Mrs Ramsay in To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927)
To The Lighthouse is one of the great literary achievements of the 20th century, as well as an intensely autobiographical portrait of Virginia Woolf’s feelings towards her deceased mother. Upon reading it, Vanessa Bell, Woolf’s sister, wrote that ‘it is almost painful to have [our mother] so raised from the dead.’
The narrative of To The Lighthouse follows the middle class Ramsay family as they holiday at their summer house in Skye, flowing in and out of the minds as they reflect on one another – and not least upon Mrs Ramsay, the perfect mother who is nevertheless somehow unknowable.
‘What was the reason, Mrs Ramsay wondered, standing still to let her clasp the necklace she had chosen, divining, through her own past, some deep, some buried, some quite speechless feeling that one had for one’s mother at Rose’s age. Like all feelings felt for oneself, Mrs Ramsay thought, it made one sad. It was so inadequate, what one could give in return; and what Rose felt was quite out of proportion to anything she actually was.’