Preferred Citation: Caramagno, Thomas C. The Flight of the Mind: Virginia Woolf's Art and Manic-Depressive Illness. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.

10— "It Is Finished": Ambivalence Resolved, Self Restored in To The Lighthouse

"It Is Finished":
Ambivalence Resolved, Self Restored in To The Lighthouse

Woolf reported that she ceased to be obsessed with both her mother and her father after writing To the Lighthouse (1927), theorizing that she "expressed some very long felt and deeply felt emotion" which writing finally laid to rest (Moments of Being 81, 108; Diary 3: 208). There is much in this novel to evidence a critical and conscious reevaluation of her parents. Woolf was able to portray her mother as she desired rather than as Leslie's idealized angel. Although she resented (and represented) her father's exhausting dependency on Julia, her treatment of him as Mr. Ramsay is balanced by a recognition that he was as much victim as victimizer, and she subsequently began to think of him as "'my' father, not 'father' any more" (Diary 3: 194). It was a reconciliation that lasted for the rest of her life; in 1941, she felt able to look at Leslie from two angles, "as a child condemning; as a woman of 58 understanding" (Diary 5: 281). Completing the family portrait, Woolf stepped into the story herself to offer a unifying vision: Lily Briscoe masters self-destructive disturbances in the creative process and finds autonomy.

To the Lighthouse extends and modifies elements from the previous novels. As in The Voyage Out, a motherless woman seeks answers to inexpressible questions. Lily's mood shifts, however, are not always presented sequentially, as Rachel's are, but are simultaneously set off against one another in a pattern resembling ambivalence. Although until she read Freud's definition of it in 1939 Woolf did not realize that bifurcated emotion could be called ambivalence (Diary 5: 249), she did note in 1925: "I think I might do something in To the Lighthouse, to split up emotions more completely. I think I'm working in that direction" (Diary 3: 38). By collapsing the temporality of mood swings (and perhaps using her experience of "mixed" states of conflicting manic and depressive feelings), she could frame the resolution of bipolar shifts more clearly as a theory of pictorial art, two masses balanced by a vertical line. Like Jacob's Room, To the Lighthouse invites readers to relinquish the wish for an objective narrative truth—by giving us not simply two irreconcilable views but seventeen subjective points of view, each provisional. This novel ventures beyond the remote attic room protecting Mrs. Dalloway's secret self; Mrs. Ramsay


carries her privacy with her in the hubbub of family life. Lily's painting and Mr. Ramsay's voyage to the lighthouse celebrate the strength of self in spite of loss—as Rachel's death and Jacob's fecklessness do not. The longing for mothering, for an idyllic past and manic omnipotence to overcome depressed helplessness, is replaced by adult self-sufficiency.

Woolf explores the relationship of her bipolar illness to her childhood experiences by focusing on the connections between loss, self-esteem, and the ambiguous nature of mothering. Julia had been the emblematic focus of Virginia's illness because premorbid childhood seemed infinitely better than adult depressions, especially when a manic imagination could mine Julia's obscure depths for source material. But the euthymic Woolf was not satisfied by obsessive longing for the past, and, wisely, she knew that loss brought gain: it revealed life's "reality," the "gashes" and "cracks" in the fabric that the younger Virginia had neglected (or had been protected from) while her mother was alive. Julia's death had been an abrupt weaning, but it led to growth and creative insights whose components were illustrated (and magnified) by manic-depressive illness. Once the euthymic Woolf understood this, her own phantom memories of a "generalised" Julia (Moments of Being 84) lavishing perfect nurture, making babies of loved ones, no longer sufficed.

Whereas the loss of beneficial nurturing results in grief, loss of self-destructive dependency elicits an ambivalent response. An infant will miss what was supportive, but a variety of reactions—anger, fear, guilt, denial, despair—can follow the loss of what was also debilitating.[1] Leslie craved such dependency, but Woolf clearly saw the disadvantages of living in the yellow grape of illusory immunity. The deeply felt emotion she expressed and laid to rest was not one but two—a bipolar attitude toward an idealized mothering that could both cripple and delight. Thus, Mrs. Ramsay centers a conflict in the novel between the desire for perfect support and the need to be self-sufficient,[2] a conflict that parallels the manic-depressive's fundamental problem of letting go of mood-induced delusions that seem to explain the illness. Leslie could not face the destructive elements of his view of Julia's role as the inexhaustible, sacrificial family goddess upon whom everything, even her family's mental health, depended. Virginia wanted to create a more human Julia, not a target for her projections but an equal, a contemporary with whom she could have a personal relationship.

It is significant, then, that idealization lies at the heart of an old critical debate on the simple question of how to judge Mrs. Ramsay as a mother. Many readers respond to her with outright idolatry. They identify her


with the "Primordial Goddess" of pagan myth, the goddess Demeter, deity of corn and abundance; compare her to the Blessed Virgin, Jesus Christ, and Eve; raise her to the level of a "Platonic ideal"; or endow her with "magical" qualities of "almost supernatural force."[3] Such an exaggeration of maternal virtues is common in childhood, but it has two drawbacks. First, it exacerbates the egoism of primary identification: the infant does not perceive the mother as a person separate from himself, and so he does not accept the mother's other interests or attachments, but perpetuates the myth that the perfect mother's whole being is supposed to be devoted to serving her child. This attitude can extend well into adulthood and become a self-fulfilling prophecy for people who become mothers and fathers themselves.[4] Second, such an inflated view of the virtues of the mother relegates the father to the role of tyrant or fool—an unfortunate position because, although in most cultures the mother establishes and symbolizes a symbiotic relationship with the infant, the father plays an equally important role, that of differentiation. The enculturated child identifies with the mother (self defined by similarities) but uses the father to perceive the self in opposition (self defined by differences).[5] Fathers integrate their children into a larger social context by denying ready retreat into total care; whereas mothers provide a reassuring sense of oneness with other human beings, fathers supply a reassuring sense of individuality. Children need to learn both kinds of object-relations.[6]

The disadvantage of this duality comes when the developing child sees the mother as symbolizing the infantile—"dependence, regression, passivity, and the lack of adaptation to reality"—and, turning from her toward the father, who "represents independence and individuation, progress, activity, and participation in the real world,"[7] arrives at the erroneous conclusion that it is—and should be—"a man's world out there." Perhaps, this explains why other critics, citing much the same evidence from To the Lighthouse, arrive at quite negative, even vindictive conclusions about Mrs. Ramsay's motherhood, thinking of her as a narcissist who mothers obsessively to avoid examining her own emptiness or as a tyrannical, husband-dominating, son-suffocating bitch who must die before the final resolution, spearheaded by the "heroic" Mr. Ramsay, can take place.[8]

Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay have become the victims of our cultural biases about gender and parenting. One critic considering this problem of critical response to the Ramsay marriage concludes that

sex role stereotyping is not only criticized by To the Lighthouse itself, but has seeped into the reading of it. The desire to see Mrs. Ramsay as intuition, sensual perception, loving concern, and empathy, and the


desire to believe that all Mr. Ramsay is is, to quote the omniscient narrator of Middlemarch, "a lifeless embalmment of knowledge," leads to not really seeing what the text is saying. What the text is saying is not that "men are this way" and "women are that way" and so of course "no marriage of true minds" is possible for them, but the male mind and the female mind, when they are in action, are a good deal alike, and are both inextricably tied to emotion.[9]

