August 20, 2007

To the Lighthouse: VIII

Just before the very long section devoted to dinner, Woolf interposes a section (XIV) in which, for the first time, the points of view are exclusively youthful. (As if to mark the extraordinary nature of this shift, which trades the wistful regrets of middle-aged people for the sharp irritations of impatient youth, Woolf brackets the entire section in parentheses.) We are relieved of Mrs Ramsay's anxiety about Minta Doyle and Paul Rayley before she is. We fly, via parenthesis, to the cliffs by the sea to which the young people have walked. The couple has not been alone, not only Nancy but Andrew as well has accompanied them. But the siblings are no duennas. They're young enough to regard other peoples' amours with something between indifference and repugnance; the

y want no part of it. On the walk out, we see things first from Nancy's point of view and then from Andrew's, and there's no question but that the section is an interlude of Woolf's gentle comedy. Her image of Nancy's impatience is not so much exaggerated as entirely disproportionate. Nancy is annoyed by Minta's habit of taking her hand and then letting it go.

What was it she wanted? Nancy asked herself. There was something, of course, that people wanted; for when Minta took her hand and held it, Nancy, reluctantly, saw the whole world spread out beneath her, as if it were Constantinople seen through a mist, and then, however heavy-eyed one might be, one must needs ask, "Is that Santa Sofia?" "Is that the Golden Horn?" So Nancy asked, when Minta took her hand. "What is it that she wants? Is it that?" And what was that? Here and there emerged from the mist (as Nancy looked down upon life spread beneath her) a pinnacle, a dome; prominent things, without names. But when Minta dropped her hand, as she did when they ran down the hillside, all that, the dome, the pinnacle, whatever it was that had protruded through the mist, sank down into it and disappeared.

Later, we see that Nancy is saddled with an acute imagination, as she gazes into a rock pool and imagines that the minnows are sharks and that she is God, capable of blotting out the sun with her hand. Nancy has a moment of moral vertigo, burdened with "the intensity of feelings which reduced her own body, her own life, and the lives of all the people in the world, forever, to nothingness."

Andrew, a hearty young man, already has the mature Englishman's mistrust of feminine flightiness. He sees it leading straight to danger - embarrassing and unnecessary danger. "He liked her rashness, but he saw that it would not do - she would kill herself in some idiotic way one of these days." He's especially annoyed, when, on the walk back, Minta discovers that she has lost a brooch. It is (of course) her only brooch, her grandmother's brooch. The search for the brooch yields no results. This means that Paul spends the return walk comforting Minta, and now we hear from him.

And secretly he resolved that he would not tell her, but he would slip out of the house at dawn when they were all asleep and if he could not find it he would go to Edinburgh and buy her another, just like it but more beautiful. He would prove what he could do. And as they came out on the hill and saw the lights of the town beneath them, the lights coming out suddenly one by one seemed like things that were going to happen to him - his marriage, his children, his house; and again he thought, as they came out on to the high road, which was shaded with high bushes, how they would retreat in solitude together, and walk on and on, he always leading her, and she pressing close to his side (as she did now). As they turned by the cross roads he thought what an appalling experience he had been through, and he must tell someone - Mrs Ramsay of course, for it took his breath away to think what he had been and done.

If there is a more remarkably oblique manner of narrating the beginning of an engagement, I doubt that it is intelligible. This almost isn't, but one savors Woolf's design. We know that Paul and Minta embraced behind a boulder while the Ramsay children amused themselves separately - Nancy comes upon them and is disgusted. What we don't know, however, until the foregoing passage is over, is whether Minta is "safe." Mrs Ramsay has worried that she'll have been soiled by spending a lot of time, some of it unsupervised, with a young man. She has been pressing Paul to propose. And now, he can't believe that he has pulled it off. It's almost incredibly sincere of him to describe the experience, not so much of proposing to Minta as of screwing up the courage to propose, as "appalling." Paul's vision is so cluttered with heroic-romantic claptrap that one wonders just how well, or even if, he will lead Minta through their years together. In any case, Mrs Ramsay will be relieved to know that Minta and Paul not only must but will marry. 

