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Lily Briscoe's Vision:

The Articulation of Silence
Theresa L. Crater

Metropolitan State College of Denver

When Lily Briscoe finishes her painting at the end of Virginia

Woolfs To the Lighthouse, not only is she proving Charles Tansley

wrong when he told her "women can't write, women can't paint"
(75), she is, for the first time in Woolfs fiction, directly expressing
female subjectivity. Previous characters have made the attempt.
Rachel Vinrace and Septimus Smith desperately searched for alternatives to the gender roles they had been handed, but both were destroyed by the effort. Only Lily Briscoe survives the passage and
reemerges, capable of articulating her vision of being a woman other
than the prescribed role of Woman.1
That female subjectivity can be expressed or even exist has been
a subject of much recent debate. Early deconstruction and psychoanalytic theories opposed the humanistic concept of the authentic, essential self capable of autonomy and unmediated experience,
insisting that human consciousness is profoundly affected, if not
completely formed, by ideology and language. How can a consciousness formed by a culture experience something outside that culture?
Certainly Lacan's notion of language and human development preempts women from speaking in any authentic, subjective way whatsoever. According to these theories, women are trapped in silence.
Contemporary feminist theorists have found a middle ground in
this controversy, which has perhaps been best expressed by Thrse
de Lauretis. She defines individual identity as "an ongoing construction, not a fixed point," based on "those relationsmaterial, economic, interpersonalwhich are in fact social and, in a larger
perspective, historical." Meaning and subjectivity are not produced
once and for all, but continually created in social practice. De
Lauretis names this process "experience" (Alice 159), thus rescuing

the old feminist adage "the personal is political." A gap, then, exists
between the cultural construct of Woman, which is fixed, and the

specific historical and personal experience of the female person,

which is the site of the engendering of the female subject. Thus,
women are in oscillation between the figure Woman and their own
daily ongoing experience, and can enunciate female subjectivity by
speaking from this gap, which de Lauretis terms "speaking from
elsewhere" (Technologies 25). "Elsewhere" is not some "real place"


122Rocky Mountain Review

beyond or outside of discourse, but "a movement from the space represented by/in a representation, by/in a discourse, by/in a sex-gender
system, to the space not represented yet implied (unseen) in them"
(Technologies 26).
Woolf herself identified the process of escaping the image of
Woman and "speaking from elsewhere" in "Professions for Women"
when she wrote of killing the Angel in the House. Woolfs Angel admonishes her to please, not to speak harshly, in her writing and to
behave in accordance with the Victorian feminine ideal. Woolf notes

that her Angel "died hard. Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is harder to kill a phantom than a reality." Woolf
claims that the woman who has slain the phantom now "had only to
be herself." But she immediately runs into another problem: "Ah,
but what is 'herself? I mean, what is a woman?" Women have been
so restricted by their roles, Woolf claims, they do not know who else

they are: "I do not believe that anybody can know until she has expressed herself in all the arts and professions open to human skill"
(60). "Herself" is as yet uncreated.

When women "speak from elsewhere," the articulation does not

follow the Law-of-the-Father; it is not linear and rational, but

shares certain qualities of the imaginai in the mirror stage as described by Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva's notion of the semiotic.2 These communications can almost be thought of as weaving
image, rhythm, and sound with the symbolic world of culture and
language, as we shall see. Lily Briscoe is the first of Woolfs characters to escape the totalizing image of Woman, represented in the
novel as Mrs. Ramsay, and the silencing presence of the Law-of-theFather, appearing as Mr. Ramsay, and to find a way to represent a
reality of women's lives which is different from the figure of Woman.
Other characters have only identified this area of consciousness. In
The Voyage Out and also to some extent in Mrs. Dalloway, the characters who journey into the "elsewhere" of consciousness find that
the only alternative to accepting the image the culture has produced
for them is death. Virginia Woolf underscores the necessity of
change, of a different identity becoming possible, by showing how
these deaths serve to renew the collective because certain individu-

als shoulder the burden of facing this work alone.

