An avid reader of this blog has sweetly proffered that the whole point in the Woolf passage cited below is that beauty suggests secrecy, not any kind of good or other ethical category.
A friend of mine mentioned this passage to me recently. Often, he said, when talking to attractive women, his mind would drift off topic, caught up in the golden mesh of their beauty. This, stirred by lines in the Christopher Hitchens article, is the context within which the quote surfaced in my mind when writing the last post.
The context within which it originally appears in the book sees the young artist Lily Briscoe questioning what makes Mrs. Ramsey ‘the loveliest of people’.
Was it wisdom? Was it knowledge? Was it, once more, the deceptiveness of beauty so that all one’s perceptions, halfway to truth, were tangled in a golden mesh?
If one accepts a mythic reading of To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Ramsey serves as a Goddess, a guide, guru to Lily who wants to learn and absorb the lessons offered, in order to live a more complete, balanced, contented life. In describing Lily’s quest, Woolf says in Moments of Being “I suppose that I did for myself what psycho-analysts do for their patients.” Both seek to define themselves as women and artists in a man’s world. Lily adores Mrs. Ramsey and in order to be like her seeks to become one with her. She sees unity and intimacy as the path to knowledge.
The meaning of the passage in question is not clearly spelled out. It’s followed by “Or did she lock up within her some secret which certainly Lily Briscoe believed people must have for the world to go on at all?”
Lily is searching for an answer to why Mrs. Ramsey so fascinates her. Wisdom and Knowledge are pretty straight forward, but now we need to read carefully: the deceptiveness of beauty…so all ‘ones,’ – presumably the person trying to understand what it is that Mrs. Ramsey has that makes her so special – perceptions of what might constitute this specialness are tangled in a gold mesh (beauty), resulting in an incomplete understanding (halfway to truth)…In other words, is beauty getting in the way of Lily’s capacity to understand and duplicate Mrs. Ramsey’s secret to a successful life, the life of an earth mother who “…seemed at once 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, burning and illuminating… this delicious fecundity, this fountain and spray of life.”
My question in the last post was: Is beauty getting in the way of an objective assessment of the tragedy of Benazir Bhutto’s death. And if it is, is this an example of sexism.