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July 16, 2007

To the Lighthouse: VII

The following sections (X-XII) form a unit around Mrs Ramsay. First she is with James, then she is alone; finally, she is with her husband. Marriage is a central issue, sometimes buried, sometimes flighty. She has allowed a young houseguest, Minta Doyle, to go on a long walk with a young man; they had better marry, thinks Mrs Ramsay, if only to save her own reputation for probity. What if Minta refuses the young man?

If nothing happened, she would have to speak seriously to Minta. For she could go trapesing about all over the country...

While she is thinking Minta, she is reading the story of the Fisherman's Wife to James - a well-chosen parallel to Mrs Ramsay's misgivings about herself. The fisherman's wife, of course, is perpetually discontented; she wants to be lord of the universe. Mrs Ramsay has been accused of "wishing to dominate, wishing to interfere, making people do what she wished." Something that Minta's mother (whom she thinks of as "the Owl") said the Mrs Ramsay reminded her of this, and thinking about the Owl reminds her of it now. The feckless slip of her thought is beautifully captured.

No one could accuse her of taking pains to impress. She was often ashamed of her own shabbiness. Nor was she domineering, nor was she more tyrannical. It was more true about hospitals and the diary. About things like these she did feel passionately, and would, if she had had the chance, have liked to take people by the scruff of their necks and make them see. No hospital on the whole island. It was a disgrace. Milk delivered at your door in London positively brown with dirt. It should be made illegal. A model dairy and a hospital up here - those two things she would have liked to do, herself. But how? With all these children? When they were older, then perhaps she would have time; when they were all at school.

Oh, but she never wanted James to grow a day older. Cam either. These two she would have liked to keep for ever just as they were, demons of wickedness, angels of delight, never to see them grow up into long-legged monsters.

Children are the aspect of marriage that makes Mrs Ramsay wonder if her husband wouldn't have been happier, and more successful, had he not married her. She remembers an argument; he called her gloomy for wishing that the children wouldn't have to grow up. But she was only being realistic - life brought on horrors. She thinks of a woman on the island who is dying of cancer. And she remembers that the repair of the greenhouse roof will cost fifty pounds, a matter that she is so certain will irritate or infuriate Mr Ramsay that she can't bring herself to tell him. She wonders if she has pushed Minta into thoughts of marriage - and the repair of the greenhouse roof pops up again. Marriage, children, expenses, and the sheer clutter of life: Mrs Ramsay thinks that her husband would be happier without these distractions even as she considers him to be undistracted by them.

James is carried off for the night, and Mrs Ramsay is left alone with her knitting - and with the strokes of the Lighthouse. She is exultant and dismayed by turns, as her thoughts press on.

It was odd, she thought, how if one was alone, one leant to inanimate things; trees, streams, flowers; felt they expressed one; felt they became one; felt they knew one, in a sense were one; felt and irrational tenderness thus (she looked at that long steady light) as for oneself. There rose, and she looked and looked with her needles suspended, there curled up off the floor of the mind, rose from the lake of one's being, a mist, a bride to meet her lover.

But this elation is cut at once by her irritation at having found herself thinking "We are in the hands of the Lord." "How could any Lord have made this world?" Almost imperceptibly, the point of view shifts to Mr Ramsay, who is watching his wife from the garden. He is disappointed with himself for being unpleasant about the Lighthouse. "He could do nothing to help her." Indeed, Mrs Ramsay helps herself, concentrating on the strokes of light, which turn the sea into "waves of pure lemon." This thought makes her radiant, and her radiance fills her husband with the feeling that he must not interrupt her. But before he can turn away, she sees him and calls out to him, and joins him in the garden. "For he wished, she knew, to protect her."

