And what are two thousand years?…What, indeed, if you look from a mountain top down the long wastes of the ages? The very stone one kicks with one's boot will outlast Shakespeare.
Mr. Ramsay has these thoughts in Chapter VI of The Window as he considers how long his legacy in philosophy will last. Shakespeare is indisputably one of the great British literary and theatrical artists whose work has withstood centuries. Nevertheless, in the scope of geological time, here represented by a humble rock, Shakespeare’s work is insignificant. This fear that art might not be enough, that genius might not be enough to leave an eternal legacy haunts the creative characters in the novel.
And yet she had said to all these children, You shall go through it all.…For that reason, knowing what was before them—love and ambition and being wretched alone in dreary places--she had often the feeling, Why must they grow up and lose it all?
Mrs. Ramsay has these difficult thoughts in Chapter X of The Window as she considers the eight children she’s had. While her children are part of the legacy she will leave behind, in having them she subjects them to the difficulties of life, to the reality of death. To her, growing up is a process of loss. The transience of childhood and innocence haunts her, which is one of the reasons why she resists crushing James’s hope of going to the lighthouse that day.
They would, she thought, going on again, however long they lived, come back to this night; this moon; this wind; this house: and to her too. It flattered her…to think how, wound about in their hearts, however long they lived she would be woven.
Mrs. Ramsay has these thoughts as she considers Paul and Minta’s engagement in Chapter XVIII of The Window. In addition to having children, Mrs. Ramsay embeds herself into the lives of others as a kind of legacy that she believes will outlive her. While Mr. Ramsay seeks permanence through his philosophy, Mrs. Ramsay imagines that by matchmaking Paul and Minta she has woven herself into their happy memories of marriage and will forever live there.
What power could now prevent the fertility, the insensibility of nature? Mrs. McNab's dream of a lady, of a child, of a plate of milk soup? It had wavered over the walls like a spot of sunlight and vanished.
This passage appears in Chapter IX of Time Passes, as the abandoned summer house falls further and further into decay. The “fertility” of nature here, instead of bringing joy, represents decay and human frailty as the natural world overwhelms the abandoned house. The housekeeper Mrs. McNab, who has dreams of the family’s return, cannot stop this entropy with her cleaning. The overwhelming disinterest in human life that the passage of time reveals echoes Mr. Ramsay’s fears of being forgotten. However, the family eventually does return, and Mrs. McNab, with help, makes the house habitable again. Despite mortality, life continues.
Mrs. Ramsay has faded and gone, she thought. We can over-ride her wishes, improve away her limited, old-fashioned ideas. She recedes further and further from us.
Lily has these thoughts in Chapter VI of The Lighthouse as she mulls over Mrs. Ramsay’s legacy. On the one hand, her realization that the dead can no longer assert their authority over the living seems to suggest that death has diminished Mrs. Ramsay’s power once and for all. However, the amount of time and energy Lily gives to Mrs. Ramsay posthumously, still trying to capture her essence in paint, undermines any assertion that death has truly erased Mrs. Ramsay. While Mrs. Ramsay can no longer enforce her will, her memory still has an impact.