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To The Lighthouse (20th Century Fiction Series)

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A family holiday on Skye before and after the First World War revolving around a sailing trip to a nearby lighthouse told through the inner thoughts and reflections of the characters.

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A family holiday on Skye before and after the First World War revolving around a sailing trip to a nearby lighthouse told through the inner thoughts and reflections of the characters.

30 review for To The Lighthouse (20th Century Fiction Series)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    It's a problem, dear Virginia They like stuff that's much more linear, I know your teeth you will grit But you have to admit You may be hot but there's not a lot of plot that you got Five pages about rain on a distant steeple Is five too many for most of the British people They moan about Mrs Dalloway In such a very callow way Instead of your Orlando They prefer something more blando They'd rather go to raves Than have to read The Waves And no one's read The Years In years and years and years Well - i know it' It's a problem, dear Virginia They like stuff that's much more linear, I know your teeth you will grit But you have to admit You may be hot but there's not a lot of plot that you got Five pages about rain on a distant steeple Is five too many for most of the British people They moan about Mrs Dalloway In such a very callow way Instead of your Orlando They prefer something more blando They'd rather go to raves Than have to read The Waves And no one's read The Years In years and years and years Well - i know it's prostitution But here is my solution Because the horror being unread Is worse than being undead If a Ramsay had gone to the lighthouse To have a bit of sex Or if one of the younger striplings Had had some rippling pecs On which you used your vocabulary And got a visit from the constabulary And was found to be obscene and demented And they found out what the lighthouse… represented Well, then you would not now languish In postmorten anguish And though you'd never have a prayer Of outselling Stephanie Meyer Still your books would be devoured Delightfully deflowered And though never to be milf Woolf would become wilf

  2. 5 out of 5

    Stephen M

    I’ve never dwelt over a set of 200 bound pages with as much joy and relish as I have with To the Lighthouse. I can say without reservation, that this is some of the most incredible writing I’ve ever come across and I’m absolutely baffled as to how Woolf pulled it off. So much of the prose was redolent of an abstract surrealist film, such were the clarity and preciseness of its images. At a certain point Woolf describes an idea entering a character’s mind as a drop of ink diffusing in a beaker of I’ve never dwelt over a set of 200 bound pages with as much joy and relish as I have with To the Lighthouse. I can say without reservation, that this is some of the most incredible writing I’ve ever come across and I’m absolutely baffled as to how Woolf pulled it off. So much of the prose was redolent of an abstract surrealist film, such were the clarity and preciseness of its images. At a certain point Woolf describes an idea entering a character’s mind as a drop of ink diffusing in a beaker of water. I left several exclamation points and expressions of pure joy among the marginalia of my copy. I have never experienced such a strange brew of images and ideas that whirl around mere words of a novel, all of which has incited such excitement in me, as if some beautiful and aching aspect of human experience has been solidified on paper that will never be as perfect as it is here. This book bounces back and forth between philosophy, psychology and fictionalized story telling in such an interweaving of narrative and personal reflection that it may be difficult to discern who is thinking what and which thoughts are the result of whom. This is especially predominant in the opening section, when Woolf just shoves you into the churning waters of her prose and doesn’t throw you a life raft until 45 pages in. The is intentional however, because the book is preoccupied with consciousness at its most mercurial. If at any time, the prose is lucid and clear, it is sure to take a turn for the chaotic within a few pages. There is so much attention given to each individual’s neuroses and preoccupations that they are often magnified beyond your typical day to day worries. The sights are bright and irritating; the sounds are cacophonous; and the emotional cues between each character, the ones that are often subtle and implicit in everyday interaction, are rendered as if each character holds equal parts pure malice and enthralling love that threatens to burst open at any second. I thought about highly sensitive people; I thought of those with autism that experience overwhelming intensity from their sensual perception. I thought of all of those that are under bombardment from the outer world, tingling in its euphoric highs and devastating lows. For some, it may seem as though Woolf overly dramatizes experience, but what she really does is puts her character through life at its most intense and acute. The lives of the characters are so rich in emotion that dipping into their world, for mere pages at a time, is like taking a giant bump of the pure stuff, getting tweaked on all the unbelievable wonder that is conscious experience. I thought of Jeff Mangum’s infamous lyric, how strange it is to be anything at all. I was fortunate enough to have already read The Waves—a book quite similar in its themes and images—in a classroom setting with a brilliant professor. It allowed me a way into Lighthouse that I might not have had otherwise. If it wasn’t for this frame of reading, I may have been a little too overwhelmed by the non-stop poetic bombardment. So, I will say that my previous experience with Woolf helped tremendously. I have no doubt that anyone who would pick up this book would be blown away by it, but without certain perquisites, it could be a book to throw across the room out of bewilderment. It can be tough. It can be verbose. But it is undoubtably one of the best books I’ve read this year. During her time as a writer, Woolf was quite invested in the scientific theories of her day. There are, apparently, a lot of her own personal writing that spoke highly of her research into the area and all of the scientific advances being made at the turn of the century, a time heralded by the legendary Charles Darwin. Woolf’s focus wasn’t necessarily on natural selection—although its influence is present—but on the theories and writings surrounding thermodynamics. Although I’m woefully unqualified to talk about the finer points of thermodynamics, what’s important for reading Woolf, is the idea of the conservation of energy, moreover, the fact that matter is never lost. It is continually recycled and that all of our world is a constant fluctuation of heat and matter, moving in and out of different systems—including that oh so special system called human beings. Although, ostensibly our experience of the world tells us that we are one solidified unit of matter, always held together in the perfected feeling of selfness and oneness that is our day to day life, the truth couldn’t be any further from that. Woolf seemed particularly haunted by the idea that what seemed to be a solidified conscious experience was actually a continual fluctuation of matter, on a physical level, and the consequential thoughts, worries and sensual bombardment, on the experiential level. These new ideas destabilized previous notions about our awareness of the world as the absolute avenue to truth and the reality of this world. Thus, it is in this tension that the characters of To the Lighthouse find themselves in. They are obsessed with creating still images out of the cacophony of a thermodynamic universe, trying to cling to old notions of a person still being that solidified center of the world. A character will revel in the beauty and wonderment of a single moment, only to have it slip away from them and be washed away in the tumultuous seas of conscious experience. Although our minds create perfected still images out of the constant transformation of matter around, these still images skip away into the past before they can be fully grasped, fully made whole: “With her foot on the threshold she waited a moment longer in a scene which was vanishing even as she looked, and then, as she moved and took Minta’s arm and left the room, it changed, shaped itself differently; it had become, she knew, giving one last look at it over her shoulder, already the past” But more than any lofty philosophical or scientific conceits, this book is achingly beautiful. Never for a moment does the specifics of the scientific theory engulf the work. Instead it remains above the surface, leaving its impact upon you emotionally. The book is wrought with beautiful feeling and what could possibly make this better than the work of Joyce, for example is that it never leaves one with a cold intellectual shoulder or the folded-arm distance of an extravagant feat of technical writing skill. Woolf goes for the gut. And even if you are completed uninterested in the finer points of Woolf’s overall conceit, you can still appreciate the beauty of the titular image—the lighthouse. I was particularly moved by all of Woolf’s images of water as a stand in for conscious experience in all its tumultuous churning; and the fact that a lighthouse is the tall solidified object which brings ships lost at sea back to solid ground; and the fact that this lighthouse is what the characters hang all their hopes and desires upon; and the fact that we, the reader, must sail through all that thick prose to get to the promised reward at the end, The lighthouse, for there it was.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jim Fonseca

    I think this book is Virginia Woolf’s masterpiece, not The Waves as some critics say. What is it about? It’s about life. The first half is about two days of life; the second half, set ten years later, is largely about death. In the Intro by Eudora Welty she says that in the novel “reality looms” but “Love indeed pervades the whole novel.” The lighthouse of the book is Godrevy near St. Ives in Cornwall (where the author actually summered). The main character is a beautiful woman “in full,” her ei I think this book is Virginia Woolf’s masterpiece, not The Waves as some critics say. What is it about? It’s about life. The first half is about two days of life; the second half, set ten years later, is largely about death. In the Intro by Eudora Welty she says that in the novel “reality looms” but “Love indeed pervades the whole novel.” The lighthouse of the book is Godrevy near St. Ives in Cornwall (where the author actually summered). The main character is a beautiful woman “in full,” her eight children and husband and guests gathered around her at a summer vacation cottage. Fifteen people in all at dinner, one a scholar friend of her husband who is in love with her, plus cook and maids. At the dinner she worries “Nothing seems to have merged. They all sat separate. And the whole of the effort of merging and flowing and creating rested on her.” She’s hosts a successful dinner despite numerous minor aggravations and interruptions by the cooks and problem with the food. The meal is her masterpiece, the epitome of her happiness. She delights in matchmaking. Her husband, an academic, is withdrawn, conceited, stingy, in his praise of the children. He holds it over their heads about how the weather will be bad so they won’t be able to take a boat trip to the lighthouse. He’s more concerned with how the future will view his academic work than he is with the present. Yet, with everyone else to take it out on, he seems happier than his wife: “Less exposed to human worries…He always had his work to fall back on.” Some passages I liked: At the dinner a young woman learns about her ‘golden haze.’ “Sometimes she had it; sometimes not. She never knew why it came or why it went, or if she had it until she came into the room and then she knew instantly by the way some man looked at her.” “What was the meaning of life? That was all – a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come.” “ - no she thought, one could say nothing to nobody. The urgency of the moment always missed its mark. Words fluttered sideways and struck the object too low.” There is an ungainly female friend who paints. She smarts from a remark by a male friend: “Women can’t write, women can’t paint…” After several repetitions of this in her mind in the book, by the end of the novel she is adding “…not so much that he believed it, as that for some odd reason he wished it?” What author ever asked this question (below) before? “How then did it work out, all of this? How did one judge people, think of them? How did one add up this and that and conclude that it was liking one felt, or disliking? And to those words, what meaning attached, after all?” A beautiful classic, of course. I read this years ago when I was too young to appreciate it. I’m adding it to my favorites. top photo: Godrevy lighthouse; view from St. Ives, Cornwall, from geograph.org.uk. bottom: Talland House, St. Ives, Woolf's vacation home as a child, from Wikipedia

