on 10 February 2002
To the Lighthouse is Virginia Woolf's fifth novel and one of her most widely read. In three parts, it tells the story of the Ramsay family before and after the First World War: The first one describes a September day spent by the family and some of their friends on the Isle of Skye. The second part deals with the change in the holiday residence and the gradual decline of the house in the following ten years as well as with the life and the fate of the family members. In the last part, Woolf tells us how Mr. Ramsay and two of his children come back after the long absence and how the journey to the lighthouse promised ten years ago finally takes place.
With her usual gift of understanding and reflecting people's thoughts and feelings, fears and longings, griefs and joys, Virginia Woolf steps into the background and leaves it to the characters' reflections to tell the story of their life in an astonishing and beautifully lyrical way.
We read about childhood, marriage, loss and death, grief and love, but also about British society and patriarchal family values during the transition from Victorianism to the Modern times.
I really enjoyed reading To the Lighthouse, because Virginia Woolf's knows, like nobody else, how to combine the thematic challenges she sets herself with a beautiful fluent and lyrical style. What is striking is the identification of the author with the inner state of her characters. You just can't stop reading and deeply regret having reached the final page of the novel.
on 9 August 2009
The plot of this book on the surface does not seem necessarily like it would engender a classic: a family with a caustic father, a loving mother and a youngest son who despises his father and in this particular instance wants to visit a lighthouse out in the ocean, a desire his father opposes. However, Woolf infuses this story with her fabulous (I think) writing style and a breadth of insights and observations that leave one fascinated and thinking throughout. Her writing style includes long sentences and a flow consciousness that some might find too burdensome. Somehow her writing reminds me of Sylvia Plath, with that same brilliance of wordplay. Quite simply it is a great book.
on 21 December 2009
This is an incredible book and one which, along with Joyce and T.S. Eliot, was instrumental in the shaping of the modernist movement. the book is split into three sections, 'The Window', 'Time Passes' and 'The Lighthouse' and within these, Woolf develops the characters, the Ramsays and their guests with a brilliant stream-of-conscience technique in the former and latter sections. This gives a huge insight into the thoughts of both young and old and a highly perceptive take on the relationships between family and friends. This novel style of writing, 'mining behind the characters' as Woolf calls it, is given even greater drama through its contrast with the middle section, 'Time passes' which uses the standard Victorian objective narrator - though even this is modified and developed into an unusual 'voice'. This book is partially autobiographical, with the location and Mr Ramsay in particular, strongly mirroring aspects of Woolf's own life. There is minor feminist note running throughout, though this is largely hidden unless specifically looked for. this is a great book and worth reading. the style is unusual - some sentences are over a page long, nevertheless this shouldn't deter people from a book which seamlessly and beautifully mingles the thoughts of a whole host of characters who are perfectly captured as humans. The book shows how short our lives are, how brief the moment, and it is this, the ephemeral moment, which is so brilliantly shown.
on 8 January 2007
Is it a cliche to argue that books can alter your life? I firmly believe that 'To The Lighthouse'(TTL) does. I first read this when I was 14 and rather uneducated Literature wise, but I believe this book is what sparked off my interest in Literature, and I've gone back to read TTL repeatedly and I am yet to be bored by it.
The plot is basic. It centers around the lives of a family who holiday up in Skye one long summer. The book is split up into 3 sections. There is relatively little action in the whole of the novel. In fact, I'd say about 50% of the novel is in 1 day or afternoon, and about 10% of the novel skips time about 10 years.
To really get to grips with TTL it is essential you come to the novel with an open mind. Really appreciate the focalisation on individuals. Woolf is famous for her place in the stream of conciousness movement which included Joyce etc. The beauty of this novel comes from the interactions between different characters. She can focus on the thoughts of the young son in the family, then she can zoom out and focus on the reactionary thoughts of the mother who is engaged in conversation with her son.
Moments like these are what makes TTL a masterpiece. If you haven't read any Woolf then I would recommend TTL as a good initiation. You could read 'Mrs Dalloway' which receives more publicity, but frankly I find it slightly dull.
