To the Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse686 To The Lighthouse, Virginia WoolfTo the Lighthouse is a 1927 novel by Virginia Woolf The novel centres on the Ramsays and their visits to the Isle of Skye in Scotland between 1910 and 1920 Part I The Window, Part II Time Passes, Part III The Lighthouse 2004 1370 237 9644481992 1382 1383 1385 1387 1392 1395 9789644481994 240 20 1370 358 1387 261 9789643514648 1392 1910 1920 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. To The Lighthouse Is The Most Autobiographical Of Virginia Woolf S Novels It Is Based On Her Own Early Experiences, And While It Touches On Childhood And Children S Perceptions And Desires, It Is At Its Most Trenchant When Exploring Adult Relationships, Marriage And The Changing Class Structure In The Period Spanning The Great War 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 flashfor 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 knowledgeTo 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 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 themThere 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, 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 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 I m sorryI 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. 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 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 itBut 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 pagesThe 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 and intense I am making use of symbolism, I observe, and I go in dread of sentimentality Is the whole theme open to the charge 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. 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 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, over, 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 wholeWith 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 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. 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 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

Adeline Virginia Woolf was an English novelist and essayist regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century.During the interwar period, Woolf was a significant figure in London literary society and a member of the Bloomsbury Group Her most famous works include the novels Mrs Dalloway 1925 , To the Lighthouse 1927 , and Orlando 1928 , and the book length e

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