To the Lighthouse
To the Lighthouse
by Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Ramsay Timeline and Summary

  • Mrs. Ramsay tells her son that if the weather is good tomorrow, they can go to the Lighthouse.
  • She is knitting a stocking for the Lighthouse keeper’s little boy. She is also mentally compiling a list of other objects to give to the Lighthouse keepers.
  • After lunch, Mrs. Ramsay sees that Mr. Tansley is feeling left out, so she asks him to accompany her on her errands.
  • On their way out, Mrs. Ramsay stops and asks Mr. Carmichael, who is sitting on the lawn, if he wants anything.
  • On their walk into town, Mrs. Ramsay makes Mr. Tansley feel much better about himself – so much so that he wants to do something manly and chivalrous for her, like carry her bag, but she insists on carrying it herself.
  • Mrs. Ramsay sees an advertisement for a circus, and says that they should all go.
  • Mrs. Ramsay listens to Mr. Tansley’s sob story but privately thinks that he’s an insufferable bore. Still, she sees his chatter as his way of recovering from the fact that he’s never been to the circus.
  • The two of them come to the quay and Mrs. Ramsay exclaims at the beautiful view. She says her husband loves the view, and that loads of artists come to paint it.
  • The two of them watch one of the artists, and Mrs. Ramsay speaks about the differences between the artist’s method and the method used in her grandmother’s day.
  • Mrs. Ramsay goes inside a house to talk to some woman – charity work.
  • When Mrs. Ramsay overhears Charles Tansley telling James that the weather will be awful tomorrow, her feeling of dislike towards Mr. Tansley intensifies.
  • Mrs. Ramsay consoles her little boy, saying that the weather might still turn fine tomorrow. She does this not because she actually believes it, but because she can see that James really wants to go to the Lighthouse.
  • Mrs. Ramsay begins turning the pages of a catalog, looking for a rake or mowing machine for James to cut out (those are the most difficult).
  • Mrs. Ramsay is startled when the men stop talking, and concludes that Mr. Tansley has been cast off by the rest of the men. She is fine with this because Mr. Tansley has hurt James.
  • Mrs. Ramsay remembers that she has promised to keep her head down for the portrait that Lily Briscoe is painting. She thinks briefly that Lily will never get married, then bends her head again.
  • Mrs. Ramsay takes the stockings she is knitting and measures them up against James’s leg.
  • In a flash of inspiration, she decides that William and Lily should marry.
  • Mrs. Ramsay looks up, confused, and takes stock of the room they are in, and the whole house. It’s getting shabbier and shabbier every summer.
  • She speaks sharply to her boy and he straightens up. The stocking is too short.
  • Mrs. Ramsay continues knitting the stocking, kisses her little boy, and suggests that they go cut out some pictures.
  • With the phrase "someone had blundered" ringing in her ears, Mrs. Ramsay watches her husband approach.
  • She can sense that he’s distraught, and gives him time to collect himself.
  • The two of them chat about Charles Tansley and about the possibility of going to the Lighthouse tomorrow. Mrs. Ramsay still thinks it’s possible.
  • Mrs. Ramsay thinks that it’s indecent for Mr. Ramsay to crush hope.
  • Mrs. Ramsay bends her head and Mr. Ramsay then feels bad.
  • Mr. Ramsay returns to his wife and declares that he’s a total failure. Mrs. Ramsay strokes his ego.
  • Mrs. Ramsay sort of crumples after her husband leaves, but turns back to the fairy tale she is reading to James.
  • She’s angry because she doesn’t like feeling better than her husband.
  • Augustus Carmichael shuffles past and Mrs. Ramsay asks if he is going indoors.
  • Mr. Carmichael does not respond, and we get a whole extended ramble down Mrs. Ramsay’s Memory Lane. Let’s take a deep breath. OK, here we go:
  • Mr. Carmichael takes opium, which the children say stains his beard.
  • Mrs. Ramsay believes it is obvious that Mr. Carmichael is unhappy and comes to stay with the Ramsays each year as an escape.
  • Mr. Carmichael doesn’t trust her; Mrs. Ramsay blames his deceased wife.
  • Mrs. Ramsay goes out of her way to be nice to him.
  • Mrs. Ramsay suspects that her desire to be helpful and nice is merely vanity, and that Mr. Carmichael’s rejection of her efforts shows up in the pettiness in her character.
