To the Lighthouse

by Virginia Woolf

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Chapters 14-16 Summary

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Last Updated May 2, 2023.

The story changes pace, turning to Minta and Paul on their evening walk, accompanied by Andrew and Nancy Ramsay. As the walk draws on, Nancy grows irritated; she did not wish to join them and would have preferred to spend her time alone but felt obligated to socialize and pressured by her mother into accompanying the young lovers.  Andrew, too, feels annoyed by the whole affair. Although he observes that Minta dresses sensibly and carries herself with confidence, Andrew wonders if these admirable qualities might lead to disaster. 

Minta walks to the edge of a nearby cliff; standing on the edge, she breaks into song, singing with reckless abandon and seemingly no concern for her well-being. The group finally reach the beach and go their separate ways, exploring the tide pools and watching the waves. Andrew removes his shoes and walks along the sand, Nancy heads toward a rock outcropping filled with tide pools, and Minta and Paul wander off together. Listening to the sounds of the crashing waves, Nancy feels struck by the vastness of the world. Suddenly, Andrew breaks the peace, yelling that the tide is fast approaching, so they must turn back. As the Ramsay siblings head back to the shore, they unexpectedly encounter Minta and Paul kissing, causing awkwardness and embarrassment for all involved. 

Upon reaching the cliff's summit, Minta realizes that her grandmother's brooch is missing and begins to cry. Between sobs, she asks the group to help her search for it. Although the tide is rapidly rising, they begrudgingly agree and begin to help Minta look. Time goes on, but they do not find the brooch. Anxiety runs high as Minta, still panicking, exclaims that they will be stranded. Andrew is irritated by Minta’s display of drama and emotion and suggests that they turn back. A distraught Minta agrees, and Paul attempts to comfort her by promising to search for the brooch first thing the following morning. 

As they climb the hill and head back to the Ramsays’ house, the group watches in awe as the town’s light appears before them, glinting in the late evening air. Paul imagines that these lights are symbolic of his future, thinking that each pinprick represents an accomplishment, such as getting married, having children, and purchasing a house. The sight is both exciting and anxiety-inducing, and he begins to feel uncertain about his choices. While Paul looks forward to telling Mrs. Ramsay about his proposal to Minta, he wonders if he has made the right choice. 

Inside the Ramsays’ home, Mrs. Ramsay sits at her dressing table, anxious about the excursion and wondering if they might have drowned. Life feels hostile to her, and she realizes that she feels increasingly isolated from others. Two of her children enter the room to ask her about dinner, so she forces herself to set her sorrows to the side and pretend to be happy for her children’s sake. In an exaggerated tone, Mrs. Ramsay jokes that they shall not have dinner—not even if the Queen herself asked for it. Her daughter, Rose, helps her select the jewelry she plans to wear to dinner; as Rose sifts through her jewelry box, Mrs. Ramsay looks out the window and watches the birds land on the branches outside, naming one Joseph and another Mary.

Rose chooses a piece of jewelry to add to her own outfit, then selects a shawl for her mother to wear. As they prepare for dinner, Mrs. Ramsay speaks quietly to her children, telling them stories about Mary and Joseph. Finally ready, Mrs. Ramsay asks Jasper to escort her down...

(This entire section contains 709 words.)

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the stairs and requests that Rose carry her handkerchief. When Mrs. Ramsay begins to walk down the stairs, she realizes that Paul and his companions have finally returned home. She is annoyed for a moment, irritated that they have disrupted her entrance, but soon continues to descend the stairs with regality and grace, as if she is attempting to earn the admiration of her children and houseguests. However, her elegant demeanor is interrupted by the scent of something burning, and she falls to fretting. Soon after, the dinner gong rings, and the inhabitants of the Ramsay home gather for dinner.

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