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. Suddenly she realizes William Bankes is approaching, the one person in the house from whom she will not hide her painting. Lodging together in town, she and he have become “allies.” They admire one another’s good sense and scrupulousness. Under Mr. Ramsay’s glare (for they have “encroached upon a privacy,” seeing him shout), Mr. Bankes suggests they take a walk and Lily agrees.
Lily is shy about others seeing her paintings. The qualities that Lily and Mr. Bankes admire in one another give insight into the sorts of qualities they find most meaningful in life. Their relationship defies conventional expectations for male-female relations by being entirely platonic.
Finding it hard to look away from her painting, Lily considers it: she uses bright colors because she considers them more “honest,” accurate to what she sees, even though pale gauzy pastels are in fashion. She reflects that however perfectly she can see the colors and shapes of her picture “when she looked,” “it was in the moment’s flight between the picture and her canvas that the demons set on her who often brought her to the verge of tears,” plaguing her with fears of “inadequacy,” “insignificance,” and inability so that, trying to render her picture with a brush, it requires immense “courage…to clasp some miserable remnant of her vision to her breast.”
Lily paints according to aesthetic ideals that transcend time—she is concerned with truth and accuracy, rather than the current fashions. Lily’s reflection distinguishes between having vision (the ability to see the potential for a picture) and technical execution (the ability actually to render that picture). Lily feels defeated because her vision is more adept than her execution. Lily’s painting is so meaningful to her that, when it goes badly, she feels it reflects the inadequacy of her whole life.
Lily and Mr. Bankes walk to look at the water as they do each evening. “It is as if…the water…set sailing thoughts…and gave to their bodies even some sort of physical relief.” The colors “expand” the heart. As they finish surveying the view, they are filled with sadness both because “the thing was completed” and because (Lily thinks) long views always remind the looker that the view is much more enduring than he or she.
Since it occurs each night, Lily and Mr. Bankes’ stroll takes place in ritual time. The beauty of the natural world uplifts them even as it sobers them by reminding them of nature’s longevity, how the elements of the natural world will long outlast their human lives.
At the sight of the distant dunes, Mr. Bankes recalls walking with Mr. Ramsay on a road in Westmorland many years ago and that Mr. Ramsay had pointed out a hen with her chicks as “pretty,” which comment Mr. Bankes took as an “an odd illumination into [Mr. Ramsay’s] heart.” Mr. Bankes thinks about how, after that walk, Mr. Ramsay had married, had had children, and their friendship had worn out, so that “repetition had taken the place of newness” and the two friends only continued to meet out of habit. Still, Bankes is fond of Ramsay and sees their friendship “in its acuteness and reality laid up across the bay among the sandhills” like a young man mummified in peat.
Mr. Bankes and Mr. Ramsay’s friendship occurs in the ritual time of habit: their friendship is no longer developing and changing, it’s simply repeating its rituals for old time’s sake. Therefore the friendship is like a young man eternally preserved (by being mummified) in his youth. By pointing out the prettiness of the hen and chicks, Mr. Ramsay gave insight into his domestic side, the part of him that wanted to marry and have a family.
Walking back, Mr. Bankes’ contentment with his friendship to Mr. Ramsay is marred by little Cam’s refusal to give him a flower at her nursemaid’s coaxing. He considers the Ramsays, wondering how they maintain such a large family on so little money. He has privately assigned each child an English King or Queen in accord with that child’s essence. He talks to Lily about Mr. Ramsay, thinking that his children “gave him something…but they had also…destroyed something.” He remarks how “astonishing that a man of [Mr. Ramsay’s] intellect could…depend so much…upon people’s praise.” Lily protests that one must “think of his work,” which pleases Bankes, who frequently thinks of Ramsay’s work and considers him a great philosopher (albeit one who did his best work in youth).
Woolf shows how vulnerable interior life is to exterior experience: Cam’s coldness suddenly changes the course of Mr. Bankes’ thoughts on Mr. Ramsay, even though her attitude is logically irrelevant to his thinking. Mr. Bankes points out Mr. Ramsay’s greatest weakness: his hunger for praise. Because this need makes Mr. Ramsay so dependent on others, the need contradicts the conventional gender role of the strong male provider. Lily’s protest suggests that the work a person produces is a more meaningful part of their life than their personality.
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 his pettiness about daily routines and feels at a loss: “how did one judge people, think of them?” Lily asks herself. She is overwhelmed by comparing Mr. Ramsay and Mr. Bankes until her thinking “exploded of its own intensity; she felt released; a shot went off close at hand, and there came, flying from its fragments…a flock of starlings.” The shot has come from Jasper. Stepping back into the lawn, Lily and Mr. Bankes bump into Mr. Ramsay who, shouting again, ignores them and turns, “[slamming] his private door on them.”
Lily is not sure where one should find meaning in life: she can’t decide what part of Mr. Bankes’ life she should take most seriously. Woolf illustrates the connection between interior and exterior life by showing how it feels to Lily that a shot in the public, physical world is triggered by the build-up of pressure in her private, mental world.