Writing of the life of Percy Bys she Shelley in 1927, Virginia Woolf observed that there are some stories which have to be retold by each generation, not that we have anything new to add to them, but because of some queer quality in them which makes them not only Shelley s story but our own. This has proved true for the lives of any number of great men and women over the past few centuries: it has been true for no one, perhaps, as much as for Virginia Woolf herself. In the opening of her comprehensive new biography of Woolf, British scholar Hermione Lee lists a few first sentences of other Woolf biographies: Virginia Woolf was a Miss Stephen Virginia Woolf was a sexually abused child: she was an incest survivor Was Virginia Woolf insane? Was Virginia Woolf mad? 1 Etcetera, etcetera. What no longer seems possible, Lee writes, is to start: Adeline Virginia Stephen was born on 25 January 1882. Why not? Evidently because her life has come to stand for a great deal; it has become a heavily loaded symbol in the current dialogues over gender, class, madness, and marriage.
The famously gifted, original, neurotic, courageous, difficult, and very imperfect human being she once was has disappeared, and in its place is a secular saint. Ms. Lee points out that all readers of Virginia Woolf s diaries (even those who have decided to dislike her) will feel an extraordinary sense of intimacy with the voice that is talking there. They will want to call her Virginia, and speak proprietorially about her life.
This has proven to be so, to an extent that would have appalled the fastidious and publicity-shy novelist. Woolf s literary style, and the chatty, confidential skill with which she charmingly feminized the belletrist tradition of the previous generation, has long made readers feel they know her, while her beauty and vuln er- ability have made them feel protective toward her. It is possible to see similarities between the apotheosis of Woolf and the process of canonization that is currently taking place over Princess Diana, another beautiful and vulnerable, but not exactly saintly, woman. Feminist critics and readers and the cult of St. Virginia is due, above all, to the feminist revolution have chosen to see in Woolf the kind of martyr-heroine that substantiates present-day dogmas about male and female relations. This version of Woolf portrays her as a frail woman who invited domination.
She was a victim of sexual abuse incest, even; she was oppressed by a patriarchal system personified by a devouring and controlling father; her unfortunate mental illness caused her to be further oppressed by male medicine and by a husband who jealously guarded her every move. To add insult to injury, this version has it, she continued to be victimized even after her death by her nephew and biographer, Quentin Bell. There are such layers of nonsense in this picture that it is difficult to know how to begin to scrape them away. First of all, to see Woolf as having been victimized by these men is to deny her the very considerable triumphs, both material and psychological, that her life represents. Woolf proved herself to be no victim but a tough and resourceful person who overcame the handicaps of her sex and her mental illness to a remarkable degree and carved out for herself a life of freedom, work, and friendship which would have been inconceivable to women a generation earlier. The sexual abuse so lovingly dwelt upon by today s critics, a shameful catalogue of offensive groping and fondling by her older half-brother, George Duckworth, was an unsavory fact which she confronted with unusual honesty; she was even able to joke about it with her sister Vanessa (also an object of George s ungoverned lust).
The male medical treatment which Woolf received during her bouts of manic-depression was a failure not, surely, because of its gender but because the miracle of lithium had yet to be discovered. Yet the picture of Woolf as a defenseless woman imprisoned by a cabal of wicked, conniving, and incurably masculine doctors, Mariana in her moated grange, has appealed to those who seek metaphors for male domination and female oppression (or who have read a little too much Foucault). That Woolf herself did not see the situation in this light is testified to by the fact that when she fictionalized her experience in Mrs. Dalloway she made the sufferer a man. The aspersions that have been cast by a generation of Woolf critics on Sir Leslie Stephen, Leonard Woolf, and Quentin Bell would have surprised and horrified Virginia Woolf, and rightly so.
