Ruth Suckow, “Virginia Woolf Spins a Gossamer Web.” The World. May 22, 1927, p.8M.

Woolf. Harcourt, Brace & Co.

IN HER new novel Mrs. Woolf has
again spun a gossamer web of words
about the figure of a charming, elderly
English woman, this time called Mrs.
Ramsay. There are other flies in the
web. There is the figure of Mr. Ramsay, 
perhaps more deftly and certainly
caught than that of Mrs. Ramsay (but
then how much easier to catch, with 
all his little and big foibles sticking
out so innocently!). The whole Ramsay 
family is drawn into the delicate
spinning, and the friends of the Ramsay 
family, chief among whom, as far
as the significance of the novel is concerned, 
are Lily Briscoe, painter and
spinster, and an indolent, ancient,
clear-sighted poet named Mr. Carmichael, 
who wrote of deserts and palm

The figures whom this skillful artist
always fails quite to embed in her
fine-drawn meshes are those of the 
world beneath, or behind the world of
the Ramsay household; the back
stairs, kitchen, shop and garden world
represented in this novel by Mrs. McNab, 
the cleaning woman. Mrs. Woolf
tries anxiously to give these figures
their human due, but it is with the 
well meaning and yet always a little
inappropriate sympathy of a lady who
belongs to a certain class. Like her
own heroines, she seems to go among
these characters with a basket on her 

But in spite of the fact that Mrs.
Ramsay does not give her name to

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this novel, as did Mrs. Dalloway to an
earlier one, that she dies in fact before
the book is half over, and that Mr. 
Ramsay seems to receive equal consideration
—the web is actually spun about
her. With a web so very fragile—more 
delicate than the patterns of Henry 
James or Jane Austen—it is necessary
that this central figure be really worth
the ensnaring, and I find Mrs. Ramsay
more acceptable in this role than
Clarissa Dalloway. She seems to belong 
less to a class and more to a universe. 
There are times when she stands almost
as the embodiment of the shadowy 
figure of a primary type of woman:
beautiful, compelling, authoritative, the
centre of the picture, and yet submerged 
in the lives of other people,
only actually living as she influences 
other beings.

* * *

MRS. RAMSAY, of course, is
the figure as she appears, 
highly intellectualized and sensitized, 
in the small world of English 
intellectuals which is really the
only world—in spite of minor excursions 
outside its boundaries, in “Mrs.
Dalloway”—that belongs to Virginia
Woolf; but, unlike many of Mrs. Woolf’s
characters, her interest and significance
are not confined within those narrow
boundaries. Her faults and idiosyncracies, 
chance intimate glimpses which
we have of her clapping her deer-
stalker hat on her head, being annoyed
when the tea-things are not ready,
bothering Mr. Carmichael with her
everlasting need for personal response,
and meddling in the lives of her 
friends, save her from the deadening
effect of a composite portrait and keep
her an individual. She would never be
seen so clearly without the surrounding

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Much of the interest in Mrs. Woolf’s 
novels lies in the intricacy,
beauty and novelty of that web which
she spins about her characters. And
yet this web may be sometimes as much
of an entanglement as an enhancement. 
Certainly, in “Jacob’s Room,” 
the playing with the pattern rather
left Jacob himself out in the cold. In

“Mrs. Dalloway,” it is as if Mrs. Woolf
had got to spinning so beautifully that
she dared not ease up or slacken her 
excitement for a moment lest the
threads should suddenly fly off at a 
tangent and the whole method fall to 
ruins about the slight figure of the 

* * *

LIKE other poetic minds turned to
the materials of life rather than of
fantasy for the creation of fiction, Mrs.
Woolf insists too intensely, at times
hysterically, upon the miracle and the
ecstasy of the commonplace. She tries
too continuously and too rapturously 
to discover all heaven in a grain of
sand. This is partly because her materials 
are so fragile: so that she insists, 
even to the point of hysteria,
upon their profundity. Her beautiful
writing has a tendency to run away 
with her scheme and to become only
beautiful writing.

But in “To the Lighthouse” her
mood is a little quieter; and I think  
that this is because, with the character 
of Mrs. Ramsay, she is able to reach
and keep a certain depth. The book
is mannered, with its rapid fluent
speech; but its method is not so conscious 
as that of the two preceding
novels, and at times the characters 
emerge from it altogether and seem to 
lead existences of their own.