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Relation between Lily Briscoe and Mrs. Ramsay


Lily Briscoe and Mrs. Ramsay hold a very meaningful position in the novel, To The
Lighthouse. They represent the modern and the conventional women of Virginia
Woolfs age. Both are artistic and despite the differences share a lot in common.
They both have love and antipathy for each other. However it is unvoiced and is only
evident through their interior monologues. The characters complete each other
despite the mirroring. They are unaware of the power they both exert on each other.
Virginia Woolf has skillfully drawn the two characters as a means to an end to her
novel and its themes.

Lily acknowledges that Mrs. Ramsay has power. In her inner dialogue, she explains
that Mrs. Ramsay had astonishing power and could order one about in the manner
she saw best. However, she could stand up to said power.

She had found in William a kindred spirit, maybe, a supporter against Mrs. Ramsay.
However, by finding this support in William she might be undercutting her own
conclusions and giving way to Mrs. Ramseys ideas about the world, namely,
marriage. At the end of the spirited recollection of William, she thinks,

Indeed, his friendship had been one of the pleasures of her life.

The bond that they form over the painting and the subject which Lilys recollects so
vividlyblotting out Mrs. Ramsay and her childplaces them in intimate terms.
Lily even states,

she loved William Bankes.

The terms of the scenes conclusion are juxtaposed to everything she had been
thinking and feeling previously. She had sworn off marriage but here she was
arriving at love. In a way, the relationship with Mrs. Ramsay haunts her because she
falls under her power even when she is actively fighting against said force.

Each woman relates to the other and how Lily accurately understands Mrs. Ramsay.
In a passage, Mrs. Ramsay interiorly expresses pity for William Bankes and an
observant Lily captures this without a verbal exchange. Lily understands how Mrs.
Ramsay views men. She understands, accurately, how Mrs. Ramsay views William
and Charles. The shift between the exterior and interior serve to highlight the
interior drama working through both characters. However, even in Lilys correct
assumptions about Mrs. Ramsay she misjudges Mrs. Ramsay goals.

It is clear that Mrs. Ramsay attempts to exert her control over this group. It is also
clear from both passages that the individuals involved in the passages are aware to a
certain degree of the power dynamics between themselves and Mrs. Ramsay.
However, it is also clear from these two scenes that, at least, Lily does not really

understand Mrs. Ramsays influence over her. Returning to Mrs. Ramsay original
analyses of the room highlights the struggle between both characters.

Beyond the mirroring of actions, though, it is important to note the effect that Mrs.
Ramsay and her work have on Lily. The dinner party serves as the catalyst for Lilys
epiphany regarding her own art. While watching Mrs. Ramsay and the other guests
at the table, Lily suddenly realizes that if she were to;

put the tree further in the middle,

She would then;
avoid that awkward space (p. 87).

She proceeds to use a salt cellar and the flower pattern on the tablecloth as a
reminder to herself of this decision to change her painting. This choice by Woolfto
have Lily utilize items that exist within the scene rather than perhaps stop to write a
note to herselfheightens the meaning of the dinner party for two reasons. First, it
keeps Lily engaged in the scene both as observer and participant; second, it
increases the utensils and decorations value as works of art, as they represent the
tree and background in Lilys painting. While this choice on Woolfs part serves to
raise Mrs. Ramsays creation to the realm of art, it also sets it apart as necessary for
Lilys completion of her own work.

Unlike Lilys watching the others in their various activities as she paints, however,
Mrs. Ramsays thinking is for a purpose; hers is to complete her own artwork. Lily
uses an easel, canvas, brushes, and paints to create her art, but Mrs. Ramsay must
use the dinnerits decorations, its food, and most importantly its attendantsto
create a sense of connection among those attendants. Only in this will her project be
a success.

Every part of the description of Lilys painting echoes Mrs. Ramsays dinner party.
From the action of ladling soup represented by Lilys brush strokes to the paint
flickering over the canvas as the candles flickered over the faces around the table
at the dinner party, to the brown running nervous lines that enclose the space
much as the window panes did at the dinner scene, to the hollow of one wave as a
return of the party in a hollow, on an island, these two scenes are inextricably
linked on every level by way of their descriptions.

In the clear distinction drawn between Lilys art and Mrs. Ramsays we see that,
while Mrs. Ramsays artistic endeavor succeeds in the bringing together of people,
Lilys is dependent upon her remaining separate and unattached. And yet, despite
these differences, as well as the myriad similarities in their creations, we find both
womens works of art ultimately described by the respective artists as failures, once
again mirroring each other. The dinner party, while a momentary success of which
ultimately becomes

a scene that was vanishing even as [Mrs. Ramsay] looked...it had


become...already the past (p. 114).

Its success is no more than a passing flash of brilliance, like the lighthouse beam
sweeping past. Similarly, we learn that, though Paul and Minta did indeed marry,

the marriage had not been a success (p. 177).
Even Mrs. Ramsays careful planning and arranging of walks and seating partners
cannot make a relationship last when it is not meant to be. Likewise, in the closing
lines of the novel, just as she is about to finish her painting, Lily realizes the quickly
approaching fate of her own art:

It would be hung in the attics, she thought; it would be destroyed (p. 211).

So, in their conclusions, as in their descriptions, we find Mrs. Ramsays work to
mirror Lilys, and Lilys to reflect back Mrs. Ramsays. Each bound to fall short of its
artists hope to create something lasting, something permanent.

The passages, ultimately, moves the reader for the exterior to the interior and
allows them to experience Lily and Mrs. Ramsays interior worlds. The series of
conflicts between these two women and their own conceptions and misconceptions
of the exterior world mold the antagonism in the passages and connect them across
time and space but also across the table.