At their most extreme and destructive, commentators have agreed with Louise de Salvo s position, in Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Her Life and Work, that Virginia Stephen was raised in a household in which incest, sexual violence, and abusive behavior were a common, rather than a singular or rare occurrence, a family in which there is evidence that virtually all were involved in incest or violence or both. Others, while not expressing themselves quite so forcefully, have deplored the influence on the delicate Virginia of the possessive and repressive men in her life. It is true that Woolf was repelled by heterosexual sex and frequently preferred women to men as companions. Vita Sackville-West described her, interestingly, as curiously feminist: she dislikes possessiveness and love of domination in men. In fact she dislikes the quality of masculinity.
Yet she was deeply attached to the men in her life, attached to them, and in many ways whether her worshipers like it or not dependent upon them. There can be no doubt that Sir Leslie Stephen was a difficult father, but he was also a loving one. His relationship with his daughter like the relationships of most parents and most children, it should be emphasized was simultaneously destructive and enriching, and Virginia Woolf responded to his egotism with a combination of love and rage. As Hermione Lee intelligently observes, Virginia wrote and rewrote her father all her life. She was in love with him, she was furious with him, she was like him, she never stopped arguing with him; and when she finally read Freud in 1939 she recognized exactly what he meant by ambivalence. Stephen was emotionally voracious, demanding the attention, adoration, and servitude of all the women in his household: first his wife Julia, and then, after Julia s death, his stepdaughter Stella Duckworth and, to a rather lesser degree, his young daughters Vanessa and Virginia.
If he had lived to ninety-six, Virginia Woolf wrote, like other people one has known, she felt that his life would have entirely ended mine... No writing, no books; inconceivable. This projection is probably true: not because her father wished her ill, or begrudged her success, but because an ego so powerful tends to allow room for no other such in its immediate vicinity. Had he lived longer, Stephen would probably have been very happy for his talented younger daughter to have had a nice literary career in his style and in his shadow, ending up, ideally, as his biographer. A bossy paterfamilias, no better or worse than most. Yet Stephen has been portrayed in recent years as a veritable Mr.
Barrett of Wimpole Street, a pattern of oppressive Victorian patriarchy. His detached and rather unsympathetic treatment of Virginia s retarded half-sister, Laura Stephen a treatment normal, alas, for the period and never challenged by Virginia, either during her childhood or later is used to add color and menace to the devilish picture. Even Hermione Lee, a fine critic and meticulous biographer, feels compelled to apologize for his excesses of patriarchal behavior. Indeed, one grows thoroughly sick of the word patriarchy before many pages of Virginia Woolf have gone by: Lee is by no means immune to the glamour of academic jargon, and she even resorts to the disgusting affectation of using parentheses between words, as in (en) treaties. To reduce Stephen to a catalogue of oppressive and patriarchal values is to paint a figure that would have been unrecognizable to his contemporaries or even to his family. Although he had settled into a crusty and pessimistic middle age by the time his youngest daughter knew him, he had been in his time a highly influential radical, a supporter of Irish independence, Church disestablishment, and parliamentary reform.
For some young men, writes Lee, he paved the way (like his beloved Meredith, like Gissing or Samuel Butler... ) for the intellectual revolutions of the next century. Perhaps if we are to settle on any definitive portrait of Sir Leslie Stephen at least insofar as he figures in the life of his daughter Virginia it should be Virginia s own portrait of him as Mr. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse. Only the most unresponsive reader could feel the self-indulgence and bombast of Mr. Ramsay without also feeling the softness and the dependence, could respond to the anger in the portrait without divining the helpless love.
Mr. Ramsay is a critical and mocking comment on Sir Leslie Stephen, but he is also a deeply affectionate one, and anyone who fails to recognize the fact must be so patently dense that he, or she, should not be allowed to claim the title of literary critic. The late Quentin Bell, Virginia Woolf s much-loved nephew, enjoyed a privileged relationship with his aunt throughout his youth; after Leonard Woolf s death he probably remembered her better than any person still living. His Virginia Woolf (1972), intelligent and humane, affectionate but unsparing, is one of the great masterpieces of the genre; it was also considered the definitive Woolf biography until the appearance of Ms. Lee s.
