Thursday, 21 November 2013

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf - Part 2

published 1927








James Ramsay, sitting on the floor cutting out pictures from the illustrated catalogue of the Army and Navy stores, endowed the picture of a refrigerator, as his mother spoke, with heavenly bliss.

She stroked James’s head; she transferred to him what she felt for her husband, and, as she watched him chalk yellow the white dress shirt of a gentleman in the Army and Navy Stores catalogue, thought what a delight it would be to her should he turn out a great artist; and why should he not? He had a splendid forehead…

Happily, Mildred came in to fetch them, and the bustle distracted them. But he kept looking back over his shoulder as Mildred carried him out, and she was certain that he was thinking, we are not going to the Lighthouse tomorrow; and she thought, he will remember that all his life.

No, she thought, putting together some of the pictures he had cut out— a refrigerator, a mowing machine, a gentleman in evening dress— children never forget. For this reason, it was so important what one said, and what one did, and it was a relief when they went to bed.



observations: In Monday’s entry I commented on the fact that Mrs Ramsay doesn’t cook the famous boeuf en daube in this book: Mildred does. Mildred is, one assumes, the cook, so what is she doing carrying James off, above? Why isn’t she cooking dinner? She seems to spend a lot of time looking after the children - something else that Mrs Ramsey cannot do - and on general household duties.

the children were not asleep. It was most annoying. Mildred should be more careful.

She had told Mildred to move [the skull] but Mildred of course had forgotten

There are other maids – a Swiss girl called Marthe (or maybe Marie, her name seems to change) who is crying because her father is dying, but we don’t hear any more about that. And later on there is an odd repeated phrase about Mildred from someone remembering her years later:

And cook’s name now? Mildred? Marian? Some name like that.
And then the same character a few pages later:
There was the cook now, Mildred, Marian, some such name as that
It’s not that you expect more of Woolf than is fair – though this is the woman who said we need to write about the bald spots at the back of men’s heads, so we can expect a lot of her – it’s the total lack of self-awareness that’s disappointing, to forget the name, to repeat the phrase, to care so little for the staff.

But still a great book, and will always be worth reading for that central section about the house. And that picture is just asking to be coloured in in yellow... 


More Virginia Woolf on the blog here and here.

9 comments:

  1. Handsome chap, but it's a no from me

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    1. You're still welcome to colour in his shirt.

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    2. Reminds me a bit of my son, but I can't see any piercings!

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  2. Maybe someday I will read this. It would be a definite if there weren't the "too many books" lament. Not a long book, and on Goodreads it gets over 10000 5 star ratings.

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    1. It isn't too long, Tracy, and it is very good....

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  3. Moira - Yes, it really does need to be yellow! How funny you'd mention that. And I do like those little details Woolf adds. Oh, and I love the comment about children - perceptive,, witty and well worded. :-)

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    1. Woolf is always a mystery - so perceptive about some things, and not about others....

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  4. Woolf has a reputation to be a "difficult" author, but I found this book very accessible and easy to read and enjoyed it a lot. Looking forward to read more by her. Thanks for the two interesting pieces on the book!

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    1. Thank you for kind comments. This book enthralled me when I first read it in my 20s, and still enthralls me now.

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