That's not quite right, of course. In the ensuing passage, we're treated to the subtle incongruities between what wife and husband think the other thinks. Woolf wants to show us the stream of mistaken ideas that so often lubricate marital familiarity. Mr Ramsay talks of spending day walking, with just a crust of bread in his pocket; Mrs Ramsay knows that this is nonsense, for he is much too old for that. The density of thought is rendered for us in sentences that switch back and forth between two trains of thought without notice.

She took his arm. His beauty was so great, she said, beginning to speak of Kennedy the gardener, at once he was so awfully handsome, that she couldn't dismiss him.

A complexity which reaches a dizzying height toward the end of the section:

....and she must stop for a moment to see whether those were fresh molehills on the bank, then, she thought, stooping down to look, a great mind like his must be different in every way from ours. All the great men she had ever known, she thought, deciding that a rabbit must have got in, were like that, and it was good for young men (though the atmosphere of lecture-rooms was stuffy and depressing to her beyond endurance almost) simply to hear him, simply to look at him. But without shooting rabbits, how was one to keep them down?

The Ramsays come up behind Lily Briscoe and William Bankes. Mrs Dalloway decides at once that "They must marry!" Woolf has already mocked this train of thought in connection with Minta's getting married: "she was driven on, too quickly she knew, almost as if it were an escape for her too, to say that people must marry; people must have children."

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July 03, 2007

To the Lighthouse: VI

In Section IX of To the Lighthouse, Lily Briscoe, having hitherto only hovered on the scene as an object, assumes the subject's point of view. The scene is a mostly mute duet with Mr Bankes that flows directly from the preceding section. Both gaze across the lawn at Mrs Ramsay sitting in the window reading to James. Lily is sure that Mr Bankes is possessed by "rapture." She was about to answer his question - did she think Mr Ramsay to be a "a bit of a hypocrite"? - by saying something critical of Mrs Ramsay, but now, seeing his rapture, she understands that there is no point; Mr Bankes will not absorb criticism of Mrs Ramsay. She thinks of his glance as a "ray" that he is aiming at Mrs Ramsay, and presently she finds herself sending one of her own.

Lily's thoughts about her hostess have nothing of the romantic simplicity of her companion's. Everything in this section is shot through with the fraught issue of Lily's gender and sexuality. In her early thirties, Lily has set herself up as a painter, but she remains a virgin who does not appear to be eager to marry. If Lily seeks union with anyone, it is with Mrs Ramsay, and this not because Lily idolizes her (as Mr Bankes, in his rapt way, clearly does), but because she wants to be able to share Mrs Ramsay's impalpable wisdom. Lucy recalls an earlier encounter with the older woman.

Was it wisdom? Was it knowledge? Was it, once more, the deceptiveness of beauty, so that all one's perceptions, half way to truth, were tangled in a golden mesh? or did she lock up within her some secret which certainly Lily Briscoe believed people must have for the world to go on at all? Every one could not be as helter-skelter, hand to mouth as she was. But if they knew, could they tell one what they knew? Sitting on the floor with her arms round Mrs Ramsay's knees, close as she could get, smiling to think that Mrs Ramsay would never know the reason of that pressure, she imagined how in the chambers of the mind and heart of the woman who was, physically, touching her, were stood, like the treasures in the tombs of kings, tablets bearing secret inscriptions, which if one could spell them out, would teach one everything, but they would never be offered openly, never made public. What art was there, known to love or cunning, by which one pressed through into those secret chambers? What device for becoming, like waters poured into one jar, inextricably the same, one with the object one adored? Could the body achieve, or the mind, subtly mingling in the intricate passages of the brain? Or the heart? Could loving, as people called it, make her and Mrs Ramsay one? for it was not knowledge but unity that she desired, not inscriptions on tablets, nothing that could be written in any language known to men, but intimacy itself, which is knowledge, she had though, leaning her head on Mrs Ramsay's knee.

