Study Guide

To the Lighthouse Part 3, Chapter 1

By Virginia Woolf

Part 3, Chapter 1

  • Sitting at the breakfast table, Lily Briscoe feels awkward. And you would too if you came back after years and years to a house whose hostess has, um, kicked the bucket.
  • OK, so Lily doesn’t explicitly think this, but we thought we’d save you the trouble of piecing together all the showy examples and just point out the big obvious fact that MRS. RAMSAY HELD EVERYTHING TOGETHER.
  • Mr. Ramsay, James, Cam, and Nancy are late for their expedition to the Lighthouse, and you can just imagine poor Lily sitting 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, sitting at the breakfast table, feels isolated from the rest of her family and wonders what she’s even doing there.
  • Mr. Ramsay looks straight at Lily for a moment, which throws her off balance.
  • Lily sits and thinks for a while longer. Mr. Carmichael comes in, makes a cup of coffee, and leaves to sit in the sun.
  • 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 finish the darn painting.
  • Lily sets up her easel at the exact spot she set it up ten years ago. What? It’s been ten years?! Way to just slip that in, Virginia Woolf.
  • 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. And then he scares his kids into going to the Lighthouse with him.
  • 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 about 44 years of age.
  • She gives up, puts her brush down, and tries to give Mr. Ramsay whatever attention and/or sympathy she can.