  4. 5 out of 5

    s.penkevich

    The lighthouse is out there, it's eye caressing our struggles with cold indifference. We can beat against the tides in pursuit, but will we ever reach it? Does it even matter, and is it even attainable? If we only look to that spot on the horizon we miss the love around us, miss those gasping for our love and friendship, miss the callouses born in dedicated strife rowing us towards the end. Like in all things, it is the journey that matters, not the destination. Futility can be beautiful, especi The lighthouse is out there, it's eye caressing our struggles with cold indifference. We can beat against the tides in pursuit, but will we ever reach it? Does it even matter, and is it even attainable? If we only look to that spot on the horizon we miss the love around us, miss those gasping for our love and friendship, miss the callouses born in dedicated strife rowing us towards the end. Like in all things, it is the journey that matters, not the destination. Futility can be beautiful, especially when we don't give up on plunging our oars against it and making our place in a world destined to end in a .... flash..... ‘…for it was not knowledge but unity that she desired, not inscriptions on tablets, nothing that could be written in any language known to men, but intimacy itself, which is knowledge…’ To enter within the pages of Woolf’s 1927 masterpiece, To the Lighthouse, is to dive headlong into a maelstrom of vivid perspectives and flawless prose. Few authors are able to achieve the vast scope of human emotions and frustrations as of this novel, let alone accomplish such a task in the mere 209pgs Woolf offers. Flowing to the breezy soundtrack of waves breaking upon the shoreline, To the Lighthouse investigates the frailties of life and human relationships in breathtaking prose through the minds and hearts of Woolf’s characters as they struggle to affect a state of permanence within an ever-changing ephemeral existence. Reading Woolf is like reading an extended prose poem. Each word shimmers from the page as every sentence illuminates the deep caverns of the heart. She accentuates her themes through carefully chosen imagery and metaphors, or constantly alluding to the passage of time themes through metaphors of fraying draperies and aging furniture and keeping the focus on the island setting through descriptions such as ‘bitter waves of despair’. The notion of each person as an island plays a major role in the novel. The waves continuously crash on shore much like the collision of characters as they interact and attempt to understand one another. These repetitions of ideas and symbols are used through this novel as a method of reinforcing them. Similarly, the characters often repeat their own beliefs, much like a mantra, to help reassure themselves of who they are. Woolf effectively utilizes her own stream-of-consciousness style to tell her story, examining each characters unique perspectives and feelings of one another that culminate to form a tragically beautiful portrait of the human condition. Unlike the stream-of-consciousness technique employed by others such as James Joyce or William Faulkner, Woolf retains a consistence prose style, being more an observer of the inner-workings of each character instead of melding with their consciousness and writing in their own words. While this may seem a cop-out to some, it felt actually beneficial to the structure of this novel, such as allowing Woolf to seamlessly transition from character to character. This also was in keeping with the ‘person as an island’ theme since we could only observe through an authorial perspective and never truly know commune with the character, leaving the reader as just another wave crashing upon the shoreline of their consciousness. Late in the novel, Lily ponders over the power of narrating what one thinks a person is like as a method of understanding them: ‘this making up scenes about them, is what we call “knowing” people, “thinking” of them, “being fond” of them!’ There are several metafictional moments such as this within the novel that justify Woolf’s stylistic choices. Woolf’s decision to maintain a constant narration makes the book ‘about’ perspectives instead of ‘constructed out of’ perspectives. Human interaction is the crux of this novel, and also one of its saddest messages. These characters interact daily and are under the constant scrutiny of one another, yet, try as they might, they can never truly understand each other. ‘She would never know him. He would never know her. Human relations were all like that, she thought, and the worst were between men and women’. They all try to leave their impressions upon one another but, at the end of the day, are still only left with their perspective and opinion of the others instead of the unity and knowledge of who their contemporaries truly are inside and what motivates their actions. They are forever separated by the fact that souls cannot ever meld and become one. The real tragedy is that these characters, while desiring to understand and be understood, more often than not hurt one another, often due to fear and insecurity, through their attempts of reaching into the others soul. Mr. Ramsey, while being exceptionally needy of praise and security, keeps his family at arms length through his neediness while resenting them and wishing they would leave him be: ‘he would have written better books if he had not married’. These characters reach out to one another as if to a life raft, they need something to cling to and bind them with the present. Each character in their own way, be it Mr. Ramsey’s philosophy, Mr. Carmichael’s poetry, Lily’s paintings or Mrs. Ramsey’s guiding hand, attempt to leave their permanent scar on the face of eternity. Mrs. Ramsey in particular fears death and the unstoppable change that pushes us forward towards the grave. ‘A scene that was vanishing even as she looked…it shaped itself differently; it had become, she knew, giving one last look at it over her shoulder, already the past’. She watches in horror as time slips by, firmly believing nothing good can come with the future and goes so far as to cover up Deaths bleak head in the form of a boars skull that hangs on her children’s walls. ‘With her mind she had already seized the fact that there is no reason, order, justice but suffering, death, the poor. There was no treachery too base fir the world to commit… No happiness lasted’. No matter what, time will pass us all by, like the lighthouse beam, illuminating us and calling us up from the dark for one brief moment, and then passing on again to leave us formless in the dark. If is fitting, given the fears of death and time passing, that death comes in this novel swiftly and suddenly. There is no telling when the beam of life will be gone, no preparations can be made, and we must deal with it. Such is existence. These fears can only be subsided, our lives given meaning, if we can reach each other, understand and love each other, thereby existing forever in memory and framed by love in the hearts of those we knew. This novel takes much inspiration from Woolf’s own life (Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey being based on Virginia’s own parents, making this an elegy to her own mother as well as an elegy to Mrs. R) and doubly serves as a cutting commentary on the literary world in which Woolf was immersed. Woolf set out to oppose the obdurate male society that dominated the literary scene, Tansley’s words to Lily of ‘women can’t paint, women can’t write’ echoing a stereotype that Woolf would have had to combat her whole life. Woolf combats the patriarchy through this novel, creating a sleek, short masterpiece as opposed to the behemoth (but equally amazing) Ulysses, filled with attacks on the ‘masculine intelligence’ and making parody of the male opinions on women. Often the reader is given the opinion though a male perspective that ‘women made civilization impossible with all their “charm”, all their “silliness”…’, yet these same men crave the attention and affection of Mrs. Ramsey – they fly into an anxious fit without the reassurance of the women. They spend their time thinking lofty thoughts, but it is the women that keep order. Mrs. Ramsey despises such masculine activities as hunting and is the head of the household and the keeper of peace, yet she still reads as a bit of a cautionary tale. She still succumbs to the gender roles expected of her, such as being submissive to Mr. Ramsey and playing matchmaker – although this serves more as her attempt to maintain control over life than actually falling into stereotypes. Lily is therefor given as the ideal, the one who can press on despite naysayers like Tansley, be a self-sustaining, ambitious woman that keeps an understanding and open heart and painting those around her into eternity through her perseverance. This was without a doubt one of the finest novels I have ever read. Woolf offers pages after page of incredible poetry, never letting up for an instant. It takes a bit to get your footing, as she drops the reader right into the scene without any exposition, but once you have found your bearings your heart will swell with each flawless word. The middle section of the novel, the brief 20pgs of ‘Time Passes’, may be one of the most enduring and extraordinary displays of writing I have ever seen. This novel will force the reader to face the bleak truths of change and death along with the characters, yet offer a glimmer of hope through unity and love that is sure to strike a chord in even the coldest of hearts, all the while being a stunning anthem of feminism. This is a novel to read, and read again and again as you witness your own present and future fade into the past. 5/5 ‘Of such moments, she thought, the thing is made that endures’ This novel came highly recommended to me through two trusted friends, whose reviews I would like to share with you here and here. But don’t just take our word for it, because this is one that should not be missed!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    When I first read this novel, I was like young James Ramsay, eagerly hoping to get To The Lighthouse. Grown-ups, literary experts that is, had sent just as mixed messages as Mr and Mrs Ramsay to me, and I hoped so much for the adventure of an iconic reading experience that it didn't happen. I could acknowledge all the rational reasons for calling it a masterpiece, but it did not cause me to even raise an eyebrow. I was a modern young woman, what did I have to do with the subtext of a patriarchal When I first read this novel, I was like young James Ramsay, eagerly hoping to get To The Lighthouse. Grown-ups, literary experts that is, had sent just as mixed messages as Mr and Mrs Ramsay to me, and I hoped so much for the adventure of an iconic reading experience that it didn't happen. I could acknowledge all the rational reasons for calling it a masterpiece, but it did not cause me to even raise an eyebrow. I was a modern young woman, what did I have to do with the subtext of a patriarchal family structure? What did I have to do with the self-doubt of a female artist told by an idiot that women can't write, can't paint... Why would such a thing even stick in my head? It didn't. Not back then. And then time passed. Life happened. I learned about families. About attention-seeking egos who dominate an environment so totally that any creative act stops automatically. I learned about the disruption that is a mother's natural state of being. How can anyone paint or write if there are no two consecutive moments without interruption? I learned to long for the lighthouse without knowing it. And then, I had another go at reading it, quite by accident, because I had spare time in a boring place and a copy of the book happened to be on the table. It hit me like the flash of a lightning. This is a novel that you have to grow into, but when you do, it shines brightly in the dark waters and soothes the nerves of a grown-up woman who has unfortunately learned what it means to hear the echo "can't write, can't paint", who has learned to feel the presence of patriarchal attention and who has learned to know its effect on the surrounding. It soothes the nerves of a woman who feels the pressure to "be nice"... Powerful Lily Briscoe sums it up in the end: "His immense self-pity, his demand for sympathy poured and spread itself in pools at their feet, and all she did, miserable sinner that she was, was to draw her skirts a little closer round her ankles, lest she should get wet." It's about focusing on moving the tree to the middle of the painting. It's about creating one's own life regardless of whether it ends up not being important to anyone but oneself. It's about daring not to "be nice". It's not about reaching the Lighthouse. It's about allowing oneself to see it shine in the distance.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    How many prejudices we carry through life, even when we think ourselves to be incapable of bias. I avoided reading Virginia Woolf for a very long time, suspecting her and her privileged Bloomsbury friends of intellectual elitism and of believing themselves to somehow enshrine the essence of civilisation (E M Forster escaped this embargo fortunately). When I came across Charles Tansley, the visiting working-class academic who can’t seem to fit in to the Ramseys’ elegantly shabby lifestyle in the ea How many prejudices we carry through life, even when we think ourselves to be incapable of bias. I avoided reading Virginia Woolf for a very long time, suspecting her and her privileged Bloomsbury friends of intellectual elitism and of believing themselves to somehow enshrine the essence of civilisation (E M Forster escaped this embargo fortunately). When I came across Charles Tansley, the visiting working-class academic who can’t seem to fit in to the Ramseys’ elegantly shabby lifestyle in the early pages of To the Lighthouse, I immediately aligned myself with him. I'll be on your side, Charles, I thought, I wouldn't fit in with the Ramseys either. But soon, like Tansley, I fell under the spell of the beautiful Mrs Ramsey, and under the spell of Woolf’s writing which is so unique and inventive that I am thrilled to have finally discovered it. I picked this book up because I came across a claim that Woolf, having finished Ulysses, felt that she could do better in a quarter the amount of pages. Since I’d recently finished Ulysses myself, I was curious about Woolf’s foolhardy challenge. I expected to find myself reading her characters’ fragmentary thoughts, realistically ordinary or eruditely obscure depending on the mood, just as in Ulysses. But no, Woolf avoids such bold naturalism by paraphrasing her characters’ thoughts into beautifully crafted, ultra refined sentences. This valuing of beauty over truth, form over content certainly makes the reader’s task a lot easier than in Ulysses, if less challenging, and allows the wonderful structure of this novel to stand out more clearly. There are two distinct sections, both focussed on a trip to the lighthouse and they are separated and connected by a shorter section, a sort of corridor of years, which shows us the disintegration that nature and time work on everything and everyone. I found this symmetrical structure really satisfying, as the two longer sections mirror each other in so many ways and yet are inevitably very different, being separated by time itself. As regards resemblances to Ulysses, Woolf begins with the word ‘yes’ and ends with ‘yes’ repeated in the last sentences but unlike Joyce, Woolf doesn’t take on a full day, only the final quarter of a day; she addresses the first quarter of a different day in the last section. While Woolf avoids the challenge of 'stream of consciousness' writing in favour of reporting her character’s thoughts, she knits those thoughts into the action with great skill; the reader quickly adjusts to the style as well as to the frequent time shifts and to the occasional shifts in point of view. And while I value the stark realism which is found at times in Ulysses, there is also a lot of truth knitted into the beautiful shape of Woolf’s novel: there are valuable reflections on the challenges of relationships, particularly those of husbands and wives and parents and children; there are interesting musings on art and literature, poetry and philosophy; and there are very, very beautiful thoughts on death and dying. This book will stay with me for a long time to come. Review: August 2012. Edit: May 2015: extracts I've just come across in A Writer's Diary describing Woolf's thoughts about the writing of 'To The Lighthouse': 1926: This is going to be fairly short; to have father's character done complete in it; and mother's; and St Ives; and childhood; and all the usual things I try to put in--life, death, etc. But the centre is father's character, sitting in a boat, reciting 'We perished, each alone', while he crushes a dying mackerel....The sea is to be heard all through it...But this theme may be sentimental; father and mother and child in the garden; the death; the sail to the Lighthouse. I think though that when I begin it I will enrich it in all sorts of ways; thicken it; give it branches--roots which I do not perceive now. It might contain all characters boiled down; and childhood; and then this impersonal thing, which I'm dared to do by my friends, the flight of time and the consequent break of unity in my design. That passage (I conceive the book in three parts. 1. at the drawing-room window; 2. seven years passed; 3. the voyage) interests me very much....I am now writing as fast and as freely as I have written my whole life..;I think this is the proof that I was on the right path; and that what fruit hangs in my soul is to be reached there....Yesterday I finished the first part and today begin the second. I cannot make it out--here is the most difficult abstract piece of writing--I have to give an empty house, no people's characters, the passage of time, all eyeless and featureless with nothing to cling to; will I rush at it, and at once scatter out two pages...The problem is how to bring Lily and Mr R together and make a combination of interest at the end. I am feathering about with various ideas. The last chapter which I begin tomorrow is in the Boat; I had meant to end with R climbing on to the rock. If so, what becomes of Lily and her picture? Should there be a final page about her and Carmichael looking at the picture and summing up R's character? In this case I lose the intensity of the moment. If this intervenes between R and the lighthouse, there's too much chop and change, I think. Could I do it in a parenthesis? So that on the sense of reading the two things at the same time?...The lyric portions of To the Lighthouse are collected in the 10-year lapse and don't interfere with the text so much as usual; I feel as if it fetched its circle pretty completely this time....And the last lap, in the boat, is hard, because the material is not so rich as it was with Lily on the lawn. I am forced to be more and more intense. I am making more use of symbolism, I observe, and I go in dread of 'sentimentality'. Is the whole theme open to the charge?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Violet wells

    Virginia Woolf here gives us possibly the best ever description of her own writing method, especially fitting for this novel and The Waves – “Beautiful and bright it should be on the surface, feathery and evanescent, one colour melting into another like the colours on a butterfly's wing; but beneath the fabric must be clamped together with bolts of iron. It was to be a thing you could ruffle with your breath; and a thing you could not dislodge with a team of horses.” Perhaps the first thing to sa Virginia Woolf here gives us possibly the best ever description of her own writing method, especially fitting for this novel and The Waves – “Beautiful and bright it should be on the surface, feathery and evanescent, one colour melting into another like the colours on a butterfly's wing; but beneath the fabric must be clamped together with bolts of iron. It was to be a thing you could ruffle with your breath; and a thing you could not dislodge with a team of horses.” Perhaps the first thing to say about To the Lighthouse is what an utterly brilliant depiction it is of a seaside holiday home, especially as experienced through the eyes of a child. It brought vividly to life so many of my own memories of sleeping in a room where the sound of the waves came in through the window at night and sand crunches underfoot everywhere. Every moment in To the Lighthouse is a defining moment, a moment in which identity is forged, memory is made, knowledge is gathered; every moment creates a ghost of itself which will survive the ravages of time. The seaside holiday home is among the most treasured historical sites for the archaeologist in us all, our Mycenae, our Troy, a place from which we can trace the rudiments of identity. On the surface To the Lighthouse is about two trips to a lighthouse, one aborted, the other realised. In between the first world war happens and we pass from the Victorian age to the Edwardian. Lily Briscoe, a painter, is the novel’s principle touchstone. It’s she who the novel will liberate. Just as The Waves is a wholly original restructuring of the form of biography, To the Lighthouse is a wholly original restructuring of the form of autobiography. Though Virginia is absent in any literal sense from To the Lighthouse she pervades it. Mr and Mrs Ramsey are clearly portraits of her parents – and what fantastic living portraits they are. Lily Briscoe isn’t their daughter in the novel but essentially, through Lily, what we’re reading about is Virginia Woolf’s journey from stifled Victorian young girl to creative Edwardian woman. It’s probably the best book ever about women’s liberation. A lot has been written about the significance of the Lighthouse. Basically, its light, seen from afar at night, is a magical presence; seen close up in the light of day it is a prosaic thing without wonder. In that sense it’s like Gatsby’s green light. But whereas Fitzgerald chose to depict this light as essentially illusory, albeit with a high inspirational charge, Woolf perhaps sees that light as a representation of those heightened moments of sensibility, or “moments of being” as she called them, when, for a fleeting moment, we carry a candle into the dark and catch sight of a vision informed by understanding, wholeness, an enduring significance. As a footnote I have to comment on how comically inept the synopsis of this novel is. Lily spends the entire novel trying to work out the truth of who Mr and Mrs Ramsey are. The author of the synopsis has no such difficulty – they’re both nailed down with a two worded epithet - “tragic yet absurd” and “serene and maternal”. We’re then told “As time winds its way through their lives, the Ramsays face, alone and simultaneously, the greatest of human challenges and its greatest triumph--the human capacity for change.” Mrs Ramsey though is only alive for one day in this novel so I’m not sure how she faces any challenge of change and Mr Ramsey barely changes at all. Lily, the novel’s most important character, doesn’t even get a mention.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte May

