Tag Archives: Theodicy

David Hume in the Slough of Despond: Design from Theology to Aesthetics in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse

After the children have gone to sleep, Mrs. Ramsay is relieved to find herself alone: “This self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures.” Our outward appearances and expressions, “the things you know us by,” she intuits, cover over a “limitless,” “unfathomably deep” darkness (69). As she looks out the window, she feels herself extend out to meet the turning “stroke of the Lighthouse” as it shoots its beam of light across the water. She finds herself “losing personality” in that bright beam, “sitting and looking, sitting and looking… until she became the thing she looked at” (70). In this epiphanic state she suddenly mutters: “We are in the hands of the Lord.” This bit of maudlin theodicy intrudes upon her secular revelation, annoying her. She does not know where these words came from—this “insincerity slipping in among the truths.” Turning upon the problem, she asks, “How could any Lord have made this world?”

With her mind she had always seized the fact that there is no reason, order justice: but suffering, death, the poor. There was no treachery too base for the world to commit; she knew that. No happiness lasted; she knew that. (71)

At this moment Mr. Ramsay passes by, “chuckling at the thought that Hume, the philosopher, grown enormously fat,” had once, while walking through Nor Loch, found himself stuck in a bog. Juxtaposed on either side of a period, their thoughts seem incongruous. And yet it was Mr. Ramsay’s Hume who had carried Mrs. Ramsay’s intuition to its logical conclusion, dismantling attempts to derive a benevolent God from the observation of nature. The Ramsays are thinking two ends of the same thought.

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