What sex-role stereotyping reads into mentality is an extension of the subject-object lessons children learn from their parents. Problems arise when assigning a particular object-relational style (self/object confusion or self/object differentiation) exclusively to a specific sex. Thus, it is not surprising that the depressed Woolf would locate her manic sense of idyllic fusion and magical joy in women rather than men. Culturally prescribed notions of maternity, Virginia's early experiences, and her mood swings reinforced her impression that it was Julia who best symbolized a blissful, premorbid past when self was not burdened by its depressing sense of isolation, the limitations of "reality," as represented and enforced by males (Leslie, Gerald and George, and the Cambridge dons). But in To the Lighthouse this rigid mold is broken. Woolf makes here a provocative connection between sexism and manic-depressive illness, for the failure of so many readers to see Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay's inner lives has been modeled for us by Lily's bifurcated emotional response to them. Much of the evidence used to condemn the husband and eulogize the wife (or the reverse) comes from Lily's own internal monologues as she struggles with mood swings that interfere with her ability to know her own feelings about Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay. Reconciling oneself to parental figures involves seeing them as individuals, not as symbols or projections serving unacknowledged needs or cultural prescriptions. How well children wean themselves from idyllic subjectivity depends on how completely they are able to give up the mother as mythic deity, without whom paradise is forever lost, and to give back to the father his capacity for parenting. But seeing others in the fullness of their being is just the problem that the manic-depressive (or a reader of this novel) finds so, difficult.

On the surface Mrs. Ramsay seems the twin of Leslie's Mausoleum Book Julia, the selfless fount of perfect mothering. The emotional center of a large family, hostess to her guests, nurse to her neighbors, she is "a hen, straddling her wings out in protection of a covey of little chicks" (34) that includes her husband: "If [Mr. Ramsay] put implicit faith in her, nothing should hurt him; however deep he buried himself or climbed high, not for a second should he find himself without her" (60). Even the skeptical


Lily yearns to be a dependent child leaning on Mrs. Ramsay's knee. But this idyllic dream cannot be fulfilled. Young James is that dependent child leaning on Mrs. Ramsay's knee, and he is neither happy nor secure. He jealously hoards his mother, whom he industriously idealizes. To him, she seems "to pour erect into the air a rain of energy, a column of spray, looking at the same time animated and alive as if all her energies were being fused into force," while his father is "like a beak of brass, barren and bare," demanding "to be taken within the circle of life, warmed and soothed, to have his senses restored to him, his barrenness made fertile" (58–59), as if his self were empty unless someone else filled it—which is precisely James's predicament. But what both James and his father want is impossible. It is true that once he is fed with this illusory reassurance, Mr. Ramsay, "like a child who drops off satisfied," believes himself "restored, renewed" (60), but Woolf makes it clear that the cost of extended mothering is great: Mrs. Ramsay worries that she has only made her husband even more dependent (62), the needy Lily is infuriated that "Mrs. Ramsay gave him what he asked too easily" (71), and James feels cheated. The more his mother looks like an angel, the more his father looks like a devil, the emptier James feels, the angrier and more isolated Lily becomes. The illusion of perfect mothering creates endless hunger.

It is important to remember that the sexual imagery here so complimentary to Mrs. Ramsay (the column of spray) and so critical of Mr. Ramsay (the brass beak), though expressed without corrective comment or bias, in the sophisticated language of an omniscient narrator, is intended to represent a small child's phallic point of view, not Woolf's. Woolf makes sure that all views in this novel are provisional. What purpose, then, can James's symbolism serve besides that of revealing his impotent narcissism? He notices that when his father has had his fill, his mother feels exhausted, empty, and turns for her own refreshment to the lighthouse. She watches it, fascinated, "hypnotised, as if it were stroking with its silver fingers some sealed vessel in her brain whose bursting would flood her with delight" (99). What has happened here? If we limit ourselves to James's narcissistic point of view, we might believe that the lighthouse symbolizes a "fantasy lover pulled up out of the unsatisfied inner world of Mrs. Ramsay's violated consciousness"[10] —but the fantasy of violation is James's, and he would most likely cast himself as the secret lover born of his mother's deepest inner life. Because both the beam and the lighthouse have a phallic shape, it is easy to penetrate no deeper than the oedipal bias of a young boy and conclude that Woolf presents us with a sexual drama—the animus fertilizing


the anima, the wife assuming dominance because the husband is inadequately male. But what do these terms—masculinity, femininity, animus, anima —tell us that is useful? The analysis is as metaphoric as the text, and dividing up the psyche into masculine and feminine parts limits complex mental processes to narrowed sexual roles which "not only deny the flexibility of the symbols but also fail to make sense of them."[11]

But can we avoid metaphorical language here? Woolf uses this image of self as vessel in "A Sketch of the Past" to describe a moment of being in a nonsexual context: "we are sealed vessels afloat upon what it is convenient to call reality; at some moments, the sealing matter cracks; in floods reality" (Moments of Being 142). Absolute separation of self from object versus confusion of self with object are the two extremes of bipolar object-relations. Unlike the other characters, Mrs. Ramsay is nurtured not by the emotional dynamics of familial roles but by a perception of oneness immune to the flux of experience. Something is learned beyond what can be characterized as subjective or objective knowledge, something inexpressible, "intimacy itself, which is knowledge" (79), a fusion that is neither flooded with the manic's supercharged reality nor sealed off by the depressive's alienated self. All these elements—subject-object fusion, stroking fingers, mirroring, and feeding—replicate infant-mother transactions, and, like that infant, Mrs. Ramsay sees both the object and herself: "It was odd, she thought, how if one was alone, one leant to inanimate things; trees, streams, flowers; felt they expressed one; felt they became one; felt they knew one, in a sense were one; felt an irrational tenderness . . . as for oneself" (97–98).

Successful fusions, like successful interpretations for manic-depressives, increase the self's worth. By reconciling bipolar patterns of hoarding and surrender, Mrs. Ramsay creates, in object-relational terms, what D. W. Winnicott called "an intermediate area of experiencing, to which inner reality and external life both contribute . . . a resting-place for the individual engaged in the perpetual human task of keeping inner and outer reality separate yet interrelated".[12] In this "transitional space" Mrs. Ramsay feels something like the initial, seemingly magical fusion an infant experiences with its mother, while simultaneously recognizing that this subjective sense of sacred rapport is joined to the objective fact of separateness: "She looked up over her knitting and met the third stroke and it seemed to her like her own eyes meeting her own eyes, searching as she alone could search into her mind and her heart, purifying out of existence that lie, any lie" (97). The "lie" is a sudden phrase that occurs to her when feeling


safe and complete: "We are in the hands of the Lord." It strikes her as insincere because she knows objectively that the world is dangerous. But it is not that simple. The "lie" is a fiction created by culture to explain away the uncanniness of the feeling, yet the sensation of security is real, and the stroking of the lighthouse beam occasions the "waves of pure delight" this moment of oneness produces in her.

