To the Lighthouse

Virginia Woolf

The Window: Chapters XII–XVI

Summary The Window: Chapters XII–XVI

Woolf does not describe Mr. Ramsay’s philosophical work or the work he admires. Earlier, Lily recalls Andrew’s likening of his father’s work to musings over a kitchen table, and here Mrs. Ramsay summarizes the philosophy of Charles Tansley as dealing with “the influence of somebody upon something.” While the brevity of these descriptions seems dismissive, Woolf takes her characters’ work and anxieties seriously. Woolf rejects not Mr. Ramsay but rather preconceived notions about what a novel should be. Woolf, along with James Joyce and Marcel Proust, was a modernist. One goal of the modernists was to force readers to reassess their views of the novel. Philosophy and politics, as discussed by traditional -intellectuals such as Mr. Ramsay, no longer had to be the dominant subject; war, epic sea voyages, and the like no longer had to be the- dominant settings. As Woolf makes clear, life’s intellectual, psychological, and emotional stakes can be as high in the dining room or on the lawn of one’s home as they are in any boardroom or battlefield. That she later limits the discussion of World War I confirms this point.

Lily Briscoe emerges as an artist of uncompromising vision. As she stands on the lawn, trying to decide how to unite the components of the scene on her canvas, she gives the impression of being something of a bridge between Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay and the worlds they represent. Lily shares Mr. Ramsay’s professional anxiety and fears that her work too will sink into oblivion—“perhaps it was better not to see pictures: they only made one hopelessly discontented with one’s own work.” She also possesses Mrs. Ramsay’s talent for separating a moment from the passage of time and preserving it. As she watches the Ramsays move across the lawn, she invests them with a quality and meaning that make them symbolic. Later, in the last section of the novel, as Lily returns to this spot of the lawn to resume and finally complete her painting, she again serves as a vital link between Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay.