Study Guide

To the Lighthouse Part 1, Chapter 4

By Virginia Woolf

Part 1, Chapter 4

  • A man who is not identified – but we later find out is Mr. Ramsay – comes out of the house shouting lines from Lord Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade, and almost knocks over Lily Briscoe’s easel.
  • Lily is relieved that he runs away. She really hates it when anyone looks at what she’s painting.
  • But then, 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 buddy-buddy.
  • Mr. Ramsay stares at them; William Bankes suggests that he and Lily take a stroll.
  • They walk over to where they can see the beautiful water of the bay, and feel united in watching the waves. How romantic.
  • Mr. Bankes thinks about the difference between his and Mr. Ramsay’s lives. He and Mr. Ramsay were once good friends, but their lives took different paths: Mr. Ramsay has a wife and many children, whereas Mr. Bankes is childless and a widower. Mr. Bankes believes that Mr. Ramsay is a great man, but at the same time understands that the "spice" has gone out of their friendship.
  • As Mr. Bankes begins walking back to the house, he sees Cam, the Ramsays’ youngest daughter, throwing a rebellious temper tantrum against her nursemaid, who wants the girl to give away a flower.
  • Mr. Bankes is amazed that the Ramsays manage to raise eight children on philosophy (meaning that Mr. Ramsay works in philosophy and can’t possibly make enough money).
  • In his mind, each of the eight children is connected with a different superlative. We hear four of them: Cam the Wicked, James the Ruthless (he’s the one that wanted to axe his dad two chapters ago), Andrew the Just, and Prue the Fair. So, in spite of the aforementioned difficulty keeping track of who’s who, we at least know that these four are Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay’s kids.
  • Lily thinks of Mr. Ramsay’s work, which Andrew ("the Just") equates to "a kitchen table when you’re not there." Don’t worry if you’re not getting Woolf’s drift. It’s all philosophical stuff about the nature of reality.
  • Lily and Mr. Bankes discuss Mr. Ramsay’s work.
  • As the two of them walk back, a shot rings out and a flock of starlings take flight.
  • Mr. Ramsay yells, "Someone had blundered!" He then turns and slams his private door.