Rachel Vinrace in The Voyage Out finds "elsewhere" when she
tries, by falling ill, to escape the demands of her society to become
Woman and to marry. During her illness, she sinks beneath the waters of her consciousness, and the further Rachel goes into her underwater world, the more the Other of the female unconscious

erupts into the text. That Other is "represented," in a sense, by an

Theresa L. Crater123

inadequacy or failure of language and a loss of personal identity

even to the point of madness and death. But this "madness" is to be
taken seriously. Rachel listens intently to the "hot, red, quick sights
which passed incessantly before her eyes" (340) which she feels she
must understand. Rachel's madness is a rebellion against becoming
Woman, an attempt to create an alternative identity, but she is not
strong enough to explore and understand it. Rachel becomes exhausted by her attempts to understand the messages of her unconscious, and finally succumbs, making no effort to maintain any
individual awareness. "She fell into a deep pool of sticky water,
which eventually closed over her head" (341). Rachel dies because
she cannot find a compromise, a way to be a woman without becoming Woman.
Rachel's death has a rejuvenating effect on her community. Woolf
implies that the work Rachel attempted is important. Women must
find an alternative to the crushing, monolithic image of Woman, and
that alternative must be brought to birth, to the surface, so women
may come to live differently. Accomplishing this is a great risk, especially in post-Victorian England, because masculine cultural interests oppose any such formulations. In Three Guineas, Woolf later
articulates the damage done by women not finding an alternative to
Woman, to prescribed feminine roles. Family violence is linked to
war and fascism. Clearly Woolf sees changing women's lives as vital
to social growth, but even moving toward those alternatives, as
Rachel has done, rejuvenates society. Immediately following her
death, Terence sees the moon: " 'Why,' he said, in his ordinary tone
of voice, 'look at the moon. There's a halo round the moon. We shall
have rain tomorrow' " (354). The moon is another traditional symbol
of the unconscious, the irrational, the Other mode of consciousness.

Rachel brings rain, moisture, to fertilize the sterile culture that has
destroyed her.

In Mrs. Dalloway, Septimus Smith continues the excavation of

"elsewhere" which Rachel began. But if this "elsewhere" is the suppressed daily experiences of women which are different from the
culturally prescribed feminine identity, then how can it be that a
man, Septimus, can be said to be continuing this search? Just as
Rachel and Lily are resisting their gender roles, Septimus' situation
arises out of the constraints of the male role and his resistance to its

deadening effects. Septimus is a sensitive young man who is advised

by his employee, Mr. Brewer, to take up football to correct his effeminate interest in poetry and his school-boyish crush on Miss
Pole. But the war achieves what Mr. Brewer had in mind, and when

Septimus' best friend, Evans, dies in battle, he feels nothing: "far

124Rocky Mountain Review

from showing any emotion or recognizing that here was the end of a
friendship, [Septimus] congratulated himself upon feeling very little
and very reasonably" (130).

This, however, is the problem. Manliness drives Septimus mad.

During the war he had repressed his feelings, and they return,
bringing with them all else he has repressed in his journey into
Manhood. His madness shares many characteristics of the "elsewhere" Rachel entered. Like Rachel, he interprets ordinary experience in an entirely different way. Also, his relationship to language
is disrupted. Sitting in Regent's Park, Septimus attaches different
meanings to what he sees. The aeroplane writing an advertisement
brings exquisite joy to Septimus as he watches "the smoke words
languishing and melting in the sky" (31). Language becomes a physical object, with the same importance as the sounds of nature. He
experiences language as a tool for expanding consciousness, listening to the effect a word has on the environment, not for its abstract,
absent meaning. The sound of the nursemaid's voice spelling out the
letters the aeroplane is forming "rasped his spine deliriously and
sent running up into his brain waves of sound which, concussing,
broke. A marvelous discovery indeedthat the human voice in certain atmospheric conditions . . . can quicken trees into life!" (32).
The semiotic and imaginai stage have disrupted the symbolic, yet
they are neither infantile nor meaningless. They provide an alternative mode of being.
Septimus also feels an ecstatic connection with nature: "trees
were alive. And the leaves being connected by millions of fibres with
his own body, there on the seat, fanned it up and down; when the
branch stretched he, too, made that statement" (32). He is connected
to the underwater world of Rachel: "I went under the sea" (104).

Septimus is definitely experiencing "elsewhere" and attempting to

speak from it. He has Rezia write notes for the Prime Minister on
the backs of envelopes about his new religion that teaches that all
life, indeed all existence, is conscious and interconnected. This is the

truth Septimus wishes to impart, but instead, the psychiatrists attempt to return him to Manhood by teaching him proportion. But
Septimus dies rather than allow this violation.
Like Rachel's death, Septimus' suicide does bring about a rejuvenation. Clarissa Dalloway understands: "A thing there was that
mattered, a thing, wreathed about with chatter, defaced, obscured in
her own life, let drop every day in corruption, lies, chatter. This he
had preserved. Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate" (280). By understanding this about Septimus' death,
Clarissa regains that curious ability to connect separate things into

Theresa L. Crater125

a whole, to have an identity in one's own daily life, self-authorized.

