To the Lighthouse Main Text Part One (The Window)

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To the Lighthouse
Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)




“Yes, of course, if it’s fine tomorrow,” said Mrs. Ramsay. “But you’ll
have to be up with the lark,” she added.

To her son these words conveyed an extraordinary joy, as if it were
settled, the expedition were bound to take place, and the wonder to which
he had looked forward, for years and years it seemed, was, after a night’s
darkness and a day’s sail, within touch. Since he belonged, even at the
age of six, to that great clan which cannot keep this feeling separate
from that, but must let future prospects, with their joys and sorrows,
cloud what is actually at hand, since to such people even in earliest
childhood any turn in the wheel of sensation has the power to crystallise
and transfix the moment upon which its gloom or radiance rests, James
Ramsay, sitting on the floor cutting out pictures from the illustrated
catalogue of the Army and Navy stores, endowed the picture of a
refrigerator, as his mother spoke, with heavenly bliss. It was fringed
with joy. The wheelbarrow, the lawnmower, the sound of poplar trees,
leaves whitening before rain, rooks cawing, brooms knocking, dresses
rustling–all these were so coloured and distinguished in his mind that he
had already his private code, his secret language, though he appeared the
image of stark and uncompromising severity, with his high forehead and his
fierce blue eyes, impeccably candid and pure, frowning slightly at the
sight of human frailty, so that his mother, watching him guide his
scissors neatly round the refrigerator, imagined him all red and ermine on
the Bench or directing a stern and momentous enterprise in some crisis of
public affairs.

“But,” said his father, stopping in front of the drawing-room window, “it
won’t be fine.”

Had there been an axe handy, a poker, or any weapon that would have gashed
a hole in his father’s breast and killed him, there and then, James would
have seized it. Such were the extremes of emotion that Mr. Ramsay excited
in his children’s breasts by his mere presence; standing, as now, lean as
a knife, narrow as the blade of one, grinning sarcastically, not only with
the pleasure of disillusioning his son and casting ridicule upon his wife,
who was ten thousand times better in every way than he was
(James thought), but also with some secret conceit at his own accuracy of
judgement. What he said was true. It was always true. He was incapable
of untruth; never tampered with a fact; never altered a disagreeable word
to suit the pleasure or convenience of any mortal being, least of all of
his own children, who, sprung from his loins, should be aware from
childhood that life is difficult; facts uncompromising; and the passage to
that fabled land where our brightest hopes are extinguished, our frail
barks founder in darkness (here Mr. Ramsay would straighten his back and
narrow his little blue eyes upon the horizon), one that needs, above all,
courage, truth, and the power to endure.

“But it may be fine–I expect it will be fine,” said Mrs. Ramsay, making
some little twist of the reddish brown stocking she was knitting,
impatiently. If she finished it tonight, if they did go to the Lighthouse
after all, it was to be given to the Lighthouse keeper for his little boy,
who was threatened with a tuberculous hip; together with a pile of old
magazines, and some tobacco, indeed, whatever she could find lying about,
not really wanted, but only littering the room, to give those poor
fellows, who must be bored to death sitting all day with nothing to do but
polish the lamp and trim the wick and rake about on their scrap of garden,
something to amuse them. For how would you like to be shut up for a whole
month at a time, and possibly more in stormy weather, upon a rock the size
of a tennis lawn? she would ask; and to have no letters or newspapers, and
to see nobody; if you were married, not to see your wife, not to know how
your children were,–if they were ill, if they had fallen down and broken
their legs or arms; to see the same dreary waves breaking week after week,
and then a dreadful storm coming, and the windows covered with spray, and
birds dashed against the lamp, and the whole place rocking, and not be
able to put your nose out of doors for fear of being swept into the sea?
How would you like that? she asked, addressing herself particularly to her
daughters. So she added, rather differently, one must take them whatever
comforts one can.

“It’s due west,” said the atheist Tansley, holding his bony fingers spread
so that the wind blew through them, for he was sharing Mr. Ramsay’s
evening walk up and down, up and down the terrace. That is to say, the
wind blew from the worst possible direction for landing at the Lighthouse.
Yes, he did say disagreeable things, Mrs. Ramsay admitted; it was odious
of him to rub this in, and make James still more disappointed; but at the
same time, she would not let them laugh at him. “The atheist,” they
called him; “the little atheist.” Rose mocked him; Prue mocked him;
Andrew, Jasper, Roger mocked him; even old Badger without a tooth in his
head had bit him, for being (as Nancy put it) the hundred and tenth young
man to chase them all the way up to the Hebrides when it was ever so much
nicer to be alone.

“Nonsense,” said Mrs. Ramsay, with great severity. Apart from the habit
of exaggeration which they had from her, and from the implication (which
was true) that she asked too many people to stay, and had to lodge some in
the town, she could not bear incivility to her guests, to young men in
particular, who were poor as churchmice, “exceptionally able,” her husband
said, his great admirers, and come there for a holiday. Indeed, she had
the whole of the other sex under her protection; for reasons she could not
explain, for their chivalry and valour, for the fact that they negotiated
treaties, ruled India, controlled finance; finally for an attitude towards
herself which no woman could fail to feel or to find agreeable, something
trustful, childlike, reverential; which an old woman could take from a
young man without loss of dignity, and woe betide the girl–pray Heaven it
was none of her daughters!–who did not feel the worth of it, and all
that it implied, to the marrow of her bones!

She turned with severity upon Nancy. He had not chased them, she said.
He had been asked.

They must find a way out of it all. There might be some simpler way, some
less laborious way, she sighed. When she looked in the glass and saw her
hair grey, her cheek sunk, at fifty, she thought, possibly she might have
managed things better–her husband; money; his books. But for her own
part she would never for a single second regret her decision, evade
difficulties, or slur over duties. She was now formidable to behold, and
it was only in silence, looking up from their plates, after she had spoken
so severely about Charles Tansley, that her daughters, Prue, Nancy,
Rose–could sport with infidel ideas which they had brewed for themselves
of a life different from hers; in Paris, perhaps; a wilder life; not
always taking care of some man or other; for there was in all their minds
a mute questioning of deference and chivalry, of the Bank of England and
the Indian Empire, of ringed fingers and lace, though to them all there
was something in this of the essence of beauty, which called out the
manliness in their girlish hearts, and made them, as they sat at table
beneath their mother’s eyes, honour her strange severity, her extreme
courtesy, like a queen’s raising from the mud to wash a beggar’s dirty
foot, when she admonished them so very severely about that wretched
atheist who had chased them–or, speaking accurately, been invited to
stay with them–in the Isle of Skye.

“There’ll be no landing at the Lighthouse tomorrow,” said Charles Tansley,
clapping his hands together as he stood at the window with her husband.
Surely, he had said enough. She wished they would both leave her and
James alone and go on talking. She looked at him. He was such a
miserable specimen, the children said, all humps and hollows. He couldn’t
play cricket; he poked; he shuffled. He was a sarcastic brute, Andrew
said. They knew what he liked best–to be for ever walking up and down,
up and down, with Mr. Ramsay, and saying who had won this, who had won
that, who was a “first rate man” at Latin verses, who was “brilliant but I
think fundamentally unsound,” who was undoubtedly the “ablest fellow in
Balliol,” who had buried his light temporarily at Bristol or Bedford, but
was bound to be heard of later when his Prolegomena, of which Mr. Tansley
had the first pages in proof with him if Mr. Ramsay would like to see
them, to some branch of mathematics or philosophy saw the light of day.
That was what they talked about.

She could not help laughing herself sometimes. She said, the other day,
something about “waves mountains high.” Yes, said Charles Tansley, it
was a little rough. “Aren’t you drenched to the skin?” she had said.
“Damp, not wet through,” said Mr. Tansley, pinching his sleeve, feeling
his socks.

But it was not that they minded, the children said. It was not his face;
it was not his manners. It was him–his point of view. When they talked
about something interesting, people, music, history, anything, even said
it was a fine evening so why not sit out of doors, then what they
complained of about Charles Tansley was that until he had turned the whole
thing round and made it somehow reflect himself and disparage them–he was
not satisfied. And he would go to picture galleries they said, and he
would ask one, did one like his tie? God knows, said Rose, one did not.

Disappearing as stealthily as stags from the dinner-table directly the
meal was over, the eight sons and daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay sought
their bedrooms, their fastness in a house where there was no other privacy
to debate anything, everything; Tansley’s tie; the passing of the Reform
Bill; sea birds and butterflies; people; while the sun poured into those
attics, which a plank alone separated from each other so that every
footstep could be plainly heard and the Swiss girl sobbing for her father
who was dying of cancer in a valley of the Grisons, and lit up bats,
flannels, straw hats, ink-pots, paint-pots, beetles, and the skulls of
small birds, while it drew from the long frilled strips of seaweed pinned
to the wall a smell of salt and weeds, which was in the towels too,
gritty with sand from bathing.

Strife, divisions, difference of opinion, prejudices twisted into the very
fibre of being, oh, that they should begin so early, Mrs. Ramsay deplored.
They were so critical, her children. They talked such nonsense. She went
from the dining-room, holding James by the hand, since he would not go
with the others. It seemed to her such nonsense–inventing differences,
when people, heaven knows, were different enough without that. The real
differences, she thought, standing by the drawing-room window, are enough,
quite enough. She had in mind at the moment, rich and poor, high and low;
the great in birth receiving from her, half grudging, some respect, for
had she not in her veins the blood of that very noble, if slightly
mythical, Italian house, whose daughters, scattered about English
drawing-rooms in the nineteenth century, had lisped so charmingly, had
stormed so wildly, and all her wit and her bearing and her temper came
from them, and not from the sluggish English, or the cold Scotch; but more
profoundly, she ruminated the other problem, of rich and poor, and the
things she saw with her own eyes, weekly, daily, here or in London, when
she visited this widow, or that struggling wife in person with a bag on
her arm, and a note-book and pencil with which she wrote down in columns
carefully ruled for the purpose wages and spendings, employment and
unemployment, in the hope that thus she would cease to be a private woman
whose charity was half a sop to her own indignation, half a relief to her
own curiosity, and become what with her untrained mind she greatly
admired, an investigator, elucidating the social problem.

Insoluble questions they were, it seemed to her, standing there, holding
James by the hand. He had followed her into the drawing-room, that young
man they laughed at; he was standing by the table, fidgeting with
something, awkwardly, feeling himself out of things, as she knew without
looking round. They had all gone–the children; Minta Doyle and Paul
Rayley; Augustus Carmichael; her husband–they had all gone. So she
turned with a sigh and said, “Would it bore you to come with me,
Mr. Tansley?”

She had a dull errand in the town; she had a letter or two to write; she
would be ten minutes perhaps; she would put on her hat. And, with her
basket and her parasol, there she was again, ten minutes later, giving out
a sense of being ready, of being equipped for a jaunt, which, however, she
must interrupt for a moment, as they passed the tennis lawn, to ask
Mr. Carmichael, who was basking with his yellow cat’s eyes ajar, so that
like a cat’s they seemed to reflect the branches moving or the clouds
passing, but to give no inkling of any inner thoughts or emotion
whatsoever, if he wanted anything.

For they were making the great expedition, she said, laughing. They were
going to the town. “Stamps, writing-paper, tobacco?” she suggested,
stopping by his side. But no, he wanted nothing. His hands clasped
themselves over his capacious paunch, his eyes blinked, as if he would
have liked to reply kindly to these blandishments (she was seductive but a
little nervous) but could not, sunk as he was in a grey-green somnolence
which embraced them all, without need of words, in a vast and benevolent
lethargy of well-wishing; all the house; all the world; all the people in
it, for he had slipped into his glass at lunch a few drops of something,
which accounted, the children thought, for the vivid streak of
canary-yellow in moustache and beard that were otherwise milk white. No,
nothing, he murmured.

He should have been a great philosopher, said Mrs. Ramsay, as they went
down the road to the fishing village, but he had made an unfortunate
marriage. Holding her black parasol very erect, and moving with an
indescribable air of expectation, as if she were going to meet some one
round the corner, she told the story; an affair at Oxford with some girl;
an early marriage; poverty; going to India; translating a little poetry
“very beautifully, I believe,” being willing to teach the boys Persian or
Hindustanee, but what really was the use of that?–and then lying, as they
saw him, on the lawn.

It flattered him; snubbed as he had been, it soothed him that Mrs. Ramsay
should tell him this. Charles Tansley revived. Insinuating, too, as she
did the greatness of man’s intellect, even in its decay, the subjection of
all wives–not that she blamed the girl, and the marriage had been happy
enough, she believed–to their husband’s labours, she made him feel better
pleased with himself than he had done yet, and he would have liked, had
they taken a cab, for example, to have paid the fare. As for her little
bag, might he not carry that? No, no, she said, she always carried THAT
herself. She did too. Yes, he felt that in her. He felt many things,
something in particular that excited him and disturbed him for reasons
which he could not give. He would like her to see him, gowned and hooded,
walking in a procession. A fellowship, a professorship, he felt capable
of anything and saw himself–but what was she looking at? At a man
pasting a bill. The vast flapping sheet flattened itself out, and each
shove of the brush revealed fresh legs, hoops, horses, glistening reds and
blues, beautifully smooth, until half the wall was covered with the
advertisement of a circus; a hundred horsemen, twenty performing seals,
lions, tigers … Craning forwards, for she was short-sighted, she read it
out … “will visit this town,” she read. It was terribly dangerous work
for a one-armed man, she exclaimed, to stand on top of a ladder like
that–his left arm had been cut off in a reaping machine two years ago.

“Let us all go!” she cried, moving on, as if all those riders and horses
had filled her with childlike exultation and made her forget her pity.

“Let’s go,” he said, repeating her words, clicking them out, however, with
a self-consciousness that made her wince. “Let us all go to the circus.”
No. He could not say it right. He could not feel it right. But why not?
she wondered. What was wrong with him then? She liked him warmly, at the
moment. Had they not been taken, she asked, to circuses when they were
children? Never, he answered, as if she asked the very thing he wanted;
had been longing all these days to say, how they did not go to circuses.
It was a large family, nine brothers and sisters, and his father was a
working man. “My father is a chemist, Mrs. Ramsay. He keeps a shop.” He
himself had paid his own way since he was thirteen. Often he went without
a greatcoat in winter. He could never “return hospitality” (those were
his parched stiff words) at college. He had to make things last twice the
time other people did; he smoked the cheapest tobacco; shag; the same the
old men did in the quays. He worked hard–seven hours a day; his subject
was now the influence of something upon somebody–they were walking on and
Mrs. Ramsay did not quite catch the meaning, only the words, here and
there … dissertation … fellowship … readership … lectureship. She
could not follow the ugly academic jargon, that rattled itself off so
glibly, but said to herself that she saw now why going to the circus had
knocked him off his perch, poor little man, and why he came out,
instantly, with all that about his father and mother and brothers and
sisters, and she would see to it that they didn’t laugh at him any more;
she would tell Prue about it. What he would have liked, she supposed,
would have been to say how he had gone not to the circus but to Ibsen with
the Ramsays. He was an awful prig–oh yes, an insufferable bore. For,
though they had reached the town now and were in the main street, with
carts grinding past on the cobbles, still he went on talking, about
settlements, and teaching, and working men, and helping our own class,
and lectures, till she gathered that he had got back entire
self-confidence, had recovered from the circus, and was about (and now
again she liked him warmly) to tell her–but here, the houses falling
away on both sides, they came out on the quay, and the whole bay
spread before them and Mrs. Ramsay could not help exclaiming, “Oh,
how beautiful!” For the great plateful of blue water was before her;
the hoary Lighthouse, distant, austere, in the midst; and on the right,
as far as the eye could see, fading and falling, in soft low pleats,
the green sand dunes with the wild flowing grasses on them, which always
seemed to be running away into some moon country, uninhabited of men.

That was the view, she said, stopping, growing greyer-eyed, that her
husband loved.

She paused a moment. But now, she said, artists had come here. There
indeed, only a few paces off, stood one of them, in Panama hat and yellow
boots, seriously, softly, absorbedly, for all that he was watched by ten
little boys, with an air of profound contentment on his round red face
gazing, and then, when he had gazed, dipping; imbuing the tip of his
brush in some soft mound of green or pink. Since Mr. Paunceforte had been
there, three years before, all the pictures were like that, she said,
green and grey, with lemon-coloured sailing-boats, and pink women on the

But her grandmother’s friends, she said, glancing discreetly as they
passed, took the greatest pains; first they mixed their own colours, and
then they ground them, and then they put damp cloths to keep them moist.

So Mr. Tansley supposed she meant him to see that that man’s picture was
skimpy, was that what one said? The colours weren’t solid? Was that what
one said? Under the influence of that extraordinary emotion which had been
growing all the walk, had begun in the garden when he had wanted to take
her bag, had increased in the town when he had wanted to tell her
everything about himself, he was coming to see himself, and everything he
had ever known gone crooked a little. It was awfully strange.

There he stood in the parlour of the poky little house where she had taken
him, waiting for her, while she went upstairs a moment to see a woman. He
heard her quick step above; heard her voice cheerful, then low; looked at
the mats, tea-caddies, glass shades; waited quite impatiently; looked
forward eagerly to the walk home; determined to carry her bag; then heard
her come out; shut a door; say they must keep the windows open and the
doors shut, ask at the house for anything they wanted (she must be talking
to a child) when, suddenly, in she came, stood for a moment silent (as if
she had been pretending up there, and for a moment let herself be now),
stood quite motionless for a moment against a picture of Queen Victoria
wearing the blue ribbon of the Garter; when all at once he realised that
it was this: it was this:–she was the most beautiful person he had ever

With stars in her eyes and veils in her hair, with cyclamen and wild
violets–what nonsense was he thinking? She was fifty at least; she had
eight children. Stepping through fields of flowers and taking to her
breast buds that had broken and lambs that had fallen; with the stars in
her eyes and the wind in her hair–He had hold of her bag.

“Good-bye, Elsie,” she said, and they walked up the street, she holding
her parasol erect and walking as if she expected to meet some one round
the corner, while for the first time in his life Charles Tansley felt an
extraordinary pride; a man digging in a drain stopped digging and looked
at her, let his arm fall down and looked at her; for the first time in his
life Charles Tansley felt an extraordinary pride; felt the wind and the
cyclamen and the violets for he was walking with a beautiful woman. He
had hold of her bag.


“No going to the Lighthouse, James,” he said, as trying in deference to
Mrs. Ramsay to soften his voice into some semblance of geniality at least.

Odious little man, thought Mrs. Ramsay, why go on saying that?


“Perhaps you will wake up and find the sun shining and the birds singing,”
she said compassionately, smoothing the little boy’s hair, for her
husband, with his caustic saying that it would not be fine, had dashed his
spirits she could see. This going to the Lighthouse was a passion of his,
she saw, and then, as if her husband had not said enough, with his caustic
saying that it would not be fine tomorrow, this odious little man went and
rubbed it in all over again.

“Perhaps it will be fine tomorrow,” she said, smoothing his hair.

All she could do now was to admire the refrigerator, and turn the pages of
the Stores list in the hope that she might come upon something like a
rake, or a mowing-machine, which, with its prongs and its handles, would
need the greatest skill and care in cutting out. All these young men
parodied her husband, she reflected; he said it would rain; they said it
would be a positive tornado.

But here, as she turned the page, suddenly her search for the picture of a
rake or a mowing-machine was interrupted. The gruff murmur, irregularly
broken by the taking out of pipes and the putting in of pipes which had
kept on assuring her, though she could not hear what was said (as she sat
in the window which opened on the terrace), that the men were happily
talking; this sound, which had lasted now half an hour and had taken its
place soothingly in the scale of sounds pressing on top of her, such as
the tap of balls upon bats, the sharp, sudden bark now and then,
“How’s that? How’s that?” of the children playing cricket, had ceased;
so that the monotonous fall of the waves on the beach, which for the most
part beat a measured and soothing tattoo to her thoughts and seemed
consolingly to repeat over and over again as she sat with the children
the words of some old cradle song, murmured by nature, “I am guarding
you–I am your support,” but at other times suddenly and unexpectedly,
especially when her mind raised itself slightly from the task actually in
hand, had no such kindly meaning, but like a ghostly roll of drums
remorselessly beat the measure of life, made one think of the destruction
of the island and its engulfment in the sea, and warned her whose day had
slipped past in one quick doing after another that it was all ephemeral as
a rainbow–this sound which had been obscured and concealed under the
other sounds suddenly thundered hollow in her ears and made her look up
with an impulse of terror.

They had ceased to talk; that was the explanation. Falling in one second
from the tension which had gripped her to the other extreme which, as if
to recoup her for her unnecessary expense of emotion, was cool, amused,
and even faintly malicious, she concluded that poor Charles Tansley had
been shed. That was of little account to her. If her husband required
sacrifices (and indeed he did) she cheerfully offered up to him Charles
Tansley, who had snubbed her little boy.

One moment more, with her head raised, she listened, as if she waited for
some habitual sound, some regular mechanical sound; and then, hearing
something rhythmical, half said, half chanted, beginning in the garden, as
her husband beat up and down the terrace, something between a croak and a
song, she was soothed once more, assured again that all was well, and
looking down at the book on her knee found the picture of a pocket knife
with six blades which could only be cut out if James was very careful.

Suddenly a loud cry, as of a sleep-walker, half roused, something about

Stormed at with shot and shell

sung out with the utmost intensity in her ear, made her turn
apprehensively to see if anyone had heard him. Only Lily Briscoe, she was
glad to find; and that did not matter. But the sight of the girl standing
on the edge of the lawn painting reminded her; she was supposed to be
keeping her head as much in the same position as possible for Lily’s
picture. Lily’s picture! Mrs. Ramsay smiled. With her little Chinese
eyes and her puckered-up face, she would never marry; one could not take
her painting very seriously; she was an independent little creature, and
Mrs. Ramsay liked her for it; so, remembering her promise, she bent her


Indeed, he almost knocked her easel over, coming down upon her with his
hands waving shouting out, “Boldly we rode and well,” but, mercifully, he
turned sharp, and rode off, to die gloriously she supposed upon the
heights of Balaclava. Never was anybody at once so ridiculous and so
alarming. But so long as he kept like that, waving, shouting, she was
safe; he would not stand still and look at her picture. And that was what
Lily Briscoe could not have endured. Even while she looked at the mass,
at the line, at the colour, at Mrs. Ramsay sitting in the window with
James, she kept a feeler on her surroundings lest some one should creep
up, and suddenly she should find her picture looked at. But now, with all
her senses quickened as they were, looking, straining, till the colour of
the wall and the jacmanna beyond burnt into her eyes, she was aware of
someone coming out of the house, coming towards her; but somehow divined,
from the footfall, William Bankes, so that though her brush quivered, she
did not, as she would have done had it been Mr. Tansley, Paul Rayley,
Minta Doyle, or practically anybody else, turn her canvas upon the grass,
but let it stand. William Bankes stood beside her.

They had rooms in the village, and so, walking in, walking out, parting
late on door-mats, had said little things about the soup, about the
children, about one thing and another which made them allies; so that when
he stood beside her now in his judicial way (he was old enough to be her
father too, a botanist, a widower, smelling of soap, very scrupulous and
clean) she just stood there. He just stood there. Her shoes were
excellent, he observed. They allowed the toes their natural expansion.
Lodging in the same house with her, he had noticed too, how orderly she
was, up before breakfast and off to paint, he believed, alone: poor,
presumably, and without the complexion or the allurement of Miss Doyle
certainly, but with a good sense which made her in his eyes superior to
that young lady. Now, for instance, when Ramsay bore down on them,
shouting, gesticulating, Miss Briscoe, he felt certain, understood.