    I’m sorry...I just don’t get it? This book has numerous five star reviews, and while I understand it isn’t plot driven, the characters are so vague? They all kind of blur together so I never really knew who was speaking/thinking and when. So many thoughts flying around and I just didn’t see the point in them. I guess I just don’t have the mind required to appreciate whatever it is I am supposed to appreciate in this book. If someone would like to tell me what it is I missed that would be helpful, I’m sorry...I just don’t get it? This book has numerous five star reviews, and while I understand it isn’t plot driven, the characters are so vague? They all kind of blur together so I never really knew who was speaking/thinking and when. So many thoughts flying around and I just didn’t see the point in them. I guess I just don’t have the mind required to appreciate whatever it is I am supposed to appreciate in this book. If someone would like to tell me what it is I missed that would be helpful, because I am just lost.

  9. 5 out of 5

    karen

    i love this book, and someday i should write a thoughtful review of it, but i have just discovered betterbooktitles.com, and this cracked me up: come to my blog!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sean Barrs the Bookdragon

    Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse is an innovative piece of writing that left me feeling empty, neither happy nor sad, just blank and detached from the book itself. Let me explain: for me the writing just didn’t covey anything of much importance. Sure, you could talk about Woolf’s innovative style and how important this book is in the formation of English literature as we know it today; it clearly has impacted the novel as an art form. And it adheres to Woolf’s arguments in her essay titled Mod Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse is an innovative piece of writing that left me feeling empty, neither happy nor sad, just blank and detached from the book itself. Let me explain: for me the writing just didn’t covey anything of much importance. Sure, you could talk about Woolf’s innovative style and how important this book is in the formation of English literature as we know it today; it clearly has impacted the novel as an art form. And it adheres to Woolf’s arguments in her essay titled Modern Fiction. It’s about realism; it’s about capturing a multitude of perspectives and voices regarding the complexities of perception and human experiences. It acts to show how different people think in very different ways. And that’s it. The plot is unimportant here so I’m not going to talk about that or criticise it. Woolf was purposely trying to break narrative conventions. She didn’t want a plot. She didn’t need one. Though I’m left with a feeling of emptiness after reading it. What do I take away from the book? What’s the overall point of it? Surely there’s more to it than showing that different people think, feel and express themselves in a way specifically personal to them? I’m just left with a puzzling feeling that makes me form a question that lingers over my mind whenever I think about this book: was that really it Woolf, don’t you have a little more to say? The success of the writing resides with its subtlety. Woolf says so much without saying anything at all. Her characters are revealed through small gestures that reveal their internal world. Simple things like an agreement about the weather bespeaks the love between two characters. Her narration is minimalistic or, I should say, the narrator describes without comment and the rest is up to the reader. And, as ever, she is fantastic at portraying images and moments in time. The scenes she creates are some of the most real and true I’ve ever read. There are thoughts flying around everywhere. Woolf shifts beautifully from character to character, from voice to voice, as the writing forms a symphony on the mundanity of life. Some of the characters are also quite psychologically complex (Mr Ramsey) and there’s many layers within the story telling that bring the narrative together. But, again, I’m not entirely sure what to take away from it all. I shall leave things here. I enjoyed it, but I could never love it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog. At its core a story about the attempt to respond to time's passing, To the Lighthouse brings into tension two days a decade apart from each other. Both days take place on the Isle of Skye in the early decades of the twentieth century, and focus on the social life of the Ramsay family and the small circle of friends that they bring with them to their summer home. The novel's second main part ceaselessly echoes and re My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog. At its core a story about the attempt to respond to time's passing, To the Lighthouse brings into tension two days a decade apart from each other. Both days take place on the Isle of Skye in the early decades of the twentieth century, and focus on the social life of the Ramsay family and the small circle of friends that they bring with them to their summer home. The novel's second main part ceaselessly echoes and recalls the first, while its short interlude glides over the depths of the many things that change between the two days. A catastrophic war erupts, the summer home deteriorates, loved ones die. Throughout all of the short novel, though, Woolf's prose is iridescent, her narrative intricate, her characterization multifaceted; each experience of the text is bound to clash with past readings, expanding your understanding of the book. To the Lighthouse is at once somber and life affirming, and makes for the perfect read on quiet mid-summer evenings.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Henry Avila

    On the quiet, pretty isle of Skye, in the remote Hebrides, off the coast of Scotland, before the carnage of World War One, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, bring their large family, eight children, and a few friends, for a summer vacation, get away from the turmoil of city living, in London. But with 15 at the dinner table , ( not counting the servants) that will be a goal unattainable. Mrs.Ramsay is a beauty, she pretends to ignore that fact, still her aging, brilliant, distant, philosopher husband, does n On the quiet, pretty isle of Skye, in the remote Hebrides, off the coast of Scotland, before the carnage of World War One, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, bring their large family, eight children, and a few friends, for a summer vacation, get away from the turmoil of city living, in London. But with 15 at the dinner table , ( not counting the servants) that will be a goal unattainable. Mrs.Ramsay is a beauty, she pretends to ignore that fact, still her aging, brilliant, distant, philosopher husband, does not, is proud... a book writer in metaphysics, (what is reality, unpopular today) constantly wondering if he'll be remembered in the future, the new generation ignores his writings. A mild tyrant, at home, his children are afraid of, but he is too involved in his work, and mostly neglects them. Mrs. Ramsay is loved by James, Andrew, Jasper, Roger, and Prue, Rose, Nancy, Cam, her sons and daughters. Six -year- old James is very close to his mother, the shy boy, hates his father who intimidates him, like his siblings, are too, all the boy wants is to go and visit the nearby alluring lighthouse, on a tiny island. The father insists frequently, to the child's great annoyance, that bad weather tomorrow for their planned trip, will prevent this. Mrs. Ramsay, to soothe the anxious James, unwisely tell him that all will be fine, in the morning, naturally a storm arrives and the child is disappointed, his detestation increases against the father...Lily Briscoe, a friend of Mrs.Ramsay's, is painting on a white canvas, a beautiful picture of the island and sea, outside the shabby house of her friends, ( they are not wealthy) maybe even the lighthouse, the trouble is, she can not finish it. Something always stops the woman, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, the children, birds making noises, little critters scurrying around, the strong winds, friends talking, Mr.Tansley saying women can't paint or write, any excuse she needs. The old maid, enjoys the company of Mr.William Banks, an older widower, Mrs. Ramsay, a romantic at heart, and a busy matchmaker, is trying to get the two married. Plain Lily, is not very enthusiastic, she likes her freedom, a lonely life for her, she wants.... Years pass, people die, the war begins, and finally ends, nothing lasts forever, the ghosts of the past, will not stay dead, memories linger on, the survivors continue, they can't forget. James at long last, takes the boat with his detested father, yet looking for his approval, he needs, brothers and sisters, on board, to the fabled, black and white, lighthouse, above the horizon, the smooth sea cooperates, a steady wind blows, the sails full, the bright blue sky, and equally blue ocean makes this the perfect day for their voyage. Miss Lily Briscoe, at this melancholic time, completes her task, only ten years late, she will put this masterpiece, in the attic...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Spuckler

    I read this book a few times before and loved it. I tried something different this week, and instead of riding my bike to work I walked the five miles each way while listening to Nicole Kidman read To the Lighthouse. Simply amazing. The words came to life and the language was superb. I didn't think I could like this book more, but now I do.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Samadrita

    Oh Virginia! How is it that you make your words spring to life from the barren pages and hit my senses with the force of a gale every time? How is it that you peel off the layers of the banal and reveal the terrible beauty of the core? How is it that you steer my consciousness so deep into the murky waters of uncharted territory that resurfacing takes a toll on my strength? I wonder what spirit possessed you every time you picked up your pen, brimming over with confidence or maybe unsure of your Oh Virginia! How is it that you make your words spring to life from the barren pages and hit my senses with the force of a gale every time? How is it that you peel off the layers of the banal and reveal the terrible beauty of the core? How is it that you steer my consciousness so deep into the murky waters of uncharted territory that resurfacing takes a toll on my strength? I wonder what spirit possessed you every time you picked up your pen, brimming over with confidence or maybe unsure of your own craft, to pour every ounce of what weighed on your mind fluidly into the empty pages waiting in anticipation. I wonder if you heard the voices of decades lost in the spiral of time whispering into your ears the truest wisdom of all, as you sat at a desk in a room of your own, pursuing the tail end of some stray thought. I wonder if you ever realized the worth of what you wrote or the gift you have left for generations to cherish after your bones and flesh have been turned to dust and returned to where they rose from. I wonder if I have ever known a woman like Mrs Ramsay in person - been enamored of her ethereal beauty and grudgingly admired her command over the hearts of those who lived in her shadow and the way she let go of that same command as and when her whimsies deemed fit. I wonder if nearly every marital bond ever forged between two individuals has been or is a replication of the interplay of words and emotions, spoken and unspoken, between the Ramsays. I wonder if Lily Briscoe is truly a personification of the unified spirit of the man and the woman, their dichotomies conjoining imperfectly in the splotches of color she dabs on to her empty canvasses. I strive to make sense of the lighthouse and what it illuminates in a rare moment facilitating cognition, when my eyes have become well-adjusted to the darkness. I don't get the purpose of its existence but I do. I see the lighthouse, hazy and sprayed white by the sea imprisoning it on all sides, standing tall in all its majestic grandeur merging with the horizon, out of my reach and I wonder how it looms so large yet recedes into the distance as a mute, inanimate witness to the play acts of life. I see it as I turn the pages, sometimes not understanding what it is that Virginia wants me to grasp and sometimes struck speechless by the impact of a realization in an instant of profound lucidity. No other book has rendered me so completely helpless in my measly efforts to encapsulate its essence. No other book has required of me such prolonged contemplation. Think of the usual quota of trite responses to a question like "How're you?". Think of the quick "I'm fine" or "I'm well, how are you?" that comes without a moment's delay and how untrue and inadequate either response is each time. If somebody asks me to pronounce judgement on TTL, I'd perhaps respond with an equally predictable 'It is the best book I have read yet' and realize instantly how vapid and insincere this answer is, how silly it is to call this Woolf creation merely a "best book". Currents of erratic thoughts, many of them contradictory in nature, are zipping past each other inside my head this moment and I am unable to articulate into words the fact of their individual existence as I open my mouth or let my fingers move over this keyboard. That is what attempting to dissect To the Lighthouse feels like. Irrespective of what I write or attempt to write, it is sure to be of little significance and ineffective in giving anyone even a teeny glimpse of what Virginia succeeds in capturing so flawlessly. Sights and sounds and smells and emotions - strong, subtle, indescribable. The ephemeral quality of an instant when a man and a woman watch their little girl play with a ball, a rare moment in time when each of their individual actions and thoughts are somehow in perfect harmony. The resolute constancy of life and it's cautious but sure-footed tread on the newer ground of change and our bittersweet relationship with this change. A melding together of past, present and future in a blur of color and meaning. Every human emotion ever known and felt. All of this and much more. A pure cerebral extravaganza, a celebration of the collective spirit of our existence on this ugly and beautiful world of ours, an acknowledgement of both pain and joy. That is what I think it is. I dream of going to the lighthouse one day like James, I dream of letting it guide my progress in the lightless, labyrinthine pathways into the heart and soul of this narrative once again. I dream of not allowing any sentence, any word to whiz past me uncomprehended when I read this again some day. Till then I only delight in swaying to the rhythm of her words, in her immortal lyrics in the song of life.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Miriam

