Literature Study GuidesTo The LighthouseThe Window Chapter 8 Summary

To the Lighthouse | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "To the Lighthouse Study Guide." Course Hero. 2 Dec. 2016. Web. 19 Nov. 2018. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2016, December 2). To the Lighthouse Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved November 19, 2018, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2016)



Course Hero. "To the Lighthouse Study Guide." December 2, 2016. Accessed November 19, 2018.


Course Hero, "To the Lighthouse Study Guide," December 2, 2016, accessed November 19, 2018,

To the Lighthouse | The Window, Chapter 8 | Summary



Augustus Carmichael avoids Mrs. Ramsay, behavior Mrs. Ramsay thinks results from his wife's dislike of her. Mrs. Ramsay considers her encounters with other "famous" men. Aware of her beauty and effect on people, Mrs. Ramsay is offended by Mr. Carmichael's attitude, but she acknowledges her "vanity." Augustus Carmichael retreats to a "corner," causing "snubbed" Mrs. Ramsay to ponder the "pettiness" of human interactions—how social situations are "flawed," "despicable," and "self-seeking at ... best"—while reading to James.

Mr. Ramsay fails to watch the children outside. Instead, he reads about the popularity of Shakespeare's home, trying to demean the arts by creating an argument against expression. He watches at the bay, smoking and meditating on ignorance and the lectures he will present to students in Cardiff. Gazing at his wife and son in the window, he admits his falseness in "talking nonsense," and the fragility of his ego.

Lily Briscoe packs up her art supplies, thinking Mrs. Ramsay accommodates her husband too readily. As she watches Mr. Ramsay, she imagines the shock he must feel transitioning from his thoughts as they talk "nonsense" and play games.


Mr. Carmichael's presence makes Mrs. Ramsay consider the shallowness of socialization, as her role is caretaker for all who stay at the house. Mrs. Ramsay goes "out of her way" to please people, especially guests. Yet these interactions are not completely altruistic because she likes feeling needed. She admits she likes to "help" and "give," so people might praise, "need," "admire," and call on her, saying "O Mrs. Ramsay! dear Mrs. Ramsay ... Mrs. Ramsay, of course!" The attention she pays to James, a "bundle of sensitiveness," illustrates this "vanity" because James, in this Oedipal stage, prefers her to anyone, especially his father.

In exploring his thoughts on the arts and his upcoming lecture, Mr. Ramsay admits the argument he intends to develop is self-serving and supports an intellectual hierarchy that enforces his power in a male-dominated intellectual world.

The chapter focuses on the idea of nonsense, which arises from lack of success. Characters feel the lack of success and suffer emotionally in different ways: Mrs. Ramsay cannot connect with Mr. Carmichael, Lily struggles with her painting, and Mr. Ramsay's career has stalled. The gap between what the characters have achieved and what they would like to have achieved develops the theme of reality versus the ideal.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about To the Lighthouse? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!