The dip into the imaginai and semiotic layers of consciousness refreshes the symbolic. Clarissa brings this rejuvenated consciousness
to her party.

Up to this point in Woolfs novels, resistance to culturally received reality has brought death to the individual and rejuvenation
to society. But Lily Briscoe is not willing to be martyred. In To the

Lighthouse, Lily Briscoe encounters the figure of Woman in the person of Mrs. Ramsay and the Law-of-the-Father represented by Mr.
Ramsay, and finds an alternative to the identity they offer through
her art. She explores the gap between her own daily experience and
the ideology pressed upon her; she dives into the underwater world
of consciousness, and is the first of Woolfs characters to survive the

passage, to return and create from this gap, establishing new cultural alternatives.

Lily makes an excellent bridge between the Victorian world of

Rachel's childhood and the possibilities available to women during
Woolfs adulthood. In the first section of the novel, "The Window,"
Woolf paints an accurate psychological picture of the late Victorian
patriarchal family.3 The head of the house is Mr. Ramsay, a paragon
of logic and facts, linearly progressing through the alphabet of
knowledge, respected (to a point) by other men, resented by his children, and dependent on his wife for nurturing and a sense of meaning in life. Mrs. Ramsay is the Angel in the House, the fertile
all-providing earth mother to her children and husband, the creator
of social comfort to her guests, the comforter of the sick and the poor,
an advisor about life's problems to those close to her. This paragon of
Womanhood, however, is not simply an image, a monolithic symbol;
a female subjectivity is alive in Mrs. Ramsay which she expresses
variously as masquerade, mimicry, and even, on occasion, an awareness of "elsewhere."

As Woman, Mrs. Ramsay functions to bolster men's sense of

themselves, as the looking-glass of A Room of One's Own
"possess [es] the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of
man at twice its natural size" (Room 35). The men around Mrs.

Ramsay take part of their identity from her beauty and need for protection. Paul Rayley is moved to propose to Minta Doyle because of
Mrs. Ramsay: "He would go straight to Mrs. Ramsay, because he felt
somehow that she was the person who had made him do it. She had
made him think he could do anything" (118-19). Charles Tansley is
inspired in a similar way: "for the first time in his life Charles
Tansley felt an extraordinary pride; felt the wind and the cyclamen
and the violets for he was walking with a beautiful woman. He had

126Rocky Mountain Review

Mrs. Ramsay serves her husband in this way by constantly reassuring him that he is admirable, by giving him sympathy. Part of
the function of Woman is to make it possible for the business of civilization to continue:

For if she begins to tell the truth, the figure in the looking-glass shrinks; his fitness for life is diminished. How is
he to go on giving judgement, civilising natives, making
laws, writing books, dressing up and speechifying at banquets, unless he can see himself at breakfast and at dinner at least twice the size he really is?(Room 36)

In To the Lighthouse, Woolf shows in devastating language what it

costs women to become Woman and to give up their vital energy to
serve men in this way. In response to her husband's demand for
sympathy, Mrs. Ramsay "braced herself, and, half turning, seemed
to raise herself with an effort, and at once to pour erect into the air
a rain of energy, a column of spray." Mr. Ramsay takes this energy in
a ruthless, violent way: "into this delicious fecundity, this fountain
and spray of life, the fatal sterility of the male plunged itself, like a
beak of brass, barren and bare" (58). This demand is portrayed as
spiritual rape: "the beak of brass, the arid scimitar of the male . . .
smote mercilessly, again and again" (59). Mrs. Ramsay is exhausted
by her effort: "the whole fabric fell in exhaustion upon itself, so that
she had only strength enough to move her finger" (61). Although
Mrs. Ramsay herself experiences this fatigue as "the rapture of successful creation," Lily Briscoe later in the novel feels that Mrs.
Ramsay's role as Woman, and her cooperation with that role, killed
her: "Mrs. Ramsay had given. Giving, giving, giving, she had died"

James is also outraged by this performance, and although we are

encouraged by the text to read his situation as Oedipal because of
his position, erect between his mother's knees, and because he is
clearly competing with his father for his mother's attention, James'
murderous rage can also be read as the perfectly legitimate response
of a child whose parent is not being a parent, but trying to be another child and usurp the child's rightful place. Mrs. Ramsay is described as reassuring her husband "as a nurse carrying a light
across a dark room assures a fractious child" (60). But James is the

real child and legitimately needs his mother's nurturance; his father
is abusive in usurping his role. In this novel particularly, Woolf
portrays men as dependent, demanding emotional support from others while remaining blissfully ignorant of those others' emotional
needs. The two men in the novel who are exceptions to this will be
discussed later.

