Lydia Languish. “ ‘Nothing is Simply One Thing.’ Virginia Woolf’s Surprising New Story.” John 
O’London’s Weekly. June 11, 1927, p.283.

is always an
ingredient of
Mrs. Woolf’s
work. In the
of facts, in
in parentheses, 
she is a 
law unto herself. 
lends to any 
book by her a 
certain excitement. 
knows before
one begins
that her realities 
will be mysterious and her mysteries
real. “To the Lighthouse” (Hogarth Press,
7s. 6d.) is no exception. Her lighthouse, for
instance, is a real object “stark and straight
—barred with black and white—windows in
it—washing spread on the rocks to dry.”
But it is more essentially a spiritual goal
never reached until all the youthful glamour
of it had faded for the boy James Ramsay.

The Ramsays were a remarkable family,
rotating almost without knowing it round
the personality of Mrs. Ramsay, who was 
mother of eight children, still more definitely
the wife of her vain, irascible, yet lovable
husband, but most of all—unassailably—
Mrs. Ramsay herself.

The beautiful mother.
Mr. Tansley, one of those tiresome people
whose snobbery takes the form of telling 
everyone how lowly born they are, was a 
guest at the cottage in Skye, where the 
Ramsays spent their summers. Because
nobody liked him, Mrs. Ramsay took him
to town with her when she went shopping,
and he made the discovery that this woman
of fifty, the mother of eight children, was
the most beautiful person he had ever seen.
He took her bag, and, seeing a man digging
a drain pause to look at her, he knew for the
first time in his life the “extraordinary 
pride of walking with a beautiful woman.”

Between Mrs. Ramsay and her youngest
child, James, a great sympathy existed.
They were “comfortable together.” With
Mr. Ramsay nobody was ever comfortable.
Even Lily Briscoe, the determined spinster
and completely inefficient artist, who was in
love with the whole family, was obliged to
excuse him in her own mind, by thinking 
that a man whose life study was “Subject
and object and the nature of reality” could
not be judged like an ordinary person.
He was “petty, selfish, vain, egotistical, a 
tyrant who wore his wife to death,” but he
had “a fiery unworldliness.”

“Will it be fine to-morrow?”
This family and their two or three guests
are all astoundingly alive, although the
comedy in which their parts are cast has
little more substance than the simple 
question, “Will it be fine to-morrow?”

The attitude of his elders towards the
meteorological situation stamps James’s
opinion of their characters for all time.
Mrs. Ramsay (for James’s sake) saw no reason
why it shouldn’t be. Mr. Ramsay was

[next column]

certain that it won’t. And the disagreeable 
Mr. Tansley rubbed it in.

The pessimists had it. And when finally
it was settled that another picnic had succumbed 
to the British climate, one has
reached the middle of the book.

For a few pages one fears that something
more precious has gone with it. A brief
intimation in parentheses that Mrs. Ramsay 
had died suddenly the night before threatens
to cut the thread which has hitherto held one
spellbound. But with her peculiar power of
investing the commonplace with subtleties,
Mrs. Woolf re-arrests attention from a 
different quarter. Mrs. Ramsay dead, two
of her children dead also, the charwoman
got orders to prepare the house for the
family’s return.

There is something reminiscent of the
desolate habitation to which Mary Rose
returned, in the house in Skye as Mrs. 
McNab, the charwoman, saw it:—

This had been the nursery. Why, it was all
damp in here; the plaster was falling . . . 
rats in the all the attics. The rain came in. But
they never sent; never came. Some of the 
locks had gone, so the doors banged. She
didn’t like to be up here at dusk alone neither.
It was too much for one woman, too much, too
much. She creaked, she moaned. She banged
the door. She turned the key in the lock and
left the house shut up, locked, alone.

The return of Mrs. Ramsay.
But now the family was coming back.
Before any of them, Mrs. Ramsay came.
It seems that she has always been there.
No one noticed her except Lily Briscoe,
the artist and determined spinster. Even
she was at first inclined to consider Mrs.
Ramsay as “faded and gone.” But
when she set up her easel on the lawn to try
to recapture a certain vista of which the 
central point had been Mrs. Ramsay and
James, she was struck painfully by the
emptiness of the drawing-room steps.

The physical sensations that went with the
bare look of the steps had become suddenly
extremely unpleasant. To want and not to
have, sent all up her body a hardness, a hollowness, 
a strain. . . . Oh, Mrs. Ramsay, she called
out silently . . . as if to abuse her for having
gone, and then having gone, come back again.

Then, whilst Mr. Ramsay and his younger
children set sail for the lighthouse at last,
she had her vision.

She seemed to be standing up to the lips in 
some substance, to move and float and sink in it,
yes, for these waters were unfathomably deep.
Into them had spilled so many lives. The
Ramsays’; the children’s; and all sorts of waifs
and strays of things besides. A washer-woman
with her basket; a rook; a red-hot poker; 
the purples and grey-greens of flowers; some
common feeling which held the whole together.

At the same moment James reached the 
lighthouse and realized that “nothing is 
simply one thing.” The lighthouse, for 
instance, was “stark and white. But it was
also a silvery, misty-looking tower with a 
yellow eye that opened suddenly and softly 
in the evening.”

Every page of this delightful book has
its little nugget of pure gold. Mrs. Woolf
looks deeper into things than most people,
and what she sees she offers with incomparable 
grace. Her opinions she shares with,
instead of thrusting upon, her readers. And
what a relief that is!