Nothing happened. Nothing! Nothing! as she leant her head against Mrs Ramsay's knee.

We might not think of it at first, but the collapse of striving in frustration, so typical of Lily, has nothing to do with Mr Bankes's serene rapture, in which desire (and, with it, the possibility of frustration) is evaporated by the intensity of feeling. Lily is troubled, vexed. Her life, while materially adequate, is a knotted problem. This is not the place to fix Lily's place on the line of feminist development, but we can say that she is somewhere between the freakishness (felt and perceived) of the earliest independents and the steadier standing of such women as the Stephen sisters (Virginia and Vanessa) themselves. Mrs Ramsay has told Lily that she believes that "an unmarried woman has missed the best of life." This is what Lily must put up with from a woman whom she admires.

Mr Bankes's simplicity and Lily's complexity meet and engage when Lily stops gazing at Mrs Ramsay and realizes that Mr Bankes has already done so. He is putting on his spectacles; he wants to look at her picture. She has shielded her picture from others' view until now; she sees that she must let someone see it, and Mr Bankes is "less alarming" than anyone else. Of course he does not grasp it. He sees blobs of color. But his kindliness encourages Lily to try to explain her picture to him. He tells her about the landscape of cherry trees that hangs in his drawing room. The souvenir of his honeymoon, it is undoubtedly a conventionally pretty picture. Beauty is too manifest to Mr Bankes to be mysterious. But beauty for Lily is the most elusive thing in the world.

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May 24, 2007

To the Lighthouse: V

Section VIII of To the Lighthouse is about the pathos and perplexity of Virginia Woolf's grown men. First, there is Augustus Carmichael, who, much to her annoyance, doesn't "trust" Mrs Ramsay. He "shrinks" away from her. Mrs Ramsay traces this back to a moment of female solidarity claimed by Mrs Carmichael at the Carmichael's home in St John's Wood. (One gathers that Mrs Ramsay's presence at this scene was reluctant at best.) As a result, she thinks, Mr Carmichael doesn't trust her not to humiliate him in the way that his wife humiliates him. All of this is speculation; we don't know what Mr Carmichael actually thinks or how he feels. Reflecting on her unhappiness with Mr Carmichael, Mrs Ramsay sees the vanity of her need to be needed - and admired.

Was it not secretly this that she wanted, and therefore when Mr Carmichael shrank away from her, as he did at this moment, making off to some corner where he did acrostics endlessly, she did not feel merely snubbed back in her instinct, but made aware of the pettiness of some part of her, and of human relations, how flawed they are, how despicable, how self-seeking, at their best.)

Meanwhile, she is reading the story of the Fisherman's Wife to James. She is distracted for a moment by the approach of her husband, but he does not stop; he walks on, out to a point "which the sea is slowly eating away," taking the novel's consciousness with him for the first time. The note of disappointment already sounded by Mr Bankes is deepened. Mr Ramsay "deprecates" what he calls his happiness. Mr Ramsay is circumstantially happy: beautiful wife, healthy children, mild renown; but he is obliged by disappointment to dismiss the circumstances as "nonsense,"

because, in effect, he had not done the thing he might have done. It was a disguise; it was the refuge of a man afraid to own his own feelings, who could not say, This is what I like - this is what I am...

Mr Ramsay's failure to realize his potential, together with his unwillingness to acknowledge it, has made him into a kind of monster, as sustained untruths do.

The shift of consciousness in the middle of the section, from Mrs Ramsay to her husband, strikes me as something different from a change in point of view. Mr and Mrs Ramsay are not really "viewing" anything; rather, they're looking inward - and even that's too strong; they're just being. Woolf renders consciousness with carefully calculated drama: there is always a crisis, however minor. Mrs Ramsay feels the sting of her vanity, and her husband wriggles yet again out of admitting his limitations. But while these crises hold our attention, it is the palpability of consciousness that accounts for the book's beauty.

