To the Lighthouse

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Mr. Ramsay Character Analysis

As brilliant and passionate as he is petty, bossy, and demanding, Mr. Ramsay is a victim of his own mercurial moods and is always shifting in the opinion of those around him. Characters loathe his imperiousness and neediness, then admire his courage and dignity. In Chapter 1, Mr. Ramsay adores Mrs. Ramsay and his children but struggles with angry outbursts and self-doubt about his career. In Chapter 3, Mr. Ramsay remains just as needy of female sympathy (especially since Mrs. Ramsay is no longer around to dispense it) but wishes, looking back, that he had not been so quick to anger.

Mr. Ramsay Quotes in To the Lighthouse

The To the Lighthouse quotes below are all either spoken by Mr. Ramsay or refer to Mr. Ramsay. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt edition of To the Lighthouse published in 1989.
The Window, 6 Quotes

The extraordinary irrationality of [Mrs. Ramsay’s] remark, the folly of women’s minds enraged [Mr. Ramsay]. He had ridden through the valley of death, been shattered and shivered; and now she flew in the face of facts, made his children hope what was utterly out of the question, in effect, told lies.

Related Characters: Mrs. Ramsay, Mr. Ramsay
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Ramsay is infuriated by Mrs. Ramsay’s supposedly irrational belief that the weather will allow them to visit the lighthouse. He defines a striking divergence in their personalities in which Mrs. Ramsay prefers niceties to facts.

Woolf’s text does not lend full allegiance to either side of the debate. It may focus of the “extraordinary irrationality” of what Mrs. Ramsay has said and call her hope for a sunny day mere “lies,” but this language is also being partially constituted by Mr. Ramsay. Indeed, his quick movement from a single comment by his wife to an overarching note on “the folly of women’s minds” parodies how quickly people generalize small instances of human interaction. The bombastic language only grows more dazzling as Mr. Ramsay describes his journey as one through “the valley of death,” making it increasingly difficult for the reader to take his comments seriously. By juxtaposing that rhetoric with his complaints on Mrs. Ramsay’s lies, Woolf shows a certain irony in Mr. Ramsay’s thought process: He is telling his own set of lies to himself—not about something like the weather but about the way he has conceived of himself and of his wife. Thus Mrs. Ramsay’s concern for others is deemed no more false than Mr. Ramsay’s own concern for his self-esteem. Woolf implies that though each one might set up a binary relationship between the two, each is also capable of committing the sin for which they criticize the other.

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To pursue truth with such astonishing lack of consideration for other people’s feelings, to rend the thin veils of civilsation so wantonly, so brutally, was to [Mrs. Ramsay] so horrible an outrage of human decency that, without replying, dazed and blinded, she bent her head as if to let the pelt of jagged hail, the drench of dirty water, bespatter her unrebuked.

Related Characters: Mrs. Ramsay, Mr. Ramsay
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Mrs. Ramsay responds to Mr. Ramsay’s outburst. She offers the opposite opinion on the value of fact, arguing that the quest for the truth is only meaningful if accompanied by a sense of human decency.

It’s notable how Mrs. Ramsay uses similarly inflated language here as Mr. Ramsay: Whereas he saw himself as having traveled through “the valley of death,” Mrs. Ramsay describes him as a “pelt of jagged hail, the drench of dirty water.” They thus both recreate their own identities in order to fit their argument. And if Mr. Ramsay’s language was ironically untruthful, Mrs. Ramsay’s is paradoxically uncouth. She complains of how Mr. Ramsay’s can “rend the thin veils of civilisation,” but her own sentence is similarly “wantonly” in that it is thought immediately without any self-editing.

Woolf points out, then, the disjunct between our logically formulated opinions and the way in which our immediate opinions are phrased. The split between the factual Mr. Ramsay and the courteous Mrs. Ramsay is only the tip of the iceberg that obscures an entire psychic complexity within each of their minds. Once more, Woolf’s work points out how radically differently people view their experiences and, even as we might construct a binary between the two of them (or between men and women in general), their internal experiences may reveal more commonality than first perceived.

The very stone one kicks with one’s boot will outlast Shakespeare.

Related Characters: Mr. Ramsay (speaker)
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Ramsay is deep in thought on his own intellectual accomplishments, as well as the accomplishments of others. But then he suddenly relativizes any legacy, by comparing it to the immense scale of the natural world.

The question of scale preoccupies Woolf throughout the novel: often a character will be lost in their own thoughts until something external and belonging to nature gives them perspective on their minuscule human position. Woolf is not, however, simply presenting human affairs as trivial and meaningless, but rather putting on display how humans can create extensive meaning through their minds. After all, though a stone may indeed outlast Mr. Ramsay, his musings have taken up more page space in Woolf’s text.