Theresa L. Crater127

Mrs. Ramsay is uncomfortable about the necessity of reassuring

her husband and of hiding certain facts from him, for example, that
"the bill for the greenhouse would be fifty pounds" (93). She is
aware of her role as Woman, and this awareness suggests a duality
within her which is, perhaps, the primary marking of the masquerade.4 She wishes to believe in Woman, to play her role with none of
this excess self-consciousness, but she cannot: "she did not like, even

for a second, to feel finer than her husband; and further, could not
bear not being entirely sure, when she spoke to him, of the truth of
what she said" (61). Mrs. Ramsay knows herself to be more than
Woman. Her faith in that role could, perhaps, be restored if Mr.
Ramsay would play his role properly. She realizes that part of the
reason she presses everyone to marry is to escape the reality of her
own marriage, to press other people to accept the image of The
Family (92-93).
Mrs. Ramsay's masquerade sometimes slips into mimicry.5 At her
dinner party, she looks around and sees that "nothing seemed to
have merged. They all sat separate." She attributes this condition to
"the sterility of men," and understands that "if she did not do it [create social unity] nobody would" (126). The way she moves herself
into the role of Woman reveals the gap between this role and the
"rest of her":

[S] o, giving herself the little shake that one gives a watch
that has stopped, the old familiar pulse began beating, as
the watch begins ticking. . . . And so . . . she began all this
business, as a sailor not without weariness sees the wind

fill his sail and yet hardly wants to be off again and
thinks how, had the ship sunk, he would have whirled
round and round and found rest on the floor of the sea.


Rachel Vinrace did rest on the floor of the sea, but Mrs. Ramsay
rouses herself. On another occasion, Mrs. Ramsay slips into mimicry
by allowing her husband to protect her, although it is obvious that
she does not need the protection, that he is the one who needs to
give it (100). Her cooperation with this need is mimicry; she is something different from the image he is protecting. She is "elsewhere."
Mrs. Ramsay's "elsewhere" is available to the reader, although
she never uses this other identity as a place of enunciation, as Lily
eventually does. It is Mrs. Ramsay's retreat, her way to revitalize.
She slips into a state of consciousness characterized by listening and
darkness reminiscent of Rachel's madness. She does not wish to

think, but "to be silent; to be alone." Her identity in this "elsewhere"

128Rocky Mountain Review

is "a wedge-shaped core of darkness" (95); "it is all dark, it is all

spreading, it is unfathomably deep"; "this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures . . . the range of experience seemed limitless" (96). In this state, Mrs. Ramsay feels
that familiar unity with the natural world which fills her with ecstacy. She identifies this self in "elsewhere" with the lighthouse
beam and feels

intense happiness, and it [the light] silvered the rough

waves a little more brightly, as daylight faded, and the
blue went out of the sea and it rolled in waves of pure

lemon which curved and swelled and broke upon the

beach and the ecstasy burst in her eyes and waves of pure
delight raced over the floor of her mind and she felt, It is
enough! It is enough!(99-100)
The emphasis on rhythm in this passage as well as the importance
and presence the physical world takes on are qualities of the imaginai and semiotic.

Lily Briscoe eventually finds this "elsewhere" herself and claims

it as a place of enunciation for a new identity. But before she can accomplish this, she must do battle with the ghost of Mrs. Ramsay,
with the image of Woman, the Angel in the House. Lily must rebel
against Mrs. Ramsay, not simply reject her role, first, because Lily
admits that she is "in love" with Mrs. Ramsay, with the Ramsays,
the hustle and bustle of their life, and second, because Lily must
create another role for herself since one is not simply available for
her to step into.

