She has some interesting thoughts on Woolf’s personal relationship to the characters in the story, here is what she writes:
At the age of 44 Woolf made a portrait of her parents as they were in middle age, looking at them face to face. When Vanessa read the book she immediately saw the significance of this encounter: ‘It was like meeting her (their mother) again with oneself grown up and on equal terms.’
I think Woolf’s ability to relocate herself, becoming equal to her parents, is the reason why she manage to give her characters such complex selves. She can observe them from several viewpoints, external & internal, historic & present – at the same time, and even make this multiplicity meaningful for the reader.
When Woolf looked at her parents she founds aspects of herself. She saw things she needed to rebel against and things which, for better or worse, there were no getting away from. So when she laughs at the self-involved Mr Ramsay, who leaps around, arms waving, quoting poetry, seeking truth, she is getting an ironic distance on her father and also on herself. She was not going to write concise lives of national heroes in alphabetical order, nor conceive her intellectual life as a logical progression from A to Z (as he did). But Mr Ramsay’s obsessive dedication to his work is hers. So are his ambition, his eccentricity, his desire for protection, and the the tuning of his life to the quotations always running in his mind.
(Alexandra Harris, 93)