Some one had blundered.

Mr. Ramsay glared at them. He glared at them without seeming to see them.
That did make them both vaguely uncomfortable. Together they had seen a
thing they had not been meant to see. They had encroached upon a privacy.
So, Lily thought, it was probably an excuse of his for moving, for getting
out of earshot, that made Mr. Bankes almost immediately say something
about its being chilly and suggested taking a stroll. She would come,
yes. But it was with difficulty that she took her eyes off her picture.

The jacmanna was bright violet; the wall staring white. She would not
have considered it honest to tamper with the bright violet and the staring
white, since she saw them like that, fashionable though it was, since
Mr. Paunceforte’s visit, to see everything pale, elegant, semitransparent.
Then beneath the colour there was the shape. She could see it all so
clearly, so commandingly, when she looked: it was when she took her brush
in hand that the whole thing changed. It was in that moment’s flight
between the picture and her canvas that the demons set on her who often
brought her to the verge of tears and made this passage from conception to
work as dreadful as any down a dark passage for a child. Such she often
felt herself–struggling against terrific odds to maintain her courage; to
say: “But this is what I see; this is what I see,” and so to clasp some
miserable remnant of her vision to her breast, which a thousand forces did
their best to pluck from her. And it was then too, in that chill and
windy way, as she began to paint, that there forced themselves upon her
other things, her own inadequacy, her insignificance, keeping house for
her father off the Brompton Road, and had much ado to control her impulse
to fling herself (thank Heaven she had always resisted so far) at
Mrs. Ramsay’s knee and say to her–but what could one say to her? “I’m in
love with you?” No, that was not true. “I’m in love with this all,”
waving her hand at the hedge, at the house, at the children. It was
absurd, it was impossible. So now she laid her brushes neatly in the box,
side by side, and said to William Bankes:

“It suddenly gets cold. The sun seems to give less heat,” she said,
looking about her, for it was bright enough, the grass still a soft deep
green, the house starred in its greenery with purple passion flowers, and
rooks dropping cool cries from the high blue. But something moved,
flashed, turned a silver wing in the air. It was September after all,
the middle of September, and past six in the evening. So off they
strolled down the garden in the usual direction, past the tennis lawn,
past the pampas grass, to that break in the thick hedge, guarded by red
hot pokers like brasiers of clear burning coal, between which the blue
waters of the bay looked bluer than ever.

They came there regularly every evening drawn by some need. It was as if
the water floated off and set sailing thoughts which had grown stagnant on
dry land, and gave to their bodies even some sort of physical relief.
First, the pulse of colour flooded the bay with blue, and the heart
expanded with it and the body swam, only the next instant to be checked
and chilled by the prickly blackness on the ruffled waves. Then, up
behind the great black rock, almost every evening spurted irregularly, so
that one had to watch for it and it was a delight when it came, a fountain
of white water; and then, while one waited for that, one watched, on the
pale semicircular beach, wave after wave shedding again and again
smoothly, a film of mother of pearl.

They both smiled, standing there. They both felt a common hilarity,
excited by the moving waves; and then by the swift cutting race of a
sailing boat, which, having sliced a curve in the bay, stopped; shivered;
let its sails drop down; and then, with a natural instinct to complete the
picture, after this swift movement, both of them looked at the dunes
far away, and instead of merriment felt come over them some
sadness–because the thing was completed partly, and partly because
distant views seem to outlast by a million years (Lily thought) the gazer
and to be communing already with a sky which beholds an earth entirely
at rest.

Looking at the far sand hills, William Bankes thought of Ramsay: thought
of a road in Westmorland, thought of Ramsay striding along a road by
himself hung round with that solitude which seemed to be his natural air.
But this was suddenly interrupted, William Bankes remembered (and this
must refer to some actual incident), by a hen, straddling her wings out in
protection of a covey of little chicks, upon which Ramsay, stopping,
pointed his stick and said “Pretty–pretty,” an odd illumination in to
his heart, Bankes had thought it, which showed his simplicity, his
sympathy with humble things; but it seemed to him as if their friendship
had ceased, there, on that stretch of road. After that, Ramsay had
married. After that, what with one thing and another, the pulp had gone
out of their friendship. Whose fault it was he could not say, only, after
a time, repetition had taken the place of newness. It was to repeat that
they met. But in this dumb colloquy with the sand dunes he maintained
that his affection for Ramsay had in no way diminished; but there, like
the body of a young man laid up in peat for a century, with the red fresh
on his lips, was his friendship, in its acuteness and reality, laid up
across the bay among the sandhills.

He was anxious for the sake of this friendship and perhaps too in order to
clear himself in his own mind from the imputation of having dried and
shrunk–for Ramsay lived in a welter of children, whereas Bankes was
childless and a widower–he was anxious that Lily Briscoe should not
disparage Ramsay (a great man in his own way) yet should understand how
things stood between them. Begun long years ago, their friendship had
petered out on a Westmorland road, where the hen spread her wings before
her chicks; after which Ramsay had married, and their paths lying
different ways, there had been, certainly for no one’s fault, some
tendency, when they met, to repeat.

Yes. That was it. He finished. He turned from the view. And, turning
to walk back the other way, up the drive, Mr. Bankes was alive to things
which would not have struck him had not those sandhills revealed to him
the body of his friendship lying with the red on its lips laid up in
peat–for instance, Cam, the little girl, Ramsay’s youngest daughter. She
was picking Sweet Alice on the bank. She was wild and fierce. She would
not “give a flower to the gentleman” as the nursemaid told her.
No! no! no! she would not! She clenched her fist. She stamped. And
Mr. Bankes felt aged and saddened and somehow put into the wrong by her
about his friendship. He must have dried and shrunk.

The Ramsays were not rich, and it was a wonder how they managed to
contrive it all. Eight children! To feed eight children on philosophy!
Here was another of them, Jasper this time, strolling past, to have a shot
at a bird, he said, nonchalantly, swinging Lily’s hand like a pump-handle
as he passed, which caused Mr. Bankes to say, bitterly, how SHE was a
favourite. There was education now to be considered (true, Mrs. Ramsay
had something of her own perhaps) let alone the daily wear and tear of
shoes and stockings which those “great fellows,” all well grown, angular,
ruthless youngsters, must require. As for being sure which was which, or
in what order they came, that was beyond him. He called them privately
after the Kings and Queens of England; Cam the Wicked, James the Ruthless,
Andrew the Just, Prue the Fair–for Prue would have beauty, he thought,
how could she help it?–and Andrew brains. While he walked up the drive
and Lily Briscoe said yes and no and capped his comments (for she was in
love with them all, in love with this world) he weighed Ramsay’s case,
commiserated him, envied him, as if he had seen him divest himself of all
those glories of isolation and austerity which crowned him in youth to
cumber himself definitely with fluttering wings and clucking
domesticities. They gave him something–William Bankes acknowledged that;
it would have been pleasant if Cam had stuck a flower in his coat or
clambered over his shoulder, as over her father’s, to look at a picture
of Vesuvius in eruption; but they had also, his old friends could not but
feel, destroyed something. What would a stranger think now? What did
this Lily Briscoe think? Could one help noticing that habits grew on him?
eccentricities, weaknesses perhaps? It was astonishing that a man of his
intellect could stoop so low as he did–but that was too harsh a
phrase–could depend so much as he did upon people’s praise.

“Oh, but,” said Lily, “think of his work!”

Whenever she “thought of his work” she always saw clearly before her a
large kitchen table. It was Andrew’s doing. She asked him what his
father’s books were about. “Subject and object and the nature of
reality,” Andrew had said. And when she said Heavens, she had no notion
what that meant. “Think of a kitchen table then,” he told her, “when
you’re not there.”

So now she always saw, when she thought of Mr. Ramsay’s work, a scrubbed
kitchen table. It lodged now in the fork of a pear tree, for they had
reached the orchard. And with a painful effort of concentration, she
focused her mind, not upon the silver-bossed bark of the tree, or upon its
fish-shaped leaves, but upon a phantom kitchen table, one of those
scrubbed board tables, grained and knotted, whose virtue seems to have
been laid bare by years of muscular integrity, which stuck there, its four
legs in air. Naturally, if one’s days were passed in this seeing of
angular essences, this reducing of lovely evenings, with all their
flamingo clouds and blue and silver to a white deal four-legged table
(and it was a mark of the finest minds to do so), naturally one could not
be judged like an ordinary person.

Mr. Bankes liked her for bidding him “think of his work.” He had thought
of it, often and often. Times without number, he had said, “Ramsay is one
of those men who do their best work before they are forty.” He had made a
definite contribution to philosophy in one little book when he was only
five and twenty; what came after was more or less amplification,
repetition. But the number of men who make a definite contribution to
anything whatsoever is very small, he said, pausing by the pear tree, well
brushed, scrupulously exact, exquisitely judicial. Suddenly, as if the
movement of his hand had released it, the load of her accumulated
impressions of him tilted up, and down poured in a ponderous avalanche all
she felt about him. That was one sensation. Then up rose in a fume the
essence of his being. That was another. She felt herself transfixed
by the intensity of her perception; it was his severity; his goodness. I
respect you (she addressed silently him in person) in every atom; you are
not vain; you are entirely impersonal; you are finer than Mr. Ramsay; you
are the finest human being that I know; you have neither wife nor child
(without any sexual feeling, she longed to cherish that loneliness), you
live for science (involuntarily, sections of potatoes rose before her
eyes); praise would be an insult to you; generous, pure-hearted, heroic
man! But simultaneously, she remembered how he had brought a valet all
the way up here; objected to dogs on chairs; would prose for hours (until
Mr. Ramsay slammed out of the room) about salt in vegetables and the
iniquity of English cooks.

How then did it work out, all this? How did one judge people, think of
them? How did one add up this and that and conclude that it was liking
one felt or disliking? And to those words, what meaning attached, after
all? Standing now, apparently transfixed, by the pear tree, impressions
poured in upon her of those two men, and to follow her thought was like
following a voice which speaks too quickly to be taken down by one’s
pencil, and the voice was her own voice saying without prompting
undeniable, everlasting, contradictory things, so that even the
fissures and humps on the bark of the pear tree were irrevocably
fixed there for eternity. You have greatness, she continued, but
Mr. Ramsay has none of it. He is petty, selfish, vain, egotistical; he is
spoilt; he is a tyrant; he wears Mrs. Ramsay to death; but he has what you
(she addressed Mr. Bankes) have not; a fiery unworldliness; he knows
nothing about trifles; he loves dogs and his children. He has eight.
Mr. Bankes has none. Did he not come down in two coats the other night
and let Mrs. Ramsay trim his hair into a pudding basin? All of this
danced up and down, like a company of gnats, each separate but all
marvellously controlled in an invisible elastic net–danced up and down in
Lily’s mind, in and about the branches of the pear tree, where still hung
in effigy the scrubbed kitchen table, symbol of her profound respect for
Mr. Ramsay’s mind, until her thought which had spun quicker and quicker
exploded of its own intensity; she felt released; a shot went off close at
hand, and there came, flying from its fragments, frightened, effusive,
tumultuous, a flock of starlings.

“Jasper!” said Mr. Bankes. They turned the way the starlings flew, over
the terrace. Following the scatter of swift-flying birds in the sky they
stepped through the gap in the high hedge straight into Mr. Ramsay, who
boomed tragically at them, “Some one had blundered!”

His eyes, glazed with emotion, defiant with tragic intensity, met theirs
for a second, and trembled on the verge of recognition; but then, raising
his hand, half-way to his face as if to avert, to brush off, in an agony
of peevish shame, their normal gaze, as if he begged them to withhold for
a moment what he knew to be inevitable, as if he impressed upon them his
own child-like resentment of interruption, yet even in the moment of
discovery was not to be routed utterly, but was determined to hold fast to
something of this delicious emotion, this impure rhapsody of which he was
ashamed, but in which he revelled–he turned abruptly, slammed his private
door on them; and, Lily Briscoe and Mr. Bankes, looking uneasily up into
the sky, observed that the flock of starlings which Jasper had routed with
his gun had settled on the tops of the elm trees.


“And even if it isn’t fine tomorrow,” said Mrs. Ramsay, raising her eyes
to glance at William Bankes and Lily Briscoe as they passed, “it will be
another day. And now,” she said, thinking that Lily’s charm was her
Chinese eyes, aslant in her white, puckered little face, but it would take
a clever man to see it, “and now stand up, and let me measure your leg,”
for they might go to the Lighthouse after all, and she must see if the
stocking did not need to be an inch or two longer in the leg.

Smiling, for it was an admirable idea, that had flashed upon her this very
second–William and Lily should marry–she took the heather-mixture
stocking, with its criss-cross of steel needles at the mouth of it, and
measured it against James’s leg.

“My dear, stand still,” she said, for in his jealousy, not liking to serve
as measuring block for the Lighthouse keeper’s little boy, James fidgeted
purposely; and if he did that, how could she see, was it too long, was it
too short? she asked.

She looked up–what demon possessed him, her youngest, her cherished?–and
saw the room, saw the chairs, thought them fearfully shabby. Their
entrails, as Andrew said the other day, were all over the floor; but then
what was the point, she asked, of buying good chairs to let them spoil up
here all through the winter when the house, with only one old woman to see
to it, positively dripped with wet? Never mind, the rent was precisely
twopence half-penny; the children loved it; it did her husband good to be
three thousand, or if she must be accurate, three hundred miles from his
libraries and his lectures and his disciples; and there was room for
visitors. Mats, camp beds, crazy ghosts of chairs and tables whose London
life of service was done–they did well enough here; and a photograph or
two, and books. Books, she thought, grew of themselves. She never had
time to read them. Alas! even the books that had been given her and
inscribed by the hand of the poet himself: “For her whose wishes must be
obeyed” … “The happier Helen of our days” … disgraceful to say, she
had never read them. And Croom on the Mind and Bates on the Savage
Customs of Polynesia (“My dear, stand still,” she said)–neither of those
could one send to the Lighthouse. At a certain moment, she supposed, the
house would become so shabby that something must be done. If they could
be taught to wipe their feet and not bring the beach in with them–that
would be something. Crabs, she had to allow, if Andrew really wished to
dissect them, or if Jasper believed that one could make soup from seaweed,
one could not prevent it; or Rose’s objects–shells, reeds, stones; for
they were gifted, her children, but all in quite different ways. And the
result of it was, she sighed, taking in the whole room from floor to
ceiling, as she held the stocking against James’s leg, that things got
shabbier and got shabbier summer after summer. The mat was fading; the
wall-paper was flapping. You couldn’t tell any more that those were roses
on it. Still, if every door in a house is left perpetually open, and no
lockmaker in the whole of Scotland can mend a bolt, things must spoil.
What was the use of flinging a green Cashemere shawl over the edge of
a picture frame? In two weeks it would be the colour of pea soup.
But it was the doors that annoyed her; every door was left open.
She listened. The drawing-room door was open; the hall door was open;
it sounded as if the bedroom doors were open; and certainly the window
on the landing was open, for that she had opened herself. That windows
should be open, and doors shut–simple as it was, could none of them
remember it? She would go into the maids’ bedrooms at night and find
them sealed like ovens, except for Marie’s, the Swiss girl, who
would rather go without a bath than without fresh air, but then
at home, she had said, “the mountains are so beautiful.” She had said
that last night looking out of the window with tears in her eyes.
“The mountains are so beautiful.” Her father was dying there,
Mrs. Ramsay knew. He was leaving them fatherless. Scolding and
demonstrating (how to make a bed, how to open a window, with hands that
shut and spread like a Frenchwoman’s) all had folded itself quietly about
her, when the girl spoke, as, after a flight through the sunshine the
wings of a bird fold themselves quietly and the blue of its plumage
changes from bright steel to soft purple. She had stood there silent for
there was nothing to be said. He had cancer of the throat. At the
recolection–how she had stood there, how the girl had said, “At home the
mountains are so beautiful,” and there was no hope, no hope whatever, she
had a spasm of irritation, and speaking sharply, said to James:

“Stand still. Don’t be tiresome,” so that he knew instantly that her
severity was real, and straightened his leg and she measured it.

The stocking was too short by half an inch at least, making allowance for
the fact that Sorley’s little boy would be less well grown than James.

“It’s too short,” she said, “ever so much too short.”

Never did anybody look so sad. Bitter and black, half-way down, in the
darkness, in the shaft which ran from the sunlight to the depths, perhaps
a tear formed; a tear fell; the waters swayed this way and that, received
it, and were at rest. Never did anybody look so sad.

But was it nothing but looks, people said? What was there behind it–her
beauty and splendour? Had he blown his brains out, they asked, had he
died the week before they were married–some other, earlier lover, of whom
rumours reached one? Or was there nothing? nothing but an incomparable
beauty which she lived behind, and could do nothing to disturb? For
easily though she might have said at some moment of intimacy when stories
of great passion, of love foiled, of ambition thwarted came her way how
she too had known or felt or been through it herself, she never spoke.
She was silent always. She knew then–she knew without having learnt.
Her simplicity fathomed what clever people falsified. Her singleness of
mind made her drop plumb like a stone, alight exact as a bird, gave her,
naturally, this swoop and fall of the spirit upon truth which delighted,
eased, sustained–falsely perhaps.

(“Nature has but little clay,” said Mr. Bankes once, much moved by her
voice on the telephone, though she was only telling him a fact about a
train, “like that of which she moulded you.” He saw her at the end of the
line, Greek, blue-eyed, straight-nosed. How incongruous it seemed to be
telephoning to a woman like that. The Graces assembling seemed to have
joined hands in meadows of asphodel to compose that face. Yes, he would
catch the 10:30 at Euston.

“But she’s no more aware of her beauty than a child,” said Mr. Bankes,
replacing the receiver and crossing the room to see what progress the
workmen were making with an hotel which they were building at the back of
his house. And he thought of Mrs. Ramsay as he looked at that stir among
the unfinished walls. For always, he thought, there was something
incongruous to be worked into the harmony of her face. She clapped a
deer-stalker’s hat on her head; she ran across the lawn in galoshes to
snatch a child from mischief. So that if it was her beauty merely that
one thought of, one must remember the quivering thing, the living thing
(they were carrying bricks up a little plank as he watched them), and work
it into the picture; or if one thought of her simply as a woman, one must
endow her with some freak of idiosyncrasy–she did not like admiration–or
suppose some latent desire to doff her royalty of form as if her beauty
bored her and all that men say of beauty, and she wanted only to be like
other people, insignificant. He did not know. He did not know. He must
go to his work.)

Knitting her reddish-brown hairy stocking, with her head outlined absurdly
by the gilt frame, the green shawl which she had tossed over the edge of
the frame, and the authenticated masterpiece by Michael Angelo,
Mrs. Ramsay smoothed out what had been harsh in her manner a moment
before, raised his head, and kissed her little boy on the forehead.
“Let us find another picture to cut out,” she said.


But what had happened?

Some one had blundered.

Starting from her musing she gave meaning to words which she had held
meaningless in her mind for a long stretch of time. “Some one had
blundered”–Fixing her short-sighted eyes upon her husband, who was now
bearing down upon her, she gazed steadily until his closeness revealed to
her (the jingle mated itself in her head) that something had happened,
some one had blundered. But she could not for the life of her think what.

He shivered; he quivered. All his vanity, all his satisfaction in his own
splendour, riding fell as a thunderbolt, fierce as a hawk at the head of
his men through the valley of death, had been shattered, destroyed.
Stormed at by shot and shell, boldly we rode and well, flashed through the
valley of death, volleyed and thundered–straight into Lily Briscoe and
William Bankes. He quivered; he shivered.

Not for the world would she have spoken to him, realising, from the
familiar signs, his eyes averted, and some curious gathering together
of his person, as if he wrapped himself about and needed privacy into
which to regain his equilibrium, that he was outraged and anguished. She
stroked James’s head; she transferred to him what she felt for her
husband, and, as she watched him chalk yellow the white dress shirt of a
gentleman in the Army and Navy Stores catalogue, thought what a delight it
would be to her should he turn out a great artist; and why should he not?
He had a splendid forehead. Then, looking up, as her husband passed her
once more, she was relieved to find that the ruin was veiled; domesticity
triumphed; custom crooned its soothing rhythm, so that when stopping
deliberately, as his turn came round again, at the window he bent
quizzically and whimsically to tickle James’s bare calf with a sprig of
something, she twitted him for having dispatched “that poor young man,”
Charles Tansley. Tansley had had to go in and write his dissertation,
he said.

“James will have to write HIS dissertation one of these days,” he added
ironically, flicking his sprig.

Hating his father, James brushed away the tickling spray with which in a
manner peculiar to him, compound of severity and humour, he teased his
youngest son’s bare leg.

She was trying to get these tiresome stockings finished to send to
Sorley’s little boy tomorrow, said Mrs. Ramsay.

There wasn’t the slightest possible chance that they could go to the
Lighthouse tomorrow, Mr. Ramsay snapped out irascibly.

How did he know? she asked. The wind often changed.

The extraordinary irrationality of her remark, the folly of women’s minds
enraged him. He had ridden through the valley of death, been shattered
and shivered; and now, she flew in the face of facts, made his children
hope what was utterly out of the question, in effect, told lies. He
stamped his foot on the stone step. “Damn you,” he said. But what had she
said? Simply that it might be fine tomorrow. So it might.

Not with the barometer falling and the wind due west.

To pursue truth with such astonishing lack of consideration for other
people’s feelings, to rendthe thin veils of civilization so wantonly, so
brutally, was to her so horrible an outrage of human decency that, without
replying, dazed and blinded, she bent her head as if to let the pelt of
jagged hail, the drench of dirty water, bespatter her unrebuked. There
was nothing to be said.

He stood by her in silence. Very humbly, at length, he said that he would
step over and ask the Coastguards if she liked.

There was nobody whom she reverenced as she reverenced him.

She was quite ready to take his word for it, she said. Only then they
need not cut sandwiches–that was all. They came to her, naturally, since
she was a woman, all day long with this and that; one wanting this,
another that; the children were growing up; she often felt she was nothing
but a sponge sopped full of human emotions. Then he said, Damn you. He
said, It must rain. He said, It won’t rain; and instantly a Heaven of
security opened before her. There was nobody she reverenced more. She
was not good enough to tie his shoe strings, she felt.

Already ashamed of that petulance, of that gesticulation of the hands when
charging at the head of his troops, Mr. Ramsay rather sheepishly prodded
his son’s bare legs once more, and then, as if he had her leave for it,
with a movement which oddly reminded his wife of the great sea lion at the
Zoo tumbling backwards after swallowing his fish and walloping off so that
the water in the tank washes from side to side, he dived into the evening
air which, already thinner, was taking the substance from leaves and
hedges but, as if in return, restoring to roses and pinks a lustre which
they had not had by day.

“Some one had blundered,” he said again, striding off, up and down the

But how extraordinarily his note had changed! It was like the cuckoo;
“in June he gets out of tune”; as if he were trying over, tentatively
seeking, some phrase for a new mood, and having only this at hand, used
it, cracked though it was. But it sounded ridiculous–“Some one had
blundered”–said like that, almost as a question, without any conviction,
melodiously. Mrs. Ramsay could not help smiling, and soon, sure enough,
walking up and down, he hummed it, dropped it, fell silent.

He was safe, he was restored to his privacy. He stopped to light his
pipe, looked once at his wife and son in the window, and as one raises
one’s eyes from a page in an express train and sees a farm, a tree, a
cluster of cottages as an illustration, a confirmation of something on the
printed page to which one returns, fortified, and satisfied, so without
his distinguishing either his son or his wife, the sight of them fortified
him and satisfied him and consecrated his effort to arrive at a perfectly
clear understanding of the problem which now engaged the energies of his
splendid mind.

It was a splendid mind. For if thought is like the keyboard of a piano,
divided into so many notes, or like the alphabet is ranged in twenty-six
letters all in order, then his splendid mind had no sort of difficulty
in running over those letters one by one, firmly and accurately, until
it had reached, say, the letter Q. He reached Q. Very few people in
the whole of England ever reach Q. Here, stopping for one moment
by the stone urn which held the geraniums, he saw, but now far, far
away, like children picking up shells, divinely innocent and occupied with
little trifles at their feet and somehow entirely defenceless against a
doom which he perceived, his wife and son, together, in the window. They
needed his protection; he gave it them. But after Q? What comes next?
After Q there are a number of letters the last of which is scarcely
visible to mortal eyes, but glimmers red in the distance. Z is only
reached once by one man in a generation. Still, if he could reach R it
would be something. Here at least was Q. He dug his heels in at Q. Q he
was sure of. Q he could demonstrate. If Q then is Q–R–. Here he
knocked his pipe out, with two or three resonant taps on the handle of the
urn, and proceeded. “Then R …” He braced himself. He clenched

Qualities that would have saved a ship’s company exposed on a broiling
sea with six biscuits and a flask of water–endurance and justice,
foresight, devotion, skill, came to his help. R is then–what is R?

A shutter, like the leathern eyelid of a lizard, flickered over the
intensity of his gaze and obscured the letter R. In that flash of
darkness he heard people saying–he was a failure–that R was beyond him.
He would never reach R. On to R, once more. R–

Qualities that in a desolate expedition across the icy solitudes of the
Polar region would have made him the leader, the guide, the counsellor,
whose temper, neither sanguine nor despondent, surveys with equanimity
what is to be and faces it, came to his help again. R–

The lizard’s eye flickered once more. The veins on his forehead bulged.
The geranium in the urn became startlingly visible and, displayed among
its leaves, he could see, without wishing it, that old, that obvious
distinction between the two classes of men; on the one hand the steady
goers of superhuman strength who, plodding and persevering, repeat the
whole alphabet in order, twenty-six letters in all, from start to finish;
on the other the gifted, the inspired who, miraculously, lump all the
letters together in one flash–the way of genius. He had not genius; he
laid no claim to that: but he had, or might have had, the power to repeat
every letter of the alphabet from A to Z accurately in order. Meanwhile,
he stuck at Q. On, then, on to R.

Feelings that would not have disgraced a leader who, now that the snow has
begun to fall and the mountain top is covered in mist, knows that he must
lay himself down and die before morning comes, stole upon him, paling the
colour of his eyes, giving him, even in the two minutes of his turn on
the terrace, the bleached look of withered old age. Yet he would not die
lying down; he would find some crag of rock, and there, his eyes fixed
on the storm, trying to the end to pierce the darkness, he would die
standing. He would never reach R.

He stood stock-still, by the urn, with the geranium flowing over it. How
many men in a thousand million, he asked himself, reach Z after all?
Surely the leader of a forlorn hope may ask himself that, and answer,
without treachery to the expedition behind him, “One perhaps.” One in a
generation. Is he to be blamed then if he is not that one? provided he
has toiled honestly, given to the best of his power, and till he has no
more left to give? And his fame lasts how long? It is permissible even
for a dying hero to think before he dies how men will speak of him
hereafter. His fame lasts perhaps two thousand years. And what are two
thousand years? (asked Mr. Ramsay ironically, staring at the hedge).
What, indeed, if you look from a mountain top down the long wastes of the
ages? The very stone one kicks with one’s boot will outlast Shakespeare.
His own little light would shine, not very brightly, for a year or two,
and would then be merged in some bigger light, and that in a bigger still.
(He looked into the hedge, into the intricacy of the twigs.) Who then
could blame the leader of that forlorn party which after all has climbed
high enough to see the waste of the years and the perishing of the stars,
if before death stiffens his limbs beyond the power of movement he does a
little consciously raise his numbed fingers to his brow, and square his
shoulders, so that when the search party comes they will find him dead at
his post, the fine figure of a soldier? Mr. Ramsay squared his shoulders
and stood very upright by the urn.

Who shall blame him, if, so standing for a moment he dwells upon fame,
upon search parties, upon cairns raised by grateful followers over his
bones? Finally, who shall blame the leader of the doomed expedition, if,
having adventured to the uttermost, and used his strength wholly to the
last ounce and fallen asleep not much caring if he wakes or not, he now
perceives by some pricking in his toes that he lives, and does not on the
whole object to live, but requires sympathy, and whisky, and some one to
tell the story of his suffering to at once? Who shall blame him? Who
will not secretly rejoice when the hero puts his armour off, and halts by
the window and gazes at his wife and son, who, very distant at first,
gradually come closer and closer, till lips and book and head are clearly
before him, though still lovely and unfamiliar from the intensity of his
isolation and the waste of ages and the perishing of the stars, and
finally putting his pipe in his pocket and bending his magnificent head
before her–who will blame him if he does homage to the beauty of the


But his son hated him. He hated him for coming up to them, for stopping
and looking down on them; he hated him for interrupting them; he hated him
for the exaltation and sublimity of his gestures; for the magnificence of
his head; for his exactingness and egotism (for there he stood, commanding
them to attend to him) but most of all he hated the twang and twitter of
his father’s emotion which, vibrating round them, disturbed the perfect
simplicity and good sense of his relations with his mother. By looking
fixedly at the page, he hoped to make him move on; by pointing his finger
at a word, he hoped to recall his mother’s attention, which, he knew
angrily, wavered instantly his father stopped. But, no. Nothing would
make Mr. Ramsay move on. There he stood, demanding sympathy.

Mrs. Ramsay, who had been sitting loosely, folding her son in her arm,
braced herself, and, half turning, seemed to raise herself with an effort,
and at once to pour erect into the air a rain of energy, a column of
spray, looking at the same time animated and alive as if all her energies
were being fused into force, burning and illuminating (quietly though she
sat, taking up her stocking again), and into this delicious fecundity,
this fountain and spray of life, the fatal sterility of the male plunged
itself, like a beak of brass, barren and bare. He wanted sympathy. He
was a failure, he said. Mrs. Ramsay flashed her needles. Mr. Ramsay
repeated, never taking his eyes from her face, that he was a failure.
She blew the words back at him. “Charles Tansley…” she said. But he
must have more than that. It was sympathy he wanted, to be assured of his
genius, first of all, and then to be taken within the circle of life,
warmed and soothed, to have his senses restored to him, his barrenness
made furtile, and all the rooms of the house made full of life–the
drawing-room; behind the drawing-room the kitchen; above the kitchen the
bedrooms; and beyond them the nurseries; they must be furnished, they must
be filled with life.

Charles Tansley thought him the greatest metaphysician of the time, she
said. But he must have more than that. He must have sympathy. He must
be assured that he too lived in the heart of life; was needed; not only
here, but all over the world. Flashing her needles, confident, upright,
she created drawing-room and kitchen, set them all aglow; bade him take
his ease there, go in and out, enjoy himself. She laughed, she knitted.
Standing between her knees, very stiff, James felt all her strength
flaring up to be drunk and quenched by the beak of brass, the arid
scimitar of the male, which smote mercilessly, again and again,
demanding sympathy.

He was a failure, he repeated. Well, look then, feel then. Flashing her
needles, glancing round about her, out of the window, into the room, at
James himself, she assured him, beyond a shadow of a doubt, by her laugh,
her poise, her competence (as a nurse carrying a light across a dark room
assures a fractious child), that it was real; the house was full; the
garden blowing. If he put implicit faith in her, nothing should hurt him;
however deep he buried himself or climed high, not for a second should he
find himself without her. So boasting of her capacity to surround and
protect, there was scarcely a shell of herself left for her to know
herself by; all was so lavished and spent; and James, as he stood stiff
between her knees, felt her rise in a rosy-flowered fruit tree laid with
leaves and dancing boughs into which the beak of brass, the arid scimitar
of his father, the egotistical man, plunged and smote, demanding sympathy.

Filled with her words, like a child who drops off satisfied, he said, at
last, looking at her with humble gratitude, restored, renewed, that he
would take a turn; he would watch the children playing cricket. He went.

Immediately, Mrs. Ramsey seemed to fold herself together, one petal closed
in another, and the whole fabric fell in exhaustion upon itself, so that
she had only strength enough to move her finger, in exquisite abandonment
to exhaustion, across the page of Grimm’s fairy story, while there
throbbed through her, like a pulse in a spring which has expanded to its
full width and now gently ceases to beat, the rapture of successful

Every throb of this pulse seemed, as he walked away, to enclose her and
her husband, and to give to each that solace which two different notes,
one high, one low, struck together, seem to give each other as they
combine. Yet as the resonance died, and she turned to the Fairy Tale
again, Mrs. Ramsey felt not only exhausted in body (afterwards, not at the
time, she always felt this) but also there tinged her physical fatigue
some faintly disagreeable sensation with another origin. Not that, as
she read aloud the story of the Fisherman’s Wife, she knew precisely what
it came from; nor did she let herself put into words her dissatisfaction
when she realized, at the turn of the page when she stopped and heard
dully, ominously, a wave fall, how it came from this: she did not like,
even for a second, to feel finer than her husband; and further, could not
bear not being entirely sure, when she spoke to him, of the truth of what
she said. Universities and people wanting him, lectures and books and
their being of the highest importance–all that she did not doubt for a
moment; but it was their relation, and his coming to her like that,
openly, so that any one could see, that discomposed her; for then people
said he depended on her, when they must know that of the two he was
infinitely the more important, and what she gave the world, in comparison
with what he gave, negligable. But then again, it was the other thing
too–not being able to tell him the truth, being afraid, for instance,
about the greenhouse roof and the expense it would be, fifty pounds
perhaps to mend it; and then about his books, to be afraid that he might
guess, what she a little suspected, that his last book was not quite his
best book (she gathered that from William Bankes); and then to hide small
daily things, and the children seeing it, and the burden it laid on
them–all this diminished the entire joy, the pure joy, of the two notes
sounding together, and let the sound die on her ear now with a dismal

A shadow was on the page; she looked up. It was Augustus Carmichael
shuffling past, precisely now, at the very moment when it was painful to
be reminded of the inadequacy of human relationships, that the most
perfect was flawed, and could not bear the examination which, loving her
husband, with her instinct for truth, she turned upon it; when it was
painful to feel herself convicted of unworthiness, and impeded in her
proper function by these lies, these exaggerations,–it was at this
moment when she was fretted thus ignobly in the wake of her exaltation,
that Mr. Carmichael shuffled past, in his yellow slippers, and some demon
in her made it necessary for her to call out, as he passed,

“Going indoors Mr. Carmichael?”


He said nothing. He took opium. The children said he had stained his
beard yellow with it. Perhaps. What was obvious to her was that the poor
man was unhappy, came to them every year as an escape; and yet every year
she felt the same thing; he did not trust her. She said, “I am going to
the town. Shall I get you stamps, paper, tobacco?” and she felt him
wince. He did not trust her. It was his wife’s doing. She remembered
that iniquity of his wife’s towards him, which had made her turn to steel
and adamant there, in the horrible little room in St John’s Wood, when
with her own eyes she had seen that odious woman turn him out of the
house. He was unkempt; he dropped things on his coat; he had the
tiresomeness of an old man with nothing in the world to do; and she turned
him out of the room. She said, in her odious way, “Now, Mrs. Ramsay and I
want to have a little talk together,” and Mrs. Ramsay could see, as if
before her eyes, the innumerable miseries of his life. Had he money
enough to buy tobacco? Did he have to ask her for it? half a crown?
eighteenpence? Oh, she could not bear to think of the little indignities
she made him suffer. And always now (why, she could not guess, except
that it came probably from that woman somehow) he shrank from her. He
never told her anything. But what more could she have done? There was a
sunny room given up to him. The children were good to him. Never did she
show a sign of not wanting him. She went out of her way indeed to be
friendly. Do you want stamps, do you want tobacco? Here’s a book you
might like and so on. And after all–after all (here insensibly she drew
herself together, physically, the sense of her own beauty becoming, as it
did so seldom, present to her) after all, she had not generally any
difficulty in making people like her; for instance, George Manning; Mr.
Wallace; famous as they were, they would come to her of an evening,
quietly, and talk alone over her fire. She bore about with her, she could
not help knowing it, the torch of her beauty; she carried it erect into
any room that she entered; and after all, veil it as she might, and shrink
from the monotony of bearing that it imposed on her, her beauty was
apparent. She had been admired. She had been loved. She had entered
rooms where mourners sat. Tears had flown in her presence. Men, and
women too, letting go to the multiplicity of things, had allowed
themselves with her the relief of simplicity. It injured her that he
should shrink. It hurt her. And yet not cleanly, not rightly. That was
what she minded, coming as it did on top of her discontent with her
husband; the sense she had now when Mr. Carmichael shuffled past, just
nodding to her question, with a book beneath his arm, in his yellow
slippers, that she was suspected; and that all this desire of hers to
give, to help, was vanity. For her own self-satisfaction was it that she
wished so instinctively to help, to give, that people might say of her,
“O Mrs. Ramsay! dear Mrs. Ramsay … Mrs. Ramsay, of course!” and need her
and send for her and admire her? Was it not secretly this that she
wanted, and therefore when Mr. Carmichael shrank away from her, as he did
at this moment, making off to some corner where he did acrostics
endlessly, she did not feel merely snubbed back in her instinct, but made
aware of the pettiness of some part of her, and of human relations, how
flawed they are, how despicable, how self-seeking, at their best. Shabby
and worn out, and not presumably (her cheeks were hollow, her hair was
white) any longer a sight that filled the eyes with joy, she had better
devote her mind to the story of the Fisherman and his Wife and so pacify
that bundle of sensitiveness (none of her children was as sensitive as he
was), her son James.

“The man’s heart grew heavy,” she read aloud, “and he would not go. He
said to himself, ‘It is not right,’ and yet he went. And when he came to
the sea the water was quite purple and dark blue, and grey and thick, and
no longer so green and yellow, but it was still quiet. And he stood there
and said–”

Mrs. Ramsay could have wished that her husband had not chosen that moment
to stop. Why had he not gone as he said to watch the children playing
cricket? But he did not speak; he looked; he nodded; he approved; he went
on. He slipped, seeing before him that hedge which had over and over
again rounded some pause, signified some conclusion, seeing his wife and
child, seeing again the urns with the trailing of red geraniums which had
so often decorated processes of thought, and bore, written up among their
leaves, as if they were scraps of paper on which one scribbles notes in
the rush of reading–he slipped, seeing all this, smoothly into
speculation suggested by an article in THE TIMES about the number of
Americans who visit Shakespeare’s house every year. If Shakespeare
had never existed, he asked, would the world have differed much from what
it is today? Does the progress of civilization depend upon great men? Is
the lot of the average human being better now than in the time of the
Pharaohs? Is the lot of the average human being, however, he asked
himself, the criterion by which we judge the measure of civilization?
Possibly not. Possibly the greatest good requires the existence of a
slave class. The liftman in the Tube is an eternal necessity. The
thought was distasteful to him. He tossed his head. To avoid it, he
would find some way of snubbing the predominance of the arts. He would
argue that the world exists for the average human being; that the arts are
merely a decoration imposed on the top of human life; they do not express
it. Nor is Shakespeare necessary to it. Not knowing precisely why it was
that he wanted to disparage Shakespeare and come to the rescue of the man
who stands eternally in the door of the lift, he picked a leaf sharply
from the hedge. All this would have to be dished up for the young men at
Cardiff next month, he thought; here, on his terrace, he was merely
foraging and picnicking (he threw away the leaf that he had picked so
peevishly) like a man who reaches from his horse to pick a bunch of roses,
or stuffs his pockets with nuts as he ambles at his ease through the lanes
and fields of a country known to him from boyhood. It was all familiar;
this turning, that stile, that cut across the fields. Hours he would
spend thus, with his pipe, of an evening, thinking up and down and in and
out of the old familiar lanes and commons, which were all stuck about with
the history of that campaign there, the life of this statesman here, with
poems and with anecdotes, with figures too, this thinker, that soldier;
all very brisk and clear; but at length the lane, the field, the common,
the fruitful nut-tree and the flowering hedge led him on to that further
turn of the road where he dismounted always, tied his horse to a tree,
and proceeded on foot alone. He reached the edge of the lawn and looked
out on the bay beneath.

It was his fate, his peculiarity, whether he wished it or not, to come out
thus on a spit of land which the sea is slowly eating away, and there to
stand, like a desolate sea-bird, alone. It was his power, his gift,
suddenly to shed all superfluities, to shrink and diminish so that he
looked barer and felt sparer, even physically, yet lost none of his
intensity of mind, and so to stand on his little ledge facing the dark of
human ignorance, how we know nothing and the sea eats away the ground we
stand on–that was his fate, his gift. But having thrown away, when he
dismounted, all gestures and fripperies, all trophies of nuts and roses,
and shrunk so that not only fame but even his own name was forgotten
by him, kept even in that desolation a vigilance which spared no
phantom and luxuriated in no vision, and it was in this guise that
he inspired in William Bankes (intermittently) and in Charles Tansley
(obsequiously)and in his wife now, when she looked up and saw him
standing at the edge of the lawn, profoundly, reverence, and pity, and
gratitude too, as a stake driven into the bed of a channel upon which the
gulls perch and the waves beat inspires in merry boat-loads a feeling of
gratitude for the duty it is taking upon itself of marking the channel out
there in the floods alone.

“But the father of eight children has no choice.” Muttering half aloud,
so he broke off, turned, sighed, raised his eyes, sought the figure of his
wife reading stories to his little boy, filled his pipe. He turned from
the sight of human ignorance and human fate and the sea eating the ground
we stand on, which, had he been able to contemplate it fixedly might have
led to something; and found consolation in trifles so slight compared with
the august theme just now before him that he was disposed to slur that
comfort over, to deprecate it, as if to be caught happy in a world of
misery was for an honest man the most despicable of crimes. It was true;
he was for the most part happy; he had his wife; he had his children; he
had promised in six weeks’ time to talk “some nonsense” to the young men
of Cardiff about Locke, Hume, Berkeley, and the causes of the French
Revolution. But this and his pleasure in it, his glory in the phrases he
made, in the ardour of youth, in his wife’s beauty, in the tributes that
reached him from Swansea, Cardiff, Exeter, Southampton, Kidderminster,
Oxford, Cambridge–all had to be deprecated and concealed under the phrase
“talking nonsense,” because, in effect, he had not done the thing he might
have done. It was a disguise; it was the refuge of a man afraid to own
his own feelings, who could not say, This is what I like–this is what I
am; and rather pitiable and distasteful to William Bankes and Lily Briscoe,
who wondered why such concealments should be necessary; why he needed
always praise; why so brave a man in thought should be so timid in life;
how strangely he was venerable and laughable at one and the same time.

Teaching and preaching is beyond human power, Lily suspected. (She was
putting away her things.) If you are exalted you must somehow come a
cropper. Mrs. Ramsay gave him what he asked too easily. Then the change
must be so upsetting, Lily said. He comes in from his books and finds us
all playing games and talking nonsense. Imagine what a change from the
things he thinks about, she said.

He was bearing down upon them. Now he stopped dead and stood looking in
silence at the sea. Now he had turned away again.


Yes, Mr. Bankes said, watching him go. It was a thousand pities. (Lily
had said something about his frightening her–he changed from one mood to
another so suddenly.) Yes, said Mr. Bankes, it was a thousand pities that
Ramsay could not behave a little more like other people. (For he liked
Lily Briscoe; he could discuss Ramsay with her quite openly.) It was for
that reason, he said, that the young don’t read Carlyle. A crusty old
grumbler who lost his temper if the porridge was cold, why should he
preach to us? was what Mr. Bankes understood that young people said
nowadays. It was a thousand pities if you thought, as he did, that
Carlyle was one of the great teachers of mankind. Lily was ashamed to say
that she had not read Carlyle since she was at school. But in her opinion
one liked Mr. Ramsay all the better for thinking that if his little finger
ached the whole world must come to an end. It was not THAT she minded.
For who could be deceived by him? He asked you quite openly to flatter
him, to admire him, his little dodges deceived nobody. What she disliked
was his narrowness, his blindness, she said, looking after him.

“A bit of a hypocrite?” Mr. Bankes suggested, looking too at Mr. Ramsay’s
back, for was he not thinking of his friendship, and of Cam refusing to
give him a flower, and of all those boys and girls, and his own house,
full of comfort, but, since his wife’s death, quiet rather? Of course,
he had his work… All the same, he rather wished Lily to agree that
Ramsay was, as he said, “a bit of a hypocrite.”

Lily Briscoe went on putting away her brushes, looking up, looking down.
Looking up, there he was–Mr. Ramsay–advancing towards them, swinging,
careless, oblivious, remote. A bit of a hypocrite? she repeated. Oh,
no–the most sincere of men, the truest (here he was), the best; but,
looking down, she thought, he is absorbed in himself, he is tyrannical,
he is unjust; and kept looking down, purposely, for only so could she keep
steady, staying with the Ramsays. Directly one looked up and saw them,
what she called “being in love” flooded them. They became part of that
unreal but penetrating and exciting universe which is the world seen
through the eyes of love. The sky stuck to them; the birds sang through
them. And, what was even more exciting, she felt, too, as she saw Mr.
Ramsay bearing down and retreating, and Mrs. Ramsay sitting with James in
the window and the cloud moving and the tree bending, how life, from being
made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became
curled and whole like a wave which bore one up and threw one down with
it, there, with a dash on the beach.

Mr. Bankes expected her to answer. And she was about to say something
criticizing Mrs. Ramsay, how she was alarming, too, in her way,
high-handed, or words to that effect, when Mr. Bankes made it entirely
unnecessary for her to speak by his rapture. For such it was considering
his age, turned sixty, and his cleanliness and his impersonality, and the
white scientific coat which seemed to clothe him. For him to gaze as Lily
saw him gazing at Mrs. Ramsay was a rapture, equivalent, Lily felt, to the
loves of dozens of young men (and perhaps Mrs. Ramsay had never excited the
loves of dozens of young men). It was love, she thought, pretending to
move her canvas, distilled and filtered; love that never attempted to
clutch its object; but, like the love which mathematicians bear their
symbols, or poets their phrases, was meant to be spread over the world and
become part of the human gain. So it was indeed. The world by all means
should have shared it, could Mr. Bankes have said why that woman pleased
him so; why the sight of her reading a fairy tale to her boy had upon him
precisely the same effect as the solution of a scientific problem, so that
he rested in contemplation of it, and felt, as he felt when he had proved
something absolute about the digestive system of plants, that barbarity
was tamed, the reign of chaos subdued.

Such a rapture–for by what other name could one call it?–made Lily
Briscoe forget entirely what she had been about to say. It was nothing of
importance; something about Mrs. Ramsay. It paled beside this “rapture,”
this silent stare, for which she felt intense gratitude; for nothing so
solaced her, eased her of the perplexity of life, and miraculously raised
its burdens, as this sublime power, this heavenly gift, and one would no
more disturb it, while it lasted, than break up the shaft of sunlight,
lying level across the floor.

