Literapedia Book Notes for

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf


  • Mrs. Ramsay (ch 1)—the head-of-household, a great beauty, and has eight children
  • James Ramsay (ch 1)—Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay's son
  • Mr. Ramsay (ch 1)—the head-of-household and needs a lot of sympathy
  • Charles Tansley (ch 1)— a guest and "the little atheist"
  • Rose (ch 1)—Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay's daughter
  • Prue (ch 1)—Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay's daughter
  • Andrew (ch 1—Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay's son
  • Jasper (ch 1)—Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay's son
  • Roger (ch 1)—Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay's son
  • Nancy (ch 1)—Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay's daughter
  • Minta Doyle (ch 1)—a guest
  • Paul Rayley (ch 1)—a guest
  • Augustus Carmichael (ch 1)—a guest and poet
  • Lily Briscoe (ch 3)—a guest and painter
  • Marie (ch 5)—a Swiss maid
  • Cam (ch 9)—the youngest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay
  • Mildred (ch 10)—the children's nurse
  • Mrs. McNab (Part II, ch 4)—a woman who dusts the house
  • Mrs. Bast (Part II, ch 9)—a woman who helps clean the house
  • George (Part II, ch 9)—Mrs. Bast's son, catches rats, and mows the lawn
  • Macalister (Part III, ch 4)— a man who goes to the lighthouse with the Ramsay's
  • Macalister's son (Part III, ch 4)—a boy who helps row the boat and catches fish

Chapter Summaries

Part I: The Window

  1. Mrs. Ramsay tells James that he can go to the lighthouse as James cuts out pictures on the floor. Mr. Ramsay says the weather will not be fine, and James is very angry. Mrs. Ramsay tries to reassure James. Mr. Tansley does not help James' spirits when he agrees with Mr. Ramsay. After dinner, Mr. Tansley and Mrs. Ramsay run errands in town. They discuss going to the circus, and Mr. Tansley talks about his life. They pause at the sea before Mrs. Ramsay takes supplies to a person's house. Mr. Tansley finds her beautiful, and a man in the drain looks up at them.
  2. Mr. Tansley tells James again that he will not go to the lighthouse. description
  3. Mrs. Ramsay tells James that the weather might be fine tomorrow. She thinks about the destruction of the island and rude Mr. Tansley before remembering to pose for Lily's picture.
  4. William Bankes finds Lily painting, and they decide to walk down to the bay. Bankes remembers his friendship with Mr. Ramsay, a friendship that has changed greatly because of Ramsay's wife and eight children. Lily feels a deep respect for Mr. Bankes. Mr. Ramsay appears, and he is very emotional.
  5. Mrs. Ramsay knits stockings while observing her mismatched and shabby furniture, which she likes. Mr. Bankes wants Mrs. Ramsay's beauty worked into Lily's painting.
  6. Mrs. Ramsay knows that "some one had blundered," but she does not know how. Mr. Ramsay is angry but is able to regain his composure. He then announces that they will not be going to the lighthouse, but Mrs. Ramsay says that it is still possible. Mr. Ramsay watches his wife and son James in the window. He feels that he is only a "Q" man and will never reach "Z" status, though there is usually only one Z per generation.
  7. James hates his father because he causes many disturbances and looks for sympathy. Mrs. Ramsay reassures Mr. Ramsay, and she reveals that she wants people to think that he is more important than her. She also hides things from him, such as money matters. Mr. Carmichael comes into the room.
  8. Mr. Carmichael does not trust Mrs. Ramsay, though other people love her. Mr. Ramsay walks through the garden and to the bay. He reflects that he is happy but had not done what he could have, something he tries to disguise.
  9. Mr. Bankes and Lily discuss Mr. Ramsay, and Mr. Bankes calls him a hypocrite. Mr. Bankes loves Mrs. Ramsay, but Lily is unsure how she feels about Mrs. Ramsay's idea that unmarried women miss the best things in life. Lily wishes for intimacy and unity with Mrs. Ramsay, and Mr. Bankes looks at Lily's painting.
  10. Cam goes to see if Minta and Paul are back from their walk with Andrew. Mrs. Ramsay reveals that she does not want her children to grow up, and Mr. Ramsay calls her a pessimist for worrying about them.
  11. Alone, Mrs. Ramsay wonders how the Lord could have made the world. Mr. Ramsay feels bad because he wants to help her but cannot protect her.
  12. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay walk in the garden while discussing Charles Tansley and their children. Mr. Ramsay begins to explain his feelings but is unable to finish. He enters a dream state as he thinks about the past. The couple sees Lily and Mr. Bankes.
  13. Lily and Mr. Bankes discuss art and then see the Ramsay. Prue and Jasper are playing catch. To Lily, the Ramsays symbolize marriage.
  14. Nancy, Minta, Paul, and Andrew walk to the sea. Andrew and Nancy play in the beach and then catch Paul and Minta in each other's arms. Minta loses her grandmother's brooch, and Paul reveals that he has asked Minta to marry him.
  15. Prue tells her mother that she thinks Nancy went with Minta and Paul to the sea.
  16. Mrs. Ramsay is annoyed that people are late for dinner. Rose and Jasper help her choose her jewels. Mrs. Ramsay calls the crows that are trying to roost Mary and Joseph. Paul and Minta return for dinner.
  17. Mrs. Ramsay wonders what she has done with her life. Lily watches Mrs. Ramsay take sympathy on Mr. Bankes. Mr. Tansley is annoyed by women, and he knows Lily is trying to annoy him when she asks if she can accompany him to the lighthouse. Mr. Bankes and Mrs. Ramsay discuss Carrie, a mutual friend. Mr. Bankes is annoyed that he is at dinner and is not dinner, and he reveals that he feels nothing for Mrs. Ramsay. Mr. Tansley finds the Ramsays nonsensical, and Lily realizes this. Mr. Ramsay cannot hide his anger when Mr. Carmichael asks for a second serving of soup. The lighting of the candles brings the dinner group together. Mrs. Ramsay feels a bit jealous of the girls Mr. Ramsay is attracted to. She guesses that Paul and Minta are engaged. Lily asks Paul if she can go with him to find the brooch. Mrs. Ramsay wants Lily and Mr. Bankes to marry. She then discusses book and observes her children. Poetry is recited.
  18. Mrs. Ramsay goes upstairs, and she is happy to be woven into her guests' lives. The children are still awake, and Rose is frightened by a skull on the wall, so Mrs. Ramsay wraps a shawl around it. Some guests decide to go the beach. Mrs. Ramsay would like to go but know that she cannot.
  19. Mr. Ramsay reads a book by Scott while Mrs. Ramsay knits. She watches Mr. Ramsay worry about his own books because he worries that he will not be remembered. The reading leaves Mr. Ramsay vigorous, and he cries. Mrs. Ramsay reads poetry and enters a dreamy state. The two discuss the engagement. Mrs. Ramsay cannot tell Mr. Ramsay that she loves him, but he knows it through her smile.