It has been well documented that Woolf was dealing with her own
family situation in this novel. She noted in her diary that she was
no longer obsessed with her parents after writing this book. Mr. and
Mrs. Ramsay fit the pattern of Leslie and Julia Stephen. Woolfs father was a rational man, respected by his colleagues, and a domestic
tyrant, intensely dependent on Julia for a sense of security and self
worth. The opinion is often expressed that Leslie's demands, on top
of having a house full of children for which she was responsible,
killed Julia, or at the very least contributed to her early death. Julia
was held to be a goddess, the perfect embodiment of Woman. She
was beautiful, alleged to be a wonderful mother (although Louise A.
DeSalvo has undermined this myth quite substantially), a splendid
hostess, involved in many charities and providing advice for the
many people coming in and out of her household (Bell 38). Julia died
when Woolf was 13, before she was able to begin seeing her mother
as another adult, and Leslie's famous Mausoleum Book contributed

Theresa L. Crater129

to turning Julia into a myth, and life after her death into a subdued,
painful ordeal. As a result, Woolf grew up with an ominously
grandiose view of her mother as the perfect woman. Perfection was

attainable; it also destroyed you. It was what every little girl was to


While Woolf was resolving her relationship with both parents in

To the Lighthouse, Sara Ruddick argues that the work of coming to
terms with her mother was more difficult. Woolf claimed she killed

her own haunting angel, but Ruddick points out that we must come
to terms with the angels our mothers bequeath us. Ruddick asserts
that Woolfs mother was the one "for whom she longed, from whom
she hoped for the deepest secret, with whom she wanted complete
union" (197). As Sydney Kaplan states, "unity with Mrs. Ramsay
herself is a hopeless dream," but Lily's dream, nonetheless (105).
Rachel Blau DuPlessis, on the other hand, sees this unity as somewhat possible through a "reparenting process," a means of evoking
"the preoedipal dyad, matrisexuality, or a bisexual oscillation deep
in the gendering process" which Lily reexperiences through finishing her painting (94). As she paints, Lily Briscoe goes through a
grieving process for both the Ramsays, with the dark triangle representing Mrs. Ramsay and the hedge Mr. Ramsay. The painting
process involves identifying her own loss and pain, remembering the
joy and lessons she learned from both, affirming her own choices for
her lifebringing all into balance. Ruddick sees Lily's grieving
process as successful because she "completed the painful and complicated work of mourning, giving up her lost beloved without hating
her or losing herself" (195).
At first, Lily tries to get from Mrs. Ramsay the secret of how to be
Woman. Her rebellion will not be necessary, she feels, if she can gain
Mrs. Ramsay's knowledge, not through words, but through uniting
with her. Mrs. Ramsay is in Lily's room encouraging her to marry:
"she must, Minta must, they all must marry .... an unmarried
woman has missed the best of life" (77). Lily laughs "at the thought
of Mrs. Ramsay presiding with immutable calm over destinies which
she completely failed to understand." But she cannot dismiss Mrs.
Ramsay's power so easily:
But into what sanctuary had one penetrated? Was it wisdom? Was it knowledge? Was it, once more, the deceptiveness of beauty ... or did she lock up within her some
secret which certainly Lily Briscoe believed people must
have for the world to go on at all?(78)
Lily wishes to know how Mrs. Ramsay creates unity everywhere she
goes. After the dinner party, when Mrs. Ramsay climbs the stairs,

130Rocky Mountain Review

Lily muses, "directly she went a sort of disintegration set in" (168).
Lily thinks that "everyone could not be as helter-skelter, hand to
mouth as she was" (78).
Lily attempts to unite with Mrs. Ramsay to learn her secrets:

Sitting on the floor with her arms round Mrs. Ramsay's

knees, close as she could get, smiling to think that Mrs.
Ramsay would never know the reason of that pressure,
she imagined how in the chambers of the mind and heart
of the woman who was, physically, touching her, were
stood, like the treasures in the tombs of kings, tablets
bearing sacred inscriptions, which if one could spell them
out, would teach one everything, but they would never be
offered openly, never made public.(78-79)
There must be some substance, some presence in the image of
Woman. But Lily is disappointed; no knowledge is revealed:
"Nothing happened. Nothing! Nothing!" (79).
In order to develop a new role for herself, Lily must come to terms
with Mrs. Ramsay, whom she loves and who is the only role offered
to her. She must enter her "elsewhere" and find a way to speak from
there. She does this when she returns to the seashore ten years
later after Mrs. Ramsay's death, in the last section of the novel,
"The Lighthouse." Lily's return to the sea begins with the descent
into a different consciousness which marks contact with the uncon-

