Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 683
Mrs. Ramsay takes her husband’s arm and they go for an evening stroll. She speaks of her concerns about the gardener, but avoids once again speaking to him about the 50 pounds needed to fix the greenhouse. The two continue to chat about the children and the houseguests. As they talk, Mrs. Ramsay returns many times to her thoughts about the maintenance of the garden. As Mrs. Ramsay talks about the gardener, Mr. Ramsay chides her for exaggerating. When she protests, he takes advantage of the turn in the conversation to comment on her beauty. She turns the conversation to their daughter’s beauty. Mr. Ramsay expresses his concern over Andrew’s academic motivation. She defends him. Although they disagree, they are secretly pleased with the other’s position. She worries about the group who have been gone for the after-noon. He begins to speak to her, but hesitates; she encourages him, and he tells her that he doesn’t like to see her look so sad. They both become uncomfortable and drop the conversation.
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Mrs. Ramsay wishes she had not been so unguarded. Mr. Ramsay decides that if she won’t talk, then he’ll return to telling himself the story of Hume being stuck in a bog. He thinks to himself that it’s nonsense to be worried about Andrew and reminisces that at Andrew’s age he was wandering the country all day with nothing but a biscuit in his pocket. This memory leads him to think about the freedom he enjoyed before marriage. He could “worry things out alone.” This thought is quickly squashed, as he chastises himself for regretting his children.
Mrs. Ramsay guesses his thoughts and he objects that he knows he has nothing to complain of. He quickly kisses her hand intently. As they continue their walk, she reflects upon his youthfulness, though he is sixty. She reflects upon his detachment from ordinary things (he never notices anything), yet he shows keeninsight into the extraordinary. She also worries that his habit of talking aloud or saying poetry was growing on him.
Mrs. Ramsay notices Lily Briscoe and Mr. Bankes and has a sudden vision that they will marry. Bankes talks to Lily about his travels as they stroll across the lawn. He suggests that seeing the Great Masters would be so important for her. Lily wonders if they wouldn’t intimidate her. As the two turn and see the Ramsays, Lily has a sudden insight, “So that is marriage, a man and a woman looking at a girl throwing a ball.” This scene captures the meaning, or symbolical nature of marriage for Lily. Though the moment is quickly broken, Lily holds on to this picture. She also predicts that Mrs. Ramsay has had the thought that she and Mr. Bankes will marry.
Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay’s marriage is seen more clearly. The bond they share is evident both in the spontaneous admiration they feel for one another and in the consideration they show one another. Though they have very different perspectives on life, they have chosen to repress their individual needs and responses in order to preserve their bond. They carefully skirt topics and issues they know are difficult for the other. Though their relationship is nurtured in this way, they maintain a certain distance from each other.
The Ramsays’ marriage mirrors Woolfs’ parents’ marriage on many levels. Greatly infatuated with Julia Duckworth, Sir Leslie Stephen made a commitment to her that he would not ever interfere with her deeply felt avocation: her work with the poor and the sick. She, on the other hand, worried that she would not be able to be a proper wife to him as she felt deeply the loss of her first husband. Their sensitivity and respect for one another’s needs was felt by all who knew them.
Lily Briscoe’s sensibility parallels Woolf’s own. The artist’s ability to see in a momentary scene the encapsulation of a marriage echoes Woolf’s desire to show the essence of a feeling or state through language.