Mrs. Ramsay is careful to accept the feeling without seeking/imposing an explanation for it that denies the possibility of randomness and loss. This nurturing moment seems to be outside her control, sponsored by "something else"—thus the temptation to attribute it to a deity. But such an explanation is as metaphorical as Septimus's delusion that his ecstasy/despair proves he is the messiah. So too would be our psycho-analytic explanation that she feels an uncanny rapport because she once again becomes the infant transacting with a comforting mother who magically seems to know her thoughts, wants, and needs. All our attempts to explain the "lie" are, in a sense (though not a clinical one), delusions that disguise how experience is modulated by the perceiver. The objective truth is that Mrs. Ramsay comforts herself when she fully perceives not only the object but herself in relation to the object, when neither is put into a position of dominance by mood. But the subjective truth is that the world seems meant to be perceived and rejoiced in—like a loving mother or a loving God. The "semi-transparent envelope" of perception cannot be fixed to delineate exactly what happens to subject and object when a moment of being occurs, and Woolf does not speculate on why such moments are provided for/available to us. She makes clear only the practical result of this prerepresentational miracle: when Mrs. Ramsay feels herself to be as real as the world, her self-confidence is restored. This balance between the subjective impression of oneness and the objective knowledge that oneness cannot exist independent of her ability to imagine it proves the self's power. No demon lover is needed to refresh Mrs. Ramsay's "violated" soul. Through Mrs. Ramsay, Woolf explores the paradoxical nature of creativity: that it both discovers and creates what is perceived.[13]

Although Woolf uses mothering as a metaphor for bipolar object-relational issues, her ruminations on how self deals with loss are not limited to Mrs. Ramsay's death. The preeminence of that loss is continuously undercut: the novel is fall of losses, from the dramatic to the prosaic, and each is painful in its own way.[14] The whole middle section, "Time Passes," goes into great detail about the erosion of household goods, relegating the deaths of family members to abbreviated, parenthetical notations,


re-creating a "disembodiment" that erases "human agency."[15] Woolf here follows her father's example in his Mausoleum Book: he only briefly mentions the deaths of Minny, Julia, and Stella, whereas he recounts nostalgically what has passed away generally—old times, old friends, happy occasions, opportunities gone forever, things never said that should have been said—evidence marshaled to justify his depressive feelings of unredeemable loss and his unquenchable need for comfort from his family. In the novel, Mr. Ramsay's anticipated loss of fame is as keenly felt as Bankes's loss of friendship, itself compared to death (35). Bankes mourns his childless widowerhood just as Mrs. Ramsay grieves because her children will grow up. Woolf reasons that at the object-relations level all losses are the same. The loss of Mrs. Ramsay is foregrounded but not absolute; it becomes an emblematic, but not definitive, event. The valuable lesson of the father—that blows to our narcissism are not cosmic disasters, for we occupy only a small space in a large world—is dramatized by a decentered death.

Unlike the novel's other characters, who are wrapped up in their personal griefs and lacks, Mrs. Ramsay contemplates loss in these object-relational terms, picturing it as "a sort of transaction [that] went on between them, in which she was on one side, and life was on another, and she was always trying to get the better of it, as it was of her" (92)—a paraphrase of Leslie's remarks about Julia's attempts to balance a "mournful account of pain and happiness" after Herbert's death.[16] Thus, Mrs. Ramsay reacts with a "spasm of irritation" when she recalls that the Swiss girl is crying because her father has just died, for it reminds her of her own unspecified loss, "some other, earlier lover" (45–46), a parallel to Julia's first husband. But Mrs. Ramsay does not lose her faith, as Julia did. She listens to the monotonous beat of the waves, hearing both an experience of good mothering (for they seem "consolingly to repeat over and over again . . . 'I am guarding you—I am your support"') and a frightening "ghostly roll of drums," remorselessly beating, threatening engulfment (27–28). She knows that loss is not contained in a particular event (as the depressive typically believes): instead, it becomes a universal context, a philosophy of life.

Woolf revises Julia freely to explore untapped potential that Virginia herself has actualized. Unlike Julia, Mrs. Ramsay does not sacrifice herself because of morbid guilt; this transaction is between equals. She accepts life's losses as anonymous, impersonal and undeserved, sometimes even grotesquely inhuman, and she encourages others to risk the same tragedy


that overpowered Julia: "And yet she had said to all these children, You shall go through with it . . . knowing what was before them—love and ambition and being wretched alone in dreary places" (92). Mrs. Ramsay's immunity establishes an order inside the self as well as in the outer world, allowing her to see that "there is a coherence in things, a stability; something, she meant, is immune from change . . . she had the feeling she had had once to-day, already, of peace, of rest" (158). Actual losses can be endured if we feel entire ourselves. Julia could not nurse herself—she felt both deadened and dutiful, as if Herbert had taken with him that central core which gave her life—but nursing others required nothing more than a cheerful face disguising her emptiness. Mrs. Ramsay does what Julia wished she could have done: she sinks down into diffusion with the lighthouse until her self can rise up again refreshed. Virginia has given her mother another chance to realize untried strength in her character, to disarm depression. Had Julia lived, this was something she could have shared with her daughter.

Woolf recognizes that neither manic dream nor depressive nightmare is final. Like the image of Rose's dish of fruit, the perfection of which must be destroyed in order to feed the guests, the dinner scene presents loss and nurturing as equal parts of a benevolent transaction: need can never be fully satisfied, but deprivation is never total. Minta's loss of her grandmother's brooch is compensated for by the gain of a fiancé, and the marriage itself is viewed by Mrs. Ramsay, its chief proponent, as an equivocal blessing:

This will celebrate the occasion—a curious sense rising in her, at once freakish and tender, of celebrating a festival, as if two emotions were called up in her, one profound—for what could be more serious than the love of man for woman, what more commanding, more impressive, bearing in its bosom the seeds of death; at the same time these lovers, these people entering into illusion glittering eyed, must be danced round with mockery, decorated with garlands. (151)

Implicit here is the recognition that Julia's idealized marriage was an illusion and would have fallen of its own weight. In her 1907 memoir, "Reminiscences," Woolf hints that Julia would eventually have learned that nothing is perfect and that "sorrow is our lot" even if Herbert had lived (Moments of Being 32)—not that love is always a mockery, but thinking of love and death as natural opposites is rigid, convergent thinking. In the same year, Woolf wrote:


happiness and sorrow are equally good, and beautiful, if you can only find the form for them, because that tickles, supplies, the sense which is above the reach of these accidents. (Letters 1: 310)

We judge the seamless flux of experience by bifurcated extremes (in Mr. Ramsay's terms, "A" is not "Z"), those reassuringly simple concepts such as good and bad, happy and sad, that elicit large blocks of primary emotion rather than subtler, more perceptive responses. Creating a "community of feeling" among the diners that is immune to death's threats and to love's illusions because she admits both, creating, in other words, a "form" in which happiness and sorrow are equally good and beautiful, Mrs. Ramsay embraces opposites and is thus subsequently able to reconcile Cam's fear of the boar's skull with James's desire for it. An infantile retreat into perfect mothering is not needed here.