scious. She is propelled into this territory by her desire to avoid

being Woman for Mr. Ramsay, who is stalking up and down the terrace. She glances down at the tablecloth and remembers the salt cellar, her painting. The ordinary continuity of events comes unhinged
and a certain drifting openness begins to be experienced:
But this morning everything seemed so extraordinarily
queer that a question like Nancy'sWhat does one send
to the Lighthouse?opened doors in one's mind that went
banging and swinging to and fro and made one keep asking, in a stupefied gape, what does one send? What does
one do? Why is one sitting here, after all?(218)
Lily is stepping out of ordinary consciousness; words, actions begin
to take on symbolic meaning, as they do for Septimus Smith in his
madness. She feels "as if the link that usually bound things together
had been cut, and they floated up here, down there, off, any how";
"words became symbols, wrote themselves all over the grey-green
walls" (219). These images also link Lily's journey to Rachel's.

Theresa L. Crater131

Lily's first task in finishing her painting is warding off Mr.

Ramsay. He demands the energy she needs for her picture: "But
with Mr. Ramsay bearing down on her, she could do nothing" (221).
It is clear that Mrs. Ramsay is not the only source of the image of
Woman, the only one to be dealt with. Lily must find a way to relate
to Mr. Ramsay, the Law-of-the-Father, the still living demand to be
what she is not, to be what he imagines her to be. Similarly, Woolf
must deal with her emotional inheritance from her father before ac-

cepting a new form of life for herself. Lily feels guilty that she cannot soothe Mr. Ramsay as his wife would have, but she also resents
his intrusions and is angered by his demands:
That man, she thought, her anger rising in her, never
gave; that man took. She, on the other hand, would be
forced to give. Mrs. Ramsay had given. Giving, giving,
giving, she had diedand had left all this. Really, she
was angry with Mrs. Ramsay.(223)
Woolf ties the experiences together. Lily is not simply angry with
Mr. Ramsay. She is angry with Mrs. Ramsay for submitting to him
and killing herself by doing it. She is angry that she, too, must submit, that she is still not free from the demands of being Woman,
which have deep roots in her psyche. She is angry that these roots
make her feel guilty and self-doubtful, that she is wasting her time
"playing at painting" at 44 (224). She is angry that she is a guest in
this man's house (reflecting the economic dependence of women that
Woolf identified as the reason women still had to be charming) and
must please him in some way.
Lily must battle with social expectations, with Mr. Ramsay, in
order to paint. She prepares herself for the task:
Well, thought Lily in despair, letting her right hand fall at
her side, it would be simpler to have it over. Surely, she
could imitate from recollection the glow, the rhapsody, the
self-surrender, she had seen on as many women's faces
(on Mrs. Ramsay's, for instance) when on some occasion
like this they blazed up . . . into a rapture of sympathy.

She tries to summon up her masquerade of Woman, but is unsuccessful. She is embarrassed and angered that Mr. Ramsay dramatizes himself. The more he presses, the more silent she grows. "His
immense self-pity, his demand for sympathy poured and spread it-

self in pools at her feet, and all she did, miserable sinner that she

was, was to draw her skirts a little closer round her ankles lest she
should get wet" (228).

132Rocky Mountain Review

The response to Mr. Ramsay she does give which finally gratifies
him is sincere, not insincere like the relations of men and women

she deplored ten years ago sitting at the dinner table. She admires
his boots, and this, quite by accident, allows him a chance to assert
himself. After he has shown off his superiority to this female by assuring her that these are the best boots in the world and showing
her that he can tie better knots than she can, he is restored and goes
off happy. At this point, Lily is genuinely sorry for Mr. Ramsay, because she realizes he is a child and cannot change. She sincerely
wishes to comfort him, but now, off he goes. There is a sort of forgiveness in this, and as DuPlessis points out, "she helps him without dissolving into romantic thralldom or powerful self-abnegation,
an important distinction from Mrs. Ramsay's way" (97). Lily accepts
Mr. Ramsay for who he is, and this links her to his quest for the
lighthouse. But she has been linked to him all along. Resolving her
relationship with his demands has always been a part of the "picture," for the hedge in her painting is Mr. Ramsay. As he walks up
and down the terrace in the first section of the novel, he walks be-

