Study Guide

To the Lighthouse Part 1, Chapter 1

By Virginia Woolf

Part 1, Chapter 1

  • James Ramsay, age six, gets super-excited when his mom tells him that if the weather is good tomorrow, then they can take a trip to the Lighthouse.
  • Essentially, wordy Woolf says, in a 101-word-long sentence, that James is so excited about the Lighthouse, everything in the present is colored by his expectant joy of tomorrow’s trip.
  • When Mr. Ramsay says that the weather will be terrible, James is seized with a rampant desire to kill his father… with an axe, a poker, or whatever’s available.
  • James likes his mother much better than he likes his father, clearly.
  • Mr. Ramsay doesn’t mind disappointing James; he wants his children to learn early that life is tough.
  • Mrs. Ramsay, who is knitting, insists that the weather will be fine. She is knitting stocking and compiling a number of odds and ends to give to the Lighthouse keepers because she feels sorry for them.
  • Charles Tansley, who gets a lot of flak for being an atheist, supports Mr. Ramsay’s point of view that the weather will be awful. This is in keeping with his generally disagreeable character and constant sucking up to Mr. Ramsay.
  • Everyone leaves the dinner table as soon as lunch is over.
  • Mrs. Ramsay can see that Mr. Tansley is feeling left out, so she asks him to accompany her on her errands. He agrees to.
  • On their way out, Mrs. Ramsay stops and asks Mr. Carmichael, who is sitting on the lawn, if he wants anything, but he doesn’t.
  • 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.
  • Mr. Tansley repeats her words but they don’t come out right, and soon his whole sob story spills out: his father worked a lot, he had a lot of siblings, they never went to the circus, now he’s doing a dissertation…blah blah blah.
  • Mrs. Ramsay thinks that he’s an insufferable bore who’s obsessed with all that academic jargon, but she now sees that this is 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 draws a comparison between the artist’s method and the method used in her grandmother’s day. (Basically, everyone nowadays paints like this guy named Paunceforte.)
  • Mrs. Ramsay goes inside a house to talk to some woman, and as Mr. Tansley waits in the drawing room his emotions intensify into deep feelings of love for Mrs. Ramsay. He’s convinced that she – a mother of eight children, and 50 years of age – is the most beautiful woman ever. He’s now absolutely determined to carry her bag.
  • As they walk back, Mr. Tansley is on Cloud Nine because he’s walking next to the most beautiful woman ever – and he’s carrying her bag. He feels like a real man.