To reference Shakespeare also calls up Woolf’s own accomplishments as an author—and questions whether her work will live on in literary history. Woolf’s texts are filled with Shakespeare references—most notably in Mrs. Dalloway—so the allusion to the relative smallness of Shakespeare implicates a much-esteemed and personally-important author. Woolf thus explains how even a writer deemed essential for this very text will pale in comparison to the natural world.

The Window, 7 Quotes

…the arid scimitar of the male, which smote mercilessly, again and again, demanding sympathy.

Related Characters: Mr. Ramsay
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

James reflects on the moment of conflict he has just watched between his parents. He is unable to understand the deeper social context of what they say and relates to it as a violent ritual.

In this ritual, Mr. Ramsay is abusive, but ironically he is abusive not to punish Mrs. Ramsay, but rather to gain her emotional support or “sympathy.” The image first takes the metaphorical violence done by Mr. Ramsay’s emotional demands and makes it literal with the “scimitar.” “Arid” can hold a similarly dual meaning as both physically dry and metaphorically lacking excitement. And though “smote” is primarily a term of physical violence, it also summons the term “smitten by” as in an attraction to someone. In these double set of meanings, then, we see both the actual emotional demand being made by Mr. Ramsay and the weirdly epic struggle that James envisions between his parents.

Woolf’s language is, of course, far more verbose and ornate than that used by a child of James age. Though a child might imagine his parents as mythic archetypes, he would never articulate the concepts as such. This can help us clarify the perspective and position of the limited omniscient narrator, who adopts the perspectives of different characters but not necessarily their vocabulary. By maintaining an autonomous control of the language, Woolf is able to both point to the external reality of the events and the way they are internally processed by each character.

The Lighthouse, 2 Quotes

…there issued from [Mr. Ramsay] such a groan that any other woman in the whole world would have done something, said something—all except myself, thought Lily, girding at herself bitterly, who am not a woman, but a peevish, ill-tempered, dried-up old maid presumably.

Related Characters: Lily Briscoe (speaker), Mr. Ramsay
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

During her interaction with Mr. Ramsay, Lily worries about her imperfect role as a woman. She feels that she cannot (and will not) placate him sufficiently, and is therefore failing in their social interaction.

This scene is written in direct contrast to the descriptions in “The Window” of how effectively Mrs. Ramsay could deal with Mr. Ramsay. She, after all, did not even require “such a groan” to know how to act, but could read his most minute expressions and shift her actions so as to best please her husband. Lily, in contrast, feels uncertain and awkward in the setting, for she has neither valued nor trained herself in these social arts. Her invocation of “any other woman,” after all, recalls the way she had identified Mrs. Ramsay as a universal archetype of the gender. It also implies that Lily’s self-critical speech is less the result of actually seeing herself as a “maid” and more that, in contrast to Mrs. Ramsay, she lacks the features of a traditional femininity. The passage, then, points both to Mrs. Ramsay’s effect on structuring Lily’s perception of womanhood—and to the intense void left behind by her death. Whereas the actual event was, when seen from a broad time perspective, quite flippant, here we visualize its intense social ramifications.

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Mr. Ramsay Character Timeline in To the Lighthouse