tween the hedge and the urn of geraniums, and each becomes part
of his thinking process (56). He stares into the hedge for his answers. Lily is genuinely connected with Mr. Ramsay; he lands at the
lighthouse as she puts the finishing strokes on the hedge in her
Two other men have served as foils to Mr. Ramsay throughout the
novelWilliam Bankes and Augustus Carmichaeland have assisted Lily in resolving her relationship to the Law-of-the-Father.
William Bankes adores Mrs. Ramsay, but he does not demand praise
from her. He offers his love as a tribute to her beauty. This relationship is less devouring than Mr. Ramsay's, and Lily later enters into
a mutual friendship with Bankes in which he does not invade her
privacy. She defeats Mrs. Ramsay by refusing to marry him, but
does not have to completely reject him. She forges a different relationship with him, one in which she is not Other. Mr. Carmichael, on
the other hand, sees through Mrs. Ramsay, who realizes he does. He
alone sees her insistence on helping people as arising from her own
selfishness, her desire to impose herself on others (65). He does not
demand she be Woman. Without this role, Mrs. Ramsay does not
know how to live, and so, she is uncomfortable with him. In contrast, Carmichael's presence serves as a support against which Lily
leans to finish her picture. He is linked with the underwater world
Lily enters. At the end of the novel he stands beside her, "looking
like an old pagan god, shaggy, with weed in his hair and the trident
(it was only a French novel) in his hand" (309).

Theresa L. Crater133

Alone with her painting (facing the unfinished half of it), having
resolved her relationship with Mr. Ramsay, Lily must come to completion with Mrs. Ramsay. Painting takes Lily deeper and deeper
into the "elsewhere" of the unconscious, into body feelings, and the
activity of creating new form merges with the process of remembering the experiences that make new form necessary and reaching
some emotional, psychological resolution with them:
And as she lost consciousness of outer things, and her
name and her personality and her appearance and
whether Mr. Carmichael was there or not, her mind kept
throwing up from its depths, scenes, and names, and sayings, and memories and ideas.(238)
As Lily paints, one of the things that happens is that she affirms
her own choices over how Mrs. Ramsay would have ordered her life,
enjoys a kind of victory over her. "And as she dipped into the blue
paint, she dipped into the past there" (256). She remembers what
became of Paul and Minta, that the marriage Mrs. Ramsay created
was a failure. "Life has changed completely":
For a moment Lily, standing there, with the sun hot on
her back, summing up the Rayleys, triumphed over Mrs.
Ramsay, who would never know how Paul went to coffeehouses and had a mistress; how he sat on the ground and
Minta handed him his tools; how she stood here painting,
had never married, not even William Bankes.(260)

As she paints, she realizes she has succeeded in living differently.

Next, Lily experiences a revelation about Mrs. Ramsay. Thinking
back over the past, she remembers a moment of harmony with her
old enemy, Charles Tansley, and realizes that Mrs. Ramsay created
meaning, eternity, out of ordinary, everyday experience, and that
this was her art. Mrs. Ramsay had the power to make Lily remember a moment long ago, to make that moment permanent, and, as
life is only a series of moments, this ability to infuse the moment
with meaning is the art of creating life: "In the midst of chaos there
was shape; this eternal passing and flowing . . . was struck into stability." Lily realizes that she is engaged in this same process "in another sphere" (241), in her painting. In this way, Woolf affirms that
the female value system represented by Mrs. Ramsay's creation of
unity among separate human beings need not be lost with women's
increased liberation from the image of Woman. Lily and Mrs.

Ramsay both create unity, meaning; Lily has established a link with
Mrs. Ramsay. As Kaplan puts it, "Mrs. Ramsay's power was to make

134Rocky Mountain Review

life into art, Lily's to make art out of life" (115). DuPlessis sees this
as a means for "the daughter" to "make prominent the work both
have achieved" (94). Rather than a radical break which would be im-

possible, given that Lily has been formed by the ideology of the patriarchal family, her new form is a transmutation of that ideology,
retaining some of the value of the old as well as some of its harm.
Seeing Mrs. Ramsay as a sister artist, Lily moves from looking to
her for answers to looking at her as another human being. Lily now
assumes the horrible burden of living in a world with no answers:
"Was there no safety? No learning by heart of the ways of the world?
No guide, no shelter, but all was miracle, and leaping from the pinnacle of a tower into the air?" (268). This psychological change opens
Lily to her deepest feelings about Mrs. Ramsay, her terrible grief at
her death and the loss of the promise that someone will make things
safe. Like Rachel and Septimus, Lily loses individuality for one moment in her grief, but unlike these former characters, she returns
from this annihilation renewed and healed. "And now slowly the

pain of the want, and the bitter anger . . . lessened." Lily has somehow released Mrs. Ramsay of "the weight that the world had put on
her," creating safety and meaning for everyone, and she blesses Lily
with a "wreath of white flowers" (269).

