Literature Study GuidesTo The LighthouseThe Lighthouse Chapter 3 Summary

To the Lighthouse | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

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To the Lighthouse | The Lighthouse, Chapter 3 | Summary



Looking from the canvas to the garden, Lily Briscoe feels "divided." The image has remained a "knot in her mind" for a decade, and she struggles with the first brushstroke.

Remembering Charles Tansley, who discourages women artists, she recalls a beach day. While writing letters Mrs. Ramsay periodically watches Lily and Tansley skip stones—smiling. Realizing Mrs. Ramsay had choreographed their momentary friendship, Lily calls the memory a "work of art."

As she sees the connection between life and art, Lily fails to discover a revelatory truth, thinking meaning comes from "little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark." She remembers Mrs. Ramsay saying in moments, "Life stand still here," bringing permanence to what might otherwise be forgotten. Thinking "she owed it all to" Mrs. Ramsay, she walks to view the bay and sees Mr. Ramsay, Cam, and James as they hoist the sail.


Alone with her painting, Lily struggles with internal conflict, the creative process. She realizes how uncomfortable Mr. Ramsay's lurking had made her (grabbing the wrong paintbrush, setting her easel wrong), keeping her from painting. Nervous, she paints self-consciously, muttering "can't paint, can't write," displaying how deeply Charles Tansley's thoughts have stung. Because her painting symbolizes understanding and catharsis, Lily must finish it to attain both.

As Lily gets lost in the process (losing "consciousness of outer things" such as her name and Mr. Carmichael's presence) she has an emotional epiphany—as "scenes, and names, and sayings, and memories and ideas" arise—she realizes Mrs. Ramsay's role in creation, in her life, in her passion. This understanding furthers the theme of love and loss, as Lily comes to terms with both. Although she hopes no one interrupts her because she wants to continue painting, she is drawn by curiosity and guilt to Mr. Ramsay's excursion.

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