Literature Study GuidesTo The LighthouseTime Passes Chapter 1 Summary

To the Lighthouse | Study Guide

Virginia Woolf

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To the Lighthouse | Time Passes, Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

Leaving the terrace, William Bankes says they must wait for the "future." Arriving from the beach, Andrew Ramsay says, "It's almost too dark to see." Prue Ramsay agrees. Lily Briscoe asks if they should leave the light on. Prue says no—"not if every one's in." She tells Andrew to extinguish the hall light, and the lamps go out, except for Augustus Carmichael's, who likes to read at night.

Analysis

The timeline is ambiguous, but the setting is the summer house, with some of the same characters: Mr. Bankes, Andrew, Prue, Lily, and Mr. Carmichael. It is night, but the ambiguity of darkness and Mr. Bankes's mention of the "future" create tension and foreboding, as though the future is not merely a literal tomorrow.

Readers may expect Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, but the characters present wait for no one else. Prue, who becomes childlike in the presence of her mother, acts as the adult here, highlighting the absence of Mrs. Ramsay.

The second part of the novel, "Time Passes," covers the longest span of time, 10 years, in a short number of pages, 10 to 20 or so. The compression of time in this part of the novel serves two purposes: 1) it illustrates the way the characters experience the passage of time; and 2) it suggests the destructive nature of time and the way in which events in time quickly and profoundly affect the lives of the characters. The dark night of these 10 years changes the characters individually and collectively.

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