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To the Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse


by Virginia Woolf

Lily Briscoe Timeline and Summary

  • Lily is painting Mrs. Ramsay, who is sitting by the window with James.
  • Mr. Ramsay comes charging out of the house and almost knocks over Lily’s easel.
  • Lily is relieved that he runs away. She really doesn’t want anyone to look at her painting.
  • She has this moment where she listens to incoming footsteps and figures out that they belong to William Bankes. She’s fine with William Bankes seeing her painting – in fact, she and William are buddies.
  • Lily and William go for a walk.
  • They walk over to where they can see the beautiful water of the bay, and feel united in watching the waves.
  • Lily thinks of Mr. Ramsay’s work.
  • Lily and Mr. Bankes discuss Mr. Ramsay’s work.
  • Lily puts away her painting things.
  • Lily and Mr. Bankes criticize Mr. Ramsay as Lily puts away her brushes.
  • Lily is about to criticize Mrs. Ramsay as well when she sees the look of complete adoration that Mr. Bankes, age 60, turns on Mrs. Ramsay.
  • As Lily wipes her brushes, she is cheered by the thought that people can love this way.
  • She looks at her picture and nearly has a nervous breakdown because it’s bad!
  • She recalls Mr. Tansley’s words that women can’t paint or write.
  • Lily joins Mr. Bankes in staring at Mrs. Ramsay.
  • Lily begins to think about Mrs. Ramsay, considering what comprises Mrs. Ramsay’s unique identity.
  • Mr. Bankes stops watching Mrs. Ramsay, and looks at Lily’s painting.
  • Lily braces herself. Mr. Bankes asks the meaning of the purple triangle.
  • Lily says that it’s meant to represent Mrs. Ramsay reading to James.
  • They talk briefly about light, dark, and composition.
  • Lily feels that she has shared something very intimate with Mr. Bankes (without having to take off her clothes, wow!).
  • Mr. Bankes and Lily walk along and talk about travel.
  • Lily is arrested by the sight of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay watching a girl throw a ball, and this vision is enshrined for her as marriage.
  • As Mrs. Ramsay turns and smiles at the couple, Lily sees that Mrs. Ramsay wants her and William Bankes to marry.
  • At dinner, Lily Briscoe watches Mrs. Ramsay, noticing that the matriarch looks old and tired until she begins talking to Mr. Bankes, at which point she brightens up.
  • According to Lily, Mrs. Ramsay pities William Bankes not because William is pitiful, but because Mrs. Ramsay wants him to be pitiful. Needs him to be pitiful, even.
  • Lily imagines her painting and realizes that she should put a tree in the middle of it. She moves the salt shaker on the table in front of her so she will remember.
  • Lily observes that Mrs. Ramsay always pities men, but never women.
  • Lily is annoyed at Mr. Tansley, and thinks mean thoughts about him. She tries to think about her painting in an effort to control her temper.
  • Lily sweetly asks if she can join Mr. Tansley on the Lighthouse trip, and Mr. Tansley can see that she obviously doesn’t mean a word of it and he answers like a jerk.
  • Later, Mr. Tansley is looking around the table, hoping that someone will talk to him so he can be a jerk again. Lily can see all this, and knows that social convention deems that she make conversation with the man, but remembering his unfavorable comments about women’s ability to paint and write, Lily leaves Mr. Tansley alone to struggle.
  • Mrs. Ramsay looks at Lily and telepathically tells her to take social pity on the poor, awkward Mr. Tansley.
  • Lily and Mr. Tansley have a completely insincere conversation with each other, which Lily reflects is not unlike all human relations.
  • She is cheered by the thought of painting the next day.
  • Mrs. Ramsay later starts talking about vegetable skins, and Lily observes how everyone silently worships Mrs. Ramsay.
  • Lily, envisaging a wonderful rescue, offers to help Paul look for Minta’s brooch tomorrow morning. Paul doesn’t say yes or no.
  • Lily feels upset, then sees the salt shaker and remembers that she will paint tomorrow, and that she doesn’t have to marry. (The two are connected, by the way.)
  • Lily feels that staying with the Ramsays causes her to feel two violently opposite emotions at the same time: On the one hand, love is wonderful, but, on the other hand, love is childish beyond belief.
  • Mrs. Ramsay looks at Lily and Mr. Tansley, concluding that both of them suffer in the presence of the happy Paul and Minta Doyle. Lily seems faded and inconspicuous next to Minta’s beautiful glow.
  • Mrs. Ramsay does believe, however, that if you compare Lily and Minta at 40 years of age, Lily will be the fairer of the two. She has an indefinable something that Mrs. Ramsay likes but is afraid no man will like.
  • After a ten year interim, Lily and Mr. Carmichael come by the same train in September to the house in the Hebrides.
  • Sitting at the breakfast table, Lily Briscoe feels awkward.