That people should love like this, that Mr. Bankes should feel this for
Mrs. Ramsey (she glanced at him musing) was helpful, was exalting. She
wiped one brush after another upon a piece of old rag, menially, on
purpose. She took shelter from the reverence which covered all women; she
felt herself praised. Let him gaze; she would steal a look at her

She could have wept. It was bad, it was bad, it was infinitely bad! She
could have done it differently of course; the colour could have been
thinned and faded; the shapes etherealised; that was how Paunceforte would
have seen it. But then she did not see it like that. She saw the colour
burning on a framework of steel; the light of a butterfly’s wing lying
upon the arches of a cathedral. Of all that only a few random marks
scrawled upon the canvas remained. And it would never be seen; never be
hung even, and there was Mr. Tansley whispering in her ear, “Women can’t
paint, women can’t write …”

She now remembered what she had been going to say about Mrs. Ramsay. She
did not know how she would have put it; but it would have been something
critical. She had been annoyed the other night by some highhandedness.
Looking along the level of Mr. Bankes’s glance at her, she thought that no
woman could worship another woman in the way he worshipped; they could
only seek shelter under the shade which Mr. Bankes extended over them both.
Looking along his beam she added to it her different ray, thinking that
she was unquestionably the loveliest of people (bowed over her book); the
best perhaps; but also, different too from the perfect shape which one saw
there. But why different, and how different? she asked herself, scraping
her palette of all those mounds of blue and green which seemed to her like
clods with no life in them now, yet she vowed, she would inspire them,
force them to move, flow, do her bidding tomorrow. How did she differ?
What was the spirit in her, the essential thing, by which, had you found a
crumpled glove in the corner of a sofa, you would have known it, from its
twisted finger, hers indisputably? She was like a bird for speed, an
arrow for directness. She was willful; she was commanding (of course,
Lily reminded herself, I am thinking of her relations with women, and I am
much younger, an insignificant person, living off the Brompton Road). She
opened bedroom windows. She shut doors. (So she tried to start the tune
of Mrs. Ramsay in her head.) Arriving late at night, with a light tap on
one’s bedroom door, wrapped in an old fur coat (for the setting of her
beauty was always that–hasty, but apt), she would enact again whatever it
might be–Charles Tansley losing his umbrella; Mr. Carmichael snuffling and
sniffing; Mr. Bankes saying, “The vegetable salts are lost.” All this she
would adroitly shape; even maliciously twist; and, moving over to the
window, in pretence that she must go,–it was dawn, she could see the sun
rising,–half turn back, more intimately, but still always laughing,
insist that she must, Minta must, they all must marry, since in the whole
world whatever laurels might be tossed to her (but Mrs. Ramsay cared not a
fig for her painting), or triumphs won by her (probably Mrs. Ramsay had
had her share of those), and here she saddened, darkened, and came back to
her chair, there could be no disputing this: an unmarried woman (she
lightly took her hand for a moment), an unmarried woman has missed the
best of life. The house seemed full of children sleeping and Mrs. Ramsay
listening; shaded lights and regular breathing.

Oh, but, Lily would say, there was her father; her home; even, had she
dared to say it, her painting. But all this seemed so little, so
virginal, against the other. Yet, as the night wore on, and white lights
parted the curtains, and even now and then some bird chirped in the
garden, gathering a desperate courage she would urge her own exemption
from the universal law; plead for it; she liked to be alone; she liked to
be herself; she was not made for that; and so have to meet a serious stare
from eyes of unparalleled depth, and confront Mrs. Ramsay’s simple
certainty (and she was childlike now) that her dear Lily, her little
Brisk, was a fool. Then, she remembered, she had laid her head on Mrs.
Ramsay’s lap and laughed and laughed and laughed, laughed almost
hysterically at the thought of Mrs. Ramsay presiding with immutable calm
over destinies which she completely failed to understand. There she sat,
simple, serious. She had recovered her sense of her now–this was the
glove’s twisted finger. But into what sanctuary had one penetrated?
Lily Briscoe had looked up at last, and there was Mrs. Ramsay, unwitting
entirely what had caused her laughter, still presiding, but now with every
trace of wilfulness abolished, and in its stead, something clear as the
space which the clouds at last uncover–the little space of sky which
sleeps beside the moon.

Was it wisdom? Was it knowledge? Was it, once more, the deceptiveness of
beauty, so that all one’s perceptions, half way to truth, were tangled in
a golden mesh? or did she lock up within her some secret which certainly
Lily Briscoe believed people must have for the world to go on at all?
Every one could not be as helter skelter, hand to mouth as she was. But
if they knew, could they tell one what they knew? Sitting on the floor
with her arms round Mrs. Ramsay’s knees, close as she could get, smiling
to think that Mrs. Ramsay would never know the reason of that pressure, she
imagined how in the chambers of the mind and heart of the woman who was,
physically, touching her, were stood, like the treasures in the tombs of
kings, tablets bearing sacred inscriptions, which if one could spell them
out, would teach one everything, but they would never be offered openly,
never made public. What art was there, known to love or cunning, by which
one pressed through into those secret chambers? What device for becoming,
like waters poured into one jar, inextricably the same, one with the
object one adored? Could the body achieve, or the mind, subtly mingling
in the intricate passages of the brain? or the heart? Could loving,
as people called it, make her and Mrs. Ramsay one? for it was not knowledge
but unity that she desired, not inscriptions on tablets, nothing that
could be written in any language known to men, but intimacy itself, which
is knowledge, she had thought, leaning her head on Mrs. Ramsay’s knee.

Nothing happened. Nothing! Nothing! as she leant her head against
Mrs. Ramsay’s knee. And yet, she knew knowledge and wisdom were stored up
in Mrs. Ramsay’s heart. How, then, she had asked herself, did one know one
thing or another thing about people, sealed as they were? Only like a
bee, drawn by some sweetness or sharpness in the air intangible to touch
or taste, one haunted the dome-shaped hive, ranged the wastes of the air
over the countries of the world alone, and then haunted the hives with
their murmurs and their stirrings; the hives, which were people.
Mrs. Ramsay rose. Lily rose. Mrs. Ramsay went. For days there hung about
her, as after a dream some subtle change is felt in the person one has
dreamt of, more vividly than anything she said, the sound of murmuring
and, as she sat in the wicker arm-chair in the drawing-room window she
wore, to Lily’s eyes, an august shape; the shape of a dome.

This ray passed level with Mr. Bankes’s ray straight to Mrs. Ramsay sitting
reading there with James at her knee. But now while she still looked,
Mr. Bankes had done. He had put on his spectacles. He had stepped back.
He had raised his hand. He had slightly narrowed his clear blue eyes,
when Lily, rousing herself, saw what he was at, and winced like a dog who
sees a hand raised to strike it. She would have snatched her picture off
the easel, but she said to herself, One must. She braced herself to stand
the awful trial of some one looking at her picture. One must, she said,
one must. And if it must be seen, Mr. Bankes was less alarming than
another. But that any other eyes should see the residue of her
thirty-three years, the deposit of each day’s living mixed with something
more secret than she had ever spoken or shown in the course of all those
days was an agony. At the same time it was immensely exciting.

Nothing could be cooler and quieter. Taking out a pen-knife, Mr. Bankes
tapped the canvas with the bone handle. What did she wish to indicate by
the triangular purple shape, “just there”? he asked.

It was Mrs. Ramsay reading to James, she said. She knew his objection–
that no one could tell it for a human shape. But she had made no attempt
at likeness, she said. For what reason had she introduced them then? he
asked. Why indeed?–except that if there, in that corner, it was bright,
here, in this, she felt the need of darkness. Simple, obvious,
commonplace, as it was, Mr. Bankes was interested. Mother and child
then–objects of universal veneration, and in this case the mother was
famous for her beauty–might be reduced, he pondered, to a purple shadow
without irreverence.

But the picture was not of them, she said. Or, not in his sense. There
were other senses too in which one might reverence them. By a shadow here
and a light there, for instance. Her tribute took that form if, as she
vaguely supposed, a picture must be a tribute. A mother and child might
be reduced to a shadow without irreverence. A light here required a
shadow there. He considered. He was interested. He took it
scientifically in complete good faith. The truth was that all his
prejudices were on the other side, he explained. The largest picture in
his drawing-room, which painters had praised, and valued at a higher price
than he had given for it, was of the cherry trees in blossom on the banks
of the Kennet. He had spent his honeymoon on the banks of the Kennet, he
said. Lily must come and see that picture, he said. But now–he turned,
with his glasses raised to the scientific examination of her canvas. The
question being one of the relations of masses, of lights and shadows,
which, to be honest, he had never considered before, he would like to have
it explained–what then did she wish to make of it? And he indicated the
scene before them. She looked. She could not show him what she wished to
make of it, could not see it even herself, without a brush in her hand.
She took up once more her old painting position with the dim eyes and the
absent-minded manner, subduing all her impressions as a woman to something
much more general; becoming once more under the power of that vision which
she had seen clearly once and must now grope for among hedges and houses
and mothers and children–her picture. It was a question, she remembered,
how to connect this mass on the right hand with that on the left. She
might do it by bringing the line of the branch across so; or break the
vacancy in the foreground by an object (James perhaps) so. But the danger
was that by doing that the unity of the whole might be broken. She
stopped; she did not want to bore him; she took the canvas lightly off the

But it had been seen; it had been taken from her. This man had shared
with her something profoundly intimate. And, thanking Mr. Ramsay for it
and Mrs. Ramsay for it and the hour and the place, crediting the world with
a power which she had not suspected–that one could walk away down that
long gallery not alone any more but arm in arm with somebody–the
strangest feeling in the world, and the most exhilarating–she nicked
the catch of her paint-box to, more firmly than was necessary, and the
nick seemed to surround in a circle forever the paint-box, the lawn,
Mr. Bankes, and that wild villain, Cam, dashing past.


For Cam grazed the easel by an inch; she would not stop for Mr. Bankes
and Lily Briscoe; though Mr. Bankes, who would have liked a daughter of
his own, held out his hand; she would not stop for her father, whom she
grazed also by an inch; nor for her mother, who called “Cam! I want
you a moment!” as she dashed past. She was off like a bird, bullet, or
arrow, impelled by what desire, shot by whom, at what directed, who
could say? What, what? Mrs. Ramsay pondered, watching her. It might
be a vision–of a shell, of a wheelbarrow, of a fairy kingdom on the
far side of the hedge; or it might be the glory of speed; no one knew.
But when Mrs. Ramsay called “Cam!” a second time, the projectile dropped
in mid career, and Cam came lagging back, pulling a leaf by the way, to
her mother.

What was she dreaming about, Mrs. Ramsay wondered, seeing her engrossed,
as she stood there, with some thought of her own, so that she had to
repeat the message twice–ask Mildred if Andrew, Miss Doyle, and Mr.
Rayley have come back?–The words seemed to be dropped into a well,
where, if the waters were clear, they were also so extraordinarily
distorting that, even as they descended, one saw them twisting about to
make Heaven knows what pattern on the floor of the child’s mind. What
message would Cam give the cook? Mrs. Ramsay wondered. And indeed it
was only by waiting patiently, and hearing that there was an old woman in
the kitchen with very red cheeks, drinking soup out of a basin, that
Mrs. Ramsay at last prompted that parrot-like instinct which had picked up
Mildred’s words quite accurately and could now produce them, if one
waited, in a colourless singsong. Shifting from foot to foot, Cam
repeated the words, “No, they haven’t, and I’ve told Ellen to clear away

Minta Doyle and Paul Rayley had not come back then. That could only
mean, Mrs. Ramsay thought, one thing. She must accept him, or she must
refuse him. This going off after luncheon for a walk, even though
Andrew was with them–what could it mean? except that she had decided,
rightly, Mrs. Ramsay thought (and she was very, very fond of Minta), to
accept that good fellow, who might not be brilliant, but then, thought
Mrs. Ramsay, realising that James was tugging at her, to make her go on
reading aloud the Fisherman and his Wife, she did in her own heart
infinitely prefer boobies to clever men who wrote dissertations;
Charles Tansley, for instance. Anyhow it must have happened, one way
or the other, by now.

But she read, “Next morning the wife awoke first, and it was just
daybreak, and from her bed she saw the beautiful country lying before
her. Her husband was still stretching himself…”

But how could Minta say now that she would not have him? Not if she
agreed to spend whole afternoons trapesing about the country alone–for
Andrew would be off after his crabs–but possibly Nancy was with them.
She tried to recall the sight of them standing at the hall door after
lunch. There they stood, looking at the sky, wondering about the
weather, and she had said, thinking partly to cover their shyness,
partly to encourage them to be off (for her sympathies were with Paul),

“There isn’t a cloud anywhere within miles,” at which she could feel
little Charles Tansley, who had followed them out, snigger. But she
did it on purpose. Whether Nancy was there or not, she could not be
certain, looking from one to the other in her mind’s eye.

She read on: “Ah, wife,” said the man, “why should we be King? I do
not want to be King.” “Well,” said the wife, “if you won’t be King, I
will; go to the Flounder, for I will be King.”

“Come in or go out, Cam,” she said, knowing that Cam was attracted only
by the word “Flounder” and that in a moment she would fidget and fight
with James as usual. Cam shot off. Mrs. Ramsay went on reading,
relieved, for she and James shared the same tastes and were comfortable

“And when he came to the sea, it was quite dark grey, and the water heaved
up from below, and smelt putrid. Then he went and stood by it and said,

‘Flounder, flounder, in the sea,
Come, I pray thee, here to me;
For my wife, good Ilsabil,
Wills not as I’d have her will.’

‘Well, what does she want then?’ said the Flounder.” And where were
they now? Mrs. Ramsay wondered, reading and thinking, quite easily,
both at the same time; for the story of the Fisherman and his Wife was
like the bass gently accompanying a tune, which now and then ran up
unexpectedly into the melody. And when should she be told? If nothing
happened, she would have to speak seriously to Minta. For she could
not go trapesing about all over the country, even if Nancy were with
them (she tried again, unsuccessfully, to visualize their backs going
down the path, and to count them). She was responsible to Minta’s
parents–the Owl and the Poker. Her nicknames for them shot into her
mind as she read. The Owl and the Poker–yes, they would be annoyed if
they heard–and they were certain to hear–that Minta, staying with the
Ramsays, had been seen etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. “He wore a wig in
the House of Commons and she ably assisted him at the head of the
stairs,” she repeated, fishing them up out of her mind by a phrase
which, coming back from some party, she had made to amuse her husband.
Dear, dear, Mrs. Ramsay said to herself, how did they produce this
incongruous daughter? this tomboy Minta, with a hole in her stocking?
How did she exist in that portentous atmosphere where the maid was
always removing in a dust-pan the sand that the parrot had scattered,
and conversation was almost entirely reduced to the exploits–interesting
perhaps, but limited after all–of that bird? Naturally, one had asked
her to lunch, tea, dinner, finally to stay with them up at Finlay, which
had resulted in some friction with the Owl, her mother, and more calling,
and more conversation, and more sand, and really at the end of it, she had
told enough lies about parrots to last her a lifetime (so she had said
to her husband that night, coming back from the party). However,
Minta came…Yes, she came, Mrs. Ramsay thought, suspecting some thorn
in the tangle of this thought; and disengaging it found it to be this: a
woman had once accused her of “robbing her of her daughter’s affections”;
something Mrs. Doyle had said made her remember that charge again. Wishing
to dominate, wishing to interfere, making people do what she wished–that
was the charge against her, and she thought it most unjust. How could
she help being “like that” to look at? No one could accuse her of
taking pains to impress. She was often ashamed of her own shabbiness.
Nor was she domineering, nor was she tyrannical. It was more true
about hospitals and drains and the dairy. About things like that she
did feel passionately, and would, if she had the chance, have liked to
take people by the scruff of their necks and make them see. No
hospital on the whole island. It was a disgrace. Milk delivered at
your door in London positively brown with dirt. It should be made
illegal. A model dairy and a hospital up here–those two things she
would have liked to do, herself. But how? With all these children?
When they were older, then perhaps she would have time; when they were
all at school.

Oh, but she never wanted James to grow a day older! or Cam either.
These two she would have liked to keep for ever just as they were,
demons of wickedness, angels of delight, never to see them grow up into
long-legged monsters. Nothing made up up for the loss. When she read
just now to James, “and there were numbers of soldiers with kettledrums
and trumpets,” and his eyes darkened, she thought, why should they grow
up and lose all that? He was the most gifted, the most sensitive of
her children. But all, she thought, were full of promise. Prue, a
perfect angel with the others, and sometimes now, at night especially,
she took one’s breath away with her beauty. Andrew–even her husband
admitted that his gift for mathematics was extraordinary. And Nancy
and Roger, they were both wild creatures now, scampering about over the
country all day long. As for Rose, her mouth was too big, but she had
a wonderful gift with her hands. If they had charades, Rose made the
dresses; made everything; liked best arranging tables, flowers,
anything. She did not like it that Jasper should shoot birds; but it
was only a stage; they all went through stages. Why, she asked,
pressing her chin on James’s head, should they grow up so fast? Why
should they go to school? She would have liked always to have had a
baby. She was happiest carrying one in her arms. Then people might
say she was tyrannical, domineering, masterful, if they chose; she did
not mind. And, touching his hair with her lips, she thought, he will
never be so happy again, but stopped herself, remembering how it
angered her husband that she should say that. Still, it was true. They
were happier now than they would ever be again. A tenpenny tea set
made Cam happy for days. She heard them stamping and crowing on the
floor above her head the moment they awoke. They came bustling along
the passage. Then the door sprang open and in they came, fresh as
roses, staring, wide awake, as if this coming into the dining-room
after breakfast, which they did every day of their lives, was a
positive event to them, and so on, with one thing after another, all
day long, until she went up to say good-night to them, and found them
netted in their cots like birds among cherries and raspberries, still
making up stories about some little bit of rubbish–something they had
heard, something they had picked up in the garden. They all had their
little treasures… And so she went down and said to her husband, Why
must they grow up and lose it all? Never will they be so happy again.
And he was angry. Why take such a gloomy view of life? he said. It
is not sensible. For it was odd; and she believed it to be true; that
with all his gloom and desperation he was happier, more hopeful on the
whole, than she was. Less exposed to human worries–perhaps that was
it. He had always his work to fall back on. Not that she herself was
“pessimistic,” as he accused her of being. Only she thought life–and
a little strip of time presented itself to her eyes–her fifty
years. There it was before her–life. Life, she thought–but she did
not finish her thought. She took a look at life, for she had a clear
sense of it there, something real, something private, which she shared
neither with her children nor with her husband. A sort of transaction
went on between them, in which she was on one side, and life was on
another, and she was always trying to get the better of it, as it was
of her; and sometimes they parleyed (when she sat alone); there were,
she remembered, great reconciliation scenes; but for the most part,
oddly enough, she must admit that she felt this thing that she called
life terrible, hostile, and quick to pounce on you if you gave it a
chance. There were eternal problems: suffering; death; the poor. There
was always a woman dying of cancer even here. And yet she had said to
all these children, You shall go through it all. To eight people she
had said relentlessly that (and the bill for the greenhouse would be
fifty pounds). For that reason, knowing what was before them–love and
ambition and being wretched alone in dreary places–she had often the
feeling, Why must they grow up and lose it all? And then she said to
herself, brandishing her sword at life, Nonsense. They will be
perfectly happy. And here she was, she reflected, feeling life rather
sinister again, making Minta marry Paul Rayley; because whatever she
might feel about her own transaction, she had had experiences which
need not happen to every one (she did not name them to herself); she
was driven on, too quickly she knew, almost as if it were an escape for
her too, to say that people must marry; people must have children.

Was she wrong in this, she asked herself, reviewing her conduct for the
past week or two, and wondering if she had indeed put any pressure upon
Minta, who was only twenty-four, to make up her mind. She was uneasy.
Had she not laughed about it? Was she not forgetting again how
strongly she influenced people? Marriage needed–oh, all sorts of
qualities (the bill for the greenhouse would be fifty pounds); one–she
need not name it–that was essential; the thing she had with her
husband. Had they that?

“Then he put on his trousers and ran away like a madman,” she read.
“But outside a great storm was raging and blowing so hard that he could
scarcely keep his feet; houses and trees toppled over, the mountains
trembled, rocks rolled into the sea, the sky was pitch black, and it
thundered and lightened, and the sea came in with black waves as high
as church towers and mountains, and all with white foam at the top.”

She turned the page; there were only a few lines more, so that she
would finish the story, though it was past bed-time. It was getting
late. The light in the garden told her that; and the whitening of the
flowers and something grey in the leaves conspired together, to rouse
in her a feeling of anxiety. What it was about she could not think at
first. Then she remembered; Paul and Minta and Andrew had not come
back. She summoned before her again the little group on the terrace in
front of the hall door, standing looking up into the sky. Andrew had
his net and basket. That meant he was going to catch crabs and things.
That meant he would climb out on to a rock; he would be cut off. Or
coming back single file on one of those little paths above the cliff
one of them might slip. He would roll and then crash. It was growing
quite dark.

But she did not let her voice change in the least as she finished the
story, and added, shutting the book, and speaking the last words as if
she had made them up herself, looking into James’s eyes: “And there
they are living still at this very time.”

“And that’s the end,” she said, and she saw in his eyes, as the
interest of the story died away in them, something else take its place;
something wondering, pale, like the reflection of a light, which at
once made him gaze and marvel. Turning, she looked across the bay, and
there, sure enough, coming regularly across the waves first two quick
strokes and then one long steady stroke, was the light of the
Lighthouse. It had been lit.

In a moment he would ask her, “Are we going to the Lighthouse?” And
she would have to say, “No: not tomorrow; your father says not.”
Happily, Mildred came in to fetch them, and the bustle distracted them.
But he kept looking back over his shoulder as Mildred carried him out,
and she was certain that he was thinking, we are not going to the
Lighthouse tomorrow; and she thought, he will remember that all his


No, she thought, putting together some of the pictures he had cut out–
a refrigerator, a mowing machine, a gentleman in evening dress–
children never forget. For this reason, it was so important what one
said, and what one did, and it was a relief when they went to bed. For
now she need not think about anybody. She could be herself, by
herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of–to think;
well, not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and
the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk,
with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of
darkness, something invisible to others. Although she continued to
knit, and sat upright, it was thus that she felt herself; and this self
having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures. When
life sank down for a moment, the range of experience seemed limitless.
And to everybody there was always this sense of unlimited resources,
she supposed; one after another, she, Lily, Augustus Carmichael, must
feel, our apparitions, the things you know us by, are simply childish.
Beneath it is all dark, it is all spreading, it is unfathomably deep;
but now and again we rise to the surface and that is what you see us
by. Her horizon seemed to her limitless. There were all the places
she had not seen; the Indian plains; she felt herself pushing aside the
thick leather curtain of a church in Rome. This core of darkness could
go anywhere, for no one saw it. They could not stop it, she thought,
exulting. There was freedom, there was peace, there was, most
welcome of all, a summoning together, a resting on a platform
of stability. Not as oneself did one find rest ever, in her experience
(she accomplished here something dexterous with her needles) but as a
wedge of darkness. Losing personality, one lost the fret, the hurry,
the stir; and there rose to her lips always some exclamation of triumph
over life when things came together in this peace, this rest, this
eternity; and pausing there she looked out to meet that stroke of the
Lighthouse, the long steady stroke, the last of the three, which was
her stroke, for watching them in this mood always at this hour one
could not help attaching oneself to one thing especially of the things
one saw; and this thing, the long steady stroke, was her stroke. Often
she found herself sitting and looking, sitting and looking, with her
work in her hands until she became the thing she looked at–that light,
for example. And it would lift up on it some little phrase or other
which had been lying in her mind like that–“Children don’t forget,
children don’t forget”–which she would repeat and begin adding to it,
It will end, it will end, she said. It will come, it will come, when
suddenly she added, We are in the hands of the Lord.

