To the Lighthouse

by Virginia Woolf

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Chapters 5-7 Summary

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Last Updated May 4, 2023.

Lily lingers at the border of the grass, gazing at the Ramsays’ boat as it departs. She is filled with sadness for not expressing her compassion for Mr. Ramsay, wishing that she could have offered the sympathy he so desires. Her thoughts drift to Minta Doyle's playful interactions with the older and remembers how it would brighten his spirits. She almost wakes up Augustus—who is dozing in a nearby lawn chair—to ask if he recalls such moments but thinks better of it. 

Her mind drifts back to Mrs. Ramsay, remembering the beach day she spent with her and Charles. Staring out at the water, she wonders why her memory of this specific day is so clear and why she keeps returning to it. She hears Mrs. Ramsay’s light-hearted questions echo in her mind, listening as the older woman questions the nature of the strange object floating in the distance. As Lily resumes painting, she contemplates the need for her artwork to have a delicate, fleeting appearance on the surface while maintaining a strong, iron-like foundation beneath. She imagines sitting alongside Mrs. Ramsay on the shore, recalling her fondness for quiet moments. It feels as if a door has opened, allowing her to paint with unwavering focus.

While immersed in her artwork, Lily's thoughts drift back to the day spent on the beach with Mrs. Ramsay. She remembers seeing a tear in Minta Doyle's stocking and how William Bankes appeared repulsed by Minta’s haphazard nature and untidiness. Lily also ponders Minta's and Paul's married life. The union, she recalls, had been unsuccessful. They had argued, and conflict had been common. She had visited them at their cottage and had sensed the tension that lingered in the air. However, they had overcome this phase and embraced their emotional and physical estrangement, adapting to life as separate individuals; eventually, Paul even acquired a lover. 

Lily envisions sharing the Rayleys' tale with Mrs. Ramsay and experiences a sense of self-satisfaction because the union Mrs. Ramsay encouraged was a failure. As she paints, she concludes that the deceased are subject to our judgment. With Mrs. Ramsay gone, her antiquated notions can be dismissed with ease. Lily pictures her at the far end of a long passage of time, urging, "Marry! Marry!" For an instant, Lily senses victory over Mrs. Ramsay, as everything has unfolded contrary to her desires. The Rayleys' union proved unsuccessful; Lily, still unwed, basks in total happiness.

Lily ponders why Mrs. Ramsay was so fixated on marriage. Her thoughts about Paul Rayley trigger a vision of a surreal scene, watching primitive forms dance around a fire on a shoreline. The term "in love" evokes intense emotions that both attract and repel her. She believes she narrowly avoided falling into the same trap. Lily recalls that dinner a decade ago when she found the answer to her painting, experienced a sense of triumph, and realized that marriage was not necessary for her. She reflects on the commanding presence of Mrs. Ramsay and her considerable influence on those around her, feeling grateful that she did not allow Mrs. Ramsay to shape her life, too.

Lily's recollection of Mrs. Ramsay sitting near the drawing-room window with James brings to mind William’s questions about her artwork and the solace and delight she took in his unbiased and open-minded intellect. His companionship, she thinks, is among the greatest joys she experiences in life, and she confesses her affection for the older man. They frequently wander through Hampton Court, savoring the invigorating blend of dialogue and artistic appreciation. On one occasion, he reminisced about a young Mrs. Ramsay,...

(This entire section contains 934 words.)

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aged nineteen or twenty, radiating exceptional beauty.

As she directs her attention back to the steps of the drawing room, she envisions Mrs. Ramsay seated quietly, her eyes lowered. She contemplates how beauty seems to overshadow what is truly captivating and memorable. She wonders about the specific expression Mrs. Ramsay might have had during an unusual moment. Lily is inclined to ask Augustus something but is uncertain about what question to ask; the challenge of conveying her thoughts to another is overpowering. Gazing at the vacant steps, she is consumed by a yearning for whatever is missing. Inaudibly, she reaches out to Mrs. Ramsay.

Lily again wishes to ask Augustus a question, hopeful that the aged poet might understand her unspoken thoughts and provide the answers she so desires. Overcome with emotion, she starts to weep, overwhelmed by her doubts and seeking refuge from the deluge of inescapable thoughts consuming her mind. While tears stream down her face, she exclaims, "Mrs. Ramsay! Mrs. Ramsay!" Amid this turmoil, the narrative turns to the Ramsays’ boat; Macalister’s son has caught a fish, sliced a strip of flesh from its body, then used it as bait for his hook. Callously, he tosses the disfigured fish back into the ocean.

Once more, Lily echoes her call for Mrs. Ramsay, grateful that her distress has gone unnoticed. Gradually, a sense of comfort washes over her. She feels Mrs. Ramsay's presence, yet this apparition feels comforting rather than pressuring. Lily resumes her challenge of depicting the hedge in her painting, imagining Mrs. Ramsay with a garland of white blossoms on her brow, a scene she has often envisioned since learning of her passing. Her gaze drifts to the bay, where she spots a brown speck—Mr. Ramsay's boat, now midway through its journey. Her thoughts of him are indistinct. The morning is exceptionally beautiful, with the sea and sky appearing as a single tapestry. Lily wonders to herself: "Where are they now?"

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