    You know how you secretly fear that if anyone really knew you, knew all your pettinesses and fears and insecurities and unkindnesses, they wouldn't, couldn't, like you? I'm sure Virginia Woolf was familiar with that feeling. I suspect she went back and forth on the question of whether it were true or not. At times she seems to love her characters; at other moments, to despise them. The characters display the same shifting extremes of emotion for one another, moving from an almost idolizing devot You know how you secretly fear that if anyone really knew you, knew all your pettinesses and fears and insecurities and unkindnesses, they wouldn't, couldn't, like you? I'm sure Virginia Woolf was familiar with that feeling. I suspect she went back and forth on the question of whether it were true or not. At times she seems to love her characters; at other moments, to despise them. The characters display the same shifting extremes of emotion for one another, moving from an almost idolizing devotion to resentful criticism in the space of a few thoughts, then flowing back. This sounds frenzied in description, but is in fact smooth and in a way soothing, perhaps because Woolf's mimicry of thought flows so naturally. How well, how amazingly well she writes. From the first passages the characterization is so strong, so subtle, so perfect, so brilliantly insightful. I don't know how she conveys so much with every word choice. At first I felt that the writing was almost too perfectly crafted; it is never possible to ignore the author's hand at work, to forget that this is an artificial construct. But then I realized that the writing itself constitutes a character, as becomes most evident in the Time Passes section where humans are absent. Suddenly, everyone departs and we are left with only the house and grounds -- and the prose. A pivotal passage for my understanding of the role of the writing as character was this strange, awkward metaphor in the passage describing the night: The autumn trees, ravaged as they are, take on the flash of tattered flags kindling in the gloom of cool cathedral caves where gold letters on marble pages describe death in battle and how bones bleach and burn far away in Indian sands. What kind of literal sense does this make? I can picture the leaves like tattered flags, but what are they doing in a cathedral? Why is the inscription about battle and bones in the cathedral? How did India get into the picture? Given Woolf's level of craftswomanship, the self-consciousness of the prose, and the complexity of this sentence, I cannot believe that accident is responsible. After trying for some while to explain this and other strange prose structures, I decided that it was meant to mirror the internal illogics and discontinuities of thought. Just as the characters have streams of consciousness, so does the narration. Like human thought, it sometimes breaks down, fails to follow a clear path, reveals biases. That this passages occurs as we transition into the Time Passes section is no accident. In the first section, where the summer house encapsulates its inhabitants, Mrs. Ramsey smooths the physical and emotional lives of those around her, both nurturing and smothering so that feelings, actions, behaviors, thoughts all to a greater or lesser degrees conform to her expectations. This first section is taut, tight, cohesive to the point of claustrophobia. Without Mrs Ramsey, the subsequent section is loose, disordered, untidy. The domestic sphere collapses both physically and emotionally. The exterior and interior structures of the novel mirror one another. In the final section of the novel, natural progression reasserts itself against the charmed stasis of the earlier narrative. The children go to the Lighthouse; people marry and marriages fall apart; children die and are born; Lily completes her painting. **********************Unrelated 2nd review 07/10********************** I've read books and forgotten them: many of the sword&sorcery novels I absorbed in middle school run together in an amorphous blob of bright color in my mind; I remember nothing of Flinn's An Economic and Social History of Britain Since 1700 except the title. However, it is hard for me to believe that To the Lighthouse could fall into this category. Nonetheless, two pages of notes from college tell me that I read at least part of the book and thought about it intensely and failed to recollect ever having so much as held it in my hands before this year. Nor can I recall a course for which it would have been relevant, yet even less likely is it that I read it on my own and wrote down my thoughts on Woolf's use of grammar and how I thought her ideas related to other philosophers. Also, I seem to have been considerably smarter a decade and a half ago, which I already knew but hate having rubbed in my face. Here's what the younger smart me thought while reading this book: With weak connectives, Woolf robs the syntax of its normal stiffness, emancipating meanings that otherwise would not be available. The preoccupation with the relationship of outlines/shape to sensibility likewise blurs meaning. The "felicitous correlation between what we perceive and what actually exists" parallels medieval theology. It also echoes the question raised in the Proteus episode: how do I perceive? [check library for history of how seeing becomes esoteric.:] The idea of critique is investigation into the conditions of something's existence. Derrida says that representation is always misrepresentation. Women cannot pass into symbolic order because cannot have power of (self)representation. Objection to Habermas: doesn't account for how we move from the natural to the symbolic world, versus Adorno puts this at the heart of his aesthetic theory. For example, the heavily symbolic appearance of paper money. Mystification is at the heart of both economic and aesthetic practice -- passage into a symbolic world. Meanings are achieved by relationship to other signs in the system. But poetry is not meant to be converted into "meaning". A system of symbolism replaces a system of beliefs with endowed meanings, not intrinsic ones. Is the idea of limit absolute or rational? The limitless is not representable. The idea of crisis has been commodified, commercialized. Disaster novels as cheap form of modernist disintegration of civilization. Yeats wanted to make Ireland a symbol of the anti-modern: form, community. We have learned to see people as constructed, interpolated, acculturated; not essential. The great Heroic Age ending with Napoleon is a theme of late 19th century literature. Romanticism is the literature of a revolution that has been defeated. The Enlightenment brought together the ideas 1) culture is relative 2( cultural specificity should be treasured. How then to politically order the world? Is it possible to tell a story with universal import? Diderot: fiction is moral imperialism. Shaftesbury: travel literature is corrupting because it emphasizes the difference between peoples rather than universal morality. Kant: since we all share a rational nature, we should produce a universal system of peace, order, prosperity, and rationality (Habermas' vision). But imperialism, irrationalism, and glorification of difference destroyed this possibility. The scandal and brilliance of modern systems of domination is that they are based on rationality but breed irrational systems like fascism. The aesthetic is the only arena not based on domination.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lizzy

    To be immersed within the lives of Virginia Woolf’s characters of To the Lighthouse was a splendid joy. As I turned the pages I felt almost like one of them. Through a prose that seamlessly and easily interplays thoughts, emotions and witty remarks Woolf present us an amazing group of family and friends. There they were, each with its own personalities, set of issues, challenges and desires, requiring only a glimpse to reveal them utterly unique to the reader. And on they move through time and p To be immersed within the lives of Virginia Woolf’s characters of To the Lighthouse was a splendid joy. As I turned the pages I felt almost like one of them. Through a prose that seamlessly and easily interplays thoughts, emotions and witty remarks Woolf present us an amazing group of family and friends. There they were, each with its own personalities, set of issues, challenges and desires, requiring only a glimpse to reveal them utterly unique to the reader. And on they move through time and place, in beautiful scenery of spreads out flowers, colorful sunsets, clear moonlights and swelling tides. Thus, we follow Mrs. Ramsay’s thoughts, and we are immediately conquered by its lyricism: '…so that the monotonous fall of the waves on the beach, which for the most part beat a measured and soothing tattoo to her thoughts and seemed consolingly to repeat over and over again as she sat with the children the words of some old cradle song, murmured by nature, “I am guarding you – I am your support,” but at other times suddenly and unexpectedly, especially when her mind raised itself slightly from the task actually in hand, had no such kindly meaning, but the ghostly roll of the drums remorselessly beat the measure of life, mad one thing of the destruction of the island and its engulfment in the sea, and warned her whose day had slipped past in one quick doing after another that it was all ephemeral as a rainbow – this sound which had been obscured and concealed under the sounds suddenly thundered hollow on her ears and made her look up an impulse of terror.' Futhermore, it follows through all To the Lighthouse’s pages, there is less plot and dialogues and more pervasive thinking; there are mostly long stretches of consciousness that lets us think right along with each individual. Woolf plays with her characters, which are simple omens of emotions and conflicts, and we the readers defer to her breathtaking ways of painting them so unreservedly. At the first page we are thrown into the middle of a conversation and we are so immersed without pity to witness the interplay of Woolf’s characters. The first section is aptly titled ‘The Window’, and we readers are given a spectacular view of the Ramsays vacationing in the Isle of Skye ten years ago. We meet Mr Ramsay, a cold, egotistical, rational, and demanding man, '…standing, as now, lean as a knife, narrow as the blade of one, grinning sarcastically, not only with the pleasure of disillusioning his son and casting ridicule upon his wife’; and Mrs Ramsey, a gentle, beautiful and doting woman, who with her sacrificing motherly ways tries to keep everything together: 'Again she felt, as a fact without hostility, the sterility of men, for if she did not do it nobody would do it, and so, giving herself a little shake that one gives a watch that has stopped, the old familiar pulse began beating, as the watch begins ticking—one, two, three, one, two, three.' We are also introduced to Mr Tansley, who is besotted with Mrs Ramsey: 'With stars in her eyes and veils in her hair, with cyclamen and wild violets – what no sense was he thinking? She was fifty at least; she had eight children. Stepping through fields of flowers and taking to her breast buds that had broken and lambs that had fallen; with the stars in her eyes and the wind in her hair…' And we get to know the struggling artist Lily Briscoe, 'as she began to paint, that there forced themselves upon other things, her own inadequacy, her insignificance, and had much ado to control her impulse to fling herself (thank Heaven she had always resisted so far) at Mrs Ramsay’s knee and say to her – but what could one say to her? “I’m in love with you?” No, that was not true. “I’m in love with this all,” waving her hand at the hedge, at the house, at the children. It was absurd, it was impossible.' And many others... However, in this first section I felt Mrs Ramsay was the center of it all, the person who draws everything together: 'There it was before her—life. Life, she thought—but she did not finish her thought. She took a look at life, for she had a clear sense of it there, something real, something private, which she shared neither with her children nor with her husband. A sort of transaction went on between them, in which she was on one side, and life was on another, and she was always trying to get the better of it, as it was of her; and sometimes they parleyed (when she sat alone); there were, she remembered, great reconciliation scenes; but for the most part, oddly enough, she must admit that she felt this thing that she called life terrible, hostile, and quick to pounce on you if you gave it a chance. There were eternal problems: suffering; death; the poor. There was always a woman dying of cancer even here. And yet she sad to all her children, You shall go through it all.' But inexorably time passes. The second section is the shortest but perhaps the most lyrical and beautiful. It is the link of the past and the present, if we could imagine what passed in those ten years interval we would see a melancholic and poignant scene: the lighthouse ever standing majestic and the empty house suffering the absence of its once occupants, with its daily turn of light to darkness and again to light. Woof’s prose is a true gift to readers that can empathize with the emptiness we discover: 'So with the house empty and the doors locked and the mattresses rolled round, those stray airs, advance guards of great armies, blustered in, brushed bare boards, nibbled and fanned, met nothing in bedroom or drawing-room that wholly resisted them but only hangings that flapped, wood that creaked, the bare legs of tables, saucepans and china already furred, tarnished, cracked… Now, day after day, light turned, like a flower reflected in water, its sharp image on the wall opposite. Only the shadows of the trees, flourishing in the wind, made obeisance on the wall, and for a moment darkened the pool in which light reflected itself; or birds, flying, made a soft spot flutter slowly across the bedroom floor.' But there is still beauty among the dismal emptiness: 'So loveliness reigned and stillness, and together made the shape of loneliness itself, a form which life had parted; solitary like pool at evening, far distant, seen from a train window, vanishing so quickly that the pool, pale in the evening, is scarcely robbed of its solitude, though once seem. Loveliness and stillness clasped hands in the bedroom, and among the shrouded jugs and sheeted chairs even the prying of the wind, and the soft nose of the clammy sea airs, rubbing, snuffling, iterating, and reiterating their questions – “Will you fade? Will you perish?” – scarcely disturbed the peace, the indifference, the air of pure integrity, as if the question they asked scarcely needed that they should answer: we remain.' And the house feels their absence: 'They never sent. They never wrote. There were things up there rotting in the drawers—it was a shame to leave them so, she said. The place was gone to rack and ruin. Only the Lighthouse beam entered the rooms for a moment, sent its sudden stare over bed and wall in the darkness of winter, looked with equanimity at the thistle and the swallow, the rat and the straw.' To the Lighthouse is a novel of life, death is simply referred between brackets and with short sentences. So, it forces the reader to face the bleak truths of change and death together with its characters. ‘The Lighthouse’, the third and final section, brings the Ramsays and Lily up to the present day where they are still dealing with the issues they faced ten years ago. 'She imagined herself telling Mrs Ramsay, who would be full of curiosity to know what had become of the Rayleys. She would feel a little triumphant, telling Mrs Ramsay that the marriage had not been a success. But the dead, thought Lily, encountering some obstacle in her design which made her pause and ponder, stepping back a foot or so, oh, the dead! she murmured, one pitied them, one brushed them aside, one had even a little contempt for them. They are at our mercy. Mrs Ramsay has faded and gone, she thought. We can over-ride her wishes, improve away her limited, old-fashioned ideas. She recedes further and further from us. Mockingly she seemed to see her there at the end of the corridor of years saying, of all incongruous things, “Marry, marry!” …And one would have to say to her, It has not all gone against your wishes. They’re happy like that; I’m happy like this.' The years might have passed, people have died, but the ghosts of the past are still much present. It is still a wistful time, memories linger and the visit to the lighthouse at long last is accomplished. James takes the boat with his detested father, and finally empathizes with him; as Lily finally puts the final strokes on her masterpiece and stores it in the attic. '“He has landed,” she said aloud. “It is finished.” Quickly, as if she were recalled by something over there, she turned the canvas. There it was—her picture. It would be hung in the attics, she thought; it would be destroyed. But what did that matter? she asked herself, taking up her brush again. She looked at the steps; they were empty; she looked at her canvas; it was blurred. With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.' Woolf offers pages after page of amazing poetry, never pausing for an instant. It may take a moment to get used to her prose but soon you are sailing with her and your heart will be surging with each impeccable word. To the Lighthouse was one of the most extraordinary displays of writing I have ever read. Despite its poignancy and nostalgic mood, it offers a glimmer of hope through its sensitivity, harmony and love; and it should be accordingly appreciated. Highly recommended!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Luís C.

