Mrs. Ramsay has been knitting a stocking for the Lighthouse keeper’s tubercular boy and, hoping to finish it in case they do go to the Lighthouse the next day, tries to measure it against fidgety James’ leg. Glimpsing the shabby living room about her, she wonders what will become of the beloved house, which grows more and more rundown. In thinking about training the maids to clean properly, Mrs. Ramsay remembers that the sad Swiss maid whose father is dying in the Swiss mountains had caused Mrs. Ramsay to halt her demonstration of bed-making and fall silent by saying, ‘At home the mountains are so beautiful.’ “There was no hope, no hope whatever” Mrs. Ramsay thinks, and snaps at James to stand still. She sees her stocking is too short. The perspective begins to zoom out. “Never did anybody look so sad” and “…in the darkness…perhaps…a tear fell; the waters swayed…received it, and were at rest.
The scene demonstrates the simultaneously permeable and impenetrable border between interior and exterior life. Remembering the maid’s words while measuring the stocking, Mrs. Ramsay’s face assumes an expression appropriate to the memory. Yet, because she does not articulate the memory aloud, her aggrieved expression would appear, to an outside viewer, to be in reaction to the too-short stocking. The text’s description of “the waters” marks the first appearance of the metaphor likening interior life to a body of water.
The perspective zooms out to consider Mrs. Ramsay’s beauty, recounting people’s curiosity about her as a person living behind “an uncomparable beauty” which she “could do nothing to disturb.” They wonder at her sympathy and wisdom, and whether she has endured some mysterious tragedy to acquire it. Mr. Bankes found himself profoundly moved by her classical beauty when she was merely recounting a train schedule over the telephone. After hanging up, he’d thought about how, though Mrs. Ramsay was intensely beautiful, her beauty was always engaged with “something incongruous,” such as “a deer-stalker’s hat” she’d thrown on or “galoshes” worn to chase a child. Alongside her beauty, Bankes thinks to himself, “one must remember the quivering thing, the living thing…and work it into the picture.”
Mrs. Ramsay’s beauty is at once an invitation and a barrier. It draws people close to her in admiration, yet it also functions like a screen, concealing the particularities of the living woman behind its classically ideal surface. Mr. Bankes thinks of those particularities – Mrs. Ramsay’s spontaneity, her spunkiness, her lack of vanity – as “the living thing” in motion behind the still perfection of her beauty.