Jan. 28th, 2009

But what have I done with my life? thought Mrs. Ramsay, taking her place at the head of the table, and looking at all the plates making white circles on it. "William, sit by me," she said. "Lily," she said, wearily, "over there." They had that--Paul Rayley and Minta Doyle--she, only this--an infinitely long table and plates and knives. At the far end was her husband, sitting down, all in a heap, frowning. What at? She did not know. She did not mind. She could not understand how she had ever felt any emotion or affection for him. She had a sense of being past everything, through everything, out of everything, as she helped the soup, as if there was an eddy--there--and one could be in it, or one could be out of it, and she was out of it. It's all come to an end, she thought, while they came in one after another, Charles Tansley--"Sit there, please," she said--Augustus Carmichael--and sat down. And meanwhile she waited, passively, for some one to answer her, for something to happen. But this is not a thing, she thought, ladling out soup, that one says.


I am as may be obvious by now rereading To The Lighthouse, which is surely the worst book to read in bed because how could anyone go to sleep after even a page of it? This book is so good it makes me swear out loud, and I mean that literally -- I swear and then wave the book around helplessly with one hand and stare awhile at the ceiling because it is unbelievable that a person actually wrote this. It makes me want to get up and pace, or go for a long walk or something -- like there is some velocity to the words that I need to keep up with, if I am to get around them somehow, or at least keep them with me. The whole extended dinner sequence in the first section is just... overwhelming. It seems impossible that anyone should be able to both see and write so clearly, about such tiny, exquisite movements of the individual mind. And then somehow turn it all into one event, one sequence, one long extended moment. And you hardly notice, she changes point of view seventeen times in six pages and you don't even notice except that somehow you have found out about everyone at the table and they are all perfectly distinct in your mind, and you love them all -- even the miserable Charles Tansley -- because after all "it was almost impossible to dislike anyone if one looked at them" and what have you been doing if not looking at them, looking at them more directly than they are able even to look at themselves?


Raising her eyebrows at the discrepancy--that was what she was thinking, this was what she was doing--ladling out soup--she felt, more and more strongly, outside that eddy; or as if a shade had fallen, and, robbed of colour, she saw things truly. The room (she looked round it) was very shabby. There was no beauty anywhere. She forebore to look at Mr. Tansley. Nothing seemed to have merged. They all sat separate. And the whole of the effort of merging and flowing and creating rested on her. Again she felt, as a fact without hostility, the sterility of men, for if she did not do it nobody would do it, and so, giving herself a little shake that one gives a watch that has stopped, the old familiar pulse began beating, as the watch begins ticking--one, two, three, one, two, three. And so on and so on, she repeated, listening to it, sheltering and fostering the still feeble pulse as one might guard a weak flame with a news-paper. And so then, she concluded, addressing herself by bending silently in his direction to William Bankes--poor man! who had no wife, and no children and dined alone in lodgings except for tonight; and in pity for him, life being now strong enough to bear her on again, 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.
"Did you find your letters? I told them to put them in the hall for you," she said to William Bankes.

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