As such it inevitably came under fire as a phallocentric document from the feminist critics who seek to deliver their heroine from male hands. Hostile critics like Jane Marcus have railed against Bell, the obsolete sexist who, they contend, sought to define and misrepresent their Virginia. Bell was attacked for every even slightly unflattering thing he said about his aunt. He was attacked for the crime of being a man attempting to write about a woman. He committed the ultimate sin, though, when he stated that Virginia Woolf was not a feminist. Well of course, that depends on just what your definition of feminism is, as any idiot should be able to figure out.
Bell, coming from a different generation and tradition from his younger, largely American critics, probably adhered to the rather narrow notion that feminists are overtly political, strident, often mannish. Virginia Woolf did not attach her name to political causes; she was ambivalent about votes for women, and did not join the suffragist struggle; she was, in spite of her unconventional sex life, an intensely feminine person. A more catholic definition of feminism, one that would accept as both feminist and beneficial the great revolution that over the course of the last hundred and fifty years has allowed women the fundamental right to control their own lives and income, would have to classify Virginia Woolf not only as a feminist but as one of the most important feminists of our era: as the author of A Room of One s Own alone, she has exerted an unparalleled imaginative influence on feminist thought. It is all a question of definition, and if the question were put to him, Quentin Bell would surely have agreed that if his aunt were not the first sort of feminist, she was most undoubtedly the second. However he might define feminist, Bell wrote of his aunt with extraordinary grace and insight. He wrote with love, yet accepted that his aunt did not always behave in a lovable fashion.
He included every wart, while painting a complete portrait in which the overwhelming impression was of singular beauty. Yet Woolf s self-proclaimed defenders cannot forgive Bell for having included any unattractive features at all. What could he know about her, anyway? He was only a man. How dare he claim to define, to own, to criticize, their exalted Virginia? Even Hermione Lee goes along with this school of thought. As they grew up, the [Bell] children conspired with their parents to create a family image of Virginia Woolf as the batty, playful, malicious, untrustworthy, eccentric genius. The letters between the children about Virginia always strike this note; it lingers on into Quentin Bell s biography, and has greatly influenced the British reading of her life.
There is a great deal of truth in this image, however, and nowhere in her 760-page biography does Lee really succeed in dislodging it. Virginia Woolf was playful, untrustworthy, and eccentric; it is what makes her impossible to define and pin down, as current feminist critics would so much like to do. She was also, beyond any doubt, snobbish and malicious. Were she by some magic able to come back to life, there can be no doubt that among the first victims of her snobbery and her malice would be the earnest and political academics who claim her for their own. The third perceived maleficent male in Virginia Woolf s life was the one she cared for the most: her husband. It is my opinion after reading both Bell and Lee that Leonard Woolf was one of the most devoted and long-suffering husbands in history.
Romantically in love with his wife, he agreed, shortly after marriage, with her decision that they forego sexual relations, which were intolerable to her. His assiduous care undoubtedly kept her out of mental institutions and allowed her to have a productive and creative life. He took pride in her talent and intellect and encouraged her to exercise them to the utmost; he suppressed his own ego, judging her work to be more important than his own. It is true that he pushed for a quiet life in the country when she would have preferred the excitement of London, and that he made clear his opinion that they had better not have children.
But on balance Leonard must be seen as having been tremendously beneficial to his wife, a fact that her final letter to him bears out: I want to tell you that you have given me complete happiness... No one could have been so good as you have been. Of course, it is possible to go overboard in praising this unconventional marriage. Lee pooh-poohs the idea that the Woolfs marriage might have been lacking in some essential element, blaming standard assumptions about what a full-blooded sexual life needed to consist of. Are these standard assumptions so very wrong, then? I don t think so. And I find the Woolfs pseudo-sexual fantasy life, in which they took on the personae of cuddly animals, revolting.
(In their secret play Leonard was often the little stringy creature, the mongoose, the Servant, and she was the big mandrel, goddess or mistress. Ugh! These, like so many revelations about the sex lives of the Bloomsbury ites, are details that posterity could well have lived without. ) Still, whatever their initial motivations might have been, Leonard and Virginia chose each other and stood by their choice unwaveringly. They tried, as Lee points out, to reshape the possibilities of marriage, and to a large extent they succeeded.