    Much of the novel - like the light and dark of the lighthouse beacon, or waves crashing in and back out - works in a balanced opposition: Crowdedness and the lack of privacy juxtaposed against the condition of utter aloneness. The bond between Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay counterbalanced with their awareness of what they've cost one another. The collusion of the children, their secretiveness and wildness, but then their docility and vulnerability. Trapped thoughts that can't be told, but are then underst Much of the novel - like the light and dark of the lighthouse beacon, or waves crashing in and back out - works in a balanced opposition: Crowdedness and the lack of privacy juxtaposed against the condition of utter aloneness. The bond between Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay counterbalanced with their awareness of what they've cost one another. The collusion of the children, their secretiveness and wildness, but then their docility and vulnerability. Trapped thoughts that can't be told, but are then understood without saying, as the same reflection - like quantum tunneling - might wind from one point of view to the mind of a different character. Although a short novel, To the Lighthouse contains so many themes: vision and seeing, nature at odds with human life, time and its nonlinear movement, community and individual isolation. It's about what Mr. Ramsay knew: how "...our brightest hopes are extinguished, our frail barks founder in darkness" and what James knew: "That loneliness which for both of them was the truth about things." It's about things you want, and do or do not get: whether you want to go to the lighthouse, or whether you don't let her anyone will get to Sorley, the lighthouse keeper, with tobacco and newspapers, or whether he'll remain isolated out there; whether Lily will capture what she sees on her canvas; whether Paul Rayley will find Minta's lost brooch. What Mrs. Ramsay wished for was the impossible. It was guessed by Lily Briscoe: "Life stand still here."

  18. 5 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    Slightly bewildered, mostly satisfied, totally transfixed, I painstakingly studied each beautifully crafted sentence with patience, one after the other, like an obsessed detective looking for hidden clues as to just what Virginia Woolf had put in front of me, for the most part, I hadn't the foggiest. Reading almost half of it again, I slowly started to see through the heavy mist as to what a finely detailed work this turned out to be. This book requires complete and utter attention, if only life Slightly bewildered, mostly satisfied, totally transfixed, I painstakingly studied each beautifully crafted sentence with patience, one after the other, like an obsessed detective looking for hidden clues as to just what Virginia Woolf had put in front of me, for the most part, I hadn't the foggiest. Reading almost half of it again, I slowly started to see through the heavy mist as to what a finely detailed work this turned out to be. This book requires complete and utter attention, if only life had a pause button and one was able to freeze time, this is what reading this novel fully deserves. The language Woolf speaks is rich and imposing, casting an hypnotic spell over me, even thought to begin I was awash with confusion, reading Woolf for the first time has truly opened my eyes to why she is regarded so highly. It's not the greatest novel I have, or will ever read, but on the other hand 'To the Lighthouse' was simply like nothing else I have read before, it belongs in a different place and time. But why? I asked myself, why go to the lighthouse at all?, why the big fuss about going or not going, what was it about? the Mrs Ramsey that had me enraptured?, she who went about in her garden in silly old hats, she who pampered Mr Ramsey with spoonfuls of tactful acquiescence, a man who appeared unworthy. Then there's Lily Briscoe, who wanted to be an artist, full of desire, but pretty hopeless at painting, and what about the children?, who tither here and there, almost in a haze, it's safe to say the characters of Woolf are much elusive and the story is inconclusive, on the outside everything is unfathomable, so just what the hell was it that had me adoring it so much? Simply put Woolf evoked a feeling deep within of family, both living and deceased, and is there anything more important than that?, it had me thinking of my own childhood, holidays, fragmented memories, from a seemingly distant life. Woolf clearly opened up her heart, so I opened mine right back. I barley finished reading but looking back now it feels like a dream, something I read in the land of the subconscious, a warm glowing extraordinary emotional pitch still burns inside, all starting with the first paragraphs describing the heavenly bliss of a six-year-old boy cutting pictures of kitchen appliances out of a magazine, and ending with the Lighthouse in sight, even the parentheses in the novel's stylised middle section, was deeply strange, and all along I seemed to forget this was written some 90 years ago. The writing of people and their feelings was unequivocally overwhelming, her prose so highly wrought, it took time for me to register that it's setting was actually centered on summer holidays spent around Isle of Skye, Scotland. I would also learn the novel does have personal ties with Woolf, her parents, the gaping hole that opened when her mother passed away, and the way her father imposed himself and his grief upon his daughters. Mrs Ramsay is at the center of Woolf's thinking, then she is no more, the survivors must bear her absence. If there is a story/plot within, then that's as close to describing it's core as I can get. 'To the Lighthouse' was the literary equivalent to perching in the back of someone else's mind, going through their own pains and joys through the thought process. There was nothing extraordinary about her characters, they were rather conventional, nothing new, but her prose is proof of the skill in which they are written, and they could quite easily be anyone else's neighbours or friends, she captured exactly the essence of certain people, and their traits and mannerisms. It took time to adjust myself to Woolf's writing, and had me thinking it's the sort of book only those with an English Literature degree will find a walk in the park, whereas for me, I started out in a dense forest, distant from the light, but finally ending up on a pebbly beach, where the clouds did eventually part, revealing clear blue skies. If I can praise a book so highly and still feel at odds with it, it must say something as to just what an exceptional work it really is. I could have abandoned early on (wouldn't have been the first), but gladly stayed with it, will no doubts read again, more methodically, it's probably a masterpiece in the waiting...or at least pretty darn close to one.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    I think that in certain scenes of To the Lighthouse Woolf’s method — introspective exhaustiveness — disclosure of the vistas within our gestures, the little worlds that flare and die in the time it takes to pass the salt — approaches its own parody. Sometimes reading this was like watching a movie frame by frame. And I found the texture less evenly lyrical than that of Mrs. Dalloway. But cavils aside, it is amazing. Last year I got far enough in Hermione Lee’s biography to know that this novel i I think that in certain scenes of To the Lighthouse Woolf’s method — introspective exhaustiveness — disclosure of the vistas within our gestures, the little worlds that flare and die in the time it takes to pass the salt — approaches its own parody. Sometimes reading this was like watching a movie frame by frame. And I found the texture less evenly lyrical than that of Mrs. Dalloway. But cavils aside, it is amazing. Last year I got far enough in Hermione Lee’s biography to know that this novel is Woolf’s dive to the wreck of her childhood and her parents’ marriage, that writing it she “got down to [her] depths and made the shapes square up”; and very few novels so ambitiously conceived have anything like this one’s control, discipline, and deathless resonance. So Mrs Dalloway remains my favorite Woolf so far -- though I finished both books feeling not that I had completed my reading, but merely initiated it, with a definite desire to turn back to the first page (sorry, Orlando). To the Lighthouse seems like a novel you reread every year…even as I type that I’m thinking: what a plummy, precious habit. It sounds like something a James Salter character would do — “The orchard flames yellow and red. Noon is crisp; evening brings a chill. She is re-reading Hawthorne.” But seriously, Woolf’s masterpieces are so rich and suggestive that one’s first reading, one’s initial idea of what they’re about, must feel provisional. All masterpieces make me feel that way, but Woolf’s especially. In my first pass through Mrs. Dalloway I picked up her dramatization of dandyism and Pateran poise and feminine “grace of life”; in To the Lighthouse, I was especially struck by her treatment of what Henry James calls, in his preface to The Tragic Muse, “the artist-life…as a human complication and social stumbling block”; the tension of contemplative withdrawal and selfless presence — the janicular simultaneity of egoism as a revelation of spirit, and as spiritual imposture — having struck James, as it seems to have struck Woolf, “as one of the half-dozen great primary motives.” Both James and Woolf were children of voluminous Victorian sages attended by disciples but grotesquely dependent on their wives; reverend philosophers who had to be propped up while they brooded. On patriarchal needs, the memoirs rhyme: He needed always a woman to sympathize, to flatter, to console. Why? Because he was conscious of his failure as a philosopher, as a writer. But his creed made him ashamed to confess this need of sympathy to men. The attitude that his intellect made him adopt with men, made him the most modest, most reasonable of men. Vanessa, on Wednesdays, was the recipient of much discontent that he had suppressed; and her refusal to accept her role, part slave, part angel of sympathy, exacerbated him so that he was probably unconscious of his own barbarous violence… (Woolf, “A Sketch of the Past”) We simply lived by her, in proportion as we lived spontaneously, with an equanimity of confidence…which left us free for detachments of thought and flights of mind, experiments, so to speak, on the assumption of our genius and our intrinsic interest, that I look back upon as to a luxury of the unworried that is scarce of this world. This was a support on which my father rested with the absolute whole of his weight… All which is imaged for me while I see our mother listen, at her work, to the full music of the 'papers.' She could do that by the mere force of her complete availability, and could do it with a smoothness of surrender that was like an array of all the perceptions. (James, Notes of a Son and Brother) Mr. Ramsay too rests on his wife with the absolute whole of his weight. He imposes his need of sympathy tactlessly, childishly, to the rage and contempt of the actual children. Mrs. Ramsay wonders if her husband thinks he would have written better books had he not married (Nietzsche said the married philosopher is a grotesque figure, a figure for comedy); a bachelor Ramsay certainly would appear less ridiculous and tyrannical, if only for lack of alienated witnesses and resentful victims. Mr. Ramsay is that awkward figure, the ascetic turned householder: divested “of all those glories of isolation and austerity which crowned him in his youth to cumber himself definitely with fluttering wings and clucking domesticities”; the helpless giant, the cripple who can fly; “venerable and laughable at one and the same time”; the grand chords of his philosophic style — gleeful grimness, saturnine humor, a facilely apocalyptic phrasemaking — condemned to sound merely churlish or deranged in the voice of a father speaking to his children. (In 1878 Henry James met Woolf’s newlywed parents, and wrote Alice James of his surprise that so charming a woman had “consented to become, matrimonially, the receptacle of [Leslie Stephen’s] ineffable and impossible taciturnity and dreariness.”) The “artist-life” is a special “human complication and social stumbling block” for the woman who claims that exemption from domestic regard granted her society’s artistic and intellectual men. Lily Briscoe is deeply moved by Mrs. Ramsay as the Angel in the House, sees in that performance something artful and time-arresting; and, in the great dinner scene, she briefly tries the role herself, smoothing and supporting the awkward, angular blurtings of Mr. Ramsay’s disciple Charles Tansley. But what Lily really wants is to paint. She needs the solitude to get down to her depths and “make the shapes square up,” to tunnel her way “into her picture, into the past” (Lily is forty-six, Woolf’s age during composition); she wants the hermitical truth-seeking aloofness claimed by Mr. Ramsay but best exemplified by the poet Augustus Carmichael, another holiday houseguest from before the war, a slipper-shod fin de siècle opium burnout turned Great War elegist with whom Lily shares a spell of incommunicable communion in the last hours of the book, out on the terrace, Carmichael herpetologically basking, dangling a French novel, “gorged on existence,” Lily silent at her easel, still struggling to translate Mrs. Ramsay to the "color content" by which the dead mother will resume what Rilke in his Letters on Cézanne calls “a new existence in a beyond of color, without any previous memories.” Both aloof but acute, the wallflowers on whom nothing was lost, each bearing, after the lapse of years and many lives, eloquent images of the family’s dead—Lily her Mrs. Ramsay, Carmichael his young Andrew lost in the trenches. “The artist secretes nostalgia around life,” Cyril Connolly said. I am but on the outskirts of this novel, this writer.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jenn(ifer)

