To the Lighthouse

by Virginia Woolf

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Time Passes, Chapters 1-7 Summary

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Last Updated May 3, 2023.

In Time Passes, the house sinks into darkness, empty of inhabitants and left almost entirely alone. Rather than the Ramsays, nature is depicted as the main character. It is personified as a powerful force that invades the house with its immense darkness and wind, touching and exploring everything within, including the sleeping figures and inanimate objects. Nature seems to express concern about the endurance of these objects and beings, as if questioning their ability to withstand its power. As time passes, these nights become increasingly restless and destructive; autumn replaces summer, and the trees take on the appearance of tattered flags. The sea is also portrayed as an obstacle to anyone seeking truth, as it tosses and frustrates their efforts.

The passage of time is uncertain, but at some point, Mrs. Ramsay passes away abruptly one night. Her death is mentioned only briefly, listed in parenthesis alongside other references to the fate of the Ramsay family and their long-ago guests. The constant movement of "stray airs" persists throughout the rooms, investigating the abandoned possessions left behind by the previous inhabitants. These objects are the sole reminders of their existence. Once the wind has thoroughly inspected every aspect of the empty house, a sense of beauty and tranquility prevails, and the restless inquiries appear to subside.

Mrs. McNab, who is in charge of taking care of the house, interrupts the silence when she enters to open the windows and clean the bedrooms. She moves clumsily through the house, cleaning and singing, and appears to be exhausted and lacking teeth and wit. She staggers through the house like a ship at sea and smiles without a clear purpose. Despite her challenging seventy years of life, she still manages to hold onto a sense of contentment

As the spring progresses, Prue Ramsay marries. With the arrival of this season, nature is once again personified, and the earth comes back to life, evoking feelings of hopefulness, happiness, goodness, and order. However, as spring ends, it seems to take upon itself the "sorrows of mankind" and turns away its head. Summer arrives, and Prue tragically dies during childbirth. During the nights, the lighthouse emits a dim stroke of light that casts shadows over the carpet and bed, while Mrs. Ramsay's shawl hanging on a hook sways in the wind. The long days of summer are filled with the hum of flies and the yellow haze of the sun. As the summer progresses, ominous sounds foreshadow the tragedy to come: in France, Andrew Ramsay dies, his life and career as a soldier ended by a stray shell.

The pleasant sights and sounds of summer, such as the ocean, sunset, fishing boats, and children playing on the beach, lose their charm because of the disturbing awareness of the war, which Augustus archives in a widely-renowned book of poems. Although the seasons follow their usual pattern, the passage of time feels disorganized and jumbled, as if the universe is in turmoil. The flowers and trees still bloom, but their beauty feels hollow and exists without meaning. Disorder seems to dominate.

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Chapters 8-10 Summary