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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.

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May 03, 2007

To the Lighthouse: III

Modernism is noted for its enigma, its unwillingness to explain things. The reader is obliged to struggle a bit to imagine what something means. In To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf does not overdo her elusiveness, but one senses how comfortable it is for her, how, perhaps, even she need not know what something means.

In Section IV, Lily Briscoe is painting Mrs Ramsay's portrait when she hears footsteps behind her. She divines that it is William Bankes, an old friend of Mr Ramsay's. A former friend, perhaps.

Looking at the far sand hills, William Banks thought of Ramsay: thought of a road in Westmorland, thought of Ramsay striding along a road by himself hung round with that solitude which seemed to be his natural air. But this was suddenly interrupted, William Bankes remembered (and this must refer to some actual incident), by a head, straddling her wings out in protection of a covey of little chicks, upon which Ramsay, stopping, pointed his stick and said "Pretty - pretty," an odd illumination in to his heart, Bankes had thought it, which showed his simplicity, his sympathy with humble things; but it seemed to him as if their friendship had ceased, there, on that stretch of road. After that, Ramsay had married. After that, what with one thing and another, the pulp had gone out of their friendship.

It is an odd illumination indeed. One somehow feels that taking Mr Ramsay's comment on the hen sheltering her chicks as a perhaps unconscious realization that he must marry and shed his bachelor ways is extremely heavy- handed, the banging of a pots and pans. And one has a difficult time believing in Mr Ramsay's "sympathy with humble things." Condescension would be more like it. What is Woolf getting at here? It's hard to imagine a less significant remark than "Pretty - pretty." One can't imagine Virginia Woolf making use of the adjective even in her everyday speech, although, of course, she must have done.

Then there is the ambiguity of tense. "but it seemed to him" - when? Surely not right there in the road. Later, retrospectively, Bankes must have decided that Ramsay's ejaculation had announced the end of their friendship, such as it was.

We can tease out explanations, but Woolf does not seem to encourage the undertaking. "Figuring things out" may be a bit vulgar. This isn't to say that she's a mystifying writer, not at all. But she works very hard to capture the mysteries that people experience and to present them as such, inviolate. The reader must shoulder a certain courage, and overcome the need to have everything spelled out. Spelling out may be what Trollope does, in immensely satisfying ways, but Woolf and her friends had come to believe that exhaustive explanations were false, mendacious even. It did not correspond to their idea of consciousness. At the same time, she was too "aesthetic" a writer to do what Trollope would have done, and simply announce her ignorance.

In short, we are not to interpret this novel. We are to take it straight, photographically, and resist cleverness. A tall order, reading the work of such a clever woman!

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April 18, 2007

To the Lighthouse: II

One of my favorite lines in To the Lighthouse appears on page 17 of my edition (which appears to be printed from old plates).

It seemed to her such nonsense - inventing differences, when people, heaven knows, were different enough without that. The real differences, she thought, standing by the drawing-room window, are quite enough.


What I want to note, though, is the easy way in which Woolf shifts points of view. These shifts are a cardinal element in her artistic achievement. Woolf called consciousness "life," and in that she marked a huge departure from earlier novelists, who largely regarded life as character and agenda. Trollope could not be interested, for example, in the incidental thoughts of his characters. Everything is, to modulate a current phrase, on plot. In To the Lighthouse, there is a story, but no plot, because the characters, principally Mrs Ramsay and Lily Briscoe, are always forgetting the story. In his essay, "Virgirnia Woolf's Mysticism," James Wood says that Mrs Ramsay's moment of self-forgetfulness -

Only Lily Briscoe, she was glad to find; and that did not matter. But the sight of the girl standing on the edge of the lawn painting reminded her; she was supposed to be keeping her head as much in the same position as possible for Lily's picture. Lily's picture! Mrs Ramsay smiled. With her little Chinese eyes and her puckered-up face, she would never marry; one could not take her painting very seriously; she was an independent little creature, and Mrs Ramsay liked it for it; so, remembering her promise, she bent her head.