    First my left foot then my right behind the other, breadcrumbs lost under the snow… There are novels that I read purely as a way to escape reality. They are a release from my incessant mental chatter. They help to pass the time. Other novels will not stand for merely serving as a distraction. They demand to be studied. They demand I go the extra mile and extend my reading well beyond my purview. Sixty pages into this formidable work and I realized this is not just a novel to be read. It does not First my left foot then my right behind the other, breadcrumbs lost under the snow… There are novels that I read purely as a way to escape reality. They are a release from my incessant mental chatter. They help to pass the time. Other novels will not stand for merely serving as a distraction. They demand to be studied. They demand I go the extra mile and extend my reading well beyond my purview. Sixty pages into this formidable work and I realized this is not just a novel to be read. It does not merely exist for my enjoyment. No. It is a work of art, and it demands to be treated as such. So I went back to page one, pen and notebook in hand. And I started over… The Window: Virginia is performing an exorcism. The ghosts of her parents tortured Virginia Woolf for many years until finally, at the age of 44 after writing this novel, after reincarnating her parents in the forms of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, she was free of them. From Woolf’s essay “A Sketch of the Past”: "The presence of my mother obsessed me… I wrote the book very quickly and when it was written I ceased to be obsessed with [her]… Further, just as I rubbed out a good deal of the force of my mother’s memory.. so I rubbed out much of his [her father’s] memory too. Until I wrote it out… I would be arguing with him, raging against him; saying to myself all that I never said to him.” With To the Lighthouse, Virginia finally said all that she needed to say, and we, dear reader, are rewarded with this beautiful catharsis. The first section is aptly titled ‘The Window,’ as the reader is given a spectacular view of the Ramsays vacationing in the Isle of Skye ten years ago. Woolf begins by dropping us right in the middle of a conversation and lets us figure out what is going on and who these people are. From the opening pages, we are shown the dichotomy between male and female. Meet Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay. He: cold, rational and demanding; she: gentle, beautiful and doting. Together they are the yin to the others yang. Note that we are never told their first names, as if Woolf wants to solidify an image of two halves of one whole. The weakness of one is compensated for in the strength of the other. This is never more clearly expressed than it is with regard to the relationship each parent has with the youngest child James. It’s such a simple scenario: he wants to sail to the lighthouse, but foul weather is likely to make such a trip impossible. However, Mrs. Ramsay knows that children need to believe that things are possible, no matter how fantastical they may seem. She gives her son what he needs most; she gives him hope, even if it is misguided, even if she knows there is little chance the trip will take place. Children need to have hope. Mr. Ramsay, however, sees it as his duty to keep his children grounded in Reality (ever seeking that elusive ‘R’).“His own children should be aware from childhood that life is difficult.” This section also introduces us to Lily Briscoe. Lily is said to represent partially Virginia’s sister Vanessa (an artist in her own right), Robert Fry (artist, long-time friend of Virginia, and Vanessa’s lover) and Virginia herself. Lily is thirty-three when we meet her: unmarried, artistic, plain. What stood out most for me was the way she ruminated about Mr. Tansley’s comment: “Women can’t paint, women can’t write…” I think Lily is Woolf’s idealization of an artist: unmarried and without children to interrupt her creative process. Androgynous. Lily realizes the importance of the artist: to be the observer and the recorder of life. ”That would have been his answer, presumably – how “you” and “I” and “she” pass and vanish; nothing stays; all changes; but not words, not paint…" Time Passes: The shortest section of this tripartite is by far its greatest gift. It signifies the center line, the separation between past and present. Ten years pass by in a poetic panorama. Imagine if you will a film depicting the view of the lighthouse shot over many years using time-lapse photography. What you would see is the shifting of darkness to light, darkness to light. That is exactly what Woolf’s imagery brings to mind in this section. She takes us from, ”So with the lamps all put out, the moon sunk…” to “The spring without a leaf to toss, bare and bright like a virgin fierce in her chastity, scornful in her purity, was laid out on fields wide-eyed and watchful and entirely careless of what was done or thought by the beholders.” And back to darkness. And finally back to light. The Lighthouse: From “A Sketch of the Past”: “For the present when backed by the past is a thousand times deeper than the present when it presses so close that you can feel nothing else…” ‘The Lighthouse,’ the third and final section, brings the Ramsays and Lily up to the present day where they are still dealing with the issues they faced ten years ago. Like Virginia herself, it is time for the characters to exorcise the ghosts of the past and move on (note that Lily is now 44, the same age Virginia was when she wrote TTLH). They each, in their own way, go through a catharsis. This section of the novel provides the balance, the yin to “The Window’s” yang. In the end, without spoiling the plot, I will simply say that this book is- every chapter, every sentence, every word – a work of art. It is a masterpiece worthy of the highest praise. Yes, we all read for enjoyment, but surely the best books are those that force us to go beyond its pages in search of greater truths.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dolors

    Prickling rivulets of conscience, smoothly shifting from one to another, sailing the waters, relentlessly dragged by the current of a greater force, a guiding voice, Mrs. Ramsay’s. She alone can conduct this tuneless orchestra of wandering souls towards the open seas where they can become one single stream and fulfill their destiny. The lighthouse is waiting, the darkness in between the flashing beam lights showing the way. Isn’t it in absence where utter understanding is achieved? Mrs. Ramsay ap Prickling rivulets of conscience, smoothly shifting from one to another, sailing the waters, relentlessly dragged by the current of a greater force, a guiding voice, Mrs. Ramsay’s. She alone can conduct this tuneless orchestra of wandering souls towards the open seas where they can become one single stream and fulfill their destiny. The lighthouse is waiting, the darkness in between the flashing beam lights showing the way. Isn’t it in absence where utter understanding is achieved? Mrs. Ramsay appears as the highest priestess of relationship. Devoted wife, protective mother, the perfect hostess, she spreads her Greek beauty around unreservedly, blessing the ones who are lucky enough to cross her path with her loving touch. Mrs. and Mr. Ramsay’s might be the most balanced and beautiful depiction of marriage I have ever read , where mutuality and consent emerge as the overriding sentiments. Her roundness soothes his sharpness, her constant reassurance atones for his endless need for sympathy, her feminine intuition cradles his masculine authority. All this giving and receiving occurs in silent conversations, a mundane but nonetheless epic journey takes place at every second to move from one person to another, an indestructible shared bond defies any well-researched defense, for Mrs. and Mr. Ramsay are united beyond words. Woolf’s weaves a complex world where gender roles become sustained by marital entrenchment with flowing battle of wills, where pulling and pushing, attraction and repellence, adoration and revulsion are perfectly wedded in Mrs. Ramsay’s life, balancing “relationship” and “self”. And yet some passages ooze with frustration at not being able to overcome those insurmountable barriers, both physical and mental, that define our existence, forcing self-exploration. “(…) and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others.” Page 95 Ultimately, Mrs. Ramsay’s chooses to sacrifice her individuality for the sake of love for others. I wonder. Where has the cause for individual agency and equality gone? For this heroine Mrs. Ramsay embodies seems a bit pre-historic to me. The role of women in Western Societies has evolved. Hasn’t it? Wait a minute, am I the only one who trembles with recognition here? Miss Lily Briscoe appears as the perfect counterpoint to Mrs. Ramsay’s natural fertility. Lily comes to fight for the plight of women’s independence, exploring the issues of feminism and aesthetics. Art promises much more than marriage to Lily, who is not ready to succumb to any male demands. And so it seems that Lily renounces to her nature for the sake of art itself. She struggles to capture the essence of all things with her brush, her inadequacy pierces her soul, she aches for a kind of pure beauty that won’t come back. She suffers, art is sacrifice. I sat beside Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe and became myself. But the full magnificence of this novel didn’t come to me until the last part of the narrative. Woolf’s lyrical geniality comes to completion when one realizes this novel is not about two modes of being, it is not about inner struggles to find balance between individuality and connection with others. Time passes, great wars are fought, loved ones are taken away from us in the form of merciless brackets. Red and gold leaves drift by the window, signaling the autumn of life. Winter songs are played in the lighthouse, where all ends meet. Woolf’s final blow relays in the humbling lesson, in the essential trip the reader must undergo to acknowledge his frailty, his evanescence. We are only passing through. It is not our incessant warring within ourselves that threatens relationships with others, but death. For it is Death which separates permanently. Can our bonds survive the passage of time, the challenge of death? “We perished, each alone” is the message of the air and the sea, as well as Mr. Ramsay’s litany. But Woolf’s magic invocation can bring our loved ones back to life, just as memory can resurrect the long gone. Our lives might be ethereal, but art has the power to make us eternal. Connection can be achieved when the lighthouse is reached, when the knitting is completed, when the web is woven. We can cross that boundless bridge of darkness making our trip, as Lily does, through art. And the divine art is the story. "The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one." Page 120

  22. 4 out of 5

    Aubrey

    I'm finding it difficult to watch movies these days, or at least to find one that fulfills the requirements I'm looking for. Their cumbersome attempts at developing fully formed characters, believable folks that intersect with one another in realistic ways, patterns that you can readily see happening in your own life that are entertaining nonetheless for all their normality. These attempts painfully clunk out at random, grinding out a plot that you can't help cringing at, so trite and false it i I'm finding it difficult to watch movies these days, or at least to find one that fulfills the requirements I'm looking for. Their cumbersome attempts at developing fully formed characters, believable folks that intersect with one another in realistic ways, patterns that you can readily see happening in your own life that are entertaining nonetheless for all their normality. These attempts painfully clunk out at random, grinding out a plot that you can't help cringing at, so trite and false it is, it's a wonder audiences can watch it through without feeling sick to their stomachs. And it's as if the makers themselves realize the pitiful quality of their attempts, and constantly patch it over with humorous tropes and comedic outbreaks. Most of the time, the fix-ups make it even worse. What a splendid joy, then, this book. What a brilliantly contained piece of work, this story, fully conscious in every aspect of its being. This is what movies ape at, this seamless interplay of thought and observation and emotion between a whole cast of people, each one astounding in their originality. A sentence here, a paragraph there, a whole passage devoted to a single entity, it doesn't matter. There they are, there is that being so different from everyone that surrounds it, warped by all the other original personalities yet still retaining a small kernel of themselves, requiring only a glance to proclaim themselves as completely and utterly unique to the casual observer. And on and on they race through time and place, a story blooming between their interactions that is supremely confident and capable of defending every single detail of its aspect. As natural a side effect as the sun drawing towards it the unfurling of flowers, the moon summoning up to itself the swelling of the tides, and as impossible to find issue with. You can't just set anything down and expect results such as this, however. There needs to be an astounding amount of skill at composing words, wordplay, descriptive lines running past each other so naturally that they are no longer black inkings on a white page. They are your thoughts. They are your memories. They are your senses bringing up past experiences to flesh out and sing the pages to you, playing upon your heartstrings to a fierce and aching crescendo. They are your hopes, dreams, prayers, inspirations, whatever it is that drives you on and brings you back and bids you to think It is enough! It is enough! To live for moments such as this, consisting of a book, a reader, and whole hosts of reaction mingling with recognition and realization. To find what your mind has claimed for itself spread upon a sheet of paper, and discover a kindred spirit in the words laying here. The persistent dissatisfaction you have felt with the effort of existing, the exultation you have experienced within the small slices of living. Whatever balances these to an exquisite point, and tips the scales in the latter's favor, to continue on this dreary trek in hopes of the few and far between minutely shaped moments of utter beauty and clarity of meaning in life. So, there's your characterization, and prose, and themes and meaning, I suppose. It's beyond me to try my hand at discussing the plot, but the more I see of literature, the less I worry that I may be missing out by passing it by. Besides, I'm not a fan of using these words when I'm thinking on what to say about a book. It helps that I'm a complete amateur when it comes to literature, no classical training in it whatsoever since my last high school stint. What I have is myself, the book, and the chemical reaction between the two. I think, in regards to this single, wonderful, exquisite piece of literature, it is enough.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ritwik

