Virginia Woolf -To the Lighthouse: Part 1, The Window (1927)


They had not been to the house since the great war.  But before the war there was the last time, the last good time.

The last summer that the family–I mean, the entire family–stayed at the house on the Isle of Skye, their mother arranged everything.  Then, there were eight children, and the parents even still loved one another.  Which is not to say that the marriage was happy, but as far as these things go one might call it successful.  It was a success bought by the father’s professorship, and maintained by the mother’s exhaustive support to his ego.  This, she felt strongly, was the proper order of things.  The mother conducted all of her socializing and dinner parties and matchmaking with uncompromising adherence to the proper order of things.  Despite this, she was really a most beautiful and kindhearted lady.  It is a small mercy she would die so unexpectedly at summers’ end, before she could see the divorce her matchmaking had wrought.  Before she could see the great war, and which of her children’s lives it would claim.

Yes, before all of that, there was the last summer, and the evening at the end of the last summer, when she sat in the parlor while her husband read.  It was at such moments of uninterrupted thought she was most happy.  She drifted into soft dreamscapes of thought and non-thought.

And it is within this moment of her dreaming on the cusp of wakefulness and eternal dreams that I take my excerpt (accompanied by Monplaisir’s ‘Se recourber’ from the Free Music Archive):

And dismissing all this, as one passes in diving now a weed, now a straw, now a bubble, she felt again, sinking deeper, as she had felt in the hall when the others were talking. There is something I want–something I have come to get, and she fell deeper and deeper without knowing quite what it was, with her eyes closed.  And she waited a little, knitting, wondering, and slowly those words they had said at dinner, “the China rose is all abloom and buzzing with the honey bee,” began washing from side to side of her mind rhythmically, and as they washed, words, like little shaded lights, one red, one blue, one yellow, lit up in the dark of her mind, and seemed leaving their perches up there to fly across and across, or to cry out and to be echoed; so she turned and felt on the table beside her for a book.

And all the lives we ever lived

And all the lives to be,

Are full of trees and changing leaves,

she murmured, sticking her needles into the stocking. And she opened the book and began reading here and there at random, and as she did so she felt that she was climbing backwards, upwards, shoving her way up under petals that curved over her, so that she only knew this is white, or this is red. She did not know at first what the words meant at all.

Steer, hither steer your winged pines, all beaten Mariners

she read and turned the page, swinging herself, zigzagging this way and that, from one line to another as from one branch to another, from one red and white flower to another, until a little sound roused her–


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