Lily Briscoe enjoys no such immunity; she feels deeply bifurcated. Like Rachel Vinrace, Lily ranges between self-assertion and self-abasement, keeping "a feeler on her surroundings lest someone should creep up" and yet longing for communion. Alternating between confidence and despair, Lily paints by fits and starts, for it is in painting that Lily finds and defines herself. In painting her ambivalence is most evident, as a cyclic fluctuation between holding on and letting go—Leslie's old intestinal pattern—that is both defensive and self-destructive:

It was in that moment's flight between the picture and her canvas that the demons set on her who often brought her to the verge of tears and made this passage from conception to work as dreadful as any down a dark passage for a child. Such she often felt herself—struggling against terrific odds to maintain her courage; to say: "But this is what I see; this is what I see," and so to clasp some miserable remnant of her vision to her breast which a thousand forces did their best to pluck from her. And it was then too, in that chill and windy way, as she began to paint, that there forced themselves upon her other things, her own inadequacy, her insignificance, keeping house for her father off the Brompton Road, and had much ado to control her impulse to fling herself (thank Heaven she had always resisted so far) at Mrs. Ramsay's knee and say to her—but what could one say to her? "I'm in love with you"? No, that was not true, "I'm in love with this all," waving her hand at the hedge, at the house, at the children? (32)

Lily feels forced to choose between rejecting the beloved mothering figure or becoming again a panicky, dependent child whose poor self-image undermines her ability to have a vision of her own.[17] Somewhere between


resisting the manic impulse for complete, heedless fusion and fighting off the depressive dread of isolation must lie a transitional space in which one's conception survives realization—indeed, in which life invites and sponsors rapport as though with a "third voice."

But something about the Ramsays prevents Lily from forming nurturing fusions in art. The "miserable remnant" clasped to her breast is like a child's transitional object, a security blanket or a teddy bear that takes the place of the mother, in the hope that this will make weaning (and establishing independence) less traumatic. The object is invested with "manic" meaning (symbolizing the mother's magical power to sustain the infant's illusion that she and it are one and perfect) while remaining only an object (representing the "depressive" lesson from father that mother and child are separate, unmergeable entities, each imperfect). But because the goodness of this nurturing object comes from the goodness of the self that helps create its sponsorship, a child who lacks self-confidence and so harbors unresolved, ambivalent feelings toward its parents may find the transitional object embodying more conflicts than it resolves.[18] When overcome by despair, Lily produces a miserable remnant that gives less sustenance than throwing herself on the mercy of Mrs. Ramsay promises to provide, though that sustenance would come at the expense of self-esteem. Either way, Lily goes hungry.

Lily's ambivalence echoes manic-depressive fragmentation in tying selfworth to misinterpretation. Typically, she blames the Ramsays for her divided feelings: "what happened to her, especially staying with the Ramsays, was to be made to feel violently two opposite things at the same time; that's what you feel, was one; that's what I feel, was the other, and then they fought together in her mind, as now." Deeply divided about her own worth, she sees in the Ramsays her bifurcated attitude toward love's goodness: it is "so beautiful, so exciting," yet also "the stupidest, the most barbaric of human passions . . . tedious, puerile, and inhumane" (154–55). Lily fails to understand how her conflicting emotions have become confused with external realities and so condemns the Ramsays' love as a mixture of exultation and illusion, an "unreal but penetrating and exciting universe which is the world seen through the eyes of love" (73)—that is to say, a delusion. This condemnation is especially strong when she sympathizes with the wife and despises the husband: "That man, she thought, her anger rising in her, never gave; that man took. She, on the other hand, would be forced to give. Mrs Ramsay had given. Giving, giving, giving, she had died" (223). James of course shares this opinion,


but when the narration portrays Mr. Ramsay from his own point of view, neither Lily's nor James's interpretation holds fast. Transactions between husband and wife, though often shaky, work toward an acceptable mutuality. To evaluate Lily's ambivalence, we must first understand the nature of the Ramsay (and the Stephen) marriage and why Lily (and Woolf) initially misjudged it.

In studies of manic-depressive families, researchers have found that bipolar illness in a parent presents both the spouse and the children with a emotional dilemma:

The relationship between the spouses proved critical to childrearing patterns. The balance between mutuality/isolation in the husband-wife relationship was strained by the birth of successive children. Many of the spouses of patients tended to view manic or depressive episodes as willful abdications of responsibility or as manifestations of weakness of character and self-indulgence that had to be met with a firm display of power and control. The unspoken but forcefully communicated dictum to the child that mommy (or daddy) is "sick" through some fault of his or her own thrust the child on the horns of a dilemma: the "sick" parent was lovable but irresponsible, while the well parent was responsible but also to be feared. Thus a pattern was set in which caretaking roles were vague, loyalties were tenuous, and affection and approval were dependent on degree of health and responsibility.[19]

Woolf knew that her father was moody though obviously not psychotic, not "mad" as she and her family felt she was periodically (or James Kenneth was terminally). He had "bad" moments when he groaned and whined (Moments of Being 112), but when Leslie was flushed with good feelings, Woolf felt that

Beautiful was he at such moments; simple and eager as a child; and exquisitely alive to all affection; exquisitely tender. We would have helped him then if we could, given him all we had, and felt it little beside his need—but the moment passed. (Moments of Being 46)

In "A Sketch of the Past," recounting incidents of the happy Leslie, Woolf doubts her negative assessment: "He cannot have been as severe and melancholy and morose as I make him out. . . . Undoubtedly I colour my picture too dark" (Moments of Being 113). But three pages later he becomes "the exacting, the violent, the histrionic, the demonstrative, the self-centered, the self pitying, the deaf, the appealing, the alternately loved and hated father."

Here is precisely the problem that families of bipolars, whether cyclothymic or manic-depressive, recurrently face. Relationships develop over


time, but mood shifts occur rapidly. The sense of trust, affection, and loyalty that good days foster is ruined by the next bad day. One moment Leslie would reassure his children that Stella's coming marriage and departure was no tragedy deserving of tears, and "the moment after he was groaning to her that the blow was irreparable" (Moments of Being 50). Unpredictable people create confusion in intimate and important familial relationships and tend to elicit strong emotional reactions from spouses and/or children who do not understand why they are treated so inconsistently. What is worse, because cyclothymia is milder than frank manic-depressive illness, a cyclothymic's moodiness shades into those subtler shifts experienced daily by "normal" people and by the patient himself when he happens to be euthymic. It is therefore very difficult for family members, who have become accustomed to lifelong moodiness, to identify a particular behavior as a "trait" (expressing the patient's character) or a "state" (expressing a transitory mood).

It is easy to develop an intolerance for uncertainty and conclude rashly that a cyclothymic misbehaves because he chooses to, for which violation he should be held responsible, as any other family member would be. Normally, such a judgment would be made by the spouse, who is equal in authority to the patient. But rather than respond to her husband's seemingly "willful abdication" with "power and control," Julia tolerated Leslie's outbursts and his glooms. She bore the brunt of the former and nursed him until he shifted out of the latter, and so she earned pity and admiration as a martyr sacrificed upon the altar of marriage. Thus, the crucial "balance of mutuality/isolation" in the Leslie-Julia relationship was weighted toward isolation. She stoically endured abuse by contracting into herself, nursing in private her chronic grief over Herbert's death and life's injustice, to which no outrage Leslie committed could compare. After her death, it fell to her children to assume the caretaking role, and they did so with both isolation and disapproval. They became all the more judgmental because they had been raised according to a more stringent rubric that did not forgive misbehavior easily: Julia was sterner with her children than she was with her husband.

