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 thought, leaning
her head on Mrs. Ramsay’s knee.
These musings come from Lily in Chapter
IX of “The Window,” as she and William Bankes stand on the lawn
watching the Ramsays. Bankes criticizes Mr. Ramsay for his hypocrisy
in being narrow-minded, and Lily is about to respond with a criticism
of Mrs. -Ramsay when she notices the look of rapture on Bankes’s
face. She realizes that he loves Mrs. Ramsay, and she feels that
this emotion is a contribution to the good of humanity. Overwhelmed
with love herself, Lily approaches Mrs. Ramsay and sits beside her.
Her thoughts here are noteworthy because they point to the distinction between
ways of acquiring knowledge: instinct, on the one hand, and intelligence,
on the other. Mrs. Ramsay knows what she does of the world by the
former method, while Mr. Ramsay depends upon “inscriptions on tablets.”
Here, as she wonders how one person comes to truly know another,
Lily straddles the line that separates emotions from intellect,
and that separates Mrs. Ramsay from her husband. This position anticipates
Lily’s role at the end of the novel, when she stands watching Mr.
Ramsay’s boat and indulges in powerful remembrances of Mrs. Ramsay.
At that moment, Lily arrives at her elusive vision, completes her
painting, and achieves the unity she craves in the above passage.