Study Guide

To the Lighthouse Manipulation

By Virginia Woolf


Naturally, one had asked her to lunch, tea, dinner, finally to stay with them up at Finlay, which had resulted in some friction with the Owl, her mother, and more calling, and more conversation, and more sand, and really at the end of it, she had told enough lies about parrots to last her a lifetime (so she had said to her husband that night, coming back from the party). However, Minta came...Yes, she came, Mrs. Ramsay thought, suspecting some thorn in the tangle of this thought; and disengaging it found it to be this: a woman had once accused her of "robbing her of her daughter’s affections"; something Mrs. Doyle had said made her remember that charge again. Wishing to dominate, wishing to interfere, making people do what she wished—that was the charge against her, and she thought it most unjust. How could she help being "like that" to look at? No one could accuse her of taking pains to impress. She was often ashamed of her own shabbiness. Nor was she domineering, nor was she tyrannical. (1.10.11)

Some people love Mrs. Ramsay, possibly because they are blind to her manipulation; others dislike her because they see her as someone who dominates and interferes.

Was she wrong in this, she asked herself, reviewing her conduct for the past week or two, and wondering if she had indeed put any pressure upon Minta, who was only twenty-four, to make up her mind. She was uneasy. Had she not laughed about it? Was she not forgetting again how strongly she influenced people? Marriage needed—oh, all sorts of qualities (the bill for the greenhouse would be fifty pounds); one—she need not name it—that was essential; the thing she had with her husband. Had they that? (1.10.13)

This is a moment of self-interrogation for Mrs. Ramsay, who is aware that her influence on other people is exceedingly strong. Here, she’s essentially asking if she used her powers for good or evil.

As they turned by the cross roads he thought what an appalling experience he had been through, and he must tell some one—Mrs. Ramsay of course, for it took his breath away to think what he had been and done. It had been far and away the worst moment of his life when he asked Minta to marry him. He would go straight to Mrs. Ramsay, because he felt somehow that she was the person who had made him do it. She had made him think he could do anything. Nobody else took him seriously. But she made him believe that he could do whatever he wanted. He had felt her eyes on him all day today, following him about (though she never said a word) as if she were saying, "Yes, you can do it. I believe in you. I expect it of you." She had made him feel all that, and directly they got back (he looked for the lights of the house above the bay) he would go to her and say, "I’ve done it, Mrs. Ramsay; thanks to you." (1.14.9)

We have confirmation that Mrs. Ramsay does indeed bear at least some responsibility for Paul’s proposal to Minta.

Foolishly, she had set them opposite each other. That could be remedied tomorrow. If it were fine, they should go for a picnic. Everything seemed possible. Everything seemed right. (1.17.57)

Mrs. Ramsay makes plans for getting Lily and William Bankes together. Her manipulation is actually quite conscious.

Mrs. Ramsay had planned it. Perhaps, had she lived, she would have compelled it. Already that summer he was "the kindest of men." He was "the first scientist of his age, my husband says." He was also "poor William—it makes me so unhappy, when I go to see him, to find nothing nice in his house—no one to arrange the flowers." So they were sent for walks together, and she was told, with that faint touch of irony that made Mrs. Ramsay slip through one’s fingers, that she had a scientific mind; she liked flowers; she was so exact. What was this mania of hers for marriage? Lily wondered, stepping to and fro from her easel. (3.5.14 – 3.5.15)

Ten years ago, Mrs. Ramsay had already begun to persuade Lily into marriage. Lily, however, seems to be one character who is immune to Mrs. Ramsay’s manipulation.

She had only escaped by the skin of her teeth though, she thought. She had been looking at the table-cloth, and it had flashed upon her that she would move the tree to the middle, and need never marry anybody, and she had felt an enormous exultation. She had felt, now she could stand up to Mrs. Ramsay—a tribute to the astonishing power that Mrs. Ramsay had over one. Do this, she said, and one did it. Even her shadow at the window with James was full of authority. (3.5.17)

Although Lily did feel a strong pull to marriage, she is quite happy she escaped and didn’t succumb to Mrs. Ramsay’s urgings.