For Leonard to be calumniated as a parasite feeding on his wife s genius, a domestic tyrant who controlled her every move and kept her in an emotional prison, is a libelous disgrace. The truth is that critics like Jane Marcus and Elaine Showalter seem unable to accept the fact that Virginia Woolf decided to marry and to place herself in a position of considerable emotional dependency upon a man. The fact that a woman who so passionately sought independence on one level while shrinking from it on another seems too hard for the literal-minded, who expect their heroes never to behave un heroically, to stretch their imaginations around. The process of canonization of St.
Virginia has turned Woolf into an untouchable figure she was not and could never be, and has obscured the imperfect and vastly more interesting reality. She was a powerful, important, and revolutionary writer but not, in my opinion, one of the very greatest. Her dislike for the vulgarity she perceived on first reading the manuscript of Ulysses indicates her own great failing, for an artist who is afraid of being vulgar will always be handicapped. Her avoidance of vulgarity led her too often to vulgarity s opposite, and far more serious, sins: preciosity and fancy. Her recognition, however, of Joyce s show- offishness indicates one of her own strengths: she did not use her work for ostentation; she undertook her literary experiments with a sincere desire to achieve new effects, to translate the immediacy of experience to the page more exactly than had ever been done before.
She was the author of a masterpiece of art, To the Lighthouse, and a masterpiece of polemic, A Room of One s Own; an excellent but not whol- ly successful novel, Mrs. Dalloway; and a number of interesting but not immortal experimental novels. She was also indisputably one of the greatest literary critics of the last two centuries. Her essays are as fresh and as pertinent as they were when she wrote them, although some of her judgments as, for example, those on Arnold Bennett and H. G.
Wells are accepted too religiously. As a critic, she was always far wiser than her own critics have been about her. In her literary criticism, Virginia Woolf was one of the first, and most important, to take full measure of a writer whose posthumous career bears curious similarities to Woolf s own: George Eliot. Many critics before Woolf, of course, had taken the measure of George Eliot, but Woolf looked at her from the point of view of a woman experiencing the feminine essence of the work, and in that sense she broke new ground.
Woolf saw in Eliot s heroines the story of Eliot herself: Thus we behold her, a memorable figure, inordinately praised and shrinking from her fame, despondent, reserved, shuddering back into the arms of love as if there alone were satisfaction and, it might be, justification, at the same time reaching out with a fastidious yet hungry ambition for all that life could offer the free and inquiring mind and confronting her feminine aspirations with the real world of men. Triumphant was the issue for her, whatever it may have been for her creations... Shrinking back into the arms of love: an odd phrase to apply a spirit as independent as George Eliot s is perceived to have been, but a true one nevertheless. Eliot, like Woolf, was a woman unusually dependent on her male partner in life, and, as with Woolf, feminist scholars have found it hard to forgive her for it.
Rosemary Ashton s new biography of Eliot 2 gives an intelligent and balanced account of a life rife with contradiction: The distinctiveness of George Eliot s life the particular turns it took, the successive milieus she inhabited, the shock waves caused in respectable, orthodox social circles by some of her actions needs to be stressed. Nowadays few bat an eyelid at young people, and young women in particular, professing no religious faith, pursuing studies and careers in bedsits, living with men to whom they are not legally married. Marian Evans did all these things, yet as others observed of her, and as she herself recognized, her temperament was at bottom one which sought approval and desired to conform. Herbert Spencer saw that though intellectually she threw off her early beliefs, religious and political, her natural feeling was a longing to agree as far as possible.
