Book Review ‘To The Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf.

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Author- Virginia Woolf

Genre- Fiction/ Modernism

Theme- Time

My review

Definitely not an easy one to read let alone understand, the novel tracks a tricky unconventional mode better known as the ‘stream of consciousness’ where the readers go through the mental pictures of characters rather than actual speech or actions. There are no specific indications or pointers as to whether they are traversing the past, present or future, each sliding stealthily into the other. Woolf seems to intentionally smudge the lines between them, thereby confusing the reader’s perception of space and time.

It’s confusing at many levels, primarily in getting a sense of location and chronological order. To give an example, Mrs. Ramsay’s soliloquy while knitting, darts from the future prospects of a nuptial union of Mr. Banks and Lily and suddenly turns into empathizing with the maid’s past, whose father had been suffering from cancer, who was forced to separate from him and work in a faraway place. Interestingly the reader’s mind darts in a similar fashion from future to past and from past to present, oftentimes failing to link events in order chronologically.

The novel has an autobiographical element, of Virginia’s childhood spent at the summer-house in St. Ives, Cornwall. That period is showcased in the first part of the novel, taking place before World War One, with all it’s Victorian mores and ethos. The last part centers on the post-Victorian period, same as Virginia’s adulthood when the frame of mind of the characters undergo a drastic change, their attitudes change and situations are weighed up against the past occurrences.

Postwar period ushered in a modernistic era when experimentation in formalism, modernism, structuralism, and realism took root in literature and art beginning from the dawn of the twentieth century. Virginia, who had been home-schooled by her mother, was able to experience the freedom of thought and style in literature through the masterpieces of TS Eliot, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and the like.

Notable in the literary style is how Virginia composes the complexity of thought followed by simple actions. She explores the realities and mundanities of everyday life, a stark contrast to the romanticism of the Edwardian era novels. It is refreshing for the reader to experience life as it is rather than dabble in the fantasies of Romanticism. Nevertheless, our thoughts get entwined with the character’s inner working of mind so much so that the reader sometimes wish to escape from the bubble to a world outside. Another feature of the novel is the poetical beauty of her prose, especially while picturing nature. And here, she follows T.S Eliot’s Impersonal Theory of Poetry. The characters engage in a kind of ‘soliloquy in solitude’ disconnected from one another.

Woolf’s strong stance on feminism is said to have evolved from this novel onward. In the novel, the character Charles Tansley’s patriarchal and misogynist statement ‘ women can’t paint, women can’t write’, in a condescending manner, comes back to Lily’s mind every time she tries to start her painting. The status of women as an artist or anything beyond the role of a housekeeper during Victorian times is rigidly being looked down upon and criticized by the character, Charles. Virginia surmounts this by drawing Lily’s character as someone out of the box, individualistic, whose persistence and grit triumphs finally, in bringing forth her artistic vision. According to her own words, the novel had been sort of release from the obsessions of Victorian mores foisted on her and her sisters by their mother. Her attitude to the inevitability of marriage for a woman is criticized through the character, Lily who hates marriage and parries the efforts of Mrs. Ramsay to get her married. Virginia had expressed it inconceivable for herself to have evolved into a writer, had her father been alive. In the novel, she delivers subtle snipes against both her parents’ outlook to women in general.

The novel is rich in symbolism and imagery. Taking Lily’s artistic visions as an example, Virginia has used Lily as a medium to convey her ideas of feminism, to expound on life and death, persistence, and finally self-realization. The lighthouse could be symbolic of desires, unattainable/ reachable.There is not just one interpretation to the meaning of the novel, but many since it had been written and each offers different perspectives on a subjective basis.

Copyright © deepanairrp

32 thoughts on “Book Review ‘To The Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf.

  1. First welcome back dear Deepa 😊 the platform has missed your heavy and valuable writings 🙂
    This is some heavy work and the review was so objective and detailed, I’m sure everyone who wants to read it will have a great idea about this novel
    For me what you mentioned about confusing the reader and the failure to link the events makes me a bit hesitated to read but of course as you mentioned the novel is rich as well with symbolism and imagery and many important topics are included and sure it’s worth reading so thank you for sharing your review 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you ,dear Huguette. Yes, it’s confusing while u read it for the first time. It’s a different genre altogether. You would not be able to get orientation in time and place since these two are important to get an idea of what the writer is trying to convey. Again, there so many materials in the net dealing with the in-depth analysis of the novel and as usual I used them while reading and that was a different experience altogether. Try it once and u will not regret reading this one. 🙂
      Missed you and ur blog posts. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s my pleasure and yes sure I know what you mean, and I’m sure it’s very helpful! I know you wouldn’t share it if it wasn’t worth reading 😊 Appreciate your kind words 😊 and whenever you feel you have some time, you can check some post if you like 😊 Wish you a great day!😊

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Deepa, Kanjika here I was very interested in reading your review as this is the first Virgina Woolf novel that I’d ever read and much of my thoughts then have been frankly expressed by you. I find her ‘stream of consciousness’ style of writing very alluring frankly because in our memories we don’t have functionally structural paragraphs but chaos of images, I recently wrote a post which includes a quote that Virgina Woolf wrote in relation to Jane Austen and I would love for you to check it out. Hope to read more of your content. Best wishes and regards.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Kanjika, Thank you for reading and responding.
      This is the first Woolf novel for me too. Though I felt it a bit obscure at times, the meaning started to surface from the depths of her writing style bit by bit later on.
      Could you please provide the link to your above-mentioned post, I wasn’t able to locate it 🙂

      Like

      1. Excellent write-up, Kanjika.
        Most of Austen’s female protagonists are unquestionably bold with feminist leanings, an echo of her own attitude towards marriage and Victorian mores. And to hold a view like that during the 18 th century is nothing short of exceptional audacity.
        I have always wondered about one thing in Austen novels- the attitude of the female characters to marriage as an unique indication to them being bold/ weak. Could be due to the significance placed on the prospect of marriage during Victorian era.

        Like

  3. I liked Virginia Woolf and when I read how she had been so successful, but at the same time, her life was always so truly unhappy. I understand the times and her feelings, and it seemed inevitable the way she ended her life. I have a post on my blog about her and how easily it is to be pushed into ways of living that were not right for her. I went through some of this when I was young and wanted to go to a university and become a nurse, a military nurse when I graduated. But all my mother could see was that I needed to take shorthand and typing, become a secretary and meet a man and get married and have children. I never would have wanted to live my life that way, and it was a long time before I got freed of that unhappy and abusive marriage and got out on my own. Eventually I DID go to college and do the things I wanted to (except I realized I was not going to become a nurse). I did have a lot of exciting careers and my own businesses, and I am now going to be 78 this November. I have lived a life better than I could have imagined, but I can so relate to someone who was held back from being who she wanted to be by the times. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Virginia’s melancholy is said to have played a huge part in her writing style and structure. Though she had to pay the price of life for her unstable moods. What I love in her writing, is the way she molds the pain to words, the metaphors and allegories that she uses so often and the realistic imagery that she weaves from each sentence.
      Anne, I could feel the pain inside you. I am so happy that you were able to trump the past tribulations and DID achieve what you yearned for. The times were different when you were young, I could understand.
      Wishing you health and happiness always. 🙂

      Like

    1. She is so so difficult for me too. I take almost twice to thrice the time I would normally have invested for straghtforward books, having to refer the net for each sentence, sometimes.
      Her sentences are so long. Yet, the way her language transports the reader inside her mind, is unbelievable 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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