To the Lighthouse | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

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To the Lighthouse | The Window, Chapter 9 | Summary

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Summary

As Mr. Ramsay stomps off, William Bankes consoles Lily Briscoe, unnerved by Mr. Ramsay's mood swing. Mr. Bankes agrees that Mr. Ramsay's unconventional behavior is upsetting. When Mr. Bankes suggests Mr. Ramsay behaves hypocritically, Lily disagrees, saying his neediness is genuine. Lily says she is disturbed not by his behavior, but his "narrowness." While Lily ventures into thought—admiring the "penetrating and exciting" love between Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay—Mr. Bankes wishes she would agree with him.

While watching Mr. Ramsay walk to the bay, Lily considers his strengths and weaknesses. She ponders how life's "little separate incidents ... became curled and whole like a wave." Knowing Mr. Bankes awaits, she begins to criticize Mrs. Ramsay but stops when she sees Mr. Bankes look with rapture at Mrs. Ramsay inside the window. She is moved by his emotion and Mrs. Ramsay's power. She thinks about what she wanted to say about Mrs. Ramsay, who believes "an unmarried woman has missed the best of life." Thinking Mrs. Ramsay is mistaken, Lily sees herself as not made for marriage and seeks fulfillment and connection with others through her art.

Mr. Bankes then turns his attention to Lily's painting, making her self-conscious, for she thinks her painting is not very good. He questions her artistic intentions, and the discussion leads to her opinions on light and shadows. The discussion interests Mr. Bankes, a scientist. With his attention, Lily decides not to elaborate, removes her canvas from the easel, and happily contemplates the "profoundly intimate" revelation regarding Mr. Bankes's love for Mrs. Ramsay.

Analysis

Lily Briscoe's thoughts display her rich internal life, a theme of the novel. She often refers to her insignificance, not wanting to "bore" Mr. Bankes, yet her vibrant musings and keen observations about herself and others make her, arguably, the novel's most insightful, honest, and open character.

Here in Lily's mind, readers observe an earlier interaction between Mrs. Ramsay and Lily. Mrs. Ramsay, who supports marriage and procreation, pushes Minta Doyle as well as Lily to marry. Lily's refusal to marry creates tension: why should she, as she has a father, a home, and her painting. She prefers being "alone" and doesn't want a house "full of children." While Mrs. Ramsay thinks Lily is a "fool," Lily laughs long and "hysterically" at her friend, who calmly governs over "destinies" she doesn't "understand," developing both female characters.

While Mrs. Ramsay represents Victorian ideals with her "simple certainty," Lily, who knows "she was not made for that," represents modern women. Yet Lily still thinks highly of her friend, who she suspects thinks she is a "much younger" and "insignificant" person. Charles Tansley's sexist opinion about women creators and Mrs. Ramsay's conventional beliefs instill Lily with doubts. Lily's interior life explores her defense for living the life she wants. These doubts infiltrate her painting, which she finds "infinitely bad."

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