The injustice of this situation was further strained because Leslie let it be known that sharing his wife's attentions with the births of successive children caused him to feel even more neglected and vulnerable. Since the children felt they were implicated in Leslie's unhappiness, draining maternal affection he had craved for himself, perhaps feeling that he had begrudged


them, they became much more sensitive to the issue of his responsibility when he became histrionic after Julia's death. Since no one then understood the biochemical mechanisms of cyclothymia, and since Leslie clearly retained his reason and sense of reality—he could not be excused as "mad"—his children saw instead a man who indulged himself in fits of temper and tried to blame it on his inherited "thin skin," the skin of the genius, which for them was the definitive mark of his vanity. It was on the grounds of vanity that his suffering could be condemned as a weakness, a moral defect. Leslie's intense "oriental gloom," Woolf claimed, was a manifestation of "his traditional pose; he was the lonely; the deserted; the old unhappy man" craving affection (106). He had a "violent temper," one

that he could not control, and that, considering his worship of reason, his hatred of gush, of exaggeration, of all superlatives, seems inconsistent. It was due, I suppose, to the fact that he was spoilt as a child; because of his nervous delicacy, and that delicacy excused his extreme irritability. . . . [M]en of genius were naturally uncontrolled. (109)

Inconsistency—the most visible and often the most damaging effect of mood swings—implied hypocrisy, and that was unforgivable. Even his subsequent euthymic states, when he felt guilty for having abused his family during fits of depression or rage, were interpreted according to the model of the egotistical genius who indulged himself because he felt privileged to do so: "It was part of the convention," Woolf wrote, "that after these outbursts, the man of genius became 'touchingly apologetic'" (110). His sincerity was obscured by his children's sense of the injustice of his demands, especially after the deaths of Julia and Stella, when they had not been allowed to express their grief and lay it to rest. "Misery of this kind tends to concentrate itself upon an object," Virginia noted, and Leslie became a suitable target because of his dependency upon those two women, now dead, as he turned his attention to Vanessa, his "next victim" (55). He even urged Vanessa to follow Julia and Stella's example in not examining his moods critically: "When he was sad, he explained, she should be sad; when he was angry, as he was periodically when she asked him for a cheque, she should weep; instead she stood before him like a stone," which irritated him all the more. Alarmed about their safety and integrity, Vanessa and Virginia regarded him as a "tyrant of inconceivable selfishness" (56).

Ironically, they focused so much of their suspicion and hatred upon the moody Leslie that they judged less harshly the uniform George, whose


behavior was in fact much more pervasively tyrannical and hurtful, combining as it did brotherly love, sexual abuse, and the reification of society's anti-feminist values. Unlike the complex and intellectual Leslie, George was merely "stupid" and "good natured" (58), and so one could forgive him. George was considered to be too simple to qualify as the hated neurotic genius of the Stephen male line, but Leslie was smart enough to have known better. Woolf admitted that she and her sister had been "simply credulous" about George's true intentions "and ready to impose our conventional heroic shape upon the tumult of his character" (58), which resulted in bedroom embraces, passionate kisses, and dictatorial orders about propriety in dress and conversation at social occasions. The "old wretch," Leslie, looked so much worse.

Woolf suspected that her hatred of her father's tyranny was to some extent undeserved, a reaction to the deaths of Julia and Stella. It was, Woolf wrote,

like being shut up in the same cage with a wild beast. Suppose I, at fifteen, was a nervous, gibbering, little monkey, always spitting or cracking a nut and shying the shells about, and mopping and mowing, and leaping into dark corners and then swinging in rapture across the cage, he was the pacing, dangerous, morose lion; a lion who was sulky and angry and injured; and suddenly ferocious, and then very humble, and then majestic; and then lying dusty and fly pestered in a corner of the cage. (116)

Both father and daughter were moody, but they were frequently out of synch with each other. Only when their moods corresponded did she feel that she and he "were in league together. There was something we had in common" (111) that created a sense of "passionate fumbling fellowship" (137). When he shouted and swore because stout Dermod O'Brien, one of Stella's admirers, had been invited to dinner, Virginia found herself agreeing with him that Julia's hospitality was sometimes too impulsive, and "I affirmed my sympathy, felt my likeness" to her father (112).

It was a likeness that also implied difference—as every child feels when comparing himself or herself to a parent. Woolf recognized her father's predicament and sympathized even as she criticized:

he was a man in prison, isolated. He had so ignored, or disguised his own feelings that he had no idea of what he was; and no idea of what other people were. Hence the horror and the terror of those violent displays of rage. There was something blind, animal, savage in them. . . . He did not realise what he did. No one could enlighten him. Yet


he suffered. Through the walls of his prison he had moments of realisation.

From it all I gathered one obstinate and enduring conception; that nothing is so much to be dreaded as egotism. Nothing so cruelly hurts the person himself; nothing so wounds those who are forced into contact with it. (146–47)

Of her mother's complicity in Leslie's tantrums Woolf was equally critical:

Too much obsessed with his health, with his pleasures, she was too willing, as I think now, to sacrifice us to him. It was thus that she left us the legacy of his dependence, which after her death became so harsh an imposition. It would have [been] better for our relationship if she had left him to fend for himself. (133)

Julia's tolerance for Leslie's inability or unwillingness to cope with his mood swings led to a destructive isolation. Protecting him against others but not against himself, Julia inadvertently allowed him to remain in his "prison," unenlightened. Mutuality might have helped him gain some autonomy; treated as an equal rather than as a child or a God, he might have become more aware (as cyclothymics and manic-depressives often are not) of the effects of his moods on himself and on others. It is the therapeutic action of mutuality in healing the cut that egotism creates between self and world that Woolf explores in To the Lighthouse.

Mr. Ramsay's lesson in mutuality begins immediately. The initial confrontation between husband and wife centers on a question of knowledge and mood. Mrs. Ramsay offers James a hope that tomorrow's weather will permit a sail to the lighthouse. The "good enough" mother, she reads the child's desires and offers the playful illusion that the world might grant his wish. Mr. Ramsay acts out the father's role of dis -illusioning his son, reminding him that the world is treacherous and life a disappointment:

He shivered; he quivered. All his vanity, all his satisfaction in his own splendour, riding fell as a thunderbolt, fierce as a hawk at the head of his men through the valley of death, had been shattered, destroyed. . . .