But instantly she was annoyed with herself for saying that. Who had
said it? Not she; she had been trapped into saying something she did
not mean. She looked up over her knitting and met the third stroke and
it seemed to her like her own eyes meeting her own eyes, searching as
she alone could search into her mind and her heart, purifying out of
existence that lie, any lie. She praised herself in praising the
light, without vanity, for she was stern, she was searching, she was
beautiful like that light. It was odd, she thought, how if one was
alone, one leant to inanimate things; trees, streams, flowers; felt
they expressed one; felt they became one; felt they knew one, in a
sense were one; felt an irrational tenderness thus (she looked at that
long steady light) as for oneself. There rose, and she looked and
looked with her needles suspended, there curled up off the floor of the
mind, rose from the lake of one’s being, a mist, a bride to meet her

What brought her to say that: “We are in the hands of the Lord?” she
wondered. The insincerity slipping in among the truths roused her,
annoyed her. She returned to her knitting again. How could any Lord
have made this world? she asked. With her mind she had always seized
the fact that there is no reason, order, justice: but suffering, death,
the poor. There was no treachery too base for the world to commit; she
knew that. No happiness lasted; she knew that. She knitted with firm
composure, slightly pursing her lips and, without being aware of it, so
stiffened and composed the lines of her face in a habit of sternness
that when her husband passed, though he was chuckling at the thought
that Hume, the philosopher, grown enormously fat, had stuck in a bog,
he could not help noting, as he passed, the sternness at the heart of
her beauty. It saddened him, and her remoteness pained him, and he
felt, as he passed, that he could not protect her, and, when he reached
the hedge, he was sad. He could do nothing to help her. He must stand
by and watch her. Indeed, the infernal truth was, he made things worse
for her. He was irritable–he was touchy. He had lost his temper over
the Lighthouse. He looked into the hedge, into its intricacy, its

Always, Mrs. Ramsay felt, one helped oneself out of solitude reluctantly
by laying hold of some little odd or end, some sound, some sight. She
listened, but it was all very still; cricket was over; the children
were in their baths; there was only the sound of the sea. She stopped
knitting; she held the long reddish-brown stocking dangling in her
hands a moment. She saw the light again. With some irony in her
interrogation, for when one woke at all, one’s relations changed, she
looked at the steady light, the pitiless, the remorseless, which was so
much her, yet so little her, which had her at its beck and call (she
woke in the night and saw it bent across their bed, stroking the
floor), but for all that she thought, watching it with fascination,
hypnotised, as if it were stroking with its silver fingers some sealed
vessel in her brain whose bursting would flood her with delight, she
had known happiness, exquisite happiness, intense happiness, and it
silvered the rough waves a little more brightly, as daylight faded, and
the blue went out of the sea and it rolled in waves of pure lemon which
curved and swelled and broke upon the beach and the ecstasy burst in
her eyes and waves of pure delight raced over the floor of her mind and
she felt, It is enough! It is enough!

He turned and saw her. Ah! She was lovely, lovelier now than ever he
thought. But he could not speak to her. He could not interrupt her.
He wanted urgently to speak to her now that James was gone and she was
alone at last. But he resolved, no; he would not interrupt her. She
was aloof from him now in her beauty, in her sadness. He would let her
be, and he passed her without a word, though it hurt him that she
should look so distant, and he could not reach her, he could do nothing
to help her. And again he would have passed her without a word had she
not, at that very moment, given him of her own free will what she knew
he would never ask, and called to him and taken the green shawl off the
picture frame, and gone to him. For he wished, she knew, to protect


She folded the green shawl about her shoulders. She took his arm. His
beauty was so great, she said, beginning to speak of Kennedy the
gardener, at once he was so awfully handsome, that she couldn’t dismiss
him. There was a ladder against the greenhouse, and little lumps of
putty stuck about, for they were beginning to mend the greenhouse.
Yes, but as she strolled along with her husband, she felt that that
particular source of worry had been placed. She had it on the tip of
her tongue to say, as they strolled, “It’ll cost fifty pounds,” but
instead, for her heart failed her about money, she talked about Jasper
shooting birds, and he said, at once, soothing her instantly, that it
was natural in a boy, and he trusted he would find better ways of
amusing himself before long. Her husband was so sensible, so just.
And so she said, “Yes; all children go through stages,” and began
considering the dahlias in the big bed, and wondering what about next
year’s flowers, and had he heard the children’s nickname for Charles
Tansley, she asked. The atheist, they called him, the little atheist.
“He’s not a polished specimen,” said Mr. Ramsay. “Far from it,” said
Mrs. Ramsay.

She supposed it was all right leaving him to his own devices, Mrs.
Ramsay said, wondering whether it was any use sending down bulbs; did
they plant them? “Oh, he has his dissertation to write,” said Mr.
Ramsay. She knew all about THAT, said Mrs. Ramsay. He talked of
nothing else. It was about the influence of somebody upon something.
“Well, it’s all he has to count on,” said Mr. Ramsay. “Pray Heaven he
won’t fall in love with Prue,” said Mrs. Ramsay. He’d disinherit her if
she married him, said Mr. Ramsay. He did not look at the flowers,
which his wife was considering, but at a spot about a foot or
so above them. There was no harm in him, he added, and was just
about to say that anyhow he was the only young man in England who
admired his–when he choked it back. He would not bother her again
about his books. These flowers seemed creditable, Mr. Ramsay said,
lowering his gaze and noticing something red, something brown. Yes, but
then these she had put in with her own hands, said Mrs. Ramsay. The
question was, what happened if she sent bulbs down; did Kennedy plant
them? It was his incurable laziness; she added, moving on. If she
stood over him all day long with a spade in her hand, he did sometimes
do a stroke of work. So they strolled along, towards the red-hot
pokers. “You’re teaching your daughters to exaggerate,” said Mr.
Ramsay, reproving her. Her Aunt Camilla was far worse than she was, Mrs.
Ramsay remarked. “Nobody ever held up your Aunt Camilla as a model of
virtue that I’m aware of,” said Mr. Ramsay. “She was the most beautiful
woman I ever saw,” said Mrs. Ramsay. “Somebody else was that,” said Mr.
Ramsay. Prue was going to be far more beautiful than she was, said Mrs.
Ramsay. He saw no trace of it, said Mr. Ramsay. “Well, then, look
tonight,” said Mrs. Ramsay. They paused. He wished Andrew could be
induced to work harder. He would lose every chance of a scholarship if
he didn’t. “Oh, scholarships!” she said. Mr. Ramsay thought her foolish
for saying that, about a serious thing, like a scholarship. He should
be very proud of Andrew if he got a scholarship, he said. She would be
just as proud of him if he didn’t, she answered. They disagreed always
about this, but it did not matter. She liked him to believe in
scholarships, and he liked her to be proud of Andrew whatever he did.
Suddenly she remembered those little paths on the edge of the cliffs.

Wasn’t it late? she asked. They hadn’t come home yet. He flicked his
watch carelessly open. But it was only just past seven. He held his
watch open for a moment, deciding that he would tell her what he had
felt on the terrace. To begin with, it was not reasonable to be so
nervous. Andrew could look after himself. Then, he wanted to tell her
that when he was walking on the terrace just now–here he became
uncomfortable, as if he were breaking into that solitude, that
aloofness, that remoteness of hers. But she pressed him. What had
he wanted to tell her, she asked, thinking it was about going to the
Lighthouse; that he was sorry he had said “Damn you.” But no. He did
not like to see her look so sad, he said. Only wool gathering, she
protested, flushing a little. They both felt uncomfortable, as if they
did not know whether to go on or go back. She had been reading fairy
tales to James, she said. No, they could not share that; they could
not say that.

They had reached the gap between the two clumps of red-hot pokers, and
there was the Lighthouse again, but she would not let herself look at
it. Had she known that he was looking at her, she thought, she would
not have let herself sit there, thinking. She disliked anything that
reminded her that she had been seen sitting thinking. So she looked
over her shoulder, at the town. The lights were rippling and running
as if they were drops of silver water held firm in a wind. And all the
poverty, all the suffering had turned to that, Mrs. Ramsay thought. The
lights of the town and of the harbour and of the boats seemed like a
phantom net floating there to mark something which had sunk. Well, if
he could not share her thoughts, Mr. Ramsay said to himself, he would be
off, then, on his own. He wanted to go on thinking, telling himself the
story how Hume was stuck in a bog; he wanted to laugh. But first it
was nonsense to be anxious about Andrew. When he was Andrew’s age he
used to walk about the country all day long, with nothing but a biscuit
in his pocket and nobody bothered about him, or thought that he had
fallen over a cliff. He said aloud he thought he would be off for a
day’s walk if the weather held. He had had about enough of Bankes and
of Carmichael. He would like a little solitude. Yes, she said. It
annoyed him that she did not protest. She knew that he would never do
it. He was too old now to walk all day long with a biscuit in his
pocket. She worried about the boys, but not about him. Years ago,
before he had married, he thought, looking across the bay, as they
stood between the clumps of red-hot pokers, he had walked all day. He
had made a meal off bread and cheese in a public house. He had worked
ten hours at a stretch; an old woman just popped her head in now and
again and saw to the fire. That was the country he liked best, over
there; those sandhills dwindling away into darkness. One could walk
all day without meeting a soul. There was not a house scarcely, not a
single village for miles on end. One could worry things out alone.
There were little sandy beaches where no one had been since the
beginning of time. The seals sat up and looked at you. It sometimes
seemed to him that in a little house out there, alone–he broke off,
sighing. He had no right. The father of eight children–he reminded
himself. And he would have been a beast and a cur to wish a single
thing altered. Andrew would be a better man than he had been. Prue
would be a beauty, her mother said. They would stem the flood a bit.
That was a good bit of work on the whole–his eight children. They
showed he did not damn the poor little universe entirely, for on an
evening like this, he thought, looking at the land dwindling away, the
little island seemed pathetically small, half swallowed up in the sea.

“Poor little place,” he murmured with a sigh.

She heard him. He said the most melancholy things, but she noticed
that directly he had said them he always seemed more cheerful than
usual. All this phrase-making was a game, she thought, for if she had
said half what he said, she would have blown her brains out by now.

It annoyed her, this phrase-making, and she said to him, in a matter-
of-fact way, that it was a perfectly lovely evening. And what was he
groaning about, she asked, half laughing, half complaining, for she
guessed what he was thinking–he would have written better books if he
had not married.

He was not complaining, he said. She knew that he did not complain.
She knew that he had nothing whatever to complain of. And he seized
her hand and raised it to his lips and kissed it with an intensity that
brought the tears to her eyes, and quickly he dropped it.

They turned away from the view and began to walk up the path where the
silver-green spear-like plants grew, arm in arm. His arm was almost
like a young man’s arm, Mrs. Ramsay thought, thin and hard, and she
thought with delight how strong he still was, though he was over sixty,
and how untamed and optimistic, and how strange it was that being
convinced, as he was, of all sorts of horrors, seemed not to depress
him, but to cheer him. Was it not odd, she reflected? Indeed he
seemed to her sometimes made differently from other people, born blind,
deaf, and dumb, to the ordinary things, but to the extraordinary
things, with an eye like an eagle’s. His understanding often
astonished her. But did he notice the flowers? No. Did he notice the
view? No. Did he even notice his own daughter’s beauty, or whether
there was pudding on his plate or roast beef? He would sit at table
with them like a person in a dream. And his habit of talking aloud, or
saying poetry aloud, was growing on him, she was afraid; for sometimes
it was awkward–

Best and brightest come away!

poor Miss Giddings, when he shouted that at her, almost jumped out of
her skin. But then, Mrs. Ramsay, though instantly taking his side
against all the silly Giddingses in the world, then, she thought,
intimating by a little pressure on his arm that he walked up hill too
fast for her, and she must stop for a moment to see whether those were
fresh molehills on the bank, then, she thought, stooping down to look,
a great mind like his must be different in every way from ours. All
the great men she had ever known, she thought, deciding that a rabbit
must have got in, were like that, and it was good for young men (though
the atmosphere of lecture-rooms was stuffy and depressing to her beyond
endurance almost) simply to hear him, simply to look at him. But
without shooting rabbits, how was one to keep them down? she wondered.
It might be a rabbit; it might be a mole. Some creature anyhow was
ruining her Evening Primroses. And looking up, she saw above the thin
trees the first pulse of the full-throbbing star, and wanted to make
her husband look at it; for the sight gave her such keen pleasure. But
she stopped herself. He never looked at things. If he did, all he
would say would be, Poor little world, with one of his sighs.

At that moment, he said, “Very fine,” to please her, and pretended to
admire the flowers. But she knew quite well that he did not admire
them, or even realise that they were there. It was only to please
her. Ah, but was that not Lily Briscoe strolling along with William
Bankes? She focussed her short-sighted eyes upon the backs of a
retreating couple. Yes, indeed it was. Did that not mean that they
would marry? Yes, it must! What an admirable idea! They must marry!


He had been to Amsterdam, Mr. Bankes was saying as he strolled across
the lawn with Lily Briscoe. He had seen the Rembrandts. He had been to
Madrid. Unfortunately, it was Good Friday and the Prado was shut. He
had been to Rome. Had Miss Briscoe never been to Rome? Oh, she
should–It would be a wonderful experience for her–the Sistine
Chapel; Michael Angelo; and Padua, with its Giottos. His wife had been
in bad health for many years, so that their sight-seeing had been on a
modest scale.

She had been to Brussels; she had been to Paris but only for a flying
visit to see an aunt who was ill. She had been to Dresden; there were
masses of pictures she had not seen; however, Lily Briscoe reflected,
perhaps it was better not to see pictures: they only made one
hopelessly discontented with one’s own work. Mr. Bankes thought one
could carry that point of view too far. We can’t all be Titians and we
can’t all be Darwins, he said; at the same time he doubted whether you
could have your Darwin and your Titian if it weren’t for humble people
like ourselves. Lily would have liked to pay him a compliment; you’re
not humble, Mr. Bankes, she would have liked to have said. But he did
not want compliments (most men do, she thought), and she was a little
ashamed of her impulse and said nothing while he remarked that perhaps
what he was saying did not apply to pictures. Anyhow, said Lily,
tossing off her little insincerity, she would always go on painting,
because it interested her. Yes, said Mr. Bankes, he was sure she would,
and, as they reached the end of the lawn he was asking her whether she
had difficulty in finding subjects in London when they turned and saw
the Ramsays. So that is marriage, Lily thought, a man and a woman
looking at a girl throwing a ball. That is what Mrs. Ramsay tried to
tell me the other night, she thought. For she was wearing a green
shawl, and they were standing close together watching Prue and
Jasper throwing catches. And suddenly the meaning which, for no
reason at all, as perhaps they are stepping out of the Tube or
ringing a doorbell, descends on people, making them symbolical,
making them representative, came upon them, and made them in the dusk
standing, looking, the symbols of marriage, husband and wife. Then,
after an instant, the symbolical outline which transcended the real
figures sank down again, and they became, as they met them, Mr. and Mrs.
Ramsay watching the children throwing catches. But still for a moment,
though Mrs. Ramsay greeted them with her usual smile (oh, she’s thinking
we’re going to get married, Lily thought) and said, “I have triumphed
tonight,” meaning that for once Mr. Bankes had agreed to dine with them
and not run off to his own lodging where his man cooked vegetables
properly; still, for one moment, there was a sense of things having
been blown apart, of space, of irresponsibility as the ball soared
high, and they followed it and lost it and saw the one star and the
draped branches. In the failing light they all looked sharp-edged and
ethereal and divided by great distances. Then, darting backwards over
the vast space (for it seemed as if solidity had vanished altogether),
Prue ran full tilt into them and caught the ball brilliantly high up in
her left hand, and her mother said, “Haven’t they come back yet?”
whereupon the spell was broken. Mr. Ramsay felt free now to laugh out
loud at the thought that Hume had stuck in a bog and an old woman
rescued him on condition he said the Lord’s Prayer, and chuckling to
himself he strolled off to his study. Mrs. Ramsay, bringing Prue back
into throwing catches again, from which she had escaped, asked,

“Did Nancy go with them?”


(Certainly, Nancy had gone with them, since Minta Doyle had asked it
with her dumb look, holding out her hand, as Nancy made off, after
lunch, to her attic, to escape the horror of family life. She
supposed she must go then. She did not want to go. She did not want to
be drawn into it all. For as they walked along the road to the cliff
Minta kept on taking her hand. Then she would let it go. Then she
would take it again. What was it she wanted? Nancy asked herself.
There was something, of course, that people wanted; for when Minta took
her hand and held it, Nancy, reluctantly, saw the whole world spread
out beneath her, as if it were Constantinople seen through a mist, and
then, however heavy-eyed one might be, one must needs ask, “Is that
Santa Sofia?” “Is that the Golden Horn?” So Nancy asked, when Minta
took her hand. “What is it that she wants? Is it that?” And what was
that? Here and there emerged from the mist (as Nancy looked down upon
life spread beneath her) a pinnacle, a dome; prominent things, without
names. But when Minta dropped her hand, as she did when they ran down
the hillside, all that, the dome, the pinnacle, whatever it was that
had protruded through the mist, sank down into it and disappeared.
Minta, Andrew observed, was rather a good walker. She wore more
sensible clothes that most women. She wore very short skirts and black
knickerbockers. She would jump straight into a stream and flounder
across. He liked her rashness, but he saw that it would not do–she
would kill herself in some idiotic way one of these days. She seemed
to be afraid of nothing–except bulls. At the mere sight of a bull in
a field she would throw up her arms and fly screaming, which was the
very thing to enrage a bull of course. But she did not mind owning up
to it in the least; one must admit that. She knew she was an awful
coward about bulls, she said. She thought she must have been tossed in
her perambulator when she was a baby. She didn’t seem to mind what she
said or did. Suddenly now she pitched down on the edge of the cliff
and began to sing some song about

Damn your eyes, damn your eyes.

They all had to join in and sing the chorus, and shout out together:

Damn your eyes, damn your eyes,

but it would be fatal to let the tide come in and cover up all the good
hunting-grounds before they got on to the beach.

“Fatal,” Paul agreed, springing up, and as they went slithering down,
he kept quoting the guide-book about “these islands being justly
celebrated for their park-like prospects and the extent and variety of
their marine curiosities.” But it would not do altogether, this
shouting and damning your eyes, Andrew felt, picking his way down the
cliff, this clapping him on the back, and calling him “old fellow” and
all that; it would not altogether do. It was the worst of taking women
on walks. Once on the beach they separated, he going out on to the
Pope’s Nose, taking his shoes off, and rolling his socks in them and
letting that couple look after themselves; Nancy waded out to her own
rocks and searched her own pools and let that couple look after
themselves. She crouched low down and touched the smooth rubber-like
sea anemones, who were stuck like lumps of jelly to the side of the
rock. Brooding, she changed the pool into the sea, and made the minnows
into sharks and whales, and cast vast clouds over this tiny world by
holding her hand against the sun, and so brought darkness and
desolation, like God himself, to millions of ignorant and innocent
creatures, and then took her hand away suddenly and let the sun stream
down. Out on the pale criss-crossed sand, high-stepping, fringed,
gauntleted, stalked some fantastic leviathan (she was still enlarging
the pool), and slipped into the vast fissures of the mountain side.
And then, letting her eyes slide imperceptibly above the pool and rest
on that wavering line of sea and sky, on the tree trunks which the
smoke of steamers made waver on the horizon, she became with all that
power sweeping savagely in and inevitably withdrawing, hypnotised, and
the two senses of that vastness and this tininess (the pool had
diminished again) flowering within it made her feel that she was bound
hand and foot and unable to move by the intensity of feelings which
reduced her own body, her own life, and the lives of all the people in
the world, for ever, to nothingness. So listening to the waves,
crouching over the pool, she brooded.

And Andrew shouted that the sea was coming in, so she leapt splashing
through the shallow waves on to the shore and ran up the beach and was
carried by her own impetuosity and her desire for rapid movement right
behind a rock and there–oh, heavens! in each other’s arms, were Paul
and Minta kissing probably. She was outraged, indignant. She and
Andrew put on their shoes and stockings in dead silence without saying
a thing about it. Indeed they were rather sharp with each other. She
might have called him when she saw the crayfish or whatever it was,
Andrew grumbled. However, they both felt, it’s not our fault. They
had not wanted this horrid nuisance to happen. All the same it
irritated Andrew that Nancy should be a woman, and Nancy that Andrew
should be a man, and they tied their shoes very neatly and drew the
bows rather tight.

It was not until they had climbed right up on to the top of the cliff
again that Minta cried out that she had lost her grandmother’s brooch–
her grandmother’s brooch, the sole ornament she possessed–a weeping
willow, it was (they must remember it) set in pearls. They must have
seen it, she said, with the tears running down her cheeks, the
brooch which her grandmother had fastened her cap with till the
last day of her life. Now she had lost it. She would rather have
lost anything than that! She would go back and look for it. They all
went back. They poked and peered and looked. They kept their heads
very low, and said things shortly and gruffly. Paul Rayley searched
like a madman all about the rock where they had been sitting. All this
pother about a brooch really didn’t do at all, Andrew thought, as Paul
told him to make a “thorough search between this point and that.” The
tide was coming in fast. The sea would cover the place where they had
sat in a minute. There was not a ghost of a chance of their finding it
now. “We shall be cut off!” Minta shrieked, suddenly terrified. As if
there were any danger of that! It was the same as the bulls all over
again–she had no control over her emotions, Andrew thought. Women
hadn’t. The wretched Paul had to pacify her. The men (Andrew and Paul
at once became manly, and different from usual) took counsel briefly
and decided that they would plant Rayley’s stick where they had sat and
come back at low tide again. There was nothing more that could be done
now. If the brooch was there, it would still be there in the morning,
they assured her, but Minta still sobbed, all the way up to the top of
the cliff. It was her grandmother’s brooch; she would rather have lost
anything but that, and yet Nancy felt, it might be true that she minded
losing her brooch, but she wasn’t crying only for that. She was crying
for something else. We might all sit down and cry, she felt. But she
did not know what for.

They drew ahead together, Paul and Minta, and he comforted her, and
said how famous he was for finding things. Once when he was a little
boy he had found a gold watch. He would get up at daybreak and he was
positive he would find it. It seemed to him that it would be
almost dark, and he would be alone on the beach, and somehow it would
be rather dangerous. He began telling her, however, that he would
certainly find it, and she said that she would not hear of his getting
up at dawn: it was lost: she knew that: she had had a presentiment when
she put it on that afternoon. And secretly he resolved that he would
not tell her, but he would slip out of the house at dawn when they were
all asleep and if he could not find it he would go to Edinburgh and buy
her another, just like it but more beautiful. He would prove what he
could do. And as they came out on the hill and saw the lights of the
town beneath them, the lights coming out suddenly one by one seemed
like things that were going to happen to him–his marriage, his
children, his house; and again he thought, as they came out on to the
high road, which was shaded with high bushes, how they would retreat
into solitude together, and walk on and on, he always leading her, and
she pressing close to his side (as she did now). As they turned by the
cross roads he thought what an appalling experience he had been
through, and he must tell some one–Mrs. Ramsay of course, for it took
his breath away to think what he had been and done. It had been far
and away the worst moment of his life when he asked Minta to marry him.
He would go straight to Mrs. Ramsay, because he felt somehow that she
was the person who had made him do it. She had made him think he could
do anything. Nobody else took him seriously. But she made him believe
that he could do whatever he wanted. He had felt her eyes on him all
day today, following him about (though she never said a word) as if she
were saying, “Yes, you can do it. I believe in you. I expect it of
you.” She had made him feel all that, and directly they got back (he
looked for the lights of the house above the bay) he would go to her
and say, “I’ve done it, Mrs. Ramsay; thanks to you.” And so turning into
the lane that led to the house he could see lights moving about in the
upper windows. They must be awfully late then. People were getting
ready for dinner. The house was all lit up, and the lights after the
darkness made his eyes feel full, and he said to himself, childishly,
as he walked up the drive, Lights, lights, lights, and repeated in a
dazed way, Lights, lights, lights, as they came into the house staring
about him with his face quite stiff. But, good heavens, he said to
himself, putting his hand to his tie, I must not make a fool of


“Yes,” said Prue, in her considering way, answering her mother’s
question, “I think Nancy did go with them.”