The timeline below shows where the character Mr. Ramsay appears in To the Lighthouse. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Window, 1
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The novel opens in a summerhouse on the Isle of Skye with Mrs. Ramsay, Mr. Ramsay, their little son James (who is cutting pictures from a magazine), and Mr. Ramsey’s... (full context)
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On their way off to town, Mrs. Ramsay asked the stoned Mr. Carmichael if he wanted anything, then flattered Tansley during the walk by confiding in him... (full context)
The Window, 3
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Mrs. Ramsay realizes Mr. Ramsay has shaken off Mr. Tansley, ending their conversation. She listens for “some regular mechanical... (full context)
The Window, 4
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At her easel on the lawn, Lily is irritated when Mr. Ramsay rushes by shouting, but is relieved he doesn’t stop to look at her picture.... (full context)
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Lily and Mr. Bankes walk to look at the water as they do each evening. “It is as... (full context)
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At the sight of the distant dunes, Mr. Bankes recalls walking with Mr. Ramsay on a road in Westmorland many years ago and... (full context)
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Walking back, Mr. Bankes’ contentment with his friendship to Mr. Ramsay is marred by little Cam’s refusal to... (full context)
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Lily is suddenly overcome by “her accumulated impressions” of Mr. Bankes and feels in awe of his fairness and lack of vanity, then suddenly remembers... (full context)
The Window, 6
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As Mr. Ramsay approaches the window on his march round and round the lawn, Mrs. Ramsay can... (full context)
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...trying to finish the stocking in case they go to the Lighthouse the next day, Mr. Ramsay swells into a rage, infuriated by the irrational “folly of women’s minds.” “He had... (full context)
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Mr. Ramsay strides off again, repeating his phrase, though now it sounds to him “changed” and... (full context)
The Window, 7
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...resents his father for interrupting him and his mother, hating “the twang and twitter of [Mr. Ramsay’s] emotion” which interrupted “the perfect simplicity and good sense of his relationship with [Mrs.... (full context)
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Mrs. Ramsay feels in perfect sync with Mr. Ramsay as he walks away, though the joy of it is tempered by her exhaustion... (full context)
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Mr. Carmichael trudges by in his slippers outside just as Mrs. Ramsay is painfully considering “the... (full context)
The Window, 8
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Mrs. Ramsay considers Mr. Carmichael who has been coming to the summerhouse every summer for years and still doesn’t... (full context)
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Mr. Ramsay passes the window just as Mrs. Ramsay reads about the Fisherman reluctantly going out... (full context)
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...and looks out at the sea. The perspective zooms out to observe that it was Mr. Ramsay’s destiny, “whether he wished it or not, to…stand…alone…facing the dark of human ignorance, how... (full context)
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Murmuring that “the father of eight children has no choice—,” Mr. Ramsay turns back to look at Mrs. Ramsay and James. He admits he is “for... (full context)
The Window, 9
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Standing on the lawn with Mr. Ramsay striding about and Mrs. Ramsay reading at the window, Mr. Bankes and Lily discuss... (full context)
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Before answering, Lily considers Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, feeling it is only possible to discuss them when they are out... (full context)
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Then, as Lily is about to answer Mr. Bankes with a criticism of Mrs. Ramsay, she notices that Bankes is gazing at Mrs.... (full context)
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Lily turns to look at her painting and is thrown into despair. She remembers Mr. Tansley’s opinion that women can neither paint nor write. She remembers she was going to... (full context)
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Lily braces herself as Mr. Bankes turns to examine her painting, feeling that he is seeing “the residue of her... (full context)
The Window, 10
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Cam races by Lily, Mr. Bankes, and Mr. Ramsay on the lawn and only stops after Mrs. Ramsay calls to... (full context)
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...then tries to stop the thought, remembering that this observation of hers has often infuriated Mr. Ramsay, who accuses her of pessimism. “Still, it was true.” Though “it was odd” that,... (full context)
The Window, 11
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...believed a Lord made the world and has always been conscious of humanity’s senseless suffering. Mr. Ramsay passes by and, seeing her face engaged in this thought, sees “the sternness at... (full context)
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Mr. Ramsay, all the while, is admiring Mrs. Ramsay’s beauty but resolving not to interrupt her,... (full context)
The Window, 12
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Walking together, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay chat affectionately about the household and children, Mrs. Ramsay suppressing her worry... (full context)
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Mr. Ramsay announces that, “if he could not share her thoughts…he would be off,” but wants... (full context)
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“Poor little place,” murmurs Mr. Ramsay and Mrs. Ramsay is annoyed, thinking he is always just “phrase-making,” saying “the most... (full context)
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Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay continue walking and she thinks fondly about how strong her husband is,... (full context)
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Mrs. Ramsay catches sight of Lily and Mr. Bankes walking on the lawn and it occurs to her that they should get married. (full context)
The Window, 13