"And then," Mr Wood writes, "a gigantic new climate beings in English fiction."

The passage that I want to point to occurs a few pages earlier, when Mrs Ramsay enlists Charles Tansley to accompany her on a walk into the village. The point of view is hers at first.

Insoluble questions they were, it seemed to her, standing there, holding James by the hand. He had followed her into the drawing room, that young man they laughed at; he was tanding by the table, fidgeting with something, awkwardly, feeling himself out of things, as she knew without looking round.

She announces her "dull errand" and he agrees to accompany her. They set forth, but at the tennis court they encounter the recumbent figure of Augustus Carmichael (a Stracheyish sort of fellow), and he is asked if he needs anything in the way of postage stamps or tobacco. The following paragraph continues the omniscient third-person observer: "He should have been a great philosopher, said Mrs Ramsay, as they went down the road to the fishing village, but he had made an unfortunate marriage." The following paragraph begins,

It flattered him; snubbed as he had been, it soothed him that Mrs Ramsay should tell him this. Charles Tansley revived. Insinuating, too, as she did the greatness of man's intellect, even in its decay, the subjection of all wives - not that she blamed the girl, and the marriage had been happy enough, she believed - to their husband's labours, she made him feel better pleased with himself that he had done yet, aznd he would have liked, had they taken a cab, for example, to have paid for it.

Thus Woolf skewers Tansley from the inside. For Tansley's awkwardness owes entirely to his feeling that he is not welcome at the Ramsay's home. He's right: he isn't. But it's because he acts accordingly, that's why he doesn't fit in. Woolf doesn't linger with him; after his self-conscious pronouncement about going to the circus, she scurries back to her heroine, who winces.

From a traditional standpoint, Woolf's attention is astonishingly promiscuous. And we mustn't overlook that Tansley is twice introduced as an ambiguous pronoun. In the first instance, he might be James; in the second, Carmichael. It takes a few words to clarify the identity.

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April 10, 2007

To the Lighthouse: I

Why does it seem fitting that I begin this group read a day later than announced, having forgot all about it in the haze of Easter dinner before and after, getting out the best china and crystal, later washing it by hand and putting it away in remote cupboards?

"But it may be fine - I expect it will be fine," said Mrs Ramsay, making some little twist of the reddish brown stocking she was knitting, impatiently. If she finished it tonight, if they did go to the Lighthouse after all, it was to be given to the Lighthouse keeper for his little boy, who was threatened with a tuberculous hip, together with a pile of old magazines, and some tobacco, indeed, whatever she could find lying about, not really wanted, but only littering the room, to give those poor fellows, who must be bored to death sitting all day with nothing to do but polish the lamp and trim the wick and rake about on their scrap of garden, something to amuse them. For how would you like to be shut up for a whole month at a time, and possibly more in stormy weather, upon a rock the size of a tennis lawn? she would ask; and to have no letters or newspapers, and to see nobody; if you married, not to see your wife, not to know how your children were, - if they were ill, if they had fallen down and broken their legs and arms; to see the same dreary waves breaking week after week, and then a dreadful storm coming, and the windows covered with spray, and birds dashed against the lamp, and the whole place rocking, and not be able to put your nose out of doors for fear of being swept into the sea? How would you like that? she asked, addressing herself particularly to her daughters. So she added, rather differently, one must take them whatever comforts one can.

How would you like to have to write a novel? How would you like to be shut up for several years, not wanting to see anybody, past caring about children and their bones, hoping that tremendous storms might keep everyone at bay? It is very tempting to transpose this passage into the key of Stephen, with Vanessa Bell as Mrs Ramsay, clucking and mothering, and Virginia Woolf as the Lighthouse keeper, stoic in creative isolation.

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