In the first part, The Window, we find Mrs. Ramsay planning a trip to the Lighthouse situated near-by their small island the next day for James, her youngest child who is so much eager for this expedition. But Mr. Ramsay ‘with some secret conceit of his own accuracy of judgement’ and Mr. Tansley with his odious habit of saying disagreeable things dash the young child’s hope to the ground. They tell bluntly that the weather is not likely to be good enough for the trip. And the journey is not made. In this section we also get, more or less, a full and varied view of the personality and character of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay through the eyes of Lily Briscoe, William Bankes, young James and the guests assembled in that summer-house in the Island of Skye in the Hebrides.
Virginia Woolf’s early novels were written in conventional chapters and the others either continuously- or without any break or in sections marked by a gap or a number as, within the parts, To The Lighthouse is. And To The Lighthouse happens to be the only novel of Mrs. Woolf which has a three-fold division. It is divided into three separate parts, each of which has been given a title: The Window, Time Passes and The Lighthouse.
The second movement, Time Passes, is rather a short interlude that makes up part two. In this section we find memory beginning its task and this is very powerfully operative in the mind of old Mrs. McNab the charwoman. A period of ten years elapses. During this period the empty summer-house becomes a prey to ruin and decay. The actors of the piece grow in age and some of them, including Mrs. Ramsay, pass away from the stage of this world.
In the final movement we find people back to the old summer-house once again. Late Mrs. Ramsay is seen very powerfully and mysteriously through the eyes of Lily Briscoe. She is very much alive in the stream of consciousness of Lily and seems to influence the lives of other members more powerfully even after her death. And in the end we find Mr. Rarnsay landing at the lighthouse rock with Cam and James and Lily having her vision to complete the picture.
Plan of Triple Arrangement
Mrs. Woolf’s diary reveals that the triple arrangement was in her mind almost from the first idea she had of the book. She has mentioned it there as father and mother and child in the garden, the death, the sailing to the Lighthouse. And she has further mentioned: “I conceive the book in three parts: I. At the drawing room window; 2. Seven years passed 3. The voyage.”
In fact this tripartite arrangement had is origin in one of Mrs. Woolf’s characteristic trains of thought. The Pattern can be seen as a reflection of her own life. She had to experience periods of intense and exciting creative activity, followed by agonising depression after finishing a novel, and from this depression she could gradually recover with the help of rest and the attentions of her husband. So, in To The Lighthouse this pattern seemed particularly meaningful to Virginia Woolf, because of the personal nature of the sources of her novel. It seems she turns into fiction her own attempts to come to terms with her obsession with the past and her father and mother, making an attempt both to see everything in perspective and also to represent it in art. Thus we find her doing this in the figure of Lily, who to some extent must reflect her own character, and whose vision at the end of the book embraces both Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay: Mrs. Ramsay is manifested in the shadow at the window which brings the picture into harmony, and Mr. Ramsay’s arrival at the Lighthouse completes an adventure with which Lily has entered into imaginative sympathy.
Relation of the Three Parts
But we hardly require such autobiographical knowledge to understand the relationship of the parts of this novel. Lily’s final vision has its full meaning in terms of the life of the Ramsays which has been presented to us in the book. In fact the symbolic movement has weight because of the cumulative effect of the three sections. So in ‘The Window’ we see people going about their daily life, responding directly to the people and scenes around them, and also reflecting upon their quality. In ‘Time Passes’ we find the novelist stepping back from the circle of activity until it seems a mere speck in the perspective of eternity. Ultimately in The Lighthouse we are brought back to mixture of action and reflection.
Sense of Completeness
At the end of the final movement of To The Lighthouse we find Lily and Carmichael, the painter and the poet, sitting on the lawn of the same old summer-house and absorbed in silent communication between the house and the sea. Lily turns from one to the other sending her thoughts back to Mrs. Ramsay as she looks at the house and outwards to Mr. Ramsay as she follows the course of the boat. Commenting on this Davenport has aptly remarked “She thus forms a tenuous thread between past and present, between husband and wife, by recreation of past experience and of the spirit of Mrs. Ramsay, and the imaginative involvement with Mr Ramsay’s symbolic voyage, she unites the two in her mind, and so achieves her sense of completeness, of having seen it clearly, if only for a moment. The two actions, the arrival at the Lighthouse and the last stroke of the brush, are also united; both are acts of completion and it is obvious that they are meant to happen together.”
Conclusion: The Musical Analogy
It may be noted that the ternary form, where the third section returns to the first is a basic form in music and as such may have had a rhythmic appropriateness of Virginia Woolf’s ideal of her novel enclosing her subject, or forming a circle. And, in fact, she said of To The Lighthouse in her diary “I feel as if it fetched its circle . pretty completely this time.”