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Mr. Bankes and Lily recount the European cities they have been to and the paintings they... (full context)
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As she and Mr. Bankes come upon Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay watching Prue and Jasper playing catch on the... (full context)
The Window, 17
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...my life?” she thinks, while orchestrating the seating arrangements and beginning to serve soup. Seeing Mr. Ramsay frowning at the other end of the table, she can’t believe she’d ever loved... (full context)
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Watching Mrs. Ramsay, Lily notes that, asking Mr. Bankes about the letters, Mrs. Ramsay goes from looking old and remote to looking bright... (full context)
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Mr. Tansley resents Mrs. Ramsay’s yoking him into small talk about letters and resolves “not…to be... (full context)
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Mrs. Ramsay is meanwhile asking Mr. Bankes all about the Manning family from whom he’s received a letter and whom she... (full context)
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...has to turn away for a moment to consult with a servant and, left hanging, Mr. Bankes is filled with regret at coming to dinner, which he only did in the... (full context)
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Overhearing Mrs. Ramsay and Mr. Bankes’ expressions of etiquette, Mr. Tansley, having never spoken “this language” of etiquette, recognizes its... (full context)
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...seeing within Mrs. Ramsay’s quick glance an immense desperation imploring Lily to help her with Mr. Tansley, Lily once again must “renounce the experiment” of not being nice to young men... (full context)
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Disappointed to find Mr. Bankes has lost interest in discussing the Mannings, Mrs. Ramsay feels “something lacking.” Overcome by... (full context)
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Mrs. Ramsay hopes Mr. Ramsay will say something characteristically wise and make the subject of the fishing industry something... (full context)
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Mrs. Ramsay gets up to light the candles, pitying Mr. Carmichael for having to suffer Mr. Ramsay’s visible disgust and thinking how she respects his... (full context)
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...“a trophy” from the sea floor, “Neptune’s banquet,” a whole world to explore. She notices Mr. Carmichael, too, admiring it, as “his eyes…plunged in…and returned, after feasting, to his hive.” She... (full context)
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...on how “some man looked at her.” She can tell she has it from how Mr. Ramsay jokes with her. She had once been terrified of him but, finding that he... (full context)
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...are engaged. Serving out the beef (which has been made specially for the occasion of Mr. Bankes consenting to dine with them), Mrs. Ramsay feels the special dish is also in... (full context)
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Mr. Bankes finds the beef delicious and praises Mrs. Ramsay, feeling, once again, that she is... (full context)
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...how she is at once “childlike” and “frightening,” how she always gets her way, as Mr. Bankes is having dinner with them and Paul and Minta must be engaged. She thinks... (full context)
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...about love) and draws Lily into the conversation. Talking on, she observes that Lily and Mr. Tansley “suffered from the glow of [Paul and Minta].” Yet despite Lily’s meagerness and pursed... (full context)
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As the men argue about literature and Mr. Tansley aggressively flaunts his opinion to assert himself, Mrs. Ramsay feels her eyes effortlessly unveil... (full context)
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As the men argue about literature’s endurance and legacy, Mrs. Ramsay can see that, while Mr. Bankes is unperturbed in his “integrity,” Mr. Ramsay is starting to grow agitated, inwardly worrying... (full context)
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Dinner is done and Mrs. Ramsay swells with affection for everyone, even Mr. Tansley. She hears everyone’s voices “as at a service in a cathedral,” not listening to... (full context)
The Window, 18
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...and Mrs. Ramsay says they won’t go tomorrow but will in the near future, resenting Mr. Tansley, Mr. Ramsay, and herself for stirring in James this frustrated hope that “he would... (full context)
The Window, 19
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Entering the sitting room in which Mr. Ramsay sits reading, Mrs. Ramsay feels “she had to come here to get something she... (full context)
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Mrs. Ramsay observes that Mr. Ramsay is absorbed reading a book by Sir Walter Scott, which she knows he has... (full context)
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...deeper” towards something she wanted, still not knowing what it is. Words from the poem Mr. Ramsay had recited at dinner “begin washing from side to side of her mind rhythmically”... (full context)
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Mrs. Ramsay begins reading feeling she is “swinging herself” from line to line. Mr. Ramsay reads Scott with obvious relish, “fortified” and freed of all the nagging worries that... (full context)
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Mrs. Ramsay puts down her book and searches for things to say to Mr. Ramsay. They are both still dreamy, half-preoccupied by what they’ve been reading. She tells him... (full context)
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Mrs. Ramsay feels from Mr. Ramsay’s look that he wants her to tell him she loves him. Yet “she never... (full context)
Time Passes, 3
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...“ask the night those questions as to what, and why, and wherefore.” Inside a parenthesis, Mr. Ramsay reaches his arms out in the hallway on a dark morning and, since Mrs.... (full context)
The Lighthouse, 1
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Lily sits at the breakfast table feeling how strange and unreal everything seems. Mr. Ramsay, Cam, and James are supposed to go to the Lighthouse but are late and... (full context)
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Avoiding Mr. Ramsay’s “wild gaze” of “imperious need,” Lily takes her easel out on the lawn in... (full context)