Every circumstance of Eliot s life bears out this interpretation of her character. When her father turned her out of the house after she rejected Church of England Christianity, she grieved, but gave not an inch. When she and George Henry Lewes, who was still married to another woman, set up house together, she faced the defection of her brother, Isaac, with sad resignation (the couple s frustrated love is movingly echoed in the troubled relationship of Tom and Maggie Tul liver in The Mill on the Floss), and she stoically endured a social ostracism she never sought. This ostracism was a sorrow to her for many years; in the end, however, she decided to interpret it as a blessing: For myself I prefer excommunication.
I have no earthly thing that I care for, to gain by having been brought within the pale of people s personal attention, and I have many things to care for that I should lose my freedom from petty worldly torments, commonly called pleasures, and that isolation which really keeps my charity warm instead of chilling it, as much contact with frivolous women would do. Eliot, much like Virginia Woolf, dissociated herself from party politics; though she consistently allied herself with progressivism and reform, she was no radical, strongly disapproving of sudden or violent change. Again like Woolf, she was ambivalent about women s suffrage but passionate about women s education: she made a donation, for example, to the newly founded Girt on College, but did not wish for her name to be linked with any cause fearing, perhaps, that her scandalous reputation might do such causes more harm than good. If one had to sum up George Eliot, one would have to conclude that she was not by nature unconventional that is, she had no wish to flout convention but that she was possessed of a personal honesty so fundamental and uncompromising that it forced her into an unconventional life whether she wanted one or not.
Her refusal to pay lip service to organized religion (unconsciously hitting on the same phrase as her contemporary, Karl Marx, she stated that for herself it was best to do without opium) or received morality (she considered her relationship with Lewes, whether or not it was ratified by law, to be a marriage) placed this upright, firmly moralistic woman in the absurd position of social renegade. A more unlikely renegade never lived. I think she is a highly feminine and attractive character, Virginia Woolf wrote to Lady Robert Cecil while researching the life of George Eliot for an essay in 1919, most impulsive and ill-balanced... and I only wish she had lived nowadays, and so been saved all that nonsense. I mean, being so serious, and digging up fossils, and all the rest of it. One might likewise wish that Woolf herself had been saved the obsessions of her own time Freud and significant form and doctrinaire pacifism and obligatory sexual frankness but the truth is that every age has its hobbyhorses.
Woolf saw herself and her circle as having created something finer and better than Victorian society, and when Lytton Strachey, for example, called The Voyage Out very, very un victorian, he meant it as the ultimate compliment. Woolf s statement that On or about December, 1910, human character changed, is perhaps her most frequently quoted mot. It is also the most ridiculous, for when has human nature ever changed? After a comparison of the lives and mores of Woolf s circle with that of Eliot, the only possible response is plus a change... Woolf did not see it that way: pondering the unlikely friendship between Clive Bell and Duncan Grant, she felt that her own generation, with the truth telling mechanism at hand, dealt with love and marriage far better than their Victorian parents had done.
But one wonders! Take Virginia s sister, Vanessa Bell. Her marriage to Clive Bell was for years what we would nowadays call open, and eventually they went their more or less separate ways, Vanessa setting up house with the painter Duncan Grant. Though Grant gave her a child, Angelica (who was told that Clive Bell was in fact her father), he remained a homosexual, retaining his lover, Bunny Garnett, as a part of the household. Standing by the bassinet of the newborn Angelica, Bunny Garnett said that he would probably end up marrying the little girl, as indeed he eventually did. Anyone inclined to celebrate the unconventional freedom of the Bell/Grant/Garnett household is invited to read Angelica Garnett s memoir, Deceived by Kindness, which paints a grim picture of her childhood and its perpetual aura of lies and secrets. Vanessa Bell rejected her own mother s scenario of domestic slavery, the angel in the house image, only to repeat the pattern in an even more self-destructive guise.