Not for the world would she have spoken to him, realising, from the familiar signs, his eyes averted, and some curious gathering together of his person, as if he wrapped himself about and needed privacy into which to regain his equilibrium, that he was outraged and anguished. (48–49)

Expressed in the hyperbolic terms of Tennyson's portrait of a bungled military campaign, Mr. Ramsay's feelings seem utterly ridiculous but are not. Destructive objectivity looks like "exactingness and egotism" to young


James (58), but it evidences a depressed self tortured by isolation in a "poor little world" (108) that appears mechanical, inhuman, and entropic. In a 1924 letter Woolf describes, in precisely the same terms, a sudden depression that came upon her as she was walking in the rain:

It was a wet windy night; & as I walked back across the field I said Now I am meeting it; now the old devil has once more got his spine through the waves. (but I cannot re-capture really). And such was the strength of my feeling that I became physically rigid. Reality, so I thought, was unveiled. And there was something noble in feeling like this; tragic, not at all petty. . . . Off I rode, without much time, against such a wind; & again I had a satisfaction in being matched with powerful things, like wind & dark. I battled, had to walk; got on; drove ahead; dropped the torch; picked it up; & so on again without any lights. Saw men & women walking together; thought you're safe & happy I'm an outcast. (Diary 2: 270)

The despair in both cases is real enough, though the context may seem inappropriate. Woolf's mixture of poetic fantasy and prosaic reality implies that Mr. Ramsay is reacting, not to his wife's remark, but to an interior disaster related to it—"that he was a failure" (59). He feels shattered because he reads into her "little lie" a denial of his preoccupation with rationality—the depressive's typical defense against despair and a chaotic, uncaring universe—and she becomes the target for all his anger. Agitated depressives often do turn suddenly upon loved ones, but their attacks are misplaced: the real enemy gnawing at self's foundations lurks within. Ironically, though Lily's talent lies in spatializing on canvas inner worlds, she cannot sympathize with Ramsay, but wonders "why so brave a man in thought should be so timid in life; how strangely he was venerable and laughable at one and the same time" (70). Unable to detect a common denominator for them, she sees only how inappropriate his emotions are—because she is guilty of projection herself.

Mrs. Ramsay understands her husband's despair. She objects, not to the reality of his feelings, but to his method for coping with his vulnerability, which she effectively exposes:

without replying, dazed and blinded, she bent her head as if to let the pelt of jagged hail, the drench of dirty water, bespatter her unrebuked. There was nothing to be said.

He stood by her in silence. Very humbly, at length, he said that he would step over and ask the Coastguards if she liked.

There was nobody whom she reverenced as she reverenced him. She was quite ready to take his word for it, she said. (51)


Her reaction is therapeutic: without replying to the content of his moody rage, she acknowledges its effect, her victimization, by bending her head—just as a psychoanalyst initially accepts his patient's transference (also an unconscious transferral of emotion from an appropriate object to an inappropriate one—usually the analyst) so that he can bring it to the patient's attention. When the patient becomes aware that he has read into his analyst feelings or ideas that really belong somewhere else, the transference stops. Mr. Ramsay is likewise touched and repentant. His wife's mirroring helps him acknowledge and correct misbehavior, even though he is still depressed; Woolf does not create a magic solution for her father's mood swings, just a practical one. Shortly afterward, when his wife enjoys a private moment with the lighthouse beam, Mr. Ramsay successfully resists the temptation to interrupt her and seek reassurance. Seeing this, she calls to him, giving him "of her own free will what she knew he would never ask" (100).

Stressing depressed spouses' needs for autonomy and self-sufficiency, Woolf has Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay accomplish their mutuality tactfully, from a distance, much like Lily and William's seaside intimacy (33–34). When walking silently in the garden, Mr. Ramsay is tempted to whine, but he becomes uncomfortable, "as if he were breaking into that solitude, that aloofness, that remoteness of hers" (103)—again, another noticeable change Woolf makes in her portrait of her father, who complained that he "required" "proofs of [Julia's] love" in specific language to dispel his "morbid" feeling of inadequacy.[20] Mr. Ramsay does learn to resist, because he is connected to his wife in a mirroring relationship. Like the cognitively narcissistic infant, Ramsay overcomes his "archaic, egoistic way of loving" when his wife denies him automatic reciprocity;[21] by making him aware that she has interests unconnected with her maternal function, she weans him from dependence and socializes him for balanced object-relations with others who will not mother him. She, in turn, gives him the same respect. When she wants to tell him that she has been reading fairy tales to James, she stops herself: "No, they could not share that; they could not say that" (104), for her husband does not believe in fairy tales. In their final moments together in the novel, they silently read books which uplift and reassure them, each in a private corner, until the time comes to retire to the bedroom.

This is a difficult moment, for the separate but equal object-relational transaction of reading texts that reflect their inner feelings must now combine into the one shared transaction of the relationship. In an unspoken dialogue, he asks to be told she loves him and she refuses, keeping her


distance. But then she smiles, and from this small sign he takes his solace—and keeps his self-sufficiency—allowing her her reticence: "[T]hough she had not said a word, he knew, of course, that she loved him." Mrs. Ramsay then admits silently that he was right about the weather though wrong in his defensiveness. Enigmatically, she ends the chapter by smiling, "for she had triumphed again" (186). Remembering that Woolf has resisted painting Julia as a "chronic mourner" who resorted to motherly sacrifices in place of romantic love, we have a distinctly playful, sexually adult scene here. Mutual autonomy is preserved, first in the reading of separate texts and then in their wordless intimacy. After this scene Mr. Ramsay's insecurities and his depressive clutching of objective certainty are greatly muted: "But now, he felt, it didn't matter a damn who reached Z (if thought ran like an alphabet from A to Z). Somebody would reach it—if not he, then another" (179). Mrs. Ramsay's triumph is that of any parent whose child has grown beyond its initial dependency and any spouse whose mate has learned how to survive mood swings with dignity.

Mr. Ramsay's initial progress toward self-sufficiency explains his behavior ten years later, after his wife's death. Still moody and lonely, "he had been a little out of temper too at breakfast," and he bears down upon Lily for sympathy (225), groaning and assuming "a pose of extreme decrepitude" (227). Lily feels she is no Mrs. Ramsay, whose inner resources she idealizes because she does not believe in her own. She responds characteristically, first with a depressive self-negation and then with agitated defensiveness. She blames herself for not being able to imitate "the glow, the rhapsody, the self-surrender" of Mrs. Ramsay (224) and concludes that she is "not a woman, but a peevish, ill-tempered, dried-up old maid presumably" (226) who cannot nurture. Although tempted to fake it, to put on the "face" of the motherly nurse, Lily feels nauseated by Mr. Ramsay's effusive needs, which disregard her legitimate interests that do not include him. She wants to pull her psychic skirts up, to wall herself against intrusion. Suddenly, and accidentally, she discovers how to avoid both abject submission and cold retention. She diverts his attention from sorrow to boots, which become transitional objects shared by the two players: "They had reached, she felt, a sunny island where peace dwelt, sanity reigned and the sun for ever shone, the blessed island of good boots. Her heart warmed to him." Mr. Ramsay surprises Lily, becoming gentle and affectionate, and she responds with genuine, even filial sympathy: "Thus occupied he seemed to her a figure of infinite pathos" (230), but also one of


sudden revivification, that sudden flare (when she praised his boots), that sudden recovery of vitality and interest in ordinary human things, which too passed and changed (for he was always changing, and hid nothing) into that other final phase which was new to her and had, she owned, made herself ashamed of her own irritability, when it seemed as if he had shed worries and ambitions. (233)

When he leaves her, she feels a sudden emptiness, for just as she is finally ready to sympathize, to efface herself and surrender emotional sustenance, "he no longer needed it" (231).

