ch 3: "...something she remembered in the relations of those lines cutting across, slicing down, and in the mass of the hedge with its green cave of blues and browns, which had stayed in her mind; which had tied a knot in her mind so that at odds and ends of time, involuntarily, as she walked along the Brompton Road, as she brushed her hair, she found herself painting that picture, passing her eye over it, and untying the knot in imagination." And with her canvas and the sail of the ship, foreground, background, reverse angles between Ch 3 and Ch 4. Movement seems so critical to the building/culmination of a (or this) VW novel.
I was young when I first read this novel and now I am not. Now I have many ghosts and feel the persistence of loss (here, for Lily and Cam and James, 10 years of it, and there will be more) , the way it can suddenly rise up: "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." The dead, Lily thinks, can seem manageable--"Ghost, air, nothingness, a thing you could play with easily and safely"-- then, suddenly, it is as if Mrs.Ramsay "put her hand out and wrung the heart." There is no safety. The experience of the hand teaching out to wring the heart is grief. It is not all that persists (there is the joy in the moment, the connection) but the novel is clear about the persistence.
It's so modern: Lily, the artist, wants to fix an image, but an unruly, domineering character gets too close for comfort. An analogue of Virginia the writer?
"There was something ... something she remembered in the relations of those lines cutting across, sliding down, and in the mass of the hedge with its green cave of blues and browns, which had stayed in her mind; which had tied a knot in her mind..."
Thank goodness for Lily Briscoe, who despite her sometimes paralyzing self-doubt, confronts her white and uncompromising canvas, persists in untying the knot, making of the moment something permanent. "Life stand still here." Indeed.
I do not understand people who go to art shows and then question the value of making art!
Must it have a value? Yes, it comes from within, like Sadie said, the interior life ..
I agree completely about the pathos.
There is a strong sense in these pages that she did try to make life, or time, stand still, to look at the past as 'objectively' as possible ..