To the Lighthouse The Lighthouse, Chapters 1 and 2 Summary and Analysis
by Virginia Woolf

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The Lighthouse, Chapters 1 and 2 Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Mrs. Beckworth: houseguest, kind, older woman; sketches

“What does it mean then, what can it all mean?” Lily Briscoe asks herself the following morning. (See close of Time Passes) As she wanders through the house, she feels a kind of numbness coming back after all these years “and Mrs. Ramsay dead.” It is a beautiful day and an expedition to the Lighthouse has been planned. Cam and James are not ready; Nancy has forgotten to order the sandwiches. Mr. Ramsay, annoyed with the children, has banged a door and now marches up and down on the terrace in a rage. Lily feels the house is chaotic and unreal. Nancy’s dazed and desperate question, “What does one send to the Lighthouse?” strikes a nerve. Other questions bang around in her head, “What does one send? What does one do? Why is one sitting here, after all?”

Mr. Ramsay stops his preoccupied pacing for a moment and looks at Lily in a penetrating way. She wants to escape and pretends to drink out of her empty coffee cup, feeling his neediness. She hears his mumbled words (“alone” and “perished”) as symbolic. She wishes she could create a sentence out of all the words in her head this morning. If she could, maybe she could get to the truth of things. Lily thinks that the unreality is frightening, but also exciting: What does one send to the Lighthouse? Perished, alone, she repeats.

Suddenly Lily remembers a revelation about a painting she had had at this very table ten years ago. She had looked at a leaf pattern on the tablecloth and thought that she should move a tree to the middle. She remembers that she had never finished the painting and decides to paint that picture now. Setting up her easel in the same spot she had painted from long ago, she sees the wall, the hedge, and the tree and recalls that the problem was with the relation between those masses. Lily realizes that she has worked on this problem all these years and now she has the solution; she knows what she wants to do.

Mr. Ramsay’s presence distracts her. She feels oppressed by him and can’t paint. The evening before he had embarrassed her and the other guests by saying, “You find us much changed.” She had sensed the children’s discomfort and rage and had felt that the house was full of unrelated passions. Mr. Ramsay had demanded that they were going to the Lighthouse at the stroke of seven-thirty in the morning. She had felt, not only his demands, but also his histrionics, his gift for gesture. He had looked like a king in exile. Sixteen-year-old James and 17-year-old Cam had seemed to her the victims of a tragedy, their spirits had been subdued.

Returning to her canvas, Lily knows that when Mr. Ramsay is nearby she can’t see colors or lines. She worries that he’ll be upon her presently with his excessive demands. Lily becomes increasingly agitated and angry. She decides that Mr. Ramsay only takes and that Mrs. Ramsay had had to constantly give. Lily wishes she hadn’t come. She feels pressured to feel something she doesn’t feel. He will not let her paint, she thinks, until she gives him what he wants: sympathy. She supposes she must imitate the glow which Mrs. Ramsay, and other women, emanate when masculine need is so exposed.

Mr. Ramsay notices that Lily seems to have shriveled. He decides that she does not look unattractive. He is overcome with an enormous need to get sympathy from her. When he asks her if she has everything that she needs, Lily decides she can’t do it; she can’t fill his overwhelming need for sympathy. Bitterly, she decides she’s a peevish, ill-tempered old maid. Mr. Ramsay continues to sigh and groan; she feels his dramatizing is indecent. He tells her that the journey to the Lighthouse will be painful. She feels she can’t sustain the enormous weight of his grief. She decides that Ramsay’s very looks seem to discolor the sunny grass, and place a funeral crepe over Mr. Carmichael, sitting reading nearby.

She, being a woman, has...

(The entire section is 1,616 words.)