Lily has inadvertently duplicated Mrs. Ramsay's strategy for steering Mr. Ramsay toward mutuality and autonomy. Put in the position of the mother whose separate interests are ignored by the needy and cognitively narcissistic child, she reacts as Mrs. Ramsay did at the end of Part One. She resists surrender and encourages a neutral transaction—replicating the lesson of Mrs. Ramsay's dinner: that needs can never be fully satisfied, but deprivation is never total. To her surprise, Lily finds that Mr. Ramsay has not simply been put off; he has changed. His readiness to consider "ordinary human things" (233), in contrast to his previously fiery unworldliness ("born blind, deaf, and dumb, to the ordinary things" [107]), indicates a subtle modification within. James, "the image of stark and uncompromising severity," who frowns "at the sight of human frailty" (10) and who fantasizes on the boat trip to the lighthouse that his father will, at any moment, become self-indulgent and tyrannical (273), finds himself being praised for his seamanship and relents. Cam admires her father (308). The immunity he learned from his wife has given him the strength to resist feeding on his children in order to fill his inner emptiness. Now he can nurse others and deserve their love.

Until this moment, Lily has clearly been ambivalent about Mr. Ramsay, mothering, and art, alternately desiring Mrs. Ramsay and rejecting her, extolling her own artistic vision and ridiculing it. When she first realizes that she both admires William (a "generous, pure-hearted, heroic man!" [39]) and despises him (he is unsympathetic to dogs, spoiled by a valet, and fussy with food), Lily asks herself an important question: how is it possible to hear one's "own voice saying without prompting undeniable, everlasting, contradictory things" (40)? But she does not arrive at an answer; her thought spins until it explodes "of its own intensity" (41). Ambivalence cannot be resolved when it is dealt with in the cocoon of private thought. Lily's inner world lacks unity, and so her early attempts at painting are painful, her relationships conflicted, and her self-image that of an "old


maid" who neither desires nor feels desirable (226). Love and marriage seem like frighteningly real invasions, feeding "on the treasure of the house, greedily" (261)—Mrs. Ramsay's fecund, nurturing self. Later, Lily consoles herself that she "need never marry anybody" and feels an "enormous exultation" (262), just as Rachel Vinrace feels impenetrable to assault in her hatred of Richard Dalloway. The world makes demands; Lily holds on, holds herself back, and admires William's love for Mrs. Ramsay because it makes no demands. Only under such tight security can she feel "gratitude" for "this 'rapture' . . . for nothing so solaced her, eased her of the perplexity of life, and miraculously raised its burdens" as a love that does not task self (74), a vision that does not have to be made real.

Painting, however, requires a vision that is both magical and real, and it is painful precisely because it exposes her inner vision "which a thousand forces did their best to pluck from her" (32), among them her own voice saying contradictory things. Thinking conceptually about art and relegating human relations to the realm of the insincere is safe, but it cannot put the sundered fragments back together: Lily cannot see herself until she spatializes, in the mirroring circuit of artist and canvas, her inner world. As an artist and psychoanalyst, Marion Milner, notes, the blocked artist's problem is both bipolar and circular. It is comprised

not only of endowing the outside world with one's own dream and so giving it desirability, coming to believe that what it offers is what one wants, but also the reverse problem of coming to believe that the outside world wants what one has to give. Obviously this belief can be very precariously established; and it is impeded, not only by inner doubts about one's wish to give, doubts of the strength of one's love and constructive wishes as compared with one's hate and envy and greed, but also by actual failures of one's surroundings to need what one has to give.[22]

Lily sees the outer world as hateful and finds that it resists her painting it so long as Mr. Ramsay embodies villainy, so long as he threatens the only source of nurture and goodness in her life: the mythologized Mrs. Ramsay. She sees her inner world as hateful and unworthy so long as she fears that her feeding off the idealized mother figure diminishes both Mrs. Ramsay and herself. It is the "image of the pelican woman, feeding her brood with her own vital substance," that so depresses Lily and obscures the real Mrs. Ramsay (whose nonmatemal interests Lily cannot imagine).[23] If women's selves are meant merely to be sacrificed, how can they truly give, in marriage or in art? The creative act, in Lily's own


words, is "to feel simply that's a chair, that's a table, and yet at the same time, It's a miracle, it's an ecstasy" (300). But in the presence of the Ramsays she feels either that the chair is degraded or that the miracle is tawdry, because her bipolar object-relations prevent her from having a creative relationship with exterior objects.

Lily feels stuck between asserting the goodness of her own vision against Mr. Ramsay's realism and accepting reality's goodness enough to risk contact. She struggles against rejecting reality outright and painting merely an abstract scene, but she also struggles against "her own inadequacy, her insignificance," which degrades imagination.[24] Milner argues that every artist faces the same bipolar conflict: he or she "has to reckon not only with one's hate of the external world, when it fails to live up to one's expectations, but also hate of oneself when one similarly fails."[25] When we cannot make the world desirable through our dreams (and depression interferes with this fundamental function of imagination to make perceptions of the world personally meaningful), we despise the world and ourselves. Lily seems to realize this when at last she understands her hostility toward Tansley:

Her own idea of him was grotesque, Lily knew well, stirring the plantains with her brush. Half one's notions of other people were, after all, grotesque. They served private purposes of one's own. He did for her instead of a whipping-boy. She found herself flagellating his lean flanks when she was out of temper. (293)

Her hostility is a defensive displacement: she hates Tansley as she hates herself.

But since Lily's painting is also a product of her self-world relationship, she herself becomes art's whipping boy. Tansley and the world and the canvas are in concert, saying, "Women can't write, women can't paint" (130). Lily sneers at him, but when she describes her painting as the "residue of her thirty-three years, the deposit of each day's living mixed with something more secret than she had ever spoken or shown," something "immensely exciting" (81), her language reveals that what is inside, the product of the self, is both feces and vision, repulsive yet attractive, unwanted but desired. In contrast, painting mother and child "without irreverence" (82) requires an art that gives value to external things by incorporating the sense that in some uncanny way the object itself cosponsors Lily's aesthetic understanding. Wishing for a sacred rapport is not enough; the "third voice," that unthought but known familiarity


between Lily and the canvas or between Lily and the Ramsays, must be heard in the dialogue between self and object. To solve her artistic problem of balancing "the relations between the masses," Lily must refer it to her ambivalence about the Ramsays.

What, then, moves Lily out of her autistic world into the artistic? At the moment of final creation, a "wave of white" appears at the window, duplicating the shape of Mrs. Ramsay and James seen in Part One:

"Mrs. Ramsay! Mrs. Ramsay!" [Lily] cried, feeling the old horror come back—to want and want and not to have. Could she inflict that still? And then, quietly, as if she refrained, that too became part of ordinary experience, was on a level with the chair, with the table. Mrs. Ramsay—it was part of her perfect goodness to Lily—sat there quite simply, in the chair, flicked her needles to and fro, knitted her reddishbrown stocking, cast her shadow on the step. There she sat.

And as if she had something she must share, yet could hardly leave her easel, so full her mind was of what she was thinking, of what she was seeing, Lily went past Mr. Carmichael holding her brush to the edge of the lawn. Where was that boat now? And Mr. Ramsay? She wanted him. (300)

Lily initially feels the infant's narcissistic needs and its depressive helplessness to satisfy them. Yet this "horror" loses its magnitude and becomes a simple fact, like the existence of a chair—differentiated, isolated, but real. The ability of the self to survive the need, to perceive it as only one need among many, a wave that will eventually be gone, defuses the threat. Fluctuations in mood need not confuse our sense of identity if we, as someone who really exists, can question them. Once Lily feels both real and, in an uncanny way, invited to paint, Mrs. Ramsay sits there "quite simply," not a goddess but an object wishing to be painted and a feeling needing to be expressed. But where has this new strength come from? And why is Mr. Ramsay necessary to Lily's vision?