And what about those staid Victorians, anyway? George Eliot s own life should serve as an antidote to that stale clich. Estranged from her pious father, the agnostic Marian Evans moved to London and began work on the Westminster Review, taking lodgings with John Chapman, the Review s twenty-nine-year-old editor. Chapman s menage consisted of himself; his wife Susanna, fourteen years older than himself; their children; and the children s governess, Elisabeth Tilley, Chapman s mistress and accepted as such by his wife. It was not long before the energetic Chapman began paying attentions to his brilliant young lodger; this proved too much for wife and mistress, who successfully joined forces and booted the intruder out. Chapman s journal records the scene. M.
departed today, I accompanied her to the railway. She was very sad, and hence made me feel so. She pressed me for some intimation of the state of my feelings, (I told her that I felt great affection for her, but that I loved E. and S. also, though each in a different way. ) At this avowal she burst into tears.
I tried to comfort her, and reminded her of the dear friends and pleasant home she was returning to, but the train whirled her away very very sad. This was pure farce, though not, perhaps, appreciated as such by Marian Evans/ George Eliot herself until she was safely embarked on her relationship with Lewes. Although Lewes and Eliot were never legally married, the relationship was a marriage and more than a marriage, distinguished by daily routine, mutual fidelity, and each partner s infinite pleasure and comfort in the other s company. But again, how very unusual were the circumstances of the marriage, and how roundly they contradict twentieth-century stereotypes about the Victorians stereotypes largely invented and propagated by Woolf and her circle. Lewes was not free to marry Marian Evans because he was already married, to Agnes Jervis. Lewes and Agnes had for some time agreed to conduct independent sex lives, and Agnes had by the time of Marian s appearance on the scene two children by the impecunious publisher Thornton Hunt; they were eventually to produce a total of four.
The generous Lewes, almost as a matter of course, supported these four children as well as his own three throughout his life, and paid a regular stipend to the errant Agnes as well, an obligation that George Eliot would take on after Lewes s death. It became such an accepted arrangement that when one month Agnes overspent her allowance and Lewes remonstrated, Hunt sent him a challenge. There is something ludicrous in the extravagance of this, Lewes wrote; A challenge from him to me, & on such grounds! As we examine the life of George Eliot, it becomes clear how lucky and wise she was in her choice of a life partner. Lewes was an extraordinarily kind, capable, and affectionate man, a man of heart and conscience, as Eliot described him, wearing a mask of flippancy.
Without being a genius in any one field, he was wonderfully facile at many, and wrote on history, science, philosophy, literature, psychology, and the theater with almost equal ease; he was a first-rate editor, and a popularizer of any number of subjects. At the time he and Eliot became lovers he was, unlike her, emotionally sophisticated and sexually experienced. He shared her philosophy without having come by it in the same tortuous fashion: There is no evidence, writes Ashton, that he had ever held a religious belief. He was vigorous, affectionate, easily amused: the depressive Eliot could not have hit on a husband who could better complement and enliven her habitually low spirits. The woman who had always believed herself to be a negation of all that finds love and esteem found herself loved unconditionally; the writer who had an exaggerated fear of criticism and bad reviews was shielded from them for the rest of Lewes s life. Lewes, needless to say, has earned a good deal of posthumous criticism for his habit of hiding unpleasant reviews from Eliot.
Perhaps, it is said, she might have profited from these reviews to have become an even greater artist. But it is safe to say that Lewes, who over and above all his other qualities was possessed of unusual common sense, knew his companion better than we, and that his course of action was designed to encourage the consistently high quality of her work rather than to let her settle for mediocrity. Eliot then, like Virginia Woolf, was a women of remarkable intellectual dependence who lived in a state of intense emotional dependence upon a man. As such she has always been a troubling figure to feminist critics, and her work is as troubling as her life. It is felt that Eliot s heroines are not rebellious enough; they do not challenge patriarchal society sufficiently. In truth, the gap between what Eliot was and what these critics would like her to be lies in her larger intelligence, her superior ability to grasp complexities and contradictions.
