Mrs. Ramsay To the Lighthouse
Table of Contents
Her Physical Charm
Mrs. Ramsay, the wife of Mr. Ramsay, is a middle-aged woman, a mother of eight children. Despite her age, she is a woman of great physical charms. References to her beauty are frequent in the novel. Compliments are often paid to her as, for example, “the happier Helen of our times”. She is admired by all her guests, and even women are fascinated by her. She dominates the novel, and exercises her influence on everybody. But physical beauty alone cannot account for all her attractiveness and the reverential and trustful attitude of all those she comes in contact with. She is so dominating a character, because she is also so very considerate, polite, cultured, humane and kind-hearted.
A Creator of Harmony
One great pleasure of Mrs. Ramsay’s life is bringing people together. This aspect of her character is revealed to great advantage during the dinner party which forms the climax to the first part of To the Lighthouse. By a look she compels Lily to be considerate to Tansley. Tansley is thus brought out of his isolation and feels more at home and at ease. Similarly, by her looks, and by her little nameless acts of courtesy, she pacifies Mr. Ramsay and draws both William Bankes and Carmichael out of their respective shells. Her husband leans upon her for sympathy and her children love and admire her, for she is a kindly mother who can tactfully soothe and comfort them.
Similar is her loving kindness’ in the nursery after the dinner, when she covers the boar’s head with her shawl and assures one of the children that it is there still, and the other one that it is no longer there for it cannot be seen. It is her kind and sympathetic nature which enables her to understand the psychology of others, and thus bring them together. That is why she has been called a uniting force both structurally and psychologically.
As a Match-maker
Her role as match-maker is but another aspect of her keen interest in establishing harmony among people. It is she who brings Paul and Minta together. She is responsible for their marriage. It is another matter that the marriage is not a success, and the two fall out soon after. Similarly, she would have liked very much to see Lily and Charles Tansley or Lily and William Bankes united in marriage bonds. There are frequent references in the novel to her zest for match-making.
Her Kind and Considerate Nature
Mrs. Ramsay is too full of the milk of human-kindness. To help the poor, the needy and the suffering is a matter of great pleasure for her; she knits a brown-stocking for the Lighthouse keeper’s son, because he is sick. She sends food and delicacies to him. She often goes out to the town and distributes food and clothes to the poor and needy. She knows that Tansley is poor, and does not tolerate any uncivility to him for this reason. She does her best to please Carmichael because he is also poor. When she goes to the town she offers to bring for him tobacco or anything else he might need.
Her Sense of Humour
Mrs. Ramsay has a rare sense of humour. It is this sense of humour which enables her to please both her children by covering the boar’s head with her shawl. She assures the one that the ugly head is not there for it cannot be seen, and the other that it is still there for it has not been taken away. It is her sense of humour which enables her to laugh with joy at the thought of marrying a man with a cold watch in a wash-leather bag. Again, it is this sense of humour which enables her to like circuses and poetry, and to take more interest in bulbs than in clothes.
Her Feminine Virtues
Critics like James Halley are of the view that Mrs. Ramsay is merely a symbol, that she has not been individualized, and that is why the novelist has not given her a first name. However, even such critics agree that she is a human being of great appeal, one who can create moments of unity which remain intact in the memory, “affecting one almost like a work of art” In fact, she is a rounded three-dimensional figure, one of the great immortals of literature. She is essentially feminine, and to round up her character the novelist has emphasised her feminine weaknesses. For example, she has a habit of exaggerating which frequently irritates her husband. She is muddle-headed and cannot remember facts, or distinguish between one fact and another.
Structural and Psychological Centre
Mrs. Ramsay is a living breathing reality, one of the finest creations of Mrs. Woolf. She is the structural and psychological centre of the novel, and the source of unity in it. It is she who holds together the various characters and events in the novel. In the very opening, we see Mrs. Ramsay sitting at the window, which links the lawn with the interior of the house. From Lily Briscoe to Charles Tansley, there is a large variety of people assembled there. Living under the same roof, they are more like scattered stones. Somebody must bring these stones together, and carve out a building. This job of construction and reconstruction is performed by Mrs. Ramsay.
An Ideal Wife
Further, Mr. Ramsay is completely dependent on his wife for sympathy and understanding. She is one of the very few people who really understand his problem. He needs sympathy and encouragement and repeatedly comes to her to be reassured. Though Mrs. Ramsay is very often unhappy at the way in which her husband conducts himself, she really thinks that he is head and shoulder above the ordinary run of people. She constantly encourages him and gives him that self-confidence which he so badly needs.
A Perfect Hostess
Mrs. Ramsay is a perfect hostess. People wondered how, with their meagre income, she was able to feed and look after so many guests. Her own family was large enough, and Mr. Ramsay was not making any big sum of money out of his books. But a shrewd house-holder and a patient housewife that Mrs. Ramsay is, she is able to make her little go a long way. It is not only the question of arranging for people’s lodging and boarding, what is important is that she is able to look after these guests to their satisfaction. They seem to be magnetically drawn towards her.
Dominates the Novel, Even After Death
Though Mrs. Ramsay dies and is not physically present after the first part, her influence is felt throughout. She pervades the whole book, and influences the lives of others even after her death. Her husband remembers her and undertakes the journey to the lighthouse in order to fulfill one of her most cherished wishes.
Lily Briscoe remembers her, has vision of her sitting at the window. Mrs. Ramsay saying, “Life stands still here”: Mrs. Ramsay making of the moment something permanent (as in another sphere, Lily herself tried to make of the moment something permanent) this was something in the nature of a revelation.
“In the midst of chaos there was shape; this eternal passing and flowing…..wax struck into stability.”
All this, and much more, Mrs. Ramsay does in the novel. Indeed, in the last part of the novel as James Hafiey puts it, Mrs. Ramsay rises from death and lives again. Mrs. Ramsay dead is more powerful than Mrs. Ramsay living.