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Mrs. Ramsay, Mr. Ramsay (a philosopher), their eight children, and several guests are staying at the family's summer home in the Hebrides, on the Isle of Skye, just before the start of World War I. Just across the bay is a lighthouse, which becomes a prominent presence in the family's life. James Ramsay, the youngest child, wants to go to the Lighthouse the next day, but Mr. Ramsay crushes his hopes, saying that the weather will not be pleasant enough for the trip. James resents his father for his insensitivity as well as for his emotional demands on Mrs. Ramsay, and this resentment persists throughout the novel.The houseguests include Lily Briscoe, an unmarried painter who begins a portrait of Mrs. Ramsay; Charles Tansley, who is not very well liked; William Bankes, whom Mrs. Ramsay wants Lily to marry, but Lily never does; and Paul Rayley and Minta Doyle, who become engaged during their visit.Mrs. Ramsay spends the afternoon reading to James as Lily watches her from the lawn, attempting to paint her portrait. Mr. Ramsay also watches her as he walks and worries about his intellectual shortcomings, afraid that he will never achieve greatness. Andrew Ramsay, Nancy Ramsay, Paul Rayley, and Minta Doyle take a walk on the beach, where Paul proposes to Minta.