Walking together, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay chat affectionately about the household and children, Mrs. Ramsay suppressing her worry about the cost of fixing the greenhouse (protecting Mr. Ramsay from her fears about money) and Mr. Ramsay suppressing his anger and disgust that Mr. Tansley is the only young man who admires his books (sparing Mrs. Ramsay his self-doubt). When Mrs. Ramsay brushes aside the prospect of a scholarship for Andrew, Mr. Ramsay thinks her foolish for dismissing “a serious thing, like a scholarship.” Still, they are in agreement about their disagreement: “She liked him to believe in scholarships, and he liked her to be proud of Andrew whatever he did.”
Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay’s conversation suggests that a successful marriage does not ride on total honesty and complete harmony, but rather on selective concealment and complementary differences. Thus Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay each protect the other from parts of their own interior lives that they think will upset the other. Thus Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay are each grateful for the other’s opposing view on what constitutes the most meaningful part of their children’s lives.
Walking on arm in arm, Mrs. Ramsay sees the Lighthouse and, not liking to be reminded that she had “let herself sit there, thinking,” turns to look at the town, thinking “all the poverty, all the suffering had turned to that” and the lights of town and harbor look like “a phantom net” floating in the place where something has sunk.
Mrs. Ramsay’s metaphor blurs the boundary between interior and exterior life. The town appears to her a net to mark the place where her own thoughts of poverty and suffering had just recently been, though they have now sunk.
Mr. Ramsay announces that, “if he could not share her thoughts…he would be off,” but wants to assure Mrs. Ramsay before he goes that she needn’t worry about Andrew out walking and that he himself might take a daylong walk tomorrow. Disappointed that his wife does not protest this plan, Mr. Ramsay thinks back longingly to the walks he took before they married, then stops himself thinking he would be “a beast” to wish to change a single thing about his life. He thinks of his children with a sense of accomplishment, despite the “poor little universe.”
Mr. Ramsay does not like seeing Mrs. Ramsay retreat into her interior thoughts, as she must have while looking at the town. Mr. Ramsay tries to comfort his wife about Andrew even as he tries to glean some comfort for himself in the form of his wife’s anxiety about him walking alone. When he doesn’t get the thing he wants from his marriage, he thinks back to single life, but quickly stops himself, remembering how much he loves his family.
“Poor little place,” murmurs Mr. Ramsay and Mrs. Ramsay is annoyed, thinking he is always just “phrase-making,” saying “the most melancholy things” and seeming “more cheerful” as soon as he’s said them. She thinks that “if she had said half what he said, she would have blown her brains out by now.” She chides him affectionately, and silently suspects he is thinking, “he would have written better books if he had not married.” Mr. Ramsay replies he is “not complaining,” she agrees, he quickly kisses her hand, and she is moved to tears at the gesture.
This passage exemplifies what a wide range of thought and feeling can be contained within an ordinary marital conversation. In the span of a minute or two, Mrs. Ramsay experiences annoyance at her husband’s insincere use of language, knowingness of his unarticulated interior resentment of her, and deep emotion in the face of his love.
Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay continue walking and she thinks fondly about how strong her husband is, how he is extraordinary for being able to face such large, horrible notions head-on while remaining blind “to the ordinary things” like flowers, Prue’s beauty, etc., which Mrs. Ramsay knows he acknowledges only to please her when she points them out to him. Yet Mrs. Ramsay reminds herself (in between observations on the state of the lawn and garden) that that’s the way all great men are and that it is “good for young men…simply to hear him, simply to look at him.” She sees a fresh star and wants to show her husband, but stops herself since he “never looked at things.”
Mrs. Ramsay loves and admires her husband even though he is unable to find meaning in so many of the places she herself is able to. Still, the fact that he tries his best to pretend to see the meanings she points out attests to his love for her. Mrs. Ramsay, subscribing to conventional gender expectations, believes that it is right that men should be more concerned with intellectual matters and ignore the parts of material life that women notice.
Mrs. Ramsay catches sight of Lily and Mr. Bankes walking on the lawn and it occurs to her that they should get married.
Mrs. Ramsay is ever the matchmaker.