To The Lighthouse
- Wordsworth Editions Ltd
- Publication Date:
- 05 February 1994
- Modern & Contemporary
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I don't just throw 5-star ratings around like nothing...this book was great..extremely satisfying. When describing the book, it sounds like it would be horrible- wealthy family with a vacation home on an island, plus wealthy house guests and dinner parties (usually) equals boring pretentious tripe. To The Lighthouse, however, tells its story through the thoughts of the various characters...however neurotic that may be sometimes. The men are all intelligent, but emotionally reserved. The women ar...more I don't just throw 5-star ratings around like nothing...this book was great..extremely satisfying. When describing the book, it sounds like it would be horrible- wealthy family with a vacation home on an island, plus wealthy house guests and dinner parties (usually) equals boring pretentious tripe. To The Lighthouse, however, tells its story through the thoughts of the various characters...however neurotic that may be sometimes. The men are all intelligent, but emotionally reserved. The women are charming and witty if sometimes frivolous. And while they are bourgeoisis, you end up liking them anyway...their struggles with finding success in life; the need for praise from one generation to another; and worrying about the fates of those around them. Just read it. I haven't enjoyed a book this much in quite a while.
It's better to know what you're in for when beginning Virginia Woolf's 'To the Lighthouse'. If you go in expecting another 'read' not only will you be disappointed, but you may also find it too difficult to continue on with. Foolishly, I wasn't ready for the book when I started it; it took me 70 pages before I 'got' it and I understood how to read the novel and know roughly what it was concerned with. Once this happened I realised why everyone claims that Woolf is one of the greatest female writers, in fact, one of the greatest writers regardless of gender. Besides from an interlude most of the 'action' of the novel takes place within the characters. From their thoughts and emotions we can piece together relationships and events. The further we read the bigger and clearer the picture becomes. The book is divided into three distinct sections with the first one focusing mainly on Mrs Ramsay. It is the dinner table scene that Virginia Woolf juggles so well, swapping between the thoughts of different characters and ending with a powerful, resonating line. The interlude, or second section is only short and is written to convey the feeling and theme of passing time more than direct meaning. In a sense it is poetry. It feels like writing that is above the reader's comprehension and this is what endows it with its mystique. The third section is more structured than the first but remains internal. The main character here is Lily the painter and it has been suggested that she represents the author. This would make sense as she is in a good position to survey the family (based on her own) and is also an artistic creator. What makes this novel so great is its subtlety. It relies on the reader to infer the story. While it doesn't possess the freshness of prose that Joyce created, it perfects the early twentieth century novel by destroying the typical narrator and using stream-of-consciousness to carry the story. Joyce and Woolf are seen as the leaders of modern fiction in twentieth century English literature and is it coincidence that both were born in the same year (1882) and died in the same (1941)?
Is art an expression of human life, or is it a decoration imposed upon it? It depends on whether or not someone relies on art to bring him fame and greatness. Mr. Ramsay is concerned that no one will read his books, that he won’t be remembered by future generations. He is very insecure about his writing because he feels that no one needs him to write; no one’s life depends on whether or not he expresses himself through the ideas in his books. He worries that his writing is merely decoration and not necessary to the whole of human culture and existence. He does not write to express himself or to find some meaning in human life, but rather, he writes to ease his insecurities, to establish some feeling of self-worth. He only writes so that others will believe he is important. Lily Briscoe, however, does not paint in hopes of being remembered or deemed important. She is compelled to paint by the voice of Charles Tansley that continuously chants, “Women can’t paint. Women can’t write.” But she is compelled by something even greater than Tansley’s need to assert himself. Lily Briscoe’s paintings are physical renderings of her desire for unity, her desire to fill emptiness with shape, “the empty places. Such were some of the parts, but how to bring them together?” (151). She believes that connecting seemingly unrelated things and isolated people, reveals some whole truth and meaning behind life. Lily tries to connect masses within her paintings. The painting she begins of Mrs. Ramsay and James remains unfinished for ten years, until she returns to the house at Isle of Skye after Mrs. Ramsay’s death. She doesn’t know how the masses in her painting connect. She doesn’t know the best way to lay out shape, light, and shadow. She doesn’t know how to relate or fill empty spaces, but she paints to uncover these relationships. The empty places Lily refers to are the ones left by Mrs. Ramsay. She is the mass that light shines on, and everything and everyone else in her life are the shadows cast by the light hitting her form. Lily is angry at Mrs. Ramsay because she left behind empty spaces—the step she sat on, the kitchen table with the leaf pattern, and the old ramshackle house itself—with no clear way to unite them. Without Mrs. Ramsay, the house was “full of unrelated passions” (152). Her family came untied—there was no knot tying Cam and James to Mr. Ramsay anymore. To the Lighthouse, like Lily’s painting, is made up of three parts that connect to form a greater whole. The first two sections—The Window and Time Passes—contain empty spaces; these spaces rely on Lily, in the final section, to step back and view everything from a distance so that all forms can be seen at once. It is only when different viewpoints and different relationships are observed that the true meaning of life can be discovered. Love, culture, art, and poetry are created from human relationships.
A heartbreakingly beautiful novel, my favorite by this author.
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