FAQ: To the Lighthouse

Significance of Mr. Carmichael

Created June 6, 2002 from material supplied by Katherine Childers and Srirupa Dhar.

Mitchell Leaska says that "Carmichael has frustrated her [Mrs. Ramsay’s] desire to give and has forced her to turn inwards, to plumb some dark recess, to suspect her own motives." Leaska further states that Lily and Carmichael are "companions to her [Mrs. Ramsay’s] sensibility; for all three are joined in creating aesthetic harmony out of human experience: Carmichael creates with words; Lily with pigments; Mrs. Ramsay with people" (TTL 65-66, 68-69; Leaska 123-124).

Mark Hussey summarizes what critics have said about Carmichael's "role in the mythic dimensions of the novel. Avrom Fleishman, for example, cites images associating him with " ‘sea monster, poet, priest, and presiding deity.’ " Also, "Hillis Miller discusses the significance of Carmichael’s sharing his name with the " ‘aspiring woman novelist’ " in A Room of One’s Own, Mary Carmichael. Miller suggests that in " ‘somewhat covertly granting Augustus Carmichael creative power too, along with Lily Briscoe, Woolf is expressing a desire for an equivocal androgynous rhythm of style’ " (Miller 185; Hussey 51).

Woolf presents Mr. Carmichael as the poet in the novel. A major preoccupation of the novelist here is art and the artist. Just as Lily is the painter-artist, Carmichael is the poet-artist. Significantly, at the end of TTL, we see the two artists together. Carmichael is not the ultimate medium of aesthetic vision in the novel. It is Lily’s "vision" that is described as "complete." So, Carmichael perhaps is the artist on a subsidiary level.—Srirupa Dhar

Mr. Carmichael and Lily Briscoe are the antithesis of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay. Unlike Mrs. Ramsay, Lily was creative through art; she was independent (remaining unmarried); she was not continuously intent on making people comfortable (as evidenced in her comments to Mr. Tansley at the dinner table); and she refused (or was unable) to give Mr. Ramsay the sympathy he so desired. Mr. Carmichael also offers an alternative to Mr. Ramsay. He does not dwell on his failures or require sympathy like Mr. Ramsay does. In fact, he is very quiet about his work-we only learn of it near the end of the novel when he has a volume of his poetry published. He also seems to promote creativity as can be seen when Lily finally completes her painting with him by her side. Lastly, we see his love of Andrew as very tender and nurturing, contrary to the way that Mr. Ramsay seems to treat all of his children.—Katherine Childers

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