    If we could but paint with the hand what we see with the eye. -Honore de Balzac Evidently, Woolf could write with the hand what we see with the eye and perceive and articulate emotions whose depths remain fathomless. Woolf retains an imagery with dexterous strokes revolving around a family household with each character asserting its presence in the scene so strong it is asphyxiating the reader. Each of these broad strokes enunciates an image, a perspective, a belief upheld by each of the charac If we could but paint with the hand what we see with the eye. -Honore de Balzac Evidently, Woolf could write with the hand what we see with the eye and perceive and articulate emotions whose depths remain fathomless. Woolf retains an imagery with dexterous strokes revolving around a family household with each character asserting its presence in the scene so strong it is asphyxiating the reader. Each of these broad strokes enunciates an image, a perspective, a belief upheld by each of the characters strongly. These beliefs are the representation of the characters and are identifiable through Woolf’s impeccable stretch of strokes. Charles Tansley’s urge to breakdown any impulse of freedom, Mr Ramsay’s egotistical ways of keeping the household under his thumb and Mrs. Ramsay ever-sacrificing motherly ways to keep everything together. In this canvas of interspersed sentiments, Woolf takes us through a journey of everything minimal and insignificant by reinforcing repeatedly the beliefs of the men deriving sympathy and attention and leaves us astounded by the sheer imagery of emotions of her minions. Woolf exerts mastery over the characters and brings the scenery in to the limbo where the reader remains adrift and astounded but detached to a certain extent. So fine was the morning except for a streak of wind here and there that the sea and sky looked all one fabric, as if sails were stuck high up in the sky, or the clouds had dropped down into the sea. A steamer far out at sea had drawn in the air a great scroll of smoke which stayed there curving and circling decoratively, as if the air was a fine gauze which held things and kept them softly in a mesh, only gently swaying them this way and that. And as happens sometimes when the weather is very fine, the cliffs looked as if they were conscious of the ships, and the ships looked as if they were conscious of the cliffs, as if they signaled to each other some message of their own. For sometimes quite close to the shore, the Lighthouse looked this morning in the haze an enormous distance away. Woolf plays with her characters who are mere harbingers of emotions and we the readers submit to her majestic ways of painting them upfront and teasing us with her dexterous ways. Less to the plot and dialogues and more towards the extensive thinking behind every action, Woolf could probably fit in loads of stray intelligence on the topic of human behavior in a book of barely 200 pages. For whatever little I have read at my young age I’m yet to or would fail to experience the awe I have felt in this book by any other author. What are we if we cannot think and upheld them is the key takeaway I will agree upon when I might talk about this book to a fellow book lover. Let it come, she thought, If it will come. For there are moments when one can neither think nor feel. And if one can neither think nor feel, she thought, where is one? Tansley, Mr. Ramsay thought of something which might be perceived as selfish and atrocious by the children but they had thoughts and they prevailed whenever they were in the scene. Mrs. Ramsay emanating the all-aware aura of the sympathy - expecting husband for he couldn’t get along well with the children and drag of a character Charles Tansley was, she remains the strong proponent of the virtue of selflessness. she often felt she was nothing but a sponge full of human emotions Woolf deep-dived into the psyches of all her important characters and does not skim the surface of their perspective. She brings them out clean and how deftly does she do it! A reader might generate pure hatred towards any character by another author, but a reader going through the stream-of-consciousness of the characters in this book will empathize with the characters with a sense of detachment but nevertheless left in awe. A bit of how Mr. Tansley thought of the insignificance of art in human civilization, detestable yet true in a way- Does the progress of civilization depend upon great men? Is the lot of the average human being better now than in the time of the Pharaohs? Is the lot of average human being, however, he asked himself, the criterion by which we judge the measure of civilization? Possible not. Possibly the greatest good requires the existence of a slave class…..the arts are merely a decoration imposed on the top of human life; they do not express it. In my only mission in life to devour a number of eclectic books where ‘To the lighthouse’ falls right in place by consensus, I think I might have been far too young to understand the thinking or the perspectives of the characters and in a selfish desire to add an agreed classic into my shelves, I have failed to assimilate the significance of the book as I believe there are a lot others in the literature map of the world where I’m yet to step on and a lot of other things I’m yet to experience, I hope this is not the end. I’ll stand by my opinion to give this a 3.5 with a brimming positive expectation of finding no other book like this and if I don’t I’ll embrace this as the best book I have ever read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    I have started this book several times, and even though I admired the prose, heretofore I had always set it aside after about 20 pages because it required so much focus, so much time. Indeed, I wondered if I would ever find time to finish this book in the same way that young James Ramsay wondered if he would ever get to visit the lighthouse. But I was determined to finish! Knowing that it required concentration, I settled into my reading chair this weekend and dove into the text. What lyricism! V I have started this book several times, and even though I admired the prose, heretofore I had always set it aside after about 20 pages because it required so much focus, so much time. Indeed, I wondered if I would ever find time to finish this book in the same way that young James Ramsay wondered if he would ever get to visit the lighthouse. But I was determined to finish! Knowing that it required concentration, I settled into my reading chair this weekend and dove into the text. What lyricism! Virginia Woolf's writing was so beautiful, so melodic, that it should be read aloud, like poetry. The book is structured into three parts: The Window, Time Passes, and The Lighthouse. In the first part, we meet the Ramsey family and their guests at a summer home in the Hebrides. There is little dialogue and even less action -- the prose is all introspection and stream of consciousness. We jump from character to character, spending time in each person's head before we jump again. There are so many passages I loved, but here is an excellent one about Mrs. Ramsay: "She took a look at life, for she had a clear sense of it there, something real, something private, which she shared neither with her children nor with her husband. A sort of transaction went on between them, in which she was on one side, and life was on another, and she was always trying to get the better of it, as it was of her; and sometimes they parlayed (when she sat alone); there were, she remembered, great reconciliation scenes; but for the most part, oddly enough, she must admit that she felt this thing called life terrible, hostile, and quick to pounce on you if you gave it a chance. There were the eternal problems: suffering, death; the poor. There was always a woman dying of cancer even here. And yet she had said to all these children, You shall go through it all ... For that reason, knowing what was before them -- love and ambition and being wretched alone in dreary places -- she had often the feeling, Why must they grow up and lose it all? And then she said to herself, brandishing her sword at life, Nonsense. They will be perfectly happy." The second part covers about a decade, during which World War I happens and several characters die. Finally, the remaining Ramsay members gather at the summer home again, and this time, surely, they will visit the lighthouse. This book is such a classic of modern English literature that I fear I can't add anything to the discussion other than to say how much I appreciated it. I loved the thoughtfulness of the writing, how Virginia would cover a scene from several points of view, and how characters would argue with themselves. Now that I have finished it and know how much beauty is in store, I plan to read it again and again.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Edward

    To the Lighthouse is simply the most incredible book I've ever read. What prose! What soaring, penetrating, eloquent, unique, wonderful writing, that deserves to be read slowly and attentively, the inner voice attuned to the gentle canter of the meter, the rhythmic rise and fall in pitch, undulating like rolling waves, like the beating heart, like poetry. Such a visionary and unforgiving style, with dense, meandering sentences, ever shifting perspectives, the fusion of the real and the imagined, To the Lighthouse is simply the most incredible book I've ever read. What prose! What soaring, penetrating, eloquent, unique, wonderful writing, that deserves to be read slowly and attentively, the inner voice attuned to the gentle canter of the meter, the rhythmic rise and fall in pitch, undulating like rolling waves, like the beating heart, like poetry. Such a visionary and unforgiving style, with dense, meandering sentences, ever shifting perspectives, the fusion of the real and the imagined, the past and the future, with rarely any concession or latitude or explanation proffered. The characters unfold slowly, revealed by degrees like a Polaroid, but they are fragmented, and never drawn entirely into focus. The voice is personal, intimate and penetrating. And yet there is such an overwhelming sadness: the knowledge of so many things that cannot be understood, that can never be said. The expression of an unbridgeable distance that exists between people as they are left to guess at one another, never really knowing, never really understanding, never truly connecting. The passage of time tears through the centre of the narrative like a great fissure, suddenly and irrevocably arresting all actions, rendering all words mute and inconsequential. Exposed is the frailty of human life, and its smallness. Any significance is called into question. We are left (through Lily) to make sense of it all, to wonder what might have been; to examine the pieces and to puzzle at how they might be combined into a meaningful whole. There is the lighthouse - such a subtle and enigmatic metaphor, expressing distance, impermanence and solitude, but also light and and the preservation of life from the cold, indifferent forces of nature. All of these layers of meaning suffuse the writing and permeate the characters - their hopes, their desires, their fears, and their failures. The novel is about all these things, and yet there is so, so much more. I know I have failed to express its true impact, and feel I cannot even attempt to do so given its intricacy and depth. I am in awe of this novel, and the genius of its author. I simply cannot fathom the process that caused it to be assembled, word by word, from the blank page.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ian "Marvin" Graye

    Slow or Flow? I read "To the Lighthouse" quickly and impatiently, because that is what the text seemed to demand of me. It is relatively short, but, most importantly for me, it flows with the inexorable force of nature, perhaps even Mother Nature, if that doesn’t offend (I will try to explain). True, I broke the flow to make notes, to track the recurrence of words, the repetition and reinforcement of motifs, but immediately afterwards, I jumped back into the stream and was carried away, until event Slow or Flow? I read "To the Lighthouse" quickly and impatiently, because that is what the text seemed to demand of me. It is relatively short, but, most importantly for me, it flows with the inexorable force of nature, perhaps even Mother Nature, if that doesn’t offend (I will try to explain). True, I broke the flow to make notes, to track the recurrence of words, the repetition and reinforcement of motifs, but immediately afterwards, I jumped back into the stream and was carried away, until eventually I emerged in...where? The ocean? The salt water? The waves? Real life? Recognition? Self-awareness? Reverence? Three Parts Full The novel consists of three parts: "The Window" seems to represent the Ramsay family, especially the eight children, looking out on the external world from their holiday home on the Isle of Skye. They are contained in their house, their home. They look through the window and when they aspire to do something "outside", they have to ask the permission of their parents. In "Time Passes", a period of ten years elapses, some family members die, and the rest of the family endures hardship. In the third section, some of the family emerge from their home with a view to sailing to "The Lighthouse". Parents or Tyrants? The first part ostensibly deals with the relationship between the children and their parents. The children need their parents’ permission to sail to the lighthouse. Thus starts a battle of wills or temperaments between the parents. I’ve tried to capture this battle in the following summary: 1. Mother - Yes (permission) 2. Father - But (qualification) 3. Mother - Perhaps, Maybe (compromise, relaxation, expectation, hope, wish) 4. Father - No (prohibition) 5. Mother - Even if (expectation, hope, wish, optimism) 6. Father - No chance (prohibition, pessimism) 7. Mother - How do you know? (scepticism) 8. Father - Damn you (frustration, assertion, offensiveness) Mr. Ramsay Mr. Ramsay comes out the worst in the family portrait, and deservedly so. Woolf constructs his psychological profile in a similar methodical, but insightful, way: 1. He worships truth ("He is incapable of untruth", "He never tampers with the facts", "Whatever he says is true"); 2. He is undiplomatic and inconsiderate of other people’s feelings ("He has never altered a disagreeable word to suit the pleasure or convenience of any mortal being", "He pursues truth with an astonishing lack of consideration for other people’s feelings"); 3. He is possessed of (and by) a "secret conceit at his own accuracy of judgment"; 4. He is the source of authority in the family; 5. He is negative, judgmental, dictatorial, inflexible, short-tempered, accusatory ("someone has blundered"), exacting and unforgiving. Mrs. Ramsay It’s not as easy to create a profile of Mrs Ramsay. It’s almost easier to describe her in terms of her effect on others, in particular her children. To her six year old son, James, her words (i.e., her permission) "conveyed an extraordinary joy". She "spoke with heavenly bliss". She "deplores strife, divisions, differences of opinion, prejudices twisted into the very fibre of being". She is flexible, patient, charitable and generous. Despite her own private discontent with her husband, she displays a personally and socially appropriate degree of "reverence" for him. At 50, she is also beautiful, seductive, popular and admired. Yet she is made to feel inferior by her husband. The Denial of Others The novel highlights a (the? the only?) male approach to authority, which revolves around permission and prohibition. Prohibition involves negation or denial, the denial of permission, the denial of action and the denial of potential. Mr. Ramsay denies his wife, just as he denies his children. They must all postpone spontaneity and defer gratification, even if one day it will be too late. Lily Briscoe These insights into family life come from a multiplicity of characters. Woolf doesn’t just adopt one static narrative perspective or point of view. The narrative flows from person to person, psyche to psyche, as she eavesdrops on their thoughts. Her narrative technique is like a camera on a dolly that moves around the ensemble and captures each character’s exterior and interior. However, as the novel progresses, I felt that it increasingly adopted the perspective of the amateur painter, Lily Briscoe (who might in turn represent Woolf’s own point of view). She isn't a family member, but she witnesses their denial, as well as experiencing her own. People discount and discourage her creative potential. Collectively, the message for both the children and the women is, "You can’t go to the lighthouse, you can’t paint, you can’t write." The Lighthouse Woolf has famously said that "I meant nothing by The Lighthouse. One has to have a central line down the middle of the book, to hold the design together." I think we’re entitled to ask what she meant by "nothing", although we might never know her answer. You could argue that she is using the word in the broader sense of negation and denial that I’ve mentioned above. However, I think there is scope to think of the lighthouse as a physical object that helps Lily to reject negation and denial and to complete the vision and picture that she had started, but had not been able to finish: "With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done; it was finished." As I read the novel, an image came to mind. I’m no artist, so I hope you will forgive my indulgence. In the first image below, I wanted to capture negativity on the left (" -1") and positivity on the right (" +1"), with zero in the middle: In the second image, I simply drew "a line there, in the centre": I was sort of hoping that, with the addition of the line, a face appeared, perhaps a female face, the face of a woman who could paint, who could write, who could go to the lighthouse, and perhaps, just perhaps, when she returned, could have a room of her own. In the hands of a competent artist, perhaps that central line down the middle might hold the design together. With any luck, that might be the meaning of the lighthouse. It might be nothing but a straight line down the middle, a line that separates the negative from the positive.

  27. 5 out of 5

    knig

    What drivel is this? There are so many supplicants at this alter (of the emperor’s new clothes) that I am obviously an illiterate idiot for besmirching it. So be it, I stand fast. Woolf had a hit with Mrs Dalloway in 1925, and buoyed by her success, obviously decided to capitalise on it by basically…plagerising herself. I guess her thinking must have been ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, cause she, um, ‘borrows’ every literary technique and a fair number of characters as well as the narrative s What drivel is this? There are so many supplicants at this alter (of the emperor’s new clothes) that I am obviously an illiterate idiot for besmirching it. So be it, I stand fast. Woolf had a hit with Mrs Dalloway in 1925, and buoyed by her success, obviously decided to capitalise on it by basically…plagerising herself. I guess her thinking must have been ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, cause she, um, ‘borrows’ every literary technique and a fair number of characters as well as the narrative style from Mrs Dalloway, hits the ‘replace with’ button (whatever that was in 1927) to change the title and the names, and hey presto: we have ‘To the lighthouse’. Except, it don’t work. Why? Because, Woolf had already exhausted her repertoire of ‘detail deliberation’ and ‘minutae musing’ in Mrs Dalloway. She just has nothing new to say on the subject a mere two years later. If anything , ‘To the lighthouse’ is narrower in breadth and scope and characterisation than ‘Mrs Dalloway’, lets forget about social issues at all (which we had apropos post traumatic shock syndrome in Mrs Dalloway), and at some point, Woolf just seems to give up entirely, as if though creating different viewpoints is just too onerous a task, and so Mrs Ramsey, and Lilly Briscoe and Cam seem to merge into some sort of single narrative consciousness, a blancmange of sameness, or maybe just unapologetic Virginia Woolfness. Mrs Ramsey is a dead ringer for Mrs Dalloway. Don’t lets even argue. Woolf didn’t even try here. Carmichael/Tansley are Mrs Dalloway’s Peter’s doppelgangers: the married woman’s admirers. Someone might pipe up Mrs Ramsey dies in medias ras. I beg to differ. What do I care that Virginia Woolf writes the words ‘Mrs Ramsey died’ when the next part of the novel is focused on (mainly lilly’s) reminiscences about Mrs Ramsey, so to all effects and purposes we have her straight through the novel with us. There is just no getting rid of the woman, I tell you .In fact, if I had read one more time how beautiful Mrs Ramsey was, I think I might have knocked my iphone out. Enough already. The woman is over fifty, Virginia. I wish there was a way to tell you that men do NOT lose it all over a fifty five year old (married mother of eight). Anyway, Virginia Woolf really should have known this: its not like she couldn’t see what was what in real life. One of her very close friends, the economist Milton Keynes no less, in the Bloomsbury circle with her, married the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova who was twenty years younger than him, and could barely speak English. Virginia apparently never got over that and made Lopokova feel miserable everytime they saw each other. Like that was going to sway Keynes’ mind: not when Lopokova apparently danced naked in the moonlight on the lawn at Tilton house and ran commando up and down the Firle hill behind it. Literary techniques? The one where narrative sequence jumps from character to character just like Mrs Dalloway? Check, we got it here. This is what happens to most sequels: they’re just never as good as the pilot.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rakhi Dalal

