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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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on 21 December 2015
This was my first Virginia Woolf novel. I was expecting a Joycean stream-of-consciousness effort but in fact it was quite an easy read. Woolf's inner-voice style may have been shockingly modern at the time, but it's not at all difficult by the standards of today. The book does a great job of creating an atmosphere of languid, privileged, middle-class boredom, while remaining interesting for the reader with its insights into the thoughts of characters from a disappeared era. It's a bit like wandering around a country house owned the the National Trust or English Heritage and trying to put yourself into the minds of the people who lived there.
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on 4 September 2011
Although I love this book, I would not recommend purchase of the Kindle edition (listed on Amazon as published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). I recently downloaded this and, although cheap, the text contains many errors which in places make the book unreadable. It's as if the text has been scanned and nobody has sense-checked the document to filter out scanning errors. The Penguin Modern Classics edition for the Kindle may be a better buy.
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on 17 April 2007
This is not a review about the novel written by Woolf. *It's about this edition being very hard reading, because the book has been shortened down to just 154 pages (other editions have as much as up to 300 pages). This means that the typing used are very small, there are almost no air between the lines, and A LOT of text printed on each page. I think this might be for consideration for students, like myself. On the other hand, this edition is cheaper than other versions. Now knowing the reason.
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on 8 April 2001
To The Lighthouse is a novel that not only focuses purely on human nature but transports the reader through the ether for an amazing journey from consciousness to consciousness.
The first part of the book follows the Ramsey family's life one summers day, in their holiday house on the Isle of Skye, in the early 1900s.
From the beginning of the book we learn of James Ramsey's desire to visit the lighthouse they all gaze at from their front window. Sadly, the trip does not take place until the second part of the book, further on in time, after the Great War and after several members of the mysterious family have passed away.
The reader experiences the thoughts and emotions of all the characters first hand and as the plot is so simple, the Ramseys and their guests take the stage. You almost feel you are sitting at the table to dinner with them at one point.
Having already read Orlando, I had an idea of Woolf's style, for someone who has not read Woolf before may find this book a little daunting and have second thoughts once into the first chapter.
The book is no doubt unusual, but at its time it was an innovation in English literature and I must agree this novel is no doubt her most famous piece, due to its sheer brilliance.
There are not many books that can leave such a thought provoking impression on you upon closure.
To The Lighthouse does.
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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)
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