Well then, Nancy had gone with them, Mrs. Ramsay supposed, wondering, as
she put down a brush, took up a comb, and said “Come in” to a tap at
the door (Jasper and Rose came in), whether the fact that Nancy was
with them made it less likely or more likely that anything would
happen; it made it less likely, somehow, Mrs. Ramsay felt, very
irrationally, except that after all holocaust on such a scale was not
probable. They could not all be drowned. And again she felt alone in
the presence of her old antagonist, life.

Jasper and Rose said that Mildred wanted to know whether she should
wait dinner.

“Not for the Queen of England,” said Mrs. Ramsay emphatically.

“Not for the Empress of Mexico,” she added, laughing at Jasper; for he
shared his mother’s vice: he, too, exaggerated.

And if Rose liked, she said, while Jasper took the message, she might
choose which jewels she was to wear. When there are fifteen people
sitting down to dinner, one cannot keep things waiting for ever. She
was now beginning to feel annoyed with them for being so late; it was
inconsiderate of them, and it annoyed her on top of her anxiety about
them, that they should choose this very night to be out late, when, in
fact, she wished the dinner to be particularly nice, since William
Bankes had at last consented to dine with them; and they were having
Mildred’s masterpiece–BOEUF EN DAUBE. Everything depended upon things
being served up to the precise moment they were ready. The beef, the
bayleaf, and the wine–all must be done to a turn. To keep it waiting
was out of the question. Yet of course tonight, of all nights, out
they went, and they came in late, and things had to be sent out,
things had to be kept hot; the BOEUF EN DAUBE would be entirely spoilt.

Jasper offered her an opal necklace; Rose a gold necklace. Which
looked best against her black dress? Which did indeed, said Mrs. Ramsay
absent-mindedly, looking at her neck and shoulders (but avoiding her
face) in the glass. And then, while the children rummaged among her
things, she looked out of the window at a sight which always amused
her–the rooks trying to decide which tree to settle on. Every time,
they seemed to change their minds and rose up into the air again,
because, she thought, the old rook, the father rook, old Joseph was her
name for him, was a bird of a very trying and difficult disposition.
He was a disreputable old bird, with half his wing feathers missing.
He was like some seedy old gentleman in a top hat she had seen playing
the horn in front of a public house.

“Look!” she said, laughing. They were actually fighting. Joseph and
Mary were fighting. Anyhow they all went up again, and the air was
shoved aside by their black wings and cut into exquisite scimitar shapes.
The movements of the wings beating out, out, out–she could never
describe it accurately enough to please herself–was one of the
loveliest of all to her. Look at that, she said to Rose, hoping
that Rose would see it more clearly than she could. For one’s children
so often gave one’s own perceptions a little thrust forwards.

But which was it to be? They had all the trays of her jewel-case
open. The gold necklace, which was Italian, or the opal necklace,
which Uncle James had brought her from India; or should she wear her

“Choose, dearests, choose,” she said, hoping that they would make

But she let them take their time to choose: she let Rose, particularly,
take up this and then that, and hold her jewels against the black
dress, for this little ceremony of choosing jewels, which was gone
through every night, was what Rose liked best, she knew. She had some
hidden reason of her own for attaching great importance to this
choosing what her mother was to wear. What was the reason, Mrs. Ramsay
wondered, standing still to let her clasp the necklace she had chosen,
divining, through her own past, some deep, some buried, some quite
speechless feeling that one had for one’s mother at Rose’s age. Like
all feelings felt for oneself, Mrs. Ramsay thought, it made one sad. It
was so inadequate, what one could give in return; and what Rose felt
was quite out of proportion to anything she actually was. And Rose
would grow up; and Rose would suffer, she supposed, with these deep
feelings, and she said she was ready now, and they would go down, and
Jasper, because he was the gentleman, should give her his arm, and
Rose, as she was the lady, should carry her handkerchief (she gave her
the handkerchief), and what else? oh, yes, it might be cold: a shawl.
Choose me a shawl, she said, for that would please Rose, who was bound
to suffer so. “There,” she said, stopping by the window on the
landing, “there they are again.” Joseph had settled on another tree-
top. “Don’t you think they mind,” she said to Jasper, “having their
wings broken?” Why did he want to shoot poor old Joseph and Mary? He
shuffled a little on the stairs, and felt rebuked, but not seriously,
for she did not understand the fun of shooting birds; and they did not
feel; and being his mother she lived away in another division of the
world, but he rather liked her stories about Mary and Joseph. She made
him laugh. But how did she know that those were Mary and Joseph? Did
she think the same birds came to the same trees every night? he asked.
But here, suddenly, like all grown-up people, she ceased to pay him the
least attention. She was listening to a clatter in the hall.

“They’ve come back!” she exclaimed, and at once she felt much more
annoyed with them than relieved. Then she wondered, had it happened?
She would go down and they would tell her–but no. They could not tell
her anything, with all these people about. So she must go down and
begin dinner and wait. And, like some queen who, finding her people
gathered in the hall, looks down upon them, and descends among them,
and acknowledges their tributes silently, and accepts their devotion
and their prostration before her (Paul did not move a muscle but looked
straight before him as she passed) she went down, and crossed the hall
and bowed her head very slightly, as if she accepted what they could
not say: their tribute to her beauty.

But she stopped. There was a smell of burning. Could they have let the
BOEUF EN DAUBE overboil? she wondered, pray heaven not! when the
great clangour of the gong announced solemnly, authoritatively, that
all those scattered about, in attics, in bedrooms, on little perches of
their own, reading, writing, putting the last smooth to their hair, or
fastening dresses, must leave all that, and the little odds and ends on
their washing-tables and dressing tables, and the novels on the bed-
tables, and the diaries which were so private, and assemble in the
dining-room for dinner.


But what have I done with my life? thought Mrs. Ramsay, taking her
place at the head of the table, and looking at all the plates making
white circles on it. “William, sit by me,” she said. “Lily,” she
said, wearily, “over there.” They had that–Paul Rayley and Minta
Doyle–she, only this–an infinitely long table and plates and knives.
At the far end was her husband, sitting down, all in a heap, frowning.
What at? She did not know. She did not mind. She could not
understand how she had ever felt any emotion or affection for him. She
had a sense of being past everything, through everything, out of
everything, as she helped the soup, as if there was an eddy–there–
and one could be in it, or one could be out of it, and she was out of
it. It’s all come to an end, she thought, while they came in one after
another, Charles Tansley–“Sit there, please,” she said–Augustus
Carmichael–and sat down. And meanwhile she waited, passively, for
some one to answer her, for something to happen. But this is not a
thing, she thought, ladling out soup, that one says.

Raising her eyebrows at the discrepancy–that was what she was
thinking, this was what she was doing–ladling out soup–she felt, more
and more strongly, outside that eddy; or as if a shade had fallen, and,
robbed of colour, she saw things truly. The room (she looked round it)
was very shabby. There was no beauty anywhere. She forebore to look at
Mr. Tansley. Nothing seemed to have merged. They all sat separate.
And the whole of the effort of merging and flowing and creating rested
on her. Again she felt, as a fact without hostility, the sterility of
men, for if she did not do it nobody would do it, and so, giving
herself a little shake that one gives a watch that has stopped, the old
familiar pulse began beating, as the watch begins ticking–one, two,
three, one, two, three. And so on and so on, she repeated, listening
to it, sheltering and fostering the still feeble pulse as one might
guard a weak flame with a news-paper. And so then, she concluded,
addressing herself by bending silently in his direction to William
Bankes–poor man! who had no wife, and no children and dined alone in
lodgings except for tonight; and in pity for him, life being now strong
enough to bear her on again, she began all this business, as a sailor
not without weariness sees the wind fill his sail and yet hardly wants
to be off again and thinks how, had the ship sunk, he would have
whirled round and round and found rest on the floor of the sea.

“Did you find your letters? I told them to put them in the hall for
you,” she said to William Bankes.

Lily Briscoe watched her drifting into that strange no-man’s land where
to follow people is impossible and yet their going inflicts such a
chill on those who watch them that they always try at least to follow
them with their eyes as one follows a fading ship until the sails have
sunk beneath the horizon.

How old she looks, how worn she looks, Lily thought, and how remote.
Then when she turned to William Bankes, smiling, it was as if the ship
had turned and the sun had struck its sails again, and Lily thought
with some amusement because she was relieved, Why does she pity him?
For that was the impression she gave, when she told him that his
letters were in the hall. Poor William Bankes, she seemed to be
saying, as if her own weariness had been partly pitying people, and the
life in her, her resolve to live again, had been stirred by pity. And
it was not true, Lily thought; it was one of those misjudgments of hers
that seemed to be instinctive and to arise from some need of her own
rather than of other people’s. He is not in the least pitiable. He has
his work, Lily said to herself. She remembered, all of a sudden as if
she had found a treasure, that she had her work. In a flash she saw
her picture, and thought, Yes, I shall put the tree further in the
middle; then I shall avoid that awkward space. That’s what I shall do.
That’s what has been puzzling me. She took up the salt cellar and put
it down again on a flower pattern in the table-cloth, so as to remind
herself to move the tree.

“It’s odd that one scarcely gets anything worth having by post, yet one
always wants one’s letters,” said Mr. Bankes.

What damned rot they talk, thought Charles Tansley, laying down his
spoon precisely in the middle of his plate, which he had swept clean,
as if, Lily thought (he sat opposite to her with his back to the window
precisely in the middle of view), he were determined to make sure of
his meals. Everything about him had that meagre fixity, that bare
unloveliness. But nevertheless, the fact remained, it was impossible
to dislike any one if one looked at them. She liked his eyes; they
were blue, deep set, frightening.

“Do you write many letters, Mr. Tansley?” asked Mrs. Ramsay, pitying him
too, Lily supposed; for that was true of Mrs. Ramsay–she pitied men
always as if they lacked something–women never, as if they had
something. He wrote to his mother; otherwise he did not suppose he
wrote one letter a month, said Mr. Tansley, shortly.

For he was not going to talk the sort of rot these condescended to by
these silly women. He had been reading in his room, and now he came
down and it all seemed to him silly, superficial, flimsy. Why did they
dress? He had come down in his ordinary clothes. He had not got any
dress clothes. “One never gets anything worth having by post”–that
was the sort of thing they were always saying. They made men say that
sort of thing. Yes, it was pretty well true, he thought. They never
got anything worth having from one year’s end to another. They did
nothing but talk, talk, talk, eat, eat, eat. It was the women’s fault.
Women made civilisation impossible with all their “charm,” all their

“No going to the Lighthouse tomorrow, Mrs. Ramsay,” he said, asserting
himself. He liked her; he admired her; he still thought of the man in
the drain-pipe looking up at her; but he felt it necessary to assert

He was really, Lily Briscoe thought, in spite of his eyes, but then
look at his nose, look at his hands, the most uncharming human being
she had ever met. Then why did she mind what he said? Women can’t
write, women can’t paint–what did that matter coming from him, since
clearly it was not true to him but for some reason helpful to him, and
that was why he said it? Why did her whole being bow, like corn under
a wind, and erect itself again from this abasement only with a great
and rather painful effort? She must make it once more. There’s the
sprig on the table-cloth; there’s my painting; I must move the tree to
the middle; that matters–nothing else. Could she not hold fast to
that, she asked herself, and not lose her temper, and not argue; and if
she wanted revenge take it by laughing at him?

“Oh, Mr. Tansley,” she said, “do take me to the Lighthouse with you. I
should so love it.”

She was telling lies he could see. She was saying what she did not
mean to annoy him, for some reason. She was laughing at him. He was in
his old flannel trousers. He had no others. He felt very rough and
isolated and lonely. He knew that she was trying to tease him for some
reason; she didn’t want to go to the Lighthouse with him; she despised
him: so did Prue Ramsay; so did they all. But he was not going to be
made a fool of by women, so he turned deliberately in his chair and
looked out of the window and said, all in a jerk, very rudely, it would
be too rough for her tomorrow. She would be sick.

It annoyed him that she should have made him speak like that, with Mrs.
Ramsay listening. If only he could be alone in his room working, he
thought, among his books. That was where he felt at his ease. And he
had never run a penny into debt; he had never cost his father a penny
since he was fifteen; he had helped them at home out of his savings; he
was educating his sister. Still, he wished he had known how to answer
Miss Briscoe properly; he wished it had not come out all in a jerk like
that. “You’d be sick.” He wished he could think of something to say to
Mrs. Ramsay, something which would show her that he was not just a dry
prig. That was what they all thought him. He turned to her. But Mrs.
Ramsay was talking about people he had never heard of to William

“Yes, take it away,” she said briefly, interrupting what she was saying
to William Bankes to speak to the maid. “It must have been fifteen–
no, twenty years ago–that I last saw her,” she was saying, turning
back to him again as if she could not lose a moment of their talk, for
she was absorbed by what they were saying. So he had actually heard
from her this evening! And was Carrie still living at Marlow, and was
everything still the same? Oh, she could remember it as if it were
yesterday–on the river, feeling it as if it were yesterday–going on
the river, feeling very cold. But if the Mannings made a plan they
stuck to it. Never should she forget Herbert killing a wasp with a
teaspoon on the bank! And it was still going on, Mrs. Ramsay mused,
gliding like a ghost among the chairs and tables of that drawing-room
on the banks of the Thames where she had been so very, very cold twenty
years ago; but now she went among them like a ghost; and it fascinated
her, as if, while she had changed, that particular day, now become very
still and beautiful, had remained there, all these years. Had Carrie
written to him herself? she asked.

“Yes. She says they’re building a new billiard room,” he said. No!
No! That was out of the question! Building a new billiard room!
It seemed to her impossible.

Mr. Bankes could not see that there was anything very odd about it.
They were very well off now. Should he give her love to Carrie?

“Oh,” said Mrs. Ramsay with a little start, “No,” she added, reflecting
that she did not know this Carrie who built a new billiard room. But
how strange, she repeated, to Mr. Bankes’s amusement, that they should
be going on there still. For it was extraordinary to think that they
had been capable of going on living all these years when she had not
thought of them more than once all that time. How eventful her own
life had been, during those same years. Yet perhaps Carrie Manning
had not thought about her, either. The thought was strange and

“People soon drift apart,” said Mr. Bankes, feeling, however, some
satisfaction when he thought that after all he knew both the Mannings
and the Ramsays. He had not drifted apart he thought, laying down his
spoon and wiping his clean-shaven lips punctiliously. But perhaps he
was rather unusual, he thought, in this; he never let himself get into
a groove. He had friends in all circles… Mrs. Ramsay had to break
off here to tell the maid something about keeping food hot. That was
why he preferred dining alone. All those interruptions annoyed him.
Well, thought William Bankes, preserving a demeanour of exquisite
courtesy and merely spreading the fingers of his left hand on the
table-cloth as a mechanic examines a tool beautifully polished and
ready for use in an interval of leisure, such are the sacrifices one’s
friends ask of one. It would have hurt her if he had refused to come.
But it was not worth it for him. Looking at his hand he thought that
if he had been alone dinner would have been almost over now; he would
have been free to work. Yes, he thought, it is a terrible waste of
time. The children were dropping in still. “I wish one of you would
run up to Roger’s room,” Mrs. Ramsay was saying. How trifling it all
is, how boring it all is, he thought, compared with the other thing–
work. Here he sat drumming his fingers on the table-cloth when he
might have been–he took a flashing bird’s-eye view of his work. What
a waste of time it all was to be sure! Yet, he thought, she is one of
my oldest friends. I am by way of being devoted to her. Yet now, at
this moment her presence meant absolutely nothing to him: her beauty
meant nothing to him; her sitting with her little boy at the window–
nothing, nothing. He wished only to be alone and to take up that book.
He felt uncomfortable; he felt treacherous, that he could sit by her
side and feel nothing for her. The truth was that he did not enjoy
family life. It was in this sort of state that one asked oneself, What
does one live for? Why, one asked oneself, does one take all these
pains for the human race to go on? Is it so very desirable? Are we
attractive as a species? Not so very, he thought, looking at those
rather untidy boys. His favourite, Cam, was in bed, he supposed.
Foolish questions, vain questions, questions one never asked
if one was occupied. Is human life this? Is human life that? One
never had time to think about it. But here he was asking himself that
sort of question, because Mrs. Ramsay was giving orders to servants, and
also because it had struck him, thinking how surprised Mrs. Ramsay was
that Carrie Manning should still exist, that friendships, even the best
of them, are frail things. One drifts apart. He reproached himself
again. He was sitting beside Mrs. Ramsay and he had nothing in the
world to say to her.

“I’m so sorry,” said Mrs. Ramsy, turning to him at last. He felt rigid
and barren, like a pair of boots that have been soaked and gone dry so
that you can hardly force your feet into them. Yet he must force his
feet into them. He must make himself talk. Unless he were very
careful, she would find out this treachery of his; that he did not care
a straw for her, and that would not be at all pleasant, he thought. So
he bent his head courteously in her direction.

“How you must detest dining in this bear garden,” she said, making use,
as she did when she was distracted, of her social manner. So, when
there is a strife of tongues, at some meeting, the chairman, to obtain
unity, suggests that every one shall speak in French. Perhaps it is
bad French; French may not contain the words that express the speaker’s
thoughts; nevertheless speaking French imposes some order, some
uniformity. Replying to her in the same language, Mr. Bankes said, “No,
not at all,” and Mr. Tansley, who had no knowledge of this language,
even spoke thus in words of one syllable, at once suspected its
insincerity. They did talk nonsense, he thought, the Ramsays; and he
pounced on this fresh instance with joy, making a note which, one of
these days, he would read aloud, to one or two friends. There, in a
society where one could say what one liked he would sarcastically
describe “staying with the Ramsays” and what nonsense they talked. It
was worth while doing it once, he would say; but not again. The women
bored one so, he would say. Of course Ramsay had dished himself by
marrying a beautiful woman and having eight children. It would shape
itself something like that, but now, at this moment, sitting stuck
there with an empty seat beside him, nothing had shaped itself at all.
It was all in scraps and fragments. He felt extremely, even
physically, uncomfortable. He wanted somebody to give him a chance of
asserting himself. He wanted it so urgently that he fidgeted in his
chair, looked at this person, then at that person, tried to break into
their talk, opened his mouth and shut it again. They were talking
about the fishing industry. Why did no one ask him his opinion? What
did they know about the fishing industry?

Lily Briscoe knew all that. Sitting opposite him, could she not see,
as in an X-ray photograph, the ribs and thigh bones of the young man’s
desire to impress himself, lying dark in the mist of his flesh–that
thin mist which convention had laid over his burning desire to break
into the conversation? But, she thought, screwing up her Chinese
eyes, and remembering how he sneered at women, “can’t paint, can’t
write,” why should I help him to relieve himself?

There is a code of behaviour, she knew, whose seventh article (it may
be) says that on occasions of this sort it behoves the woman, whatever
her own occupation might be, to go to the help of the young man
opposite so that he may expose and relieve the thigh bones, the ribs,
of his vanity, of his urgent desire to assert himself; as indeed it is
their duty, she reflected, in her old maidenly fairness, to help us,
suppose the Tube were to burst into flames. Then, she thought, I should
certainly expect Mr. Tansley to get me out. But how would it be, she
thought, if neither of us did either of these things? So she sat there

“You’re not planning to go to the Lighthouse, are you, Lily,” said Mrs.
Ramsay. “Remember poor Mr. Langley; he had been round the world dozens
of times, but he told me he never suffered as he did when my husband
took him there. Are you a good sailor, Mr. Tansley?” she asked.

Mr. Tansley raised a hammer: swung it high in air; but realising, as it
descended, that he could not smite that butterfly with such an
instrument as this, said only that he had never been sick in his life.
But in that one sentence lay compact, like gunpowder, that his
grandfather was a fisherman; his father a chemist; that he had worked
his way up entirely himself; that he was proud of it; that he was
Charles Tansley–a fact that nobody there seemed to realise; but one of
these days every single person would know it. He scowled ahead of him.
He could almost pity these mild cultivated people, who would be blown
sky high, like bales of wool and barrels of apples, one of these days
by the gunpowder that was in him.

“Will you take me, Mr. Tansley?” said Lily, quickly, kindly, for, of
course, if Mrs. Ramsay said to her, as in effect she did, “I am
drowning, my dear, in seas of fire. Unless you apply some balm to the
anguish of this hour and say something nice to that young man there,
life will run upon the rocks–indeed I hear the grating and the
growling at this minute. My nerves are taut as fiddle strings.
Another touch and they will snap”–when Mrs. Ramsay said all this, as
the glance in her eyes said it, of course for the hundred and fiftieth
time Lily Briscoe had to renounce the experiment–what happens if one
is not nice to that young man there–and be nice.

Judging the turn in her mood correctly–that she was friendly to him
now–he was relieved of his egotism, and told her how he had been
thrown out of a boat when he was a baby; how his father used to fish
him out with a boat-hook; that was how he had learnt to swim. One of
his uncles kept the light on some rock or other off the Scottish coast,
he said. He had been there with him in a storm. This was said loudly
in a pause. They had to listen to him when he said that he had been
with his uncle in a lighthouse in a storm. Ah, thought Lily Briscoe,
as the conversation took this auspicious turn, and she felt Mrs.
Ramsay’s gratitude (for Mrs. Ramsay was free now to talk for a moment
herself), ah, she thought, but what haven’t I paid to get it for you?
She had not been sincere.

She had done the usual trick–been nice. She would never know him. He
would never know her. Human relations were all like that, she thought,
and the worst (if it had not been for Mr. Bankes) were between men and
women. Inevitably these were extremely insincere she thought. Then
her eye caught the salt cellar, which she had placed there to remind
her, and she remembered that next morning she would move the tree
further towards the middle, and her spirits rose so high at the thought
of painting tomorrow that she laughed out loud at what Mr. Tansley was
saying. Let him talk all night if he liked it.

“But how long do they leave men on a Lighthouse?” she asked. He told
her. He was amazingly well informed. And as he was grateful, and as
he liked her, and as he was beginning to enjoy himself, so now, Mrs.
Ramsay thought, she could return to that dream land, that unreal but
fascinating place, the Mannings’ drawing-room at Marlow twenty years
ago; where one moved about without haste or anxiety, for there was no
future to worry about. She knew what had happened to them, what to
her. It was like reading a good book again, for she knew the end of
that story, since it had happened twenty years ago, and life, which
shot down even from this dining-room table in cascades, heaven knows
where, was sealed up there, and lay, like a lake, placidly between its
banks. He said they had built a billiard room–was it possible?
Would William go on talking about the Mannings? She wanted him to.
But, no–for some reason he was no longer in the mood. She tried.
He did not respond. She could not force him. She was disappointed.

“The children are disgraceful,” she said, sighing. He said something
about punctuality being one of the minor virtues which we do not
acquire until later in life.

“If at all,” said Mrs. Ramsay merely to fill up space, thinking what an
old maid William was becoming. Conscious of his treachery, conscious
of her wish to talk about something more intimate, yet out of mood for
it at present, he felt come over him the disagreeableness of life,
sitting there, waiting. Perhaps the others were saying something
interesting? What were they saying?

