Last Updated May 3, 2023.
After learning that the Ramsay family is unlikely to return to their beach home, Mrs. McNab gathers flowers to decorate the home’s empty walls. She ponders the fate of the house and notices some moldy books that she thinks should be aired out in the sun. Mrs. McNab acknowledges that the war and the ensuing labor shortages have left the house in a state of disrepair that not even she can remedy. She wonders why nobody has visited the house and why there are clothes left in the bedrooms. Picking through the home and the many belongings abandoned there, Mrs. McNab comments that Mrs. Ramsay, who passed away years ago, will not need the clothes anymore. While holding Mrs. Ramsay's gardening cloak, Mrs. McNab is struck by a vision of Mrs. Ramsay standing in the garden, then remembers Mrs. Ramsay’s unfulfilled promise to visit the house.
Mrs. McNab reflects on how all the household staff admired Mrs. Ramsay for her kind spirit and pleasant demeanor. These happy memories ring hollow in her mind, as they are soon followed by the knowledge of the immense changes that have occurred; Mrs. Ramsay has passed on and so have Prue and Andrew. The war has claimed untold victims, and the world seems to be falling apart. As she surveys the deteriorating condition of the house with its falling plaster and molding siding, she feels hopeless. She acknowledges that the damage is far too much for one person to fix, so she decides to lock up the house and leave.
The abandoned house continues to decay, deteriorating even further. The years go by, leading it to become a mere shell on a dune, gradually filling up with grains of sea salt and sand. The darkness of night and the force of the wind have overcome it; nature has taken it over, and not even Mrs. McNab's fond memories of the house are strong enough to prevent its destruction. The only visitor to the house is the lighthouse beam, which briefly illuminates the decay and grants it a fleeting sense of tranquility.
Out of nowhere, one of the young women writes a letter asking for the house to be cleaned up. Mrs. McNab and Mrs. Bast, who are old and have trouble moving, are assigned the task. Despite their physical limitations, they work hard and manage to prevent the house from decaying further and save it from being swallowed up by time. It is an immensely difficult process that is metaphorically compared to the difficulty of giving birth to a new life. With the help of Mrs. Bast's son, George, they gradually revive the house. Occasionally, the two women break for tea, reflecting on their impressive accomplishments and minor successes. While they rescue books from spiders and fungi, one of the women recalls Mr. Ramsay, who was as thin as a rake and used to talk to himself on the lawn without ever acknowledging her presence.
Mrs. McNab reminisces about the enjoyable moments she spent in the house, recalling fondly the cheerful cook who had a good sense of humor and would often set aside treats for the staff. She believes that they had a good life during that time. Mrs. Bast, who was not acquainted with them, inquires about the skull hanging in the room that once belonged to the Ramsay children. Mrs. McNab speculates that the Ramsays may have received it from friends in the East. She recollects the lively evenings in which Mrs. Ramsay and her female guests would dress in formal attire and adorn themselves with luxurious jewelry. Mrs. McNab would...
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often be asked to help with the washing up and would stay as late as midnight.
While observing George mow the lawn, she realizes that the grounds would be different than before because Old Kennedy, who was once responsible for maintaining the grounds, had an accident while riding a cart and is now unable to work. Finally, after working for several days, the job is completed. Ten years have passed, but in September, Lily Briscoe and Augustus Carmichael return to the house.
Laying down to sleep in the familiar home of her youth, Lily hears the sea and imagines that the waves are sending peaceful messages to the shore, attempting to convey to the inhabitants of the house the beauty of the world around them. As she falls asleep, the voices of the waves soothe her, enveloping her in a comforting embrace. In another room, Augustus closes his book and notices that his surroundings remain remarkably unchanged, even after ten years’ time. The sleepers remain undisturbed until the early morning, when Lily awakens with a start, holding onto her blankets tightly and sitting up in fear.