Lily's discovery of Mr. Ramsay's otherness models her ultimate discovery of the sponsorship she seeks in art—the sensation that she has been invited to paint. Ramsay's version of reality denigrates the value of artistic imagination because it denies the existence of the "third voice" that beckons subject-object fusions. For him, all objects are impersonal, silent, dead, amenable only to ordering in a linear progression from A to Z. Ironically, because he regards all subject-object relations as man-made, he can never achieve his goal of objectivity, for every idea he has must be merely imposed by himself. He cannot get beyond the subjective limitations of "R"


—Ramsay himself—which obscure and negarivize the object world, creating "a world of impossible loneliness, so that he craves his wife's sympathy."[26] Because Ramsay's vision is never invited by the objects he studies but only opposes them, as a stake driven into a channel defies the waves rather than being invited to ride them, both his inner and his outer world are impoverished. Ramsay is the polar opposite of Septimus, who feels victimized by inscrutable meanings called up from objects against his consent. In psychosis, the "third voice" shrieks from all sides for total, self-annihilating fusion. Mr. Ramsay hears nothing but his own voice; he is to be pitied, not feared. Lily's anger, then, must be a reaction to what she hates in herself: the isolated ego that inhibits creativity by turning other people into objects—reducing them with irreverence.

The reconciliation on the island of good boots not only relieves Lily of the burden of resisting Ramsay's objectifying ego but also jolts her into considering his otherness, a reality that no longer conforms to her autistic dreams but demands a new dream, a new vision, to incorporate the changed object. No longer can Mr. Ramsay serve as devil, Mrs. Ramsay as goddess incarnate for "private needs." Painting makes the private public, gives it form, and so foregrounds unexamined "needs." Ten years earlier, when Tansley's egotism denied Lily's validity as an artist, she had felt "her whole being bow, like corn under a wind"; she had retreated into a private world and thought only of the abstract form of her portrait: "I must move the tree to the middle; that matters—nothing else" (130). Now she paints fluently, like a swimmer alternately dominating the curl of a wave and being carried along by it (235).

The transformation comes when she lets go of the fear that she would become the dupe of art and its bipolar rhythm:

With a curious physical sensation, as if she were urged forward and at the same time must hold herself back, she made her first quick decisive stroke. The brush descended. It flickered brown over the white canvas; it left a running mark. A second time she did it—a third time. And so pausing and so flickering, she attained a dancing rhythmical movement, as if the pauses were one part of the rhythm and the strokes another, and all were related; and so, lightly and swiftly pausing, striking, she scored her canvas with brown running nervous lines which had no sooner settled there than they enclosed (she felt it looming out at her) a space. Down in the hollow of one wave she saw the next wave towering higher and higher above her. . . . It was an exacting form of intercourse anyhow. (235–36)


The pauses here are not merely depressive hoardings but incorporations of new material which, moment by moment, are transformed into brush strokes; the brush strokes are not only manic projections but also responses to the demands of the canvas. When Lily does suffer a block a page later, it is because she momentarily remembers Tansley reminding her that the world may not want the gift of her inner life. But she resists the temptation to act on a depressive belief and instead concentrates on the canvas ("for the mass loomed before her"). In so doing she experiences an uncanny fusion comparable to Mrs. Ramsay's with the lighthouse. Even the imagery of fecundity is the same:

Then, as if some juice necessary for the lubrication of her faculties were spontaneously squirted, she began precariously dipping among the blues and umbers, moving her brush hither and thither, but it was now heavier and went slower, as if it had fallen in with some rhythm which was dictated to her. . . . Certainly she was losing consciousness of outer things, and her name and her personality and her appearance, and whether Mr. Carmichael was there or not, her mind kept throwing up from its depths, scenes, and names, and sayings, and memories and ideas, like a fountain spurting over that glaring, hideously difficult white space, while she modelled it with greens and blues. (237–38) When this bipolar rhythm, co-sponsored by the canvas, is aligned with manic-depressive object-relations, boundaries dissolve and reform. Woolf's version of artistic creativity resembles Marion Milner's report of how painting made her feel "whole":

It was the discovery that when painting something from nature there occurred, at least sometimes, a fusion into a never-before-known wholeness; not only were the object and oneself no longer felt to be separate, but neither were thought and sensation and feeling and action. . . . [T] hought was not drowned in feeling, they were somehow there together. Moreover, when this state of concentration was really achieved one was no longer aware of oneself doing it, one no longer acted from a centre to an object as remote; in fact, something quite special happened to one's sense of self.[27]

Milner feels as if the pieces of herself (thoughts, feelings, consciousness, unconsciousness) are brought together into a creative relation by her objectrelations during painting. A self-other transaction shapes an intrasubjective transaction; it is as if by painting the object she has incorporated it. Lily, like Milner, experiences the pleasure of "finding a bit of the outside


world . . . that was willing temporarily to fit in with one's dreams, [so that] a moment of illusion was made possible, a moment in which inner and outer seemed to coincide."[28] Out of this fusion comes an enrichment of the self, because, like Mrs. Ramsay's lighthouse, the object with which she fuses (the painting, good boots) reciprocates; it becomes desirable because it is both an object and her dream. Artistic fusion makes imagination real while still acknowledging the object's otherness, and this rhythmic integration of manic and depressive perspectives strengthens the self. The transcendence of separateness—like the unity gained in the boat by the Ramsays working together toward a common goal—replicates the experience of successful weaning. Both Lily and the remaining Ramsays carry out Mrs. Ramsay's original, promised voyage. They have survived her death.

The restoration of Mrs. Ramsay, the growth of those left behind, their new independence: all of this recapitulates and redeems her lost mothering. The body of the mother has been demystified; it is no longer seen as the only source of nurture and stability. The father has been reclaimed; he is now "her" father (Diary 3: 194), a contemporary whose moody misbehavior can be seen in a more forgiving light. Clinical research shows that children of mood-disordered parents often suffer from identification with the ill parent and may wish to become "magic helpers," obsessively trying to order their parent's chaotic world.[29] If Woolf's repeated explorations of variations of her parents' marriage in fiction is akin to working at being a magic helper, then in this novel she has succeeded and so has won her own release—saving, not them, but herself. Lily and Mr. Ramsay survive a second weaning by discovering sources of strength within themselves, and with self-worth come immunity and beneficial object-relations.[30]

As a prerepresentational perception, the line Lily draws down the middle of her canvas to balance two masses may symbolize the canvas itself (as a kind of meta-art), or Lily (to schematicize her psychodrama), or the "third voice" we hear when an exacting form of intercourse is suddenly replaced by an easy, joyful integration of fragments into a whole. Its possible referents do not matter; the line need only give form to the tenuous boundary between dilation and contraction, projection and introjection. Art and mood swings are tied to each other, not to the loss of the mother. Woolf's obsession with her mother ended when she realized that the absence she felt could never have been filled by Julia. Woolf no longer desired to sacrifice her autonomy for the sake of becoming a child again. Fullness came with fiction.


10— "It Is Finished": Ambivalence Resolved, Self Restored in To The Lighthouse

Preferred Citation: Caramagno, Thomas C. The Flight of the Mind: Virginia Woolf's Art and Manic-Depressive Illness. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.