  • And we’re back. Mrs. Ramsay continues reading The Fisherman and his Wife to James.
  • Mrs. Ramsay calls to her daughter Cam.
  • Mrs. Ramsay is stressing because Minta Doyle and Paul Rayley have not come back from their walk. She wants to know if they’re going to get married.
  • James tugs on Mrs. Ramsay to remind her to continue reading.
  • As she reads, Mrs. Ramsay continues thinking about Minta Doyle, and recalls her obligations to Minta’s parents, who she has nicknamed the Owl and the Poker.
  • Mrs. Ramsay remembers Mrs. Doyle accusing her of being manipulative. Mrs. Doyle believes that Mrs. Ramsay stole Minta’s affections away from her own mother.
  • Then Mrs. Ramsay thinks about her children. She doesn’t want them to get any older.
  • Mrs. Ramsay carries on a mental argument with her husband over her belief that the children will never again be as happy as they are now, in their childhood.
  • Mrs. Ramsay’s thoughts then shift to Minta Doyle. She wonders briefly if she put too much pressure on Minta to marry Paul.
  • Mrs. Ramsay finishes the story about the fisherman and his wife.
  • Mrs. Ramsay worries that James will forever remember not going to the Lighthouse tomorrow.
  • With the children in bed, Mrs. Ramsay is free to sit and think. Freed of all attachments or obligations, her real self has a chance to stretch. She watches the Lighthouse.
  • She goes to her husband without him asking.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay walk past the greenhouse, which is beginning to get repaired, but Mrs. Ramsay doesn’t have the heart to tell her husband the cost (50 pounds, incidentally, and Mrs. Ramsay often thinks randomly on this fact).
  • Instead, Mrs. Ramsay brings up Jasper’s fondness for shooting defenseless creatures.
  • Mr. Ramsay says that it’s natural, and not to worry about it. Mrs. Ramsay thinks her husband as being sensible.
  • They chat some more about Charles Tansley, Prue (Mr. Ramsay doesn’t see her beauty), and the garden, etc.
  • Mr. Ramsay will be proud if Andrew gets a scholarship; Mrs. Ramsay will be proud either way. They realize that they like this balance in each other.
  • Mrs. Ramsay expresses worry that some of the kids aren’t back yet, but Mr. Ramsay glosses over her fears.
  • The two of them reach a place where the Lighthouse can be seen again. Mrs. Ramsay does not look.
  • Mrs. Ramsay brings up the idea that Mr. Ramsay would have written better books had he not married her.
  • He says that he’s not complaining, and then kisses her hand passionately. Hot.
  • The two of them walk up the path and Mrs. Ramsay reflects that even though her husband is over 60 years of age, his arm feels like a young man’s.
  • Mrs. Ramsay contemplates her husband’s inability to understand the simple and the ordinary in favor of dealing with the complex and the extraordinary.
  • Mrs. Ramsay inspects her flowers.
  • Mrs. Ramsay looks at Lily Briscoe and William Bankes walking along, deciding in her head that the two of them must marry.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay watch a girl throwing a ball.
  • Mrs. Ramsay turns to smile at Lily and Mr. Bankes.
  • Mrs. Ramsay expresses pleasure that Mr. Bankes will be joining them for dinner.
  • Prue runs into them, and Mrs. Ramsay asks her if Nancy was with the (still missing) group. Prue says yes.
  • Jasper and Rose help Mrs. Ramsay get ready for dinner. She watches some rooks outside her window.
  • Mrs. Ramsay deliberately lets Rose take her time in choosing the necklace she is to wear.
  • After also choosing a shawl, all the preparations are finally over and Mrs. Ramsay descends to dinner with Jasper and Rose.
  • Mrs. Ramsay is eager to find out if Paul and Minta are now engaged, but knows it will have to wait.
  • She descends the staircase and is likened to a queen accepting tribute from her people.
  • After a brief moment spent questioning what she’s accomplished with her life, Mrs. Ramsay organizes the seating and the food, etc.
  • As she ladles out soup, Mrs. Ramsay feels a discord among the shabbiness of her surroundings and the separation of her guests. She feels it her sole duty to create beauty and harmony.
  • Mrs. Ramsay engages William Bankes in conversation.
  • It’s clear that Mrs. Ramsay pities William Bankes – according to Lily, Mrs. Ramsay pities William not because he is pitiful, but because Mrs. Ramsay wants, no, needs him to be pitiful, even.