TTL, however, is far from it and I firmly believe that this will be a book that comes back to haunt you long after you close it.
on 22 February 2001
To the Lighthouse was my first Virginia Woolf book, and I did enjoy it, although I was slightly taken aback by the difficulty of the stream-of-consciousness style. It is probably helpful to read some research on the author, or at least to be a little familiar with her work, before approaching this book. Within Virginia Woolf's books, I believe that To the Lighthouse is rated as "average" difficulty, so it probably should not be the first to read, as I did.
In any case, it is an excellent novel from a literary point of view; it is beautifully well written and projects intense feelings on the reader. The book should not be approached as an ordinary novel; you should not expect a conventional plot, because that is not what the writer is aiming at. Instead, you will be able to feel as if you were part of each character, which is a breath-taking experience.
on 21 February 2011
Juliet Stevenson reads this perfectly. Speaking very clearly, she injects the right amount of emotion, rhythm, stress and intonation into the reading. She brings the book to life, and makes it very easy to follow.
The book itself deals with the passing of time; how artists, philosophers and scientists worry about being remembered for their work; and how women are remembered through their children.
The central female character, Mrs Ramsay, provides emotional support to the men around her. She feels the "sterility of men", and how the "whole effort of merging, and flowing and creating" rests with her.
The other important female character, Lily Briscoe, is an artist, who does not marry. She struggles with her art, and fears that after her death her paintings will be discarded, destroyed, or "hung in the attics" unnoticed. By taking strength from her memory of Mrs Ramsay, she is finally able to produce a painting of significance.
The youngest son, James Ramsay, is reliant on the attention of his mother, but yearns for the approval of his father.
The book ends with James Ramsay finally receiving his father's approval, just as Lily Briscoe finally succeeds in painting what she sees and feels.
This audiobook runs to 7 hours 39 minutes, on 6 CDs.
In what many call her most autobiographical novel, Virginia Woolf creates a warm and intimate portrait of a family which resembles her own-her parents, brothers and sisters-and the friends with whom they enjoy their summer vacation on the Isle of Skye in the Hebrides. Mrs. Ramsay, the mother of eight children, is the linchpin of the fictional family. She adores her husband, and though she often feels she fails him, she persists in smoothing his way so that he can work, managing the house and children, and inviting large groups of his students and friends to visit. Often strict and always right, Mr. Ramsay loves being the center of praise, but rarely praises others, and is often insensitive to the hopes and dreams of his children.
In Part I, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, their children, several women and men (including philosophy students), for whom Mrs. Ramsay enjoys acting as a matchmaker, all contribute their thoughts as Virginia Woolf explores some of her favorite themes during the course of one day on the island. Mrs. Ramsay's running commentary on her everyday life emphasizes her vision of the role of women and opens the question of whether or not it is possible for women to find a meaningful role in life outside of marriage. The importance of the thinking life-with peripheral attention paid also to the artistically creative life-reflects the intellectual climate of England in the lead-up to the First World War, and the desire of many thinkers to create a significant intellectual legacy which will survive them.
Part II, a brief bridge, ten years later, focuses on the changes which have taken place. The war has begun and ended. Many key characters have died, and Mr. Ramsay, devastated, also fears that all his writing will have been for naught. In Part Three, what's left of the family returns to the house on Skye for a visit after a ten year absence. Perhaps showing his personal growth and desire to atone for his previous insensitivity to James's desires, Mr. Ramsay now insists on making the trip to the lighthouse with teenagers James and his younger sister Cam, though James is no longer even interested in going. James commands the boat, however, and receives unaccustomed praise. Back on land, Lily Briscoe, a young woman artist for whom Mrs. Ramsay was hoping to be a matchmaker, decides to begin work again on an unfinished portrait of Mrs. Ramsay, and as she works, she also realizes a new kind of freedom for herself.
Taking a modernist approach, Woolf has no primary narrator, instead slipping in and out of the minds of several characters as they think about life and observe life around them. Her modified stream-of-consciousness allows her to create a vibrant, free-flowing atmosphere which she peoples with unique characters who have revealed their innermost thoughts. The overall effect is powerful, and Woolf's often lyrical prose conveys the sights and sounds of life on the island at the same time that it also enlivens the highly philosophical but very personal portrait of family life. No unifying plot and no unifying voice tie the three sections of the novel together, and many of the early characters play little role in the ending, yet in her hands the novel "works." Woolf captures not only the passage of time but also the effects of time on all of her characters as they continue their lives, however changed, following in the footsteps of experimental writers like James Joyce, and taking literary chances which place her work with the best of the twentieth century. Mary Whipple
Orlando: A Biography (Oxford World's Classics)
on 9 April 2014
This is one of those "must read" books. There has been so much written about it that it is impossible to add anything new.