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Yet Lily is distracted by Mr. Ramsay’s constant approach as he paces the terrace. She recalls how, when she’d arrived the... (full context)
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Unable to paint because she is so distracted by Mr. Ramsay’s imposing presence, Lily thinks angrily that he only knows how to take, while Mrs.... (full context)
The Lighthouse, 2
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Looking at Lily, Mr. Ramsay thinks she looks a bit shriveled, but “not unattractive.” He likes her. He asks... (full context)
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Finally, Lily thinks to praise Mr. Ramsay’s boots, which gives him the chance to talk at length about them. He bends... (full context)
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Lily is moved by considering Mr. Ramsay’s face and the way it shows his devotion to his work, his suffering, his... (full context)
The Lighthouse, 3
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Suddenly, Lily remembers it was Mr. Tansley who’d originally said the words she murmured and she starts to reminisce about her... (full context)
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...at her canvas. She walks to the lawn’s edge to see if she can see Mr. Ramsay, Cam, and James setting sail and imagines that one of the distant boats whose... (full context)
The Lighthouse, 4
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...father’s tyranny. They had hoped the voyage would fail but the boat sails off and Mr. Ramsay is happy to be moving quickly and listens with relish to Macalister (who mans... (full context)
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Mr. Ramsay points out the summerhouse on the shore, which looks “peaceful” and “unreal” to Cam.... (full context)
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Wanting to make Cam smile, Mr. Ramsay asks about the puppy. Cam feels trapped, wanting to respond and please her father... (full context)
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Mr. Ramsay gives up on winning over Cam and takes out his book. Cam thinks how... (full context)
The Lighthouse, 5
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Imagining Mr. Ramsay on the boat, Lily thinks back to how she’d always found things with him... (full context)
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Lily remembers how Mrs. Ramsay had planned to set her up with Mr. Bankes. Inside parentheses, Lily remembers feeling the heat of love emanating from Paul at the... (full context)
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Thinking back to Mr. Bankes’ great admiration for Mrs. Ramsay’s beauty, Lily considers beauty’s “penalty” which is that “it... (full context)
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Seeing Mr. Carmichael, Lily is suddenly moved to go and wake him except she wants to say... (full context)
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...to her eyes. She wonders what precisely she is weeping for. She silently asks of Mr. Carmichael, “Could it be, even for elderly people, that this was life?—startling, unexpected, unknown?” She... (full context)
The Lighthouse, 7
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...Mrs. Ramsay’s name in anguish, Lily thinks how silly she must look and is glad Mr. Carmichael hasn’t noticed her outburst. The painful intensity of her grief for Mrs. Ramsay begins... (full context)
The Lighthouse, 8
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...feel a thing there.” The sail suddenly loses the wind, sags, and the boat stills. Mr. Ramsay doesn’t stop reading but James dreads the moment his father will look up and... (full context)
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James remembers Mr. Ramsay dashing his hopes about going to the Lighthouse as a child and Mrs. Ramsay’s... (full context)
The Lighthouse, 9
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...as silk stretched across the bay. She thinks of distance’s power, how it has devoured Mr. Ramsay, Cam, and James so that she feels they have “become part of the nature... (full context)
The Lighthouse, 10
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On the sailboat, Cam feels that Mr. Ramsay’s frustration at her bad sense of direction, James’s insistence on their pact of silence,... (full context)
The Lighthouse, 11
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...her painting, Lily feels that she keeps losing track of it when she thinks of Mr. Ramsay. She thinks of beauty when what she wants to express is fresher, “the thing... (full context)
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Seeing Mr. Carmichael, Lily wonders about his sorrow, his experience, his poetry, which she has never read.... (full context)
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...her idiosyncrasies and unique character. She thinks how Mrs. Ramsay differed both from herself and Mr. Carmichael in having an “instinct to go” and always running off on an errand, a... (full context)
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Lily thinks of Mr. Tansley, who had become a professor and whom she’d once heard give a lecture during... (full context)
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Lily considers Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay’s marriage and feels like she can remember their courtship, which she never... (full context)
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...edge of the lawn still holding her brush to look out at the sea for Mr. Ramsay. (full context)
The Lighthouse, 12
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On the sailboat, James watches Mr. Ramsay looking very old reading and thinks he is the image of “that loneliness” which... (full context)
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...while she and James have resolved to fight their father with a pact of silence, Mr. Ramsay is totally oblivious of the fact and thereby flies, as he often does, out... (full context)
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...water where the ship had sunk and three men had drowned. James and Cam dread Mr. Ramsay exclaiming the line, “But I beneath a rougher sea,” but, to their relief, he... (full context)
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As the sailboat pulls up to the Lighthouse, James and Cam watch Mr. Ramsay all ready to leap off the boat and wonder what he’s thinking, what drives... (full context)
The Lighthouse, 13
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...has disappeared into the haze and she is weary from looking at it and imagining Mr. Ramsay landing at it, “which…seemed to be one and the same effort.” Lily feels she... (full context)