partook . . . of eternity . . . there is a coherence in things,
a stability; something, she meant, is immune from change, and shines
out (she glanced at the window with its ripple of reflected lights)
in the face of the flowing, the fleeting, the spectral, like a ruby;
so that again tonight she had the feeling she had had once today,
already, of peace, of rest. Of such moments, she thought, the thing
is made that endures.
Chapter XVII of “The Window” is, in
many respects, the heart of the novel. In Mrs. Ramsay’s dinner party,
we see the rhythmic movement from chaos to order, from obscurity
to clarity of vision, through which the novel progresses. The dinner
party begins, to Mrs. Ramsay’s mind, as something of a disaster.
Not all of the guests have arrived (Paul and Minta, for instance,
have yet to return from the beach with Andrew and Nancy); Charles
Tansley makes hostile comments to Lily; Augustus Carmichael offends
his host by asking for a second plate of soup. Soon enough, however,
as darkness descends outside and the candles are lit, the evening
rights itself. Everyone is content, as Mrs. Ramsay intends, and
everyone will remember the evening as beautiful and right. This
passage describes these rare, priceless moments, which take on a
kind of psychological permanence. The guests will remember this
evening and will experience, with inexorable nostalgia, peace, and
rest. In a world in which struggle and destruction are inevitable,
the possibility for such domestic respite provides great comfort.