  • Mrs. Ramsay and Mr. Bankes talk about letters until Mrs. Ramsay takes pity on Mr. Tansley and tries to draw him into the conversation.
  • Mrs. Ramsay talks to Mr. Bankes about an old friend of hers named Carrie.
  • Mrs. Ramsay feels very uncomfortable that Carrie has gone off and had her own life and that she hasn’t given Carrie a single thought over the years.
  • Mrs. Ramsay asks Mr. Tansley if he is a good sailor, and Mr. Tansley gets ready to assert something and show how admirable he is, but he realizes it would be ludicrous and just says that he never gets seasick.
  • Mrs. Ramsay basically gives Lily a telepathic look and tells her to take social pity on the poor, awkward Mr. Tansley.
  • Mrs. Ramsay looks down the table at her husband, expecting him to be magnificently holding forth about fishermen and their wages, but he is instead looking very angry that Augustus Carmichael has asked for another bowl of soup.
  • Mrs. Ramsay knows that her husband hates it when people continue eating after he is finished.
  • Then Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, sitting at opposite ends of the table, have a mental argument.
  • Mrs. Ramsay, realizing that Nancy are Roger are about to laugh at their father, calls for the candles to be lit.
  • Mrs. Ramsay reflects that Mr. Augustus never follows social norms.
  • Mrs. Ramsay sees Minta smile and assumes that Minta has gotten engaged to Paul Rayley.
  • For a split second Mrs. Ramsay is unexpectedly jealous. She flashes back to her own engagement to her husband.
  • The boeuf en daube is set on the table as Paul sits down next to Mrs. Ramsay. She asks him to tell her what had happened.
  • The first word out of Paul’s mouth is "we," and Mrs. Ramsay can immediately tell that he and Minta are engaged.
  • The boeuf en daube is unveiled and it is a triumph. Mrs. Ramsay says that it is a French recipe of her grandmother’s.
  • Mrs. Ramsay talks about vegetable skins. Everyone silently worships her.
  • Mrs. Ramsay tunes in to the conversation on the other side of the table about numbers and philosophers and things, and monitors it for topics that could potentially upset her husband and make him think about his failures.
  • Mrs. Ramsay gets up and leaves, looking once over her shoulder to confirm that that dinner has already become part of the past.
  • As Mrs. Ramsay walks off, she’s suffused with a sense of her own place in the stream of Time.
  • She goes into her children’s room and is irritated to find that James and Cam are still awake.
  • Mrs. Ramsay covers the frightening pig skull on the wall with her shawl and tells Cam stories until the girl falls asleep.
  • Mrs. Ramsay then turns her attention to James, who asks if they are going to the Lighthouse tomorrow. Mrs. Ramsay says no, but that they will go on the next time the weather is good.
  • Mrs. Ramsay leaves the room and encounters Prue, Minta, and Paul.
  • Mrs. Ramsay suddenly turns into a giggling teenager. She allows the three to go to the beach, after making sure they have a watch. (They do, a beautiful one belonging to Paul.)
  • Mrs. Ramsay expresses a wish to go with them, but something holds her back.
  • She goes into a room where her husband is reading.
  • Mrs. Ramsay continues to knit the stocking as she watches her husband read.
  • She’s troubled because she knows her husband is stressed about the legacy his books will leave behind.
  • As she knits, Mrs. Ramsay murmurs snippets of the poem they had been reciting at dinner. Finally, she opens a book and begins to read it without really absorbing the words.
  • Mrs. Ramsay continues to read until she becomes aware that her husband is looking at her. To him, she is somehow more beautiful than ever.
  • Mrs. Ramsay continues knitting as she searches for something to say, and finally she tells her husband that Paul and Minta are engaged.
  • The two of them make awkward conversation.
  • Mr. Ramsay continues to look at Mrs. Ramsay, but Mrs. Ramsay feels the look change. He wants her to tell him "I love you."
  • Mrs. Ramsay can’t do it. She tries to figure out if there’s something she can do for him, like brush his coat, but there’s nothing. She gets up and looks at the sea.
  • Finally, she turns around and just smiles at him. She tells him that he was right, they won’t be able to go to the Lighthouse tomorrow. She wins!
  • Some unspecified amount of time later, Mrs. Ramsay dies.

Next Page: Mr. Ramsay Timeline

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