Mr. Ramsay, a professor of philosophy, a metaphysician of high order, an author, and the father of eight. Not really first-rate, as he realized by the time he was sixty, he knew also that his mind was still agile and his ability to abstract strong. Loved by his wife, he is nevertheless offered sympathy and consolation for the things he is not. Lithe, trim, and the very prototype of the philosopher, he attracts many people to him and uses their feelings to buoy him in his weaknesses. He is not truly a father; his gift for the ironic and sardonic arouses fear and hatred rather than respect among his children. Broken by the deaths of his wife and his oldest son, he continues to endure and to sharpen his mind on the fine whetstone of wit.
Mrs. Ramsay, a beautiful woman even in her aging; she is warm, compassionate, and devoted to the old-fashioned virtues of hearth, husband, and children. With an aura of graciousness and goodness about her, ineffable but pervasive, Mrs. Ramsay gathers about her guests, students, friends, and family at their summer home on the Isle of Skye. Loving and tender to her children, and polite and pleasant to her guests, she impresses on them all the sanctity of life and marriage, the elemental virtues. Her love and reverence of life have its effect on all of her guests, even an atheistic student of her husband and an aloof poet. Mostly she affects women, especially Lily Briscoe, with the need to throw oneself into life, not to limit life but to live it, especially through motherhood.
James, the Ramsays’ youngest son and his mother’s favorite. He is the child most criticized by the professor because the boy robs him of sympathy that he desperately needs. Sensitive and austere, James at six and sixteen suffers most the loss of his mother, taken from him at first by a calculating father’s demands and later by her death. He and his sister Camilla make a pact of war against their father’s tyranny of demands and oversights. Finally, on a trip to the lighthouse, the symbol of what had been denied him by his father, Mr. Ramsay praises his son’s seamanship.
Prue, who dies in childbirth,
Andrew, who is killed in World War I,
Camilla, called Cam, the other children of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay. All the children resent their father and his dominance. Mrs. Ramsay regrets that they must grow up because of the loss of sensitivity and imagination that will come with adulthood.
Lily Briscoe, an artist and friend of the family who, more than any other, loved the weeks spent with the Ramsays in the Hebrides. Desperately in need of assurance, Lily has withheld love and affection from others until the summer she spends at the Ramsay cottage, where she observes life with its fixed center and raw edges. Completely won over by Mrs. Ramsay, Lily almost gets her chance at life, and had the war not interfered, she might have married. She is not really a great artist, but during a visit to the Ramsay home after the war, she experiences a moment of fulfilled vision, a feeling of devotion to the oldest cause, of a sense of oneness with all time, and of sympathy for the human condition. She is able to express this fleeting moment in a painting she had begun before Mrs. Ramsay’s death.
Augustus Carmichael, a minor poet with one major success. He is a hanger-on and is the only one who does not at first love his hostess. He finally discovers her genius years after her death. Laughed at by all the Ramsay children because of his yellow-tinted beard—they imagine the tint is the result of taking opium—he soaks up love and life without himself giving anything. His late fame as a poet is a surprise to all who know him.
Minta Doyle and
Paul Rayley, two handsome guests who become engaged through Mrs. Ramsay’s quiet management. Minta is like the young Mrs. Ramsay and sends out an aura of love and...
(The entire section is 1,368 words.)