That the fishing season was bad; that the men were emigrating. They
were talking about wages and unemployment. The young man was abusing
the government. William Bankes, thinking what a relief it was to catch
on to something of this sort when private life was disagreeable, heard
him say something about “one of the most scandalous acts of the present
government.” Lily was listening; Mrs. Ramsay was listening; they were
all listening. But already bored, Lily felt that something was lacking;
Mr. Bankes felt that something was lacking. Pulling her shawl round her
Mrs. Ramsay felt that something was lacking. All of them bending
themselves to listen thought, “Pray heaven that the inside of my mind
may not be exposed,” for each thought, “The others are feeling this.
They are outraged and indignant with the government about the
fishermen. Whereas, I feel nothing at all.” But perhaps, thought Mr.
Bankes, as he looked at Mr. Tansley, here is the man. One was always
waiting for the man. There was always a chance. At any moment the
leader might arise; the man of genius, in politics as in anything else.
Probably he will be extremely disagreeable to us old fogies, thought Mr.
Bankes, doing his best to make allowances, for he knew by some curious
physical sensation, as of nerves erect in his spine, that he was
jealous, for himself partly, partly more probably for his work, for his
point of view, for his science; and therefore he was not entirely open-
minded or altogether fair, for Mr. Tansley seemed to be saying, You have
wasted your lives. You are all of you wrong. Poor old fogies, you’re
hopelessly behind the times. He seemed to be rather cocksure, this
young man; and his manners were bad. But Mr. Bankes bade himself
observe, he had courage; he had ability; he was extremely well up in
the facts. Probably, Mr. Bankes thought, as Tansley abused the
government, there is a good deal in what he says.

“Tell me now…” he said. So they argued about politics, and Lily
looked at the leaf on the table-cloth; and Mrs. Ramsay, leaving the
argument entirely in the hands of the two men, wondered why she was so
bored by this talk, and wished, looking at her husband at the other end
of the table, that he would say something. One word, she said to
herself. For if he said a thing, it would make all the difference. He
went to the heart of things. He cared about fishermen and their wages.
He could not sleep for thinking of them. It was altogether different
when he spoke; one did not feel then, pray heaven you don’t see how
little I care, because one did care. Then, realising that it was because
she admired him so much that she was waiting for him to speak, she
felt as if somebody had been praising her husband to her and their
marriage, and she glowed all over withiut realising that it was
she herself who had praised him. She looked at him thinking to find
this in his face; he would be looking magnificent… But not in the
least! He was screwing his face up, he was scowling and frowning, and
flushing with anger. What on earth was it about? she wondered. What
could be the matter? Only that poor old Augustus had asked for
another plate of soup–that was all. It was unthinkable, it was
detestable (so he signalled to her across the table) that Augustus
should be beginning his soup over again. He loathed people eating when
he had finished. She saw his anger fly like a pack of hounds into his
eyes, his brow, and she knew that in a moment something violent would
explode, and then–thank goodness! she saw him clutch himself and clap
a brake on the wheel, and the whole of his body seemed to emit sparks
but not words. He sat there scowling. He had said nothing, he would
have her observe. Let her give him the credit for that! But why
after all should poor Augustus not ask for another plate of soup? He
had merely touched Ellen’s arm and said:

“Ellen, please, another plate of soup,” and then Mr. Ramsay scowled like

And why not? Mrs. Ramsay demanded. Surely they could let Augustus have
his soup if he wanted it. He hated people wallowing in food, Mr. Ramsay
frowned at her. He hated everything dragging on for hours like this.
But he had controlled himself, Mr. Ramsay would have her observe,
disgusting though the sight was. But why show it so plainly, Mrs.
Ramsay demanded (they looked at each other down the long table sending
these questions and answers across, each knowing exactly what the other
felt). Everybody could see, Mrs. Ramsay thought. There was Rose gazing
at her father, there was Roger gazing at his father; both would be off
in spasms of laughter in another second, she knew, and so she said
promptly (indeed it was time):

“Light the candles,” and they jumped up instantly and went and fumbled
at the sideboard.

Why could he never conceal his feelings? Mrs. Ramsay wondered, and she
wondered if Augustus Carmichael had noticed. Perhaps he had; perhaps
he had not. She could not help respecting the composure with which he
sat there, drinking his soup. If he wanted soup, he asked for soup.
Whether people laughed at him or were angry with him he was the same.
He did not like her, she knew that; but partly for that very reason she
respected him, and looking at him, drinking soup, very large and calm
in the failing light, and monumental, and contemplative, she wondered
what he did feel then, and why he was always content and dignified; and
she thought how devoted he was to Andrew, and would call him into his
room, and Andrew said, “show him things.” And there he would lie all
day long on the lawn brooding presumably over his poetry, till he
reminded one of a cat watching birds, and then he clapped his paws
together when he had found the word, and her husband said, “Poor old
Augustus–he’s a true poet,” which was high praise from her husband.

Now eight candles were stood down the table, and after the first stoop
the flames stood upright and drew with them into visibility the long
table entire, and in the middle a yellow and purple dish of fruit. What
had she done with it, Mrs. Ramsay wondered, for Rose’s arrangement of
the grapes and pears, of the horny pink-lined shell, of the bananas,
made her think of a trophy fetched from the bottom of the sea, of
Neptune’s banquet, of the bunch that hangs with vine leaves over the
shoulder of Bacchus (in some picture), among the leopard skins and the
torches lolloping red and gold… Thus brought up suddenly into the
light it seemed possessed of great size and depth, was like a world in
which one could take one’s staff and climb hills, she thought, and go
down into valleys, and to her pleasure (for it brought them into
sympathy momentarily) she saw that Augustus too feasted his eyes on the
same plate of fruit, plunged in, broke off a bloom there, a tassel
here, and returned, after feasting, to his hive. That was his way of
looking, different from hers. But looking together united them.

Now all the candles were lit up, and the faces on both sides of the
table were brought nearer by the candle light, and composed, as they
had not been in the twilight, into a party round a table, for the night
was now shut off by panes of glass, which, far from giving any accurate
view of the outside world, rippled it so strangely that here, inside
the room, seemed to be order and dry land; there, outside, a reflection
in which things waved and vanished, waterily.

Some change at once went through them all, as if this had really
happened, and they were all conscious of making a party together in a
hollow, on an island; had their common cause against that fluidity out
there. Mrs. Ramsay, who had been uneasy, waiting for Paul and Minta to
come in, and unable, she felt, to settle to things, now felt her
uneasiness changed to expectation. For now they must come, and Lily
Briscoe, trying to analyse the cause of the sudden exhilaration,
compared it with that moment on the tennis lawn, when solidity suddenly
vanished, and such vast spaces lay between them; and now the same
effect was got by the many candles in the sparely furnished room, and
the uncurtained windows, and the bright mask-like look of faces seen by
candlelight. Some weight was taken off them; anything might happen,
she felt. They must come now, Mrs. Ramsay thought, looking at the door,
and at that instant, Minta Doyle, Paul Rayley, and a maid carrying a
great dish in her hands came in together. They were awfully late; they
were horribly late, Minta said, as they found their way to different
ends of the table.

“I lost my brooch–my grandmother’s brooch,” said Minta with a sound of
lamentation in her voice, and a suffusion in her large brown eyes,
looking down, looking up, as she sat by Mr. Ramsay, which roused his
chivalry so that he bantered her.

How could she be such a goose, he asked, as to scramble about the rocks
in jewels?

She was by way of being terrified of him–he was so fearfully clever,
and the first night when she had sat by him, and he talked about George
Eliot, she had been really frightened, for she had left the third
volume of MIDDLEMARCH in the train and she never knew what happened in
the end; but afterwards she got on perfectly, and made herself out even
more ignorant than she was, because he liked telling her she was a
fool. And so tonight, directly he laughed at her, she was not
frightened. Besides, she knew, directly she came into the room that the
miracle had happened; she wore her golden haze. Sometimes she had it;
sometimes not. She never knew why it came or why it went, or if she
had it until she came into the room and then she knew instantly by the
way some man looked at her. Yes, tonight she had it, tremendously; she
knew that by the way Mr. Ramsay told her not to be a fool. She sat
beside him, smiling.

It must have happened then, thought Mrs. Ramsay; they are engaged. And
for a moment she felt what she had never expected to feel again–
jealousy. For he, her husband, felt it too–Minta’s glow; he liked
these girls, these golden-reddish girls, with something flying,
something a little wild and harum-scarum about them, who didn’t
“scrape their hair off,” weren’t, as he said about poor Lily Briscoe,
“skimpy”. There was some quality which she herself had not, some
lustre, some richness, which attracted him, amused him, led him to make
favourites of girls like Minta. They might cut his hair from him,
plait him watch-chains, or interrupt him at his work, hailing him (she
heard them), “Come along, Mr. Ramsay; it’s our turn to beat them now,”
and out he came to play tennis.

But indeed she was not jealous, only, now and then, when she made
herself look in her glass, a little resentful that she had grown old,
perhaps, by her own fault. (The bill for the greenhouse and all the
rest of it.) She was grateful to them for laughing at him. (“How many
pipes have you smoked today, Mr. Ramsay?” and so on), till he seemed a
young man; a man very attractive to women, not burdened, not weighed
down with the greatness of his labours and the sorrows of the world and
his fame or his failure, but again as she had first known him, gaunt
but gallant; helping her out of a boat, she remembered; with delightful
ways, like that (she looked at him, and he looked astonishingly young,
teasing Minta). For herself–“Put it down there,” she said, helping
the Swiss girl to place gently before her the huge brown pot in which
was the BOEUF EN DAUBE–for her own part, she liked her boobies. Paul
must sit by her. She had kept a place for him. Really, she sometimes
thought she liked the boobies best. They did not bother one with their
dissertations. How much they missed, after all, these very clever men!
How dried up they did become, to be sure. There was something, she
thought as he sat down, very charming about Paul. His manners were
delightful to her, and his sharp cut nose and his bright blue eyes. He
was so considerate. Would he tell her–now that they were all talking
again–what had happened?

“We went back to look for Minta’s brooch,” he said, sitting down by
her. “We”–that was enough. She knew from the effort, the rise in his
voice to surmount a difficult word that it was the first time he had
said “we.” “We did this, we did that.” They’ll say that all their
lives, she thought, and an exquisite scent of olives and oil and juice
rose from the great brown dish as Marthe, with a little flourish, took
the cover off. The cook had spent three days over that dish. And she
must take great care, Mrs. Ramsay thought, diving into the soft mass, to
choose a specially tender piece for William Bankes. And she peered into
the dish, with its shiny walls and its confusion of savoury brown and
yellow meats and its bay leaves and its wine, and thought, This will
celebrate the occasion–a curious sense rising in her, at once freakish
and tender, of celebrating a festival, as if two emotions were called
up in her, one profound–for what could be more serious than the love
of man for woman, what more commanding, more impressive, bearing in its
bosom the seeds of death; at the same time these lovers, these people
entering into illusion glittering eyed, must be danced round with
mockery, decorated with garlands.

“It is a triumph,” said Mr. Bankes, laying his knife down for a moment.
He had eaten attentively. It was rich; it was tender. It was perfectly
cooked. How did she manage these things in the depths of the country?
he asked her. She was a wonderful woman. All his love, all his
reverence, had returned; and she knew it.

“It is a French recipe of my grandmother’s,” said Mrs. Ramsay, speaking
with a ring of great pleasure in her voice. Of course it was French.
What passes for cookery in England is an abomination (they agreed). It
is putting cabbages in water. It is roasting meat till it is like
leather. It is cutting off the delicious skins of vegetables. “In
which,” said Mr. Bankes, “all the virtue of the vegetable is contained.”
And the waste, said Mrs. Ramsay. A whole French family could live on
what an English cook throws away. Spurred on by her sense that
William’s affection had come back to her, and that everything was all
right again, and that her suspense was over, and that now she was free
both to triumph and to mock, she laughed, she gesticulated, till Lily
thought, How childlike, how absurd she was, sitting up there with all
her beauty opened again in her, talking about the skins of vegetables.
There was something frightening about her. She was irresistible.
Always she got her own way in the end, Lily thought. Now she had
brought this off–Paul and Minta, one might suppose, were engaged. Mr.
Bankes was dining here. She put a spell on them all, by wishing, so
simply, so directly, and Lily contrasted that abundance with her own
poverty of spirit, and supposed that it was partly that belief (for her
face was all lit up–without looking young, she looked radiant) in this
strange, this terrifying thing, which made Paul Rayley, sitting at her
side, all of a tremor, yet abstract, absorbed, silent. Mrs. Ramsay,
Lily felt, as she talked about the skins of vegetables, exalted that,
worshipped that; held her hands over it to warm them, to protect it,
and yet, having brought it all about, somehow laughed, led her victims,
Lily felt, to the altar. It came over her too now–the emotion, the
vibration, of love. How inconspicuous she felt herself by Paul’s side!
He, glowing, burning; she, aloof, satirical; he, bound for adventure;
she, moored to the shore; he, launched, incautious; she solitary,
left out–and, ready to implore a share, if it were a disaster, in
his disaster, she said shyly:

“When did Minta lose her brooch?”

He smiled the most exquisite smile, veiled by memory, tinged by dreams.
He shook his head. “On the beach,” he said.

“I’m going to find it,” he said, “I’m getting up early.” This being
kept secret from Minta, he lowered his voice, and turned his eyes to
where she sat, laughing, beside Mr. Ramsay.

Lily wanted to protest violently and outrageously her desire to help
him, envisaging how in the dawn on the beach she would be the one to
pounce on the brooch half-hidden by some stone, and thus herself be
included among the sailors and adventurers. But what did he reply to
her offer? She actually said with an emotion that she seldom let
appear, “Let me come with you,” and he laughed. He meant yes or no–
either perhaps. But it was not his meaning–it was the odd chuckle
he gave, as if he had said, Throw yourself over the cliff if you like,
I don’t care. He turned on her cheek the heat of love, its horror, its
cruelty, its unscrupulosity. It scorched her, and Lily, looking at
Minta, being charming to Mr. Ramsay at the other end of the table,
flinched for her exposed to these fangs, and was thankful. For at any
rate, she said to herself, catching sight of the salt cellar on the
pattern, she need not marry, thank Heaven: she need not undergo that
degradation. She was saved from that dilution. She would move the tree
rather more to the middle.

Such was the complexity of things. For what happened to her,
especially staying with the Ramsays, was to be made to feel violently
two opposite things at the same time; that’s what you feel, was one;
that’s what I feel, was the other, and then they fought together in her
mind, as now. It is so beautiful, so exciting, this love, that I
tremble on the verge of it, and offer, quite out of my own habit, to
look for a brooch on a beach; also it is the stupidest, the most
barbaric of human passions, and turns a nice young man with a profile
like a gem’s (Paul’s was exquisite) into a bully with a crowbar (he
was swaggering, he was insolent) in the Mile End Road. Yet, she said to
herself, from the dawn of time odes have been sung to love; wreaths
heaped and roses; and if you asked nine people out of ten they would
say they wanted nothing but this–love; while the women, judging from
her own experience, would all the time be feeling, This is not what we
want; there is nothing more tedious, puerile, and inhumane than this;
yet it is also beautiful and necessary. Well then, well then? she
asked, somehow expecting the others to go on with the argument, as if
in an argument like this one threw one’s own little bolt which fell
short obviously and left the others to carry it on. So she listened
again to what they were saying in case they should throw any light upon
the question of love.

“Then,” said Mr. Bankes, “there is that liquid the English call coffee.”

“Oh, coffee!” said Mrs. Ramsay. But it was much rather a question (she
was thoroughly roused, Lily could see, and talked very emphatically) of
real butter and clean milk. Speaking with warmth and eloquence, she
described the iniquity of the English dairy system, and in what state
milk was delivered at the door, and was about to prove her charges, for
she had gone into the matter, when all round the table, beginning with
Andrew in the middle, like a fire leaping from tuft to tuft of furze,
her children laughed; her husband laughed; she was laughed at, fire-
encircled, and forced to veil her crest, dismount her batteries, and
only retaliate by displaying the raillery and ridicule of the table
to Mr. Bankes as an example of what one suffered if one attacked the
prejudices of the British Public.

Purposely, however, for she had it on her mind that Lily, who had
helped her with Mr. Tansley, was out of things, she exempted her from
the rest; said “Lily anyhow agrees with me,” and so drew her in, a
little fluttered, a little startled. (For she was thinking about
love.) They were both out of things, Mrs. Ramsay had been thinking,
both Lily and Charles Tansley. Both suffered from the glow of the
other two. He, it was clear, felt himself utterly in the cold; no
woman would look at him with Paul Rayley in the room. Poor fellow!
Still, he had his dissertation, the influence of somebody upon
something: he could take care of himself. With Lily it was different.
She faded, under Minta’s glow; became more inconspicuous than ever, in
her little grey dress with her little puckered face and her little
Chinese eyes. Everything about her was so small. Yet, thought Mrs.
Ramsay, comparing her with Minta, as she claimed her help (for Lily
should bear her out she talked no more about her dairies than her
husband did about his boots–he would talk by the hour about his boots)
of the two, Lily at forty will be the better. There was in Lily a
thread of something; a flare of something; something of her own which
Mrs. Ramsay liked very much indeed, but no man would, she feared.
Obviously, not, unless it were a much older man, like William Bankes.
But then he cared, well, Mrs. Ramsay sometimes thought that he cared,
since his wife’s death, perhaps for her. He was not “in love” of
course; it was one of those unclassified affections of which there are
so many. Oh, but nonsense, she thought; William must marry Lily. They
have so many things in common. Lily is so fond of flowers. They are
both cold and aloof and rather self-sufficing. She must arrange for
them to take a long walk together.

Foolishly, she had set them opposite each other. That could be remedied
tomorrow. If it were fine, they should go for a picnic. Everything
seemed possible. Everything seemed right. Just now (but this cannot
last, she thought, dissociating herself from the moment while they were
all talking about boots) just now she had reached security; she hovered
like a hawk suspended; like a flag floated in an element of joy which
filled every nerve of her body fully and sweetly, not noisily, solemnly
rather, for it arose, she thought, looking at them all eating there,
from husband and children and friends; all of which rising in this
profound stillness (she was helping William Bankes to one very small
piece more, and peered into the depths of the earthenware pot) seemed
now for no special reason to stay there like a smoke, like a fume
rising upwards, holding them safe together. Nothing need be said;
nothing could be said. There it was, all round them. It partook, she
felt, carefully helping Mr. Bankes to a specially tender piece, of
eternity; as she had already felt about something different once before
that afternoon; there is a coherence in things, a stability; something,
she meant, is immune from change, and shines out (she glanced at the
window with its ripple of reflected lights) in the face of the flowing,
the fleeting, the spectral, like a ruby; so that again tonight she had
the feeling she had had once today, already, of peace, of rest. Of
such moments, she thought, the thing is made that endures.

“Yes,” she assured William Bankes, “there is plenty for everybody.”

“Andrew,” she said, “hold your plate lower, or I shall spill it.” (The
BOEUF EN DAUBE was a perfect triumph.) Here, she felt, putting the
spoon down, where one could move or rest; could wait now (they were all
helped) listening; could then, like a hawk which lapses suddenly from
its high station, flaunt and sink on laughter easily, resting her whole
weight upon what at the other end of the table her husband was saying
about the square root of one thousand two hundred and fifty-three.
That was the number, it seemed, on his watch.

What did it all mean? To this day she had no notion. A square root?
What was that? Her sons knew. She leant on them; on cubes and square
roots; that was what they were talking about now; on Voltaire and
Madame de Stael; on the character of Napoleon; on the French system of
land tenure; on Lord Rosebery; on Creevey’s Memoirs: she let it uphold
her and sustain her, this admirable fabric of the masculine
intelligence, which ran up and down, crossed this way and that, like
iron girders spanning the swaying fabric, upholding the world, so that
she could trust herself to it utterly, even shut her eyes, or flicker
them for a moment, as a child staring up from its pillow winks at the
myriad layers of the leaves of a tree. Then she woke up. It was still
being fabricated. William Bankes was praising the Waverly novels.

He read one of them every six months, he said. And why should that make
Charles Tansley angry? He rushed in (all, thought Mrs. Ramsay, because
Prue will not be nice to him) and denounced the Waverly novels when he
knew nothing about it, nothing about it whatsoever, Mrs. Ramsay thought,
observing him rather than listening to what he said. She could see how
it was from his manner–he wanted to assert himself, and so it would
always be with him till he got his Professorship or married his wife,
and so need not be always saying, “I–I–I.” For that was what his
criticism of poor Sir Walter, or perhaps it was Jane Austen, amounted
to. “I—I—I.” He was thinking of himself and the impression he
was making, as she could tell by the sound of his voice, and his
emphasis and his uneasiness. Success would be good for him. At any
rate they were off again. Now she need not listen. It could not last,
she knew, but at the moment her eyes were so clear that they seemed to
go round the table unveiling each of these people, and their thoughts
and their feelings, without effort like a light stealing under water so
that its ripples and the reeds in it and the minnows balancing
themselves, and the sudden silent trout are all lit up hanging,
trembling. So she saw them; she heard them; but whatever they said had
also this quality, as if what they said was like the movement of a
trout when, at the same time, one can see the ripple and the gravel,
something to the right, something to the left; and the whole is held
together; for whereas in active life she would be netting and
separating one thing from another; she would be saying she liked the
Waverly novels or had not read them; she would be urging herself
forward; now she said nothing. For the moment, she hung suspended.

“Ah, but how long do you think it’ll last?” said somebody. It was as
if she had antennae trembling out from her, which, intercepting certain
sentences, forced them upon her attention. This was one of them. She
scented danger for her husband. A question like that would lead,
almost certainly, to something being said which reminded him of his own
failure. How long would he be read–he would think at once. William
Bankes (who was entirely free from all such vanity) laughed, and said
he attached no importance to changes in fashion. Who could tell what
was going to last–in literature or indeed in anything else?

“Let us enjoy what we do enjoy,” he said. His integrity seemed to Mrs.
Ramsay quite admirable. He never seemed for a moment to think, But how
does this affect me? But then if you had the other temperament, which
must have praise, which must have encouragement, naturally you began
(and she knew that Mr. Ramsay was beginning) to be uneasy; to want
somebody to say, Oh, but your work will last, Mr. Ramsay, or something
like that. He showed his uneasiness quite clearly now by saying, with
some irritation, that, anyhow, Scott (or was it Shakespeare ?) would
last him his lifetime. He said it irritably. Everybody, she thought,
felt a little uncomfortable, without knowing why. Then Minta Doyle,
whose instinct was fine, said bluffly, absurdly, that she did not
believe that any one really enjoyed reading Shakespeare. Mr. Ramsay
said grimly (but his mind was turned away again) that very few people
liked it as much as they said they did. But, he added, there is
considerable merit in some of the plays nevertheless, and Mrs. Ramsay
saw that it would be all right for the moment anyhow; he would laugh at
Minta, and she, Mrs. Ramsay saw, realising his extreme anxiety about
himself, would, in her own way, see that he was taken care of, and
praise him, somehow or other. But she wished it was not necessary:
perhaps it was her fault that it was necessary. Anyhow, she was free
now to listen to what Paul Rayley was trying to say about books one had
read as a boy. They lasted, he said. He had read some of Tolstoi at
school. There was one he always remembered, but he had forgotten the
name. Russian names were impossible, said Mrs. Ramsay. “Vronsky,” said
Paul. He remembered that because he always thought it such a good name
for a villain. “Vronsky,” said Mrs. Ramsay; “Oh, ANNA KARENINA,” but
that did not take them very far; books were not in their line. No,
Charles Tansley would put them both right in a second about books, but
it was all so mixed up with, Am I saying the right thing? Am I making
a good impression? that, after all, one knew more about him than
about Tolstoi, whereas, what Paul said was about the thing, simply, not
himself, nothing else. Like all stupid people, he had a kind of
modesty too, a consideration for what you were feeling, which, once in
a way at least, she found attractive. Now he was thinking, not about
himself, or about Tolstoi, but whether she was cold, whether she felt a
draught, whether she would like a pear.

