Looking at Lily, Mr. Ramsay thinks she looks a bit shriveled, but “not unattractive.” He likes her. He asks if she has everything she needs and Lily responds that she does. An awkward silence ensues which Lily tries to rescue them from with talk of the Lighthouse. Mr. Ramsay groans and sighs, and Lily inwardly feels that she is a failure as a woman not to be able to respond to Mr. Ramsay’s obvious distress. Mr. Ramsay tells Lily the expedition will be “very painful,” inwardly thinking her “a stone.” The awkward silence continues. Lily thinks desperately that “a man, any man” would stop Mr. Ramsay from emoting so. But she has no idea what to say, as a woman, and can’t bring herself to sate his obvious thirst for sympathy.
Mr. Ramsay evaluates Lily based on the beauty of her person rather than on the beauty of her work. Even though Lily resented stepping into the conventional female role Mr. Ramsay was hungry for, now that she is in it, she feels distraught that she cannot play the role more gracefully. Behind the mask of small talk, both Lily and Mr. Ramsay are suffering great internal pain.
Finally, Lily thinks to praise Mr. Ramsay’s boots, which gives him the chance to talk at length about them. He bends to tie Lily’s shoe to demonstrate a knot and, as he stoops, Lily is suddenly overcome with sympathy and grows teary-eyed. Stooping tying her boot, “he seemed to her a figure of infinite pathos.” When Cam and James finally appear looking unenthusiastic, Lily feels annoyed with them for not showing their father more sympathy. Mr. Ramsay and his children depart for the Lighthouse.
Lily finally succeeds in the conventional role of female caregiver by providing Mr. Ramsay with an opportunity to expound on a topic he enjoys. Mr. Ramsay’s pain becomes meaningful to Lily—and therefore actually elicits her sympathy—when, by bending down, Mr. Ramsay appears to shape his body into an aesthetic posture of sorrow.
Lily is moved by considering Mr. Ramsay’s face and the way it shows his devotion to his work, his suffering, his desperation for sympathy, his quick-changing moods, his inability ever to hide his feelings. She thinks he has “an extraordinary face.”
Again, Lily is moved by an aesthetic, art-like image of Mr. Ramsay. The image of his face seems to Lily to be rich with interior meaning.