As a break from suspense fiction, I’ve recently been reading a few items on my “retirement reading list,” in particular three novels of Virginia Woolf. The latest? To the Lighthouse (1927). As in her earlier novels, Woolf does a tremendous job of entering (and making believable) the thoughts and feelings of her characters–and she is also adept at viewing people from the outside.
I found several passages worth quoting but will stick to just one.
The mother of a 6-year-old boy, Mrs. Ramsey, has promised James a trip out to a lighthouse (which has to be made by boat). In response, her husband, often lost in the clouds and difficult to deal with, says:
There wasn’t the slightest possible chance that they could go to the Lighthouse tomorrow, Mr. Ramsay snapped out irascibly.
Woolf tells us that the husband is enraged by womens’ “irrationality” and the “folly” of their mind.
And this what Mrs. Ramsey thinks about his behavior:
To pursue truth with such astonishing lack of consideration for other people’s feelings, to rend the thin veils of civilisation so wantonly, so brutally, was to her so horrible an outrage of human decency that, without replying, dazed and blinded, she bent her head as if to let the pelt of jaggged hail, the drench of dirty water, bespatter her unrebuked. There was nothing to be said.
Well, nothing to be said if you have Virginia Woolf to write down your thoughts! But what a great description of Mr. Ramsey’s words–a “pelt of jagged hail” and a “drench of dirty water.” Beautiful adjective for hail (“jagged”), one probably not often used in the literary tradition behind her. And an excellent way to capture Mr. Ramsey’s tyranny. And we all hate tyrannical fathers, right?