No, she said, she did not want a pear. Indeed she had been keeping
guard over the dish of fruit (without realising it) jealously, hoping
that nobody would touch it. Her eyes had been going in and out among
the curves and shadows of the fruit, among the rich purples of the
lowland grapes, then over the horny ridge of the shell, putting a
yellow against a purple, a curved shape against a round shape, without
knowing why she did it, or why, every time she did it, she felt more
and more serene; until, oh, what a pity that they should do it–a hand
reached out, took a pear, and spoilt the whole thing. In sympathy she
looked at Rose. She looked at Rose sitting between Jasper and Prue.
How odd that one’s child should do that!

How odd to see them sitting there, in a row, her children, Jasper,
Rose, Prue, Andrew, almost silent, but with some joke of their own
going on, she guessed, from the twitching at their lips. It was
something quite apart from everything else, something they were
hoarding up to laugh over in their own room. It was not about their
father, she hoped. No, she thought not. What was it, she wondered,
sadly rather, for it seemed to her that they would laugh when she was
not there. There was all that hoarded behind those rather set, still,
mask-like faces, for they did not join in easily; they were like
watchers, surveyors, a little raised or set apart from the grown-up
people. But when she looked at Prue tonight, she saw that this was
not now quite true of her. She was just beginning, just moving,
just descending. The faintest light was on her face, as if the
glow of Minta opposite, some excitement, some anticipation of happiness
was reflected in her, as if the sun of the love of men and women rose
over the rim of the table-cloth, and without knowing what it was she
bent towards it and greeted it. She kept looking at Minta, shyly, yet
curiously, so that Mrs. Ramsay looked from one to the other and said,
speaking to Prue in her own mind, You will be as happy as she is one of
these days. You will be much happier, she added, because you are my
daughter, she meant; her own daughter must be happier than other
people’s daughters. But dinner was over. It was time to go. They
were only playing with things on their plates. She would wait until
they had done laughing at some story her husband was telling. He was
having a joke with Minta about a bet. Then she would get up.

She liked Charles Tansley, she thought, suddenly; she liked his laugh.
She liked him for being so angry with Paul and Minta. She liked his
awkwardness. There was a lot in that young man after all. And Lily,
she thought, putting her napkin beside her plate, she always has some
joke of her own. One need never bother about Lily. She waited. She
tucked her napkin under the edge of her plate. Well, were they done
now? No. That story had led to another story. Her husband was in
great spirits tonight, and wishing, she supposed, to make it all right
with old Augustus after that scene about the soup, had drawn him in–
they were telling stories about some one they had both known at
college. She looked at the window in which the candle flames burnt
brighter now that the panes were black, and looking at that outside
the voices came to her very strangely, as if they were voices at a
service in a cathedral, for she did not listen to the words. The
sudden bursts of laughter and then one voice (Minta’s) speaking
alone, reminded her of men and boys crying out the Latin words
of a service in some Roman Catholic cathedral. She waited. Her
husband spoke. He was repeating something, and she knew it was poetry
from the rhythm and the ring of exultation, and melancholy in his

Come out and climb the garden path, Luriana Lurilee.
The China rose is all abloom and buzzing with the yellow bee.

The words (she was looking at the window) sounded as if they were
floating like flowers on water out there, cut off from them all, as if
no one had said them, but they had come into existence of themselves.

And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be
Are full of trees and changing leaves.

She did not know what they meant, but, like music, the words seemed to
be spoken by her own voice, outside her self, saying quite easily and
naturally what had been in her mind the whole evening while she said
different things. She knew, without looking round, that every one at
the table was listening to the voice saying:

I wonder if it seems to you, Luriana, Lurilee

with the same sort of relief and pleasure that she had, as if this
were, at last, the natural thing to say, this were their own voice

But the voice had stopped. She looked round. She made herself get up.
Augustus Carmichael had risen and, holding his table napkin so that it
looked like a long white robe he stood chanting:

To see the Kings go riding by
Over lawn and daisy lea
With their palm leaves and cedar
Luriana, Lurilee,

and as she passed him, he turned slightly towards her repeating the
last words:

Luriana, Lurilee

and bowed to her as if he did her homage. Without knowing why, she
felt that he liked her better than he ever had done before; and with a
feeling of relief and gratitude she returned his bow and passed through
the door which he held open for her.

It was necessary now to carry everything a step further. With her foot
on the threshold she waited a moment longer in a scene which was
vanishing even as she looked, and then, as she moved and took Minta’s
arm and left the room, it changed, it shaped itself differently; it had
become, she knew, giving one last look at it over her shoulder, already
the past.


As usual, Lily thought. There was always something that had to be done
at that precise moment, something that Mrs. Ramsay had decided for
reasons of her own to do instantly, it might be with every one standing
about making jokes, as now, not being able to decide whether they were
going into the smoking-room, into the drawing-room, up to the attics.
Then one saw Mrs. Ramsay in the midst of this hubbub standing there with
Minta’s arm in hers, bethink her, “Yes, it is time for that now,” and
so make off at once with an air of secrecy to do something alone. And
directly she went a sort of disintegration set in; they wavered about,
went different ways, Mr. Bankes took Charles Tansley by the arm and went
off to finish on the terrace the discussion they had begun at dinner
about politics, thus giving a turn to the whole poise of the evening,
making the weight fall in a different direction, as if, Lily thought,
seeing them go, and hearing a word or two about the policy of the
Labour Party, they had gone up on to the bridge of the ship and were
taking their bearings; the change from poetry to politics struck her
like that; so Mr. Bankes and Charles Mrs. Ramsay going upstairs in the
lamplight alone. Where, Lily wondered, was she going so quickly?

Not that she did in fact run or hurry; she went indeed rather slowly.
She felt rather inclined just for a moment to stand still after all
that chatter, and pick out one particular thing; the thing that
mattered; to detach it; separate it off; clean it of all the emotions
and odds and ends of things, and so hold it before her, and bring it to
the tribunal where, ranged about in conclave, sat the judges she had
set up to decide these things. Is it good, is it bad, is it right or
wrong? Where are we all going to? and so on. So she righted
herself after the shock of the event, and quite unconsciously and
incongruously, used the branches of the elm trees outside to help her
to stabilise her position. Her world was changing: they were still.
The event had given her a sense of movement. All must be in order.
She must get that right and that right, she thought, insensibly
approving of the dignity of the trees’ stillness, and now again of the
superb upward rise (like the beak of a ship up a wave) of the elm
branches as the wind raised them. For it was windy (she stood a moment
to look out). It was windy, so that the leaves now and then brushed
open a star, and the stars themselves seemed to be shaking and darting
light and trying to flash out between the edges of the leaves. Yes,
that was done then, accomplished; and as with all things done, became
solemn. Now one thought of it, cleared of chatter and emotion, it
seemed always to have been, only was shown now and so being shown,
struck everything into stability. They would, she thought, going on
again, however long they lived, come back to this night; this moon;
this wind; this house: and to her too. It flattered her, where she was
most susceptible of flattery, to think how, wound about in their
hearts, however long they lived she would be woven; and this, and this,
and this, she thought, going upstairs, laughing, but affectionately, at
the sofa on the landing (her mother’s); at the rocking-chair (her
father’s); at the map of the Hebrides. All that would be revived again
in the lives of Paul and Minta; “the Rayleys”–she tried the new name
over; and she felt, with her hand on the nursery door, that community
of feeling with other people which emotion gives as if the walls of
partition had become so thin that practically (the feeling was one of
relief and happiness) it was all one stream, and chairs, tables, maps,
were hers, were theirs, it did not matter whose, and Paul and Minta
would carry it on when she was dead.

She turned the handle, firmly, lest it should squeak, and went in,
pursing her lips slightly, as if to remind herself that she must not
speak aloud. But directly she came in she saw, with annoyance, that the
precaution was not needed. The children were not asleep. It was most
annoying. Mildred should be more careful. There was James wide awake
and Cam sitting bolt upright, and Mildred out of bed in her bare feet,
and it was almost eleven and they were all talking. What was the
matter? It was that horrid skull again. She had told Mildred to move
it, but Mildred, of course, had forgotten, and now there was Cam wide
awake, and James wide awake quarreling when they ought to have been
asleep hours ago. What had possessed Edward to send them this horrid
skull? She had been so foolish as to let them nail it up there. It
was nailed fast, Mildred said, and Cam couldn’t go to sleep with it in
the room, and James screamed if she touched it.

Then Cam must go to sleep (it had great horns said Cam)–must go to
sleep and dream of lovely palaces, said Mrs. Ramsay, sitting down
on the bed by her side. She could see the horns, Cam said, all over
the room. It was true. Wherever they put the light (and James could
not sleep without a light) there was always a shadow somewhere.

“But think, Cam, it’s only an old pig,” said Mrs. Ramsay, “a nice black
pig like the pigs at the farm.” But Cam thought it was a horrid thing,
branching at her all over the room.

“Well then,” said Mrs. Ramsay, “we will cover it up,” and they all
watched her go to the chest of drawers, and open the little drawers
quickly one after another, and not seeing anything that would do, she
quickly took her own shawl off and wound it round the skull, round and
round and round, and then she came back to Cam and laid her head almost
flat on the pillow beside Cam’s and said how lovely it looked now; how
the fairies would love it; it was like a bird’s nest; it was like a
beautiful mountain such as she had seen abroad, with valleys and
flowers and bells ringing and birds singing and little goats and
antelopes and… She could see the words echoing as she spoke them
rhythmically in Cam’s mind, and Cam was repeating after her how it was
like a mountain, a bird’s nest, a garden, and there were little
antelopes, and her eyes were opening and shutting, and Mrs. Ramsay went
on speaking still more monotonously, and more rhythmically and more
nonsensically, how she must shut her eyes and go to sleep and dream of
mountains and valleys and stars falling and parrots and antelopes and
gardens, and everything lovely, she said, raising her head very slowly
and speaking more and more mechanically, until she sat upright and saw
that Cam was asleep.

Now, she whispered, crossing over to his bed, James must go to sleep
too, for see, she said, the boar’s skull was still there; they had not
touched it; they had done just what he wanted; it was there quite
unhurt. He made sure that the skull was still there under the shawl.
But he wanted to ask her something more. Would they go to the Lighthouse

No, not tomorrow, she said, but soon, she promised him; the next fine
day. He was very good. He lay down. She covered him up. But he
would never forget, she knew, and she felt angry with Charles Tansley,
with her husband, and with herself, for she had raised his hopes. Then
feeling for her shawl and remembering that she had wrapped it round the
boar’s skull, she got up, and pulled the window down another inch or
two, and heard the wind, and got a breath of the perfectly indifferent
chill night air and murmured good night to Mildred and left the room
and let the tongue of the door slowly lengthen in the lock and went

She hoped he would not bang his books on the floor above their heads,
she thought, still thinking how annoying Charles Tansley was. For
neither of them slept well; they were excitable children, and since he
said things like that about the Lighthouse, it seemed to her likely
that he would knock a pile of books over, just as they were going to
sleep, clumsily sweeping them off the table with his elbow. For she
supposed that he had gone upstairs to work. Yet he looked so desolate;
yet she would feel relieved when he went; yet she would see that he was
better treated tomorrow; yet he was admirable with her husband; yet his
manners certainly wanted improving; yet she liked his laugh–thinking
this, as she came downstairs, she noticed that she could now see the
moon itself through the staircase window–the yellow harvest moon–
and turned, and they saw her, standing above them on the stairs.

“That’s my mother,” thought Prue. Yes; Minta should look at her; Paul
Rayley should look at her. That is the thing itself, she felt, as if
there were only one person like that in the world; her mother. And,
from having been quite grown up, a moment before, talking with the
others, she became a child again, and what they had been doing was a
game, and would her mother sanction their game, or condemn it, she
wondered. And thinking what a chance it was for Minta and Paul and
Lily to see her, and feeling what an extraordinary stroke of fortune it
was for her, to have her, and how she would never grow up and never
leave home, she said, like a child, “We thought of going down to the
beach to watch the waves.”

Instantly, for no reason at all, Mrs. Ramsay became like a girl of
twenty, full of gaiety. A mood of revelry suddenly took possession of
her. Of course they must go; of course they must go, she cried,
laughing; and running down the last three or four steps quickly, she
began turning from one to the other and laughing and drawing Minta’s
wrap round her and saying she only wished she could come too, and would
they be very late, and had any of them got a watch?

“Yes, Paul has,” said Minta. Paul slipped a beautiful gold watch out
of a little wash-leather case to show her. And as he held it in the
palm of his hand before her, he felt, “She knows all about it. I need
not say anything.” He was saying to her as he showed her the watch,
“I’ve done it, Mrs. Ramsay. I owe it all to you.” And seeing the gold
watch lying in his hand, Mrs. Ramsay felt, How extraordinarily lucky
Minta is! She is marrying a man who has a gold watch in a wash-
leather bag!

“How I wish I could come with you!” she cried. But she was withheld by
something so strong that she never even thought of asking herself what
it was. Of course it was impossible for her to go with them. But she
would have liked to go, had it not been for the other thing, and
tickled by the absurdity of her thought (how lucky to marry a man
with a wash-leather bag for his watch) she went with a smile on her
lips into the other room, where her husband sat reading.


Of course, she said to herself, coming into the room, she had to come
here to get something she wanted. First she wanted to sit down in a
particular chair under a particular lamp. But she wanted something
more, though she did not know, could not think what it was that she
wanted. She looked at her husband (taking up her stocking and
beginning to knit), and saw that he did not want to be interrupted–
that was clear. He was reading something that moved him very much. He
was half smiling and then she knew he was controlling his emotion. He
was tossing the pages over. He was acting it–perhaps he was
thinking himself the person in the book. She wondered what book it was.
Oh, it was one of old Sir Walter’s she saw, adjusting the shade of her
lamp so that the light fell on her knitting. For Charles Tansley had
been saying (she looked up as if she expected to hear the crash of
books on the floor above), had been saying that people don’t read Scott
any more. Then her husband thought, “That’s what they’ll say of me;”
so he went and got one of those books. And if he came to the
conclusion “That’s true” what Charles Tansley said, he would accept it
about Scott. (She could see that he was weighing, considering, putting
this with that as he read.) But not about himself. He was always
uneasy about himself. That troubled her. He would always be worrying
about his own books–will they be read, are they good, why aren’t they
better, what do people think of me? Not liking to think of him so,
and wondering if they had guessed at dinner why he suddenly became
irritable when they talked about fame and books lasting, wondering if
the children were laughing at that, she twitched the stockings out, and
all the fine gravings came drawn with steel instruments about her lips
and forehead, and she grew still like a tree which has been tossing and
quivering and now, when the breeze falls, settles, leaf by leaf, into

It didn’t matter, any of it, she thought. A great man, a great book,
fame–who could tell? She knew nothing about it. But it was his way
with him, his truthfulness–for instance at dinner she had been
thinking quite instinctively, If only he would speak! She had complete
trust in him. And dismissing all this, as one passes in diving now a
weed, now a straw, now a bubble, she felt again, sinking deeper, as she
had felt in the hall when the others were talking, There is something I
want–something I have come to get, and she fell deeper and deeper
without knowing quite what it was, with her eyes closed. And she
waited a little, knitting, wondering, and slowly rose those words they
had said at dinner, “the China rose is all abloom and buzzing with the
honey bee,” began washing from side to side of her mind rhythmically,
and as they washed, words, like little shaded lights, one red, one
blue, one yellow, lit up in the dark of her mind, and seemed leaving
their perches up there to fly across and across, or to cry out and to
be echoed; so she turned and felt on the table beside her for a book.

And all the lives we ever lived
And all the lives to be,
Are full of trees and changing leaves,

she murmured, sticking her needles into the stocking. And she opened
the book and began reading here and there at random, and as she did so,
she felt that she was climbing backwards, upwards, shoving her way up
under petals that curved over her, so that she only knew this is white,
or this is red. She did not know at first what the words meant at all.

Steer, hither steer your winged pines, all beaten Mariners

she read and turned the page, swinging herself, zigzagging this way and
that, from one line to another as from one branch to another, from one
red and white flower to another, until a little sound roused her–her
husband slapping his thighs. Their eyes met for a second; but they did
not want to speak to each other. They had nothing to say, but
something seemed, nevertheless, to go from him to her. It was the
life, it was the power of it, it was the tremendous humour, she knew,
that made him slap his thighs. Don’t interrupt me, he seemed to be
saying, don’t say anything; just sit there. And he went on reading.
His lips twitched. It filled him. It fortified him. He clean forgot
all the little rubs and digs of the evening, and how it bored him
unutterably to sit still while people ate and drank interminably, and
his being so irritable with his wife and so touchy and minding when
they passed his books over as if they didn’t exist at all. But now, he
felt, it didn’t matter a damn who reached Z (if thought ran like an
alphabet from A to Z). Somebody would reach it–if not he, then
another. This man’s strength and sanity, his feeling for straight
forward simple things, these fishermen, the poor old crazed creature in
Mucklebackit’s cottage made him feel so vigorous, so relieved of
something that he felt roused and triumphant and could not choke back
his tears. Raising the book a little to hide his face, he let them
fall and shook his head from side to side and forgot himself completely
(but not one or two reflections about morality and French novels and
English novels and Scott’s hands being tied but his view perhaps being
as true as the other view), forgot his own bothers and failures
completely in poor Steenie’s drowning and Mucklebackit’s sorrow (that
was Scott at his best) and the astonishing delight and feeling of
vigour that it gave him.

Well, let them improve upon that, he thought as he finished the
chapter. He felt that he had been arguing with somebody, and had got
the better of him. They could not improve upon that, whatever they
might say; and his own position became more secure. The lovers were
fiddlesticks, he thought, collecting it all in his mind again. That’s
fiddlesticks, that’s first-rate, he thought, putting one thing beside
another. But he must read it again. He could not remember the whole
shape of the thing. He had to keep his judgement in suspense. So he
returned to the other thought–if young men did not care for this,
naturally they did not care for him either. One ought not to complain,
thought Mr. Ramsay, trying to stifle his desire to complain to his wife
that young men did not admire him. But he was determined; he would not
bother her again. Here he looked at her reading. She looked very
peaceful, reading. He liked to think that every one had taken
themselves off and that he and she were alone. The whole of life did
not consist in going to bed with a woman, he thought, returning to
Scott and Balzac, to the English novel and the French novel.

Mrs. Ramsay raised her head and like a person in a light sleep seemed to
say that if he wanted her to wake she would, she really would, but
otherwise, might she go on sleeping, just a little longer, just a
little longer? She was climbing up those branches, this way and that,
laying hands on one flower and then another.

Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose,

she read, and so reading she was ascending, she felt, on to the top,
on to the summit. How satisfying! How restful! All the odds and ends
of the day stuck to this magnet; her mind felt swept, felt clean. And
then there it was, suddenly entire; she held it in her hands, beautiful
and reasonable, clear and complete, here–the sonnet.

But she was becoming conscious of her husband looking at her. He was
smiling at her, quizzically, as if he were ridiculing her gently for
being asleep in broad daylight, but at the same time he was thinking,
Go on reading. You don’t look sad now, he thought. And he wondered
what she was reading, and exaggerated her ignorance, her simplicity,
for he liked to think that she was not clever, not book-learned at all.
He wondered if she understood what she was reading. Probably not, he
thought. She was astonishingly beautiful. Her beauty seemed to him,
if that were possible, to increase

Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play,

she finished.

“Well?” she said, echoing his smile dreamily, looking up from her book.

As with your shadow I with these did play,

she murmured, putting the book on the table.

What had happened, she wondered, as she took up her knitting, since she
had seen him alone? She remembered dressing, and seeing the moon;
Andrew holding his plate too high at dinner; being depressed by
something William had said; the birds in the trees; the sofa on the
landing; the children being awake; Charles Tansley waking them with his
books falling–oh, no, that she had invented; and Paul having a wash-
leather case for his watch. Which should she tell him about?

“They’re engaged,” she said, beginning to knit, “Paul and Minta.”

“So I guessed,” he said. There was nothing very much to be said about
it. Her mind was still going up and down, up and down with the poetry;
he was still feeling very vigorous, very forthright, after reading
about Steenie’s funeral. So they sat silent. Then she became aware
that she wanted him to say something.

Anything, anything, she thought, going on with her knitting. Anything
will do.

“How nice it would be to marry a man with a wash-leather bag for his
watch,” she said, for that was the sort of joke they had together.

He snorted. He felt about this engagement as he always felt about any
engagement; the girl is much too good for that young man. Slowly it
came into her head, why is it then that one wants people to marry?
What was the value, the meaning of things? (Every word they said now
would be true.) Do say something, she thought, wishing only to hear his
voice. For the shadow, the thing folding them in was beginning, she
felt, to close round her again. Say anything, she begged, looking at
him, as if for help.

He was silent, swinging the compass on his watch-chain to and fro, and
thinking of Scott’s novels and Balzac’s novels. But through the
crepuscular walls of their intimacy, for they were drawing together,
involuntarily, coming side by side, quite close, she could feel his
mind like a raised hand shadowing her mind; and he was beginning, now
that her thoughts took a turn he disliked–towards this “pessimism” as
he called it–to fidget, though he said nothing, raising his hand to
his forehead, twisting a lock of hair, letting it fall again.

“You won’t finish that stocking tonight,” he said, pointing to her
stocking. That was what she wanted–the asperity in his voice
reproving her. If he says it’s wrong to be pessimistic probably it is
wrong, she thought; the marriage will turn out all right.

“No,” she said, flattening the stocking out upon her knee, “I shan’t
finish it.”

And what then? For she felt that he was still looking at her, but that
his look had changed. He wanted something–wanted the thing she always
found it so difficult to give him; wanted her to tell him that she
loved him. And that, no, she could not do. He found talking so much
easier than she did. He could say things–she never could. So
naturally it was always he that said the things, and then for some
reason he would mind this suddenly, and would reproach her. A
heartless woman he called her; she never told him that she loved him.
But it was not so–it was not so. It was only that she never could say
what she felt. Was there no crumb on his coat? Nothing she could do
for him? Getting up, she stood at the window with the reddish-brown
stocking in her hands, partly to turn away from him, partly because she
remembered how beautiful it often is–the sea at night. But she knew
that he had turned his head as she turned; he was watching her. She
knew that he was thinking, You are more beautiful than ever. And she
felt herself very beautiful. Will you not tell me just for once that
you love me? He was thinking that, for he was roused, what with Minta
and his book, and its being the end of the day and their having
quarrelled about going to the Lighthouse. But she could not do it; she
could not say it. Then, knowing that he was watching her, instead of
saying anything she turned, holding her stocking, and looked at him.
And as she looked at him she began to smile, for though she had not
said a word, he knew, of course he knew, that she loved him. He could
not deny it. And smiling she looked out of the window and said
(thinking to herself, Nothing on earth can equal this happiness)–

“Yes, you were right. It’s going to be wet tomorrow. You won’t be able
to go.” And she looked at him smiling. For she had triumphed again.
She had not said it: yet he knew.

Part – Two