« To the Lighthouse: III | Main | To the Lighthouse: V »

May 10, 2007

To the Lighthouse: IV

Sections V - VII seem to form something of a unit. In the first, Mrs Ramsay, while trying to measure the stocking against James's leg (is it long enough? no), reflects on the shabby condition of the house; and then the novel, as it were, reflects on her. I am not always sure to whom the personal pronouns refer, and one passage, dispensing with such pronouns altogether, has me stumped.

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; the waters swayed this way and that, received it, and were at rest. Never did anybody look so sad.

Who is looking sad? Is it the Swiss kitchenmaid, whose father is dying in the mountains? Is it James, to whom Mrs Ramsay has more immediately been severe? Is it Mrs Ramsay herself? That makes the most sense, grammatically, because the next paragraph begins,

But was it nothing but looks, people said? What was there behind it - her beauty and splendour?

The connection seems off, though. Mrs Ramsay is not one to look so sad. I believe that she is thinking about the maid.

And what was the blunder? I should definitely like some help on this point. "Someone had blundered" comes, of course, from Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade," but there appears to have been an actual blunder, some small wound to Mr Ramsay's amour-propre. Section VI is almost swamped by the man's neediness and cruelty, and in Section VII his wife is overwhelmed by the exhaustion of trying to reconcile his behavior with her "reverencing" of him. The first hint of Mrs Ramsay's illness is dropped ("afterwards, not at the time, she always felt this") as part of a quiet tirade about the tyranny of Victorian marriage.

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, negligible. But then again, it was the other thing too - not being able to tell him the truth, 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 had 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 flatness.

Mrs Ramsay's loving, good-hearted hypocrisy must match her husband's craving for an impossible satisfaction: that of being looked up to by the woman who is cradling you in her arms when you're suffering. This masculine yearning is hardly peculiar to Woolf's world, but there is a feeling that one ought somehow to have outgrown such juvenility. That is what is so wearying.

Posted by pourover at May 10, 2007 03:36 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


I had a different take on the first passage you quoted ("Never did anybody look so sad."): I read it was a reference to Mrs. Ramsay, although not Mrs. Ramsay thinking of herself but someone else thinking of Mrs. Ramsay. (Mr. Bankes, perhaps? Shortly after this passage is a longer one in which Mr. Bankes ruminates on Mrs. Ramsay's appearance--'For always, he thought,there was something incongruous to be worked into the harmony of her face.' Or perhaps Lily Briscoe, who earlier comments that Mr. Ramsay 'is petty, selfish, vain, egotistical; he is spoilt; he is a tyrant; he wears Mrs. Ramsay to death.') Mr. Ramsay certainly provides Mrs. Ramsay with ample basis for sadness:

To pursue truth with such astonishing lack of consideration for other people's feelings, to rend the thin veils of civilisation 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.

But still she reverences him--an interesting choice of words, since reverence, according to my dictionary, includes respect or deference to one in a sacred or exalted position, but not always affection.

I have no idea what the blunder was. Perhaps Jasper's gunfire disrupting "the energies of his [Mr. Ramsay's] splendid mind"? Heaven forfend!

Posted by: jkm [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 14, 2007 11:26 AM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)