Yet, Lily has not finished her painting. In order to do this, she
must learn to stay in touch with the underwater world of consciousness, the "elsewhere," and the everyday reality of ordinary consciousness. Woolf calls this the "razor edge of balance between two
opposite forces; Mr. Ramsay and the picture" (287). The picture is
that alternative reality, the vision Lily has wished to express from
the earliest pages of the novel: " 'But this is what I see; this is what
I see,' and so to clasp some miserable remnant of her vision to her
breast, which a thousand forces did their best to pluck from her"
(32). To paint this vision, Lily has sunk deep into her unconscious.
To finish the painting, to bring her vision into the light of day, Lily
must successfully cope with all that Mr. Ramsay represents: the
Law-of-the-Father and everyday consciousness. Woolf describes this
reality as being "on a level with ordinary experience, to feel simply
that's a chair, that's a table, and yet at the same time, it's a miracle,
it's an ecstasy" (300).
Lily maintains this level of awareness and is rewarded when
someone casts a shadow on the steps, as if by accident. She remembers the form Mrs. Ramsay once took in her painting, "an oddshaped triangular shadow" (299). Lily has indeed found a form of
unity with Mrs. Ramsay, for Mrs. Ramsay experienced her own
"elsewhere," that consciousness she retreated to for renewal, which

Theresa L. Crater135

she kept absolutely private, as "a wedged-shaped core of darkness,

something invisible to others" (95). Not only has Lily seen what was
"invisible to others," she has brought it to the surface of consciousness as a symbol that communicates. She has found a way to bring
the "elsewhere" of women's experiences into expression. Lily draws a
line down the middle of the canvas, between Mr. Ramsay's hedge
and Mrs. Ramsay's triangular shadow. She has triumphed: 'Tes, she
thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my
vision" (310). By finishing her painting, Lily Briscoe expresses an alternative reality to the silencing role of Woman.

'In Alice Doesn't, Terese de Lauretis established the distinction between
Woman, "a fictional construct, a distillate from diverse but congruent discourses dominant in Western cultures . . . which works as both their vanish-

ing point and their specific condition of existence," and women, "the real
historical beings who cannot as yet be defined outside of those discursive
formations, but whose material existence is nonetheless certain" (5).
2For more discussion of these ideas, see Jacques Lacan and Julia

3Jane Lilienfeld discusses this quite thoroughly.

4TtIe term masquerade is used here more in the sense defined by Joan
Riviere than by Bahktin.
5Luce Irigaray defines mimicry as overacting a social role to point out its

136Rocky Mountain Review

Works Cited
Bell, Quentin. Virginia Woolf: A Biography. New York: Harcourt, 1972.
De Lauretis, Terese. Alice Doesn't: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema.

Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984.

--------. Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film and Fiction.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.
DeSalvo, Louise A. Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse
on Her Life and Work. Boston: Beacon, 1989.
DuPlessis, Rachel Blau. Writing Beyond the Ending: Narrative Strategies of
Twentieth-Century Women Writers. Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1985.

Irigaray, Luce. Speculum of the Other Woman. Trans. Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca:
Cornell University Press, 1985.
Kaplan, Sydney. Feminine Consciousness in the Modern British Novel.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975.
Kristeva, Julia. Semiotike: Recherches pour une semanalyse. Paris: TelQuel,

Lacan, Jacques. "The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as

Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience" [1936]. Ecrits. Trans. Alan
Sheridan. New York: Norton, 1977.

Lilienfeld, Jane. "Where the Spear Plants Grew: The Ramsays' Marriage in
To the Lighthouse." New Feminist Essays on Virginia Woolf. Ed. Jane
Marcus. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1981: 148-69.
Riviere, Joan. "Womanliness as Masquerade." Formations of Fantasy. Eds.
Victor Brgin, James Donald, and Cora Kaplan. London: Methuen,
1986: 34-44.

Ruddick, Sara. "Learning to Live with the Angel in the House." Women's
Studies 4 (1977): 181-200.

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. 1925. New York: Harcourt, 1953.

--------. "Professions for Women." Women and Writing. Ed. Michle Barrett.
New York: Harcourt, 1979: 57-63.

. A Room of One's Own. New York: Harcourt, 1929.

. Three Guineas. New York: Harcourt, 1938.

-. To the Lighthouse. 1927. New York: Harcourt, 1955.

-. The Voyage Out. 1920. New York: Harcourt, 1948.