Victorian culture was more than a mere patriarchal society, its power structure less rigidly hierarchical than appearances might indicate. Eliot was a realist, not a fantasist; if her heroines often fail to liberate themselves from the nets they fall into, it is because so many of the real women she observed also failed, and Eliot had no wish to substitute doctrine, or wishful thinking, for truth. Great novels tend to be too slippery to squeeze into any preconceived political mold, and for over a century now George Eliot, like Virginia Woolf, has consistently proved greater than the critics who seek to define her. November, 1997 2 nd paper The Two-Dimensional Character In the novel, To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf illustrates the character of Mr. Ramsay, a husband and father of eight children. As a husband, he degrades and mentally abuses his wife, Mrs.
Ramsay, and as a father, he disparages and psychologically injures his children. Yet, Mr. Ramsay has another side — a second dimension. He carries the traits of a very compassionate and loving husband and a securing and nurturing father.
Although Woolf depicts Mr. Ramsay as crude, brusque, and insensitive, he, nonetheless, desires happiness and welfare for his family. Even though Mr. Ramsay frequently scolds and denounces Mrs. Ramsay, he still seeks happiness and comfort for his wife. For example, after Mrs.
Ramsay lies to James about the next day's weather, "He [Mr. Ramsay] stamped his foot on the stone step. ‘ Damn you,' he said.' (31) Mr. Ramsay devastates his wife's emotions. Because of a little lie, the temperamental Mr. Ramsay hurts, if not kills, Mrs.
Ramsay's emotions. Still, right after the incident, Mr. Ramsay self-reflects and "[he was] ashamed of that petulance [that he brought to his wife].' (32) Mr. Ramsay understands and regrets the sorrow he brought on Mrs.
Ramsay. He sympathizes with her and is "ashamed' for what he had done. Mr. Ramsay wants to appease his wife and make her happy as a result of the torment that he inflicted on her. Next, Woolf again illustrates Mr. Ramsay's insensitive dimension when Mr.
Ramsay makes Mrs. Ramsay "bend her head as if to let the pelt of jagged hail, the drench of dirty water, bespatter her unrebuked.' (32) Mr. Ramsay is heartless to his wife's feelings; it is as if he enjoys "drenching' Mrs. Ramsay and enjoys seeing her in mental anguish.
However, Woolf later contrasts the callous Mr. Ramsay with a more sensitive and caring Mr. Ramsay: So stiffened and composed the lines of her face in a habit of sternness that when her husband passed he could not help noting, the sternness at the heart of her beauty. It saddened him, and her remoteness pained him.
(64) Therefore, here Mr. Ramsay is portrayed as a sympathetic and caring husband that is "pained' by the expression of sorrow on his wife's face. Mr. Ramsay is sensitive to his wife's feelings and desires her well-being. Woolf illustrates the inconsistency of Mr.
Ramsay's character through his and Mrs. Ramsay's interactions. Next, Woolf portrays Mr. Ramsay as a brusque and callous father by his harsh interactions with his children, when his true motive is to help and secure his children's welfare. Mr. Ramsay is depicted as a father whom, "had there been an axe, or a poker, any weapon that would have gashed a hole in [Mr.
Ramsay's] breast and killed him, there and then, James would have seized it,' because of the Mr. Ramsay's constant, pessimistic rambling, "it won't be fine.' (4) Mr. Ramsay is depicted as a sharp, deadly, and sarcastic killjoy that destroys the anticipation and happiness of his child, James. His children regard him with the utmost rancor that they even think of stabbing him to death. However, little do his children know that, "he [Mr.
Ramsay] was incapable of untruth; never altered a disagreeable word to suit the pleasure of any human being, least of all of his own children, who should be aware from childhood that life is difficult; [he would instill] courage, truth, and the power to endure.' (4) The main purpose for his bluntness is not to intentionally hurt his children, but instead to strengthen them. He wants his children to grow up as successful, self-sufficient people. Thus, even though Mr. Ramsay does have a crude dimension in his character, he also has a second dimension of sensibility.
Virginia Woolf pictures the character of Mr. Ramsay as an authentic human being; he has a second-dimension that allows him to have both evil and sincere attributes. She does not write about either a very humble and generous man or a very insolent and cruel man; instead, Woolf gives the readers a real character with both traits that allow readers to understand the foibles of characters like Mr. Ramsay.