    Swiftly coming in, my thoughts met me in my eyes. There was a tear welling up, slowly, trying to melt the thoughts with it, to make them escape from the unwanted enclosure, to set them free, to give them a lease of life. As the tear found its way, the thoughts strove hard, enduring the abrupt acceleration which followed. Astonishingly, they managed to linger on amidst the unfaltering descend. And then as I looked, they smiled back at me, smiled at the futility of efforts employed, smiled while s Swiftly coming in, my thoughts met me in my eyes. There was a tear welling up, slowly, trying to melt the thoughts with it, to make them escape from the unwanted enclosure, to set them free, to give them a lease of life. As the tear found its way, the thoughts strove hard, enduring the abrupt acceleration which followed. Astonishingly, they managed to linger on amidst the unfaltering descend. And then as I looked, they smiled back at me, smiled at the futility of efforts employed, smiled while standing majestically, as if conveying their superiority over this inept facade. “How can you escape us?” they asked. I remained motionless, struggling to find an answer. “There is no way we can part with you, no way. Each moment of each hour of each day, we are living in you, breathing in you, making you aware of your existence and our presence. How can you escape us?” My sanity seemed to wane in response. “We make you ponder, to acknowledge joy, sorrow, love and every possible feeling. We make you live. You are not yourself sans us. ” “Yes”, I said aloud to myself. This is true. My consciousness gained a startling sense by giving in. My thoughts then strode triumphantly and merged within. They became me. I looked at the Lighthouse in the distance and wondered where this light had been all these years. What had taken it so long to understand, reciprocate and become one with me? But then, perhaps the light had always been there. What it needed was a moment – an epiphany. And this was what the reading of To the Lighthouse brought to me. As a reviewer, I don’t have much to say about this outstanding account of work by Virginia Woolf. But as a reader, I am enthralled, acknowledging the might of thoughts, conceding to that which has always remained within me, wondering if it is the way with most of the people, while knowing well that it is not. Knowing, that these inherent and profound thoughts loss their meaning, for most of the people, under the everyday mundane and tiring life, still, exulting in the knowledge that this Lighthouse is always there for the seekers of the light. "What is the meaning of life? That was all—a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one."

  29. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    This is the first Virginia Woolf novel I have ever read. I found it complex, and at the same time uncomplicated. It makes me think of authors like Marcel Proust, Henry James and James Joyce. Woolf's style is deceptively simple. There are descriptions of landscapes and everyday events, and yet this author reaches much deeper into the human mind. What is interesting is that Woolf does not use one character to provide the main point of view, but instead lets us see inside the heads of several of the This is the first Virginia Woolf novel I have ever read. I found it complex, and at the same time uncomplicated. It makes me think of authors like Marcel Proust, Henry James and James Joyce. Woolf's style is deceptively simple. There are descriptions of landscapes and everyday events, and yet this author reaches much deeper into the human mind. What is interesting is that Woolf does not use one character to provide the main point of view, but instead lets us see inside the heads of several of them, men, women and children. And even nature and time seem to take on the roles of characters. Be that as it may, the novel seems to revolve around Mrs. Ramsey, wife of the irascible yet charming Mr. Ramsey and mother of eight children. She presides over the house, her family and her guests like a queen in a palace surrounded by courtiers. Yet she has her quirks and vulnerabilities, and an inner life which is only partially visible to the other characters. The one who seems to get the closest to detecting this inner life is Lily Briscoe, perhaps because she is somewhat of an outsider, with artistic sensibilities. The novel is about the basic themes of human existence: love, happiness, the passage of time and the quest for meaning. The lighthouse seems always there as the goal toward which many of the characters are reaching. But in the same way, many of the characters are on a sort of interior quest in order to figure out what life and reality are all about.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Antonomasia

    In 2013 or 14, I voted on the Goodreads list 'Books you are tired of hearing about' to express my exasperation at seeing To the Lighthouse every bloody where that summer. If, even six months ago, you'd told me not only that I'd read To the Lighthouse this spring, but that I'd give it 5 stars and mark it "favourites", I'd have told you, if you were the kind of friend I could say this to in a friendly way, to fuck off. Especially because I didn't much like Mrs Dalloway and the imprint it left of g In 2013 or 14, I voted on the Goodreads list 'Books you are tired of hearing about' to express my exasperation at seeing To the Lighthouse every bloody where that summer. If, even six months ago, you'd told me not only that I'd read To the Lighthouse this spring, but that I'd give it 5 stars and mark it "favourites", I'd have told you, if you were the kind of friend I could say this to in a friendly way, to fuck off. Especially because I didn't much like Mrs Dalloway and the imprint it left of grey-grubby dejected aftermathness, a book which on at least half a dozen occasions I've called "the wrong sort of depressing", and my default position was that I didn't like Virginia Woolf apart from Orlando and didn't want to read any more. I am still not very happy to have joined the club of Goodreads bores who love To the Lighthouse, but for what it's worth, the book was rather amazing - and I don't think this way about dozens of other classics and favourites I read before GR or was already determined to read before joining the site, and which people with large followings also go on about, so it'll just have to get re-framed to fit with those. When something's this popular, it goes without saying that you won't be on the same wavelength as all the other fans. It wasn't instant. I read Hermione Lee's excellent introduction (better than a lot of the recent introductions to classics; the notes, however may be a bit too detailed unless you're doing a dissertation about textual alterations) and then small dribs and drabs of the novel. It was full of odd metaphors that were clearly well-written but which didn't describe my own experience of anything. I was sad not to be connecting when I'd wanted to connect with its superlative descriptions. Though there was a curious sense of its being the platonic idyll of hundreds of early-to-mid twentieth century English stories about elegant families and children and lawns and parties and summer escapades - even though it was written after plenty of examples I thought of, E. Nesbit for instance, and even though a lot of the characters just weren't very nice. (Later, the family structure, with the moody writer father and caretaking mother and lots of kids and guests, would prompt me to wonder if it had partly inspired childhood favourites of mine, the Bagthorpe Saga by Helen Cresswell.) It was a world I still couldn't imagine as great high art: it's a world that's popularly cosy Sunday evening entertainment, as described much later, in Chapter 16: when the great clangour of the gong announced solemnly, authoritatively, that all those scattered about, in attics, in bedrooms, on little perches of their own, reading, writing, putting the last smooth to their hair, or fastening dresses, must leave all that, and the little odds and ends on their washing-tables and dressing-tables, and the novels on the bed-tables, and the diaries which were so private, and assemble in the dining-room for dinner. Back near the beginning, I couldn't grip it. (These quotation marks are all things I wrote straight after reading.) "The prose is so silky, it slips past my eyes the same way poetry does. Probably because it's very well made. But feels essentially insubstantial. Yet quite often there's a really novel image. I get this with Ali Smith too - I often find it hard to see why she's quite so revered because she doesn't do the Pynchon thing of throwing around huge words and references and gags and it seems enjoyable in a simpler way, but there's a sort of... there isn't a word for it, because I have a sense of its being plainer and more grounded than 'beautiful' would suggest, it's not ornate, but it's incredibly well crafted." No, to work its magic it needs to be read at length: immerse oneself and swim around in it, stretch out. "I am getting to like it a lot now. There was a bit from chapters 4-12 that was really enchanting and ethereal, and it worked despite most of the characters being prickly, interesting how it does that. And it gained momentum once I read a lot of it at a time." "Am starting to feel how some of the curious metaphors in TtL are like paintings. It doesn't matter that I might not have experienced that thing that way, the joy is in the images themselves." [I would later start to feel the nature of the actions in a new way, through their imagery. I can't recall a book that has ever done this before, and so very many times; other great descriptions have merely captured a feeling that already existed, on the edge of consciousness and previously beyond words. This is one of the central and unique achievements of this novel as far as I am concerned.] "It is refreshing to find such a very good book that feels like it's all about other people, the characters (not something for me to identify with or see people I know in it). Totally unconvincing as being about Scotland though. Always feels like the South Coast. Walter Scott was still fashionable in Scotland decades later. Never mind the complete absence of the sense of Scottish weather." It is an airy halcyon world, like the perfectly chosen cover of this Penguin Classics edition; it is Metronomy's English Riviera a century earlier. No one is stung and importuned and tangled, raw-eyed, by perpetual smirring sea breezes that any non-native would rather call gales. "It's incredible how tiny the moments are that are described in TtL. So much longer to read (and esp to write) than to feel. I've read some reviews that seem to miss this completely. How very fleeting these states of mind are; the sort of thing people don't feel in the long term, nor set out to be judged by, not like writing down a considered opinion." Each moment is not what one character definitively thinks of another; among these are the moments we usually forget, microscopic aberrations and contradictions. It is remarkable to have created such a beautiful and shimmering book from actively cathartic writing about a dysfunctional, sometimes abusive family , and a delineation of the frustrations of being an intelligent, artistically ambitious woman in the early twentieth century. It still barely seems possible. Just as it is strange to think of Woolf as a Victorian or Edwardian, yet those were decades of her life, drawn here, as she, like Lily, created new strange modernist forms that were anything but characteristic of the century of her birth. (Though perhaps the most modern - the most twenty-first century moments are of the irascible Mr. Ramsay with his nose forever in a book whilst in company, like a smartphone addict neglecting his guests.) It is a book very much about art, about painting, concerned with the creative process - perhaps the central human moment of the story being Lily's resolution to move the tree - as well as these memoirish themes which are often considered the opposite of art, a way to make art unartistic; rather it makes them into a resolutely aesthetic object. "And how wonderful is 'Time Passes'?! I was expecting something knotty and Joycean - based on a negative review (whose saying it was too similar to Mrs Dalloway continues to puzzle me because this book is so gorgeous and Mrs D made me feel 'urghhh') and someone else saying it was hard to make sense of - but I think it's one of my favourite bits of a book I've ever read. It's almost animist (makes me want to read" [Amitav Ghosh's recent, and I think vital work of criticism on the neglect of climate change and nature in fiction] "The Great Derangement all the more" [for this, surely, is its project of writing about and from the viewpoint of the non-human and the absence of humans: here the characters are buildings and the force of nature and history itself, taking over the unlived-in building, ending the Edwardian pre-war eternal summer of the upper classes, combining in the effects of human deaths, and new life in other forms: animals, plants and the renewed interest in poetry after the war]"- but the writing is so superlative: I couldn't believe there was something like that, which mentions things I love hearing about in evocative low fantasy, in an author like Virginia Woolf. And it does actually say what happens, and mostly in full sentences. Makes me want my own paper copy just so I can re-read those pages over and over." The servants become full characters here in this section whilst the family is gone: they are aligned with nature, which both feels right - because they are local, they are part of the place, whereas the Ramsays belong in London - and feels wrong because it seems part of Woolf's only-half-developed class consciousness to align them with the non-human, with invisible forces. This is a book which works by accumulation; I am not sure if some favourite moments from 'Time Passes' will seem so special in isolation. weeds that had grown close to the glass in the night tapped methodically at the window pane (as well as the darlingly anthropomorphistic 'methodically', it's that collapse of time that suggests both night as a metaphor for the years of awayness, and the speed at which growth occurs in the absence of humans, that it does feel like overnight, yet also it is like fantasy where the plants do grow triffid-like in a few hours) Toads had nosed their way in (... that adorable way animals affectionately push at you with their snouts: but here directed not at people but at the absence of humans that allows them to truly flourish). Ideas that arrived earlier in reading seemed to be affirmed subsequently by the book: And she opened the book and began reading here and there at random, and as she did so she felt that she was climbing backwards, upwards, shoving her way up under petals that curved over her, so that she only knew this is white, or this is red. She did not know at first what the words meant at all. (pt 1 Ch 19) the slumbrous shapes in her mind; shapes of a world not realised but turning in their darkness, catching here and there, a spark of light; Greece, Rome Constantinople (pt 3, Chapter 10) It was only towards the end of the third part that I realised the reader doesn't actually find out if the Ramsays went to the lighthouse at some off-screen moment during their visit in part one, and it doesn't matter. What matters is what's in the frame, as in a painting. Yet also not: Lily's Cubist canvases - which she feels driven to work on despite suspecting they will end up as nothing more than attic bric-a-brac (something relateable all too well to writing a 685th Goodreads review) - are created as much by what is left out as by what is shown. When the Ramsays finally make it to the lighthouse, their boat is out of sight from the mainland, out of the painter's view: the distance of the boat from land is the greater distance from the past Woolf gained by writing about this refraction of her family (as the letters quoted in the introduction more or less confirm). It really is a remarkable achievement to make such very artistic art from this stuff - compared with the thousands of lightly fictionalised memoirs now in vogue - though in its concern with posterity (The very stone one kicks with one's boot will outlast Shakespeare.) and details of the creative process, overtly and in recursive, "symbolical" commentary on itself, it may be an artists' book most of all.

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