Part II: Time Passes

  1. The group comes in from the beach and turns out the lights.
  2. The wind blows through the house, and Mr. Carmichael goes to sleep.
  3. Nights full of wind and destruction are described. Mrs. Ramsay dies.
  4. The house is left alone, and nothing disturbs it. Mrs. McNab comes to dust.
  5. Mrs. McNab cleans and thinks of past experiences at the house.
  6. Prue marries and then dies in childbirth. Andrew is killed by an exploding shell in France. Mr. Carmichael publishes successful poems.
  7. Seasons go by at the house, but no one is there. Flowers bloom.
  8. Mrs. McNab picks flowers. No one comes to the hosue, and everything goes to waste. Mrs. McNab remembers Mrs. Ramsay and the cook before locking up the house.
  9. The house is deserted and about to go to waste when one of the young ladies writes and asks that the house be fixed up. Mrs. Bast helps clean, and the two housecleaners remember the past over tea. They finish cleaning with the help of George. Lily comes in September.
  10. Lily, Mrs. Beckwith, and Mr. Carmichael are all asleep at the house with the sea surrounding them.

Part III: The Lighthouse

  1. Mr. Ramsay, Cam, and james are supposed to go to the lighthouse, and Nancy wants to know what to send. Lily continues her painting from ten years before, but Mr. Ramsay will not leave her alone. She is angry that Mrs. Ramsay has died, and she is willing to give Mr. Ramsay what he wants.
  2. Mr. Ramsay wants sympathy, but Lily does not know how to give it, so she says nothing. Finally, she comments on his boots. When Lily eventually feels sympathetic, it is too late because Mr. Ramsay and the children leave for the lighthouse. Lily realizes that Mr. Ramsay needs someone to talk to about everyday affairs.
  3. Lily begins painting but remembers Mr. Tansley saying that women cannot paint. She also remembers skipping rocks with Mr. Tansley while Mrs. Ramsay wrote letters by the sea. Lily feels that she owes everything to Mrs. Ramsay. She watches the boat set sail.
  4. Mr. Ramsay is very impatient on the boat. Cam and James hope to "fight tyranny to the death" and to thwart their father's plans. They wish for no wind. Mr. Ramsay talks to Macalister about storms and looks at the house from the boat. Cam cannot answer her father because although she loves him, he poisoned her childhood with his tyranny.
  5. Lily remembers Mr. Ramsay and Minta. She then reveals that Minta and Paul have a troubled marriage. Paul has a mistress who has actually helped the marriage. Lily is happy that she did not marry, and she remembers her great friendship with Mr. Bankes. Lily then cries for Mrs. Ramsay and life.
  6. Macalister's boy cuts a fish and uses it as bait.
  7. Lily cries out for Mrs. Ramsay. She associates Mrs. Ramsay's death with a wreath of white flowers. She looks out to sea and sees the boat.
  8. The group is still sailing, and James wants to take a knife and strike the heart of his father if his father does something unreasonable. The wind dies and then starts again.
  9. Lily looks out to sea and comments on the power of distance.
  10. Cam remembers seeing her father reading in the study.
  11. Lily looks out over the sea and finds the placing of the ships displeasing. She cannot get her painting quite right. She feels that she knows Mr. Carmichael in an outline. Lily then realizes that some people must not have liked Mrs. Ramsay. In her mind, she sees Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay become engaged. Mrs. Ramsay returns to pose for Lily's painting.
  12. Mr. Ramsay reads and they approach the lighthouse. The group eats lunch and see where a ship wreck occurred. Mr. Ramsay praises James, and the group get off the boat with the parcels.
  13. Lily and Mr. Carmichael know that the group has landed. Lily finishes her painting.

Book Note Creator

Natalie Davis