Nothing really happens, or so it seems. All, or nearly all actions are in the mind. Virginia Woolf paints a complex but starkly accurate picture of human interaction. She covers the full range of emotions and feelings - love, hatred, vanity, jealousy, alienation, failure.
Among the philosophical musings she paints staggeringly beautiful pictures of people and places -minutely observed. The language is a delight. Often I lost sight of who was thinking/saying what. Far from being an annoyance, I just found myself lost in the beauty of her writing. A truly great work of genius that defies pigeonholing.
I have always loved this book; it is beautifully written and is clear and concise. As I write this though this book has come into the news due to the lighthouse in the story. Although the story here takes place on the Isle of Skye it is accepted that the inspiration for this is actually based on a house that Virginia’s parents rented in St Ives, Cornwall, and the lighthouse is in fact Godrevy Lighthouse. With plans being proposed to build an apartment block in the area there is a bit of an uproar over whether this will damage the view and obscure the lighthouse from view. Who would have thought that Virginia Woolf’s book would cause uproar in the following century over the placement of a building?
There are a number of editions of this on the market, and thus on this site there are numerous reviews, from five to one star, and admittedly some will not like this. Some of the lower starred reviews have some justification, whereas others are complete hogwash. Firstly this book has somehow got a bit of a reputation of being hard to read, and complex – it is not, in fact the actual plot is very simple. This story does employ stream of consciousness from more than one character, but in itself that doesn’t make this hard, however if you are like many people who only have a chance to read to and from work on your commute, this will be very challenging as it is easy to lose your place. If you have time however to read this in bigger chunks, then all you need is a bit of concentration and some peace and quiet. The other thing that people complain about here is the lack of action, but then this isn’t a thriller, or an adventure tale, it is about life, and the most exciting thing that has happened to me this week was that I cut myself shaving the other day; I’m sure a lot of people haven’t even had that much excitement lately.
The story itself is broken up into three parts, the first part being when the Ramsey family and acquaintances are holidaying in the house on Skye. The second part is about the empty house and how things change and need repairing and maintaining as it stands empty for a number of years. The reason why there is a large gap is that different members of the family have got married, died and so on, as well as the First World War taking place. The final part of this book is when the Ramsey’s and others eventually return to the house. As I have already mentioned as such there is no action here, but this draws you in on another level and that is more thoughtful and introspective. Remember there is nothing flashy about reading Woolf, she wrote for adults and she expected adults to understand what she wrote. So here she makes us think of relationships, from friendships to marriage and how these gradually or even drastically change over the years, also our perception of ourselves, and how others perceive us. There is also the thought of time and how everything starts to decay, fall apart and alter up unto death. And there is also the thought here of how certain things change for us as we grow older and more experienced.
So, in all this is an easy read provided you have some peace and quiet to sit down and read it, and is very rewarding. I have already listed some of the things that this book will make you ponder on, but there are more if you read and think about this. Unlike James Joyce who took the stream of consciousness idea to one ultimate end and thus in effect boxed himself into a corner Virginia Woolf experimented more with the form, and thus was able to use it in a different manner.
There are several paperback editions of "To the Lighthouse" currently in print, the main three being published by Penguin, Oxford World's Classic's, and Vintage. All sit around the same price, with the only tangible difference between them being the introduction - and if you're writing an essay on Woolf that introduction can be extremely useful.
Several of us have pooled our different copies and read the OUP, Penguin and Vintage introductions, and we've found the Oxford World's Classics edition is streets ahead of the competition!!! Because David Bradshaw's lucid, scholarly and extremely readable introductory essay at the front of the book summarises current approaches to this major novel in a reader-friendly manner.
Longer, more systematic and more probing than the alternatives, Bradshaw's introduction contextualises Woolf's writing, sketches in her own biographical background, then identifies major themes in the novel, explaining what to look out for, and how to understand certain thematic threads running through the work. It also has a good short bibliography; it even flags the pages where key passages occur. Just the thing if you are in a rush to get that class paper done (as the four of us agree).