  • Poor Lily sits at the breakfast table as Mr. Ramsay loses his temper, Nancy forgets the sandwiches, Cam and James aren’t ready, and Nancy is at a loss for what to bring to the Lighthouse keepers.
  • Lily wonders what she’s doing there.
  • Mr. Ramsay looks straight at Lily for a moment, which throws her off balance.
  • Lily sits and thinks for a while longer.
  • Finally Lily remembers that she was painting the last time she stayed in the house, and gets up to fetch her paints. She resolves to finally finish the half-done painting.
  • Lily sets up her easel at the exact spot she set it up ten years ago.
  • Poor Lily can’t get any painting done because Mr. Ramsay keeps walking up to her. She equates him with, to put it mildly, chaos and ruin.
  • Lily has a flashback to last night, where Mr. Ramsay told Lily that she would find them all much changed.
  • Mr. Ramsay’s presence continues to disturb Lily and she can’t paint.
  • Lily is repeatedly reminded of Mrs. Ramsay’s absence and death. She’s confused about it, because she feels like she’s trying to conjure up a feeling inside herself that isn’t there.
  • We figure out that Lily is 44 years old.
  • She gives up on trying to pain, puts her brush down, and tries to give Mr. Ramsay whatever attention and/or sympathy she can.
  • Mr. Ramsay keeps making desperate plays to get sympathy from Lily, but Lily seems incapable of giving it.
  • Finally, Lily says something. She tells Mr. Ramsay that he has beautiful boots. This is not what Mr. Ramsay wanted, but he smiles.
  • Mr. Ramsay goes off on the awesomeness of his boots, and then disses Lily’s method of shoelace tying. He shows her his method of shoelace tying, which is far superior.
  • Lily is finally, unexpectedly, ready to give Mr. Ramsay sympathy.
  • The Ramsays go off on their expedition, leaving Lily feeling hollow inside.
  • As the Ramsays march off, Lily realizes that, essentially, Mr. Ramsay needs to feel awesome. All the time. And Mrs. Ramsay used to fill that role.
  • Lily adjusts all of her painting things, and then contemplates where to start.
  • Lily paints.
  • As she paints, Lily tries to figure out the point of all this effort. She knows the painting will probably wind up under some servant’s bed, but the words "women can’t write, women can’t paint" ring in her ears and urge her on.
  • Lily thinks about the meaning of life, and about, essentially, halting life. Freezing it. Mrs. Ramsay was able to do it well, and when she remembers this, Lily thinks that she owes everything to Mrs. Ramsay.
  • Lily walks to where she can see the sea. She sees a little boat, and imagines Mr. Ramsay, Cam, and James sailing in it.
  • Standing at the edge of the lawn, Lily finds the boat that Mr. Ramsay, Cam, and James are traveling in. She regrets not giving Mr. Ramsay her sympathy.
  • As she paints, Lily daydreams a little about sitting next to Mrs. Ramsay on the beach.
  • Then Lily thinks about Minta and Paul Rayley. Their marriage fell apart after about a year and the two are essentially best friends now.
  • Lily wonders what Mrs. Ramsay would think of the marriage.
  • Lily feels triumphant over Mrs. Ramsay’s old fashioned values. Indeed, Lily had never married, nor had William Bankes, although Mrs. Ramsay did try her best to get them together.
  • Lily has a moment of thought for the idea of being "in love," but remembers the Rayleys’ marriage.
  • Lily and William Bankes are, however, extremely good friends.
  • Lily wants to talk to Mr. Carmichael about Mrs. Ramsay, but ends up (unexpectedly) crying and calling out to Mrs. Ramsay. This continues for a while.
  • Lily then continues painting. She looks up at one point and sees Mr. Ramsay’s boat halfway across the bay.
  • The weather is very good. Lily wonders where the boat is now.
  • Lily watches the sea. She feels as if they have gone forever.
  • Lily ruminates that a lot depends on distance. Her feelings for Mr. Ramsay change as he goes further away.
  • She looks at her painting in shock. She has not been able to achieve balance between two opposing forces.
  • Something is evading Lily whenever she thinks of Mrs. Ramsay or her picture.
  • Lily thinks about Mr. Carmichael and how he has changed. The two of them don’t know each other very well, but Lily argues in her mind that she knows Mr. Carmichael. She can imagine the shape of his poetry.
  • Lily thinks about Mr. Carmichael’s interactions with Mrs. Ramsay, how Mrs. Ramsay, sensing that Mr. Carmichael didn’t like her, would always try to be helpful towards him.
  • Lily thinks about Mrs. Ramsay’s character.
  • Then Lily thinks about Charles Tansley, and how he got married, had a little girl, and denounced the war in favor of brotherly love.
  • Lily reflects that 50 eyes are necessary to see people clearly.
  • Lily imagines the life that Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay had together.
  • She turns her attention back to her painting, then walks again to the edge of the lawn. She wants Mr. Ramsay. Don’t get so excited, she doesn’t want him in that way.
  • Lily finishes her painting, and the painting matches her vision.

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