Mrs Ramsay’s Wedge-Shaped Core of Darkness

by calumalexandercockburn

“For now she need not think about anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of—to think; well, not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others.”

In this passage from ‘The Window’ in Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Mrs Ramsay is sitting alone, away from her family and her guests,  knitting a brown stocking for her son James. Her solitude allows her to distance herself from the pressures of being mother-wife-comforter to her children, and inspirational-witty-beautiful hostess to her friends. Through the inanity of her task, she can sink down into the depths of herself, where all particularity is lost in unity, and all her turmoils and worries are dispelled.  The influence of Buddhism or Mysticism on Woolf’s writing is an interesting subject to discuss, because so many of her novels appear to be devoted to Buddhist-like ideals and images. Buddhist meditation is an action that a person uses to separate themselves from their thoughts and feelings in order to become fully aware. Mrs Ramsay’s meditative state similarly calms her mind and provides her with an extraordinary clarity, allowing her to embrace the universal pattern that lies behind what Woolf would call the ‘cotton wool’ of everyday life.

To the Lighthouse: A Print by Vanessa Bell

To the Lighthouse: A Print by Vanessa Bell