To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf
(Full name Adeline Virginia Stephen Woolf) English novelist, essayist, and diarist.
The following entry presents criticism of Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse (1927). See also, Virginia Woolf Criticism.
One of the most prominent literary figures of the twentieth century, Woolf is widely admired for her technical innovations in the novel, most notably her development of stream-of-consciousness narrative. In To the Lighthouse (1927) Woolf sought to come to terms with her parents' stifling Victorian marriage and events of her own childhood, as well as to explore such feminist issues as the necessity, or even desirability, of marriage for women and the difficulties for women in pursuing a career in the arts. A striking mix of autobiographical elements, philosophical questions, and social concerns, To the Lighthouse is generally considered to be Woolf’s greatest fictional achievement.
Plot and Major Characters
To the Lighthouse is divided into three parts: “The Window,” “Time Passes,” and “The Lighthouse.” Despite the inherent complexities of Woolf's many themes and stream-of-consciousness narrative, the plot of the novel is simple. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, their children, and numerous house guests—including Lily Briscoe, the central consciousness of “The Lighthouse” section—are vacationing in the remote Hebrides islands. An expedition to a nearby lighthouse is put off by Mr. Ramsay, and ten years later, after the deaths of Mrs. Ramsay and two of the Ramsays' children, the trip is successfully executed by Mr. Ramsay and his children James and Cam. “The Window” is the longest section of the book, but it takes place in a single day and focuses primarily on the character Mrs. Ramsay, a beautiful, placid, upper-middle-class Victorian wife and mother who devotes herself to family and friends. The years between the planned trip to the lighthouse and the actual event are poetically recounted in the short section “Time Passes,” in which the effects of time are illustrated in a description of the slow decay of the Ramsays’ empty vacation home, combined with flashes of imagery of World War I, the physical aging of the characters, and death. Lily Briscoe becomes the dominant character in the third section, “The Lighthouse.” A struggling artist who never married—despite Mrs. Ramsay’s attempts to play matchmaker for her—Lily mourns the loss of Mrs. Ramsay, whom she alternately adores and misunderstands, and attempts to resolve her feelings about Mr. Ramsay, whom she considers at times overly philosophical, arrogant, and detached. Lily also must come to terms with her own decision not to marry and to pursue work as an artist, despite social pressure to lead a more conventional life. In the final scene of the novel, Mr. Ramsay and his children reach the lighthouse at last, and Lily finishes the painting she has been working on throughout the novel, both acts signifying the characters’ attainment of an integrated vision of life, art, and death.
After the novel’s publication, Woolf wrote of her depiction of her parents’ marriage in To the Lighthouse, “I was obsessed by them both, unhealthily; and writing of them was a necessary act.” Her own mother had died suddenly when Woolf was thirteen. Considered a model wife and mother, Julia Stephen was known to exhaust herself regularly to please her demanding husband, the writer and intellectual figure Leslie Stephen. But Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay are heavily fictionalized portrayals of Woolf’s parents, and neither they nor the other characters in To the Lighthouse are meant to fully represent the Stephen family; rather, they are extremely complex, symbolic, and, some say, mythical figures who are not easily categorized. Literary theorists are sharply divided over the deeper meanings of Woolf’s characters. Some interpret Mrs. Ramsay as the embodiment of the feminine ideal and Mr. Ramsay as that of the masculine ideal—the pure, elemental forces of the genders. Feminist critics dispute this notion, positing instead that the Ramsays’ marriage is typical of most marriages in the pre-World War I period, forcing the wife into the role of “angel of the house”—unquestioning, supportive, generous, and self-sacrificing at any cost to personal ambition and satisfaction. These critics consider Mr. Ramsay an overbearing and domineering patriarch who drives his wife to the brink of feeble-mindedness. Still others surmise just the opposite: namely, that Mrs. Ramsay is a cold-hearted, social-climbing harpy, and Mr. Ramsay a hen-pecked husband. Regardless of conflicting interpretations of the Ramsays, Lily Briscoe is generally considered representative of Woolf’s strong feminist principles, particularly in her refusal to marry and her commitment to painting, despite the urging of others to abandon art. Overriding concerns of To the Lighthouse and all of its characters are death, mourning, and the inexorable passage of time. When Mrs. Ramsay dies, she takes with her the sense of order in the family; children die, Lily and Mr. Ramsay fall into abiding grief, and even the house itself declines into disrepair. The consummation of the trip to the lighthouse and Lily’s completion of her painting, with a single line down the center representing Mrs. Ramsay, signify the triumph of order over disorder and life over death and grief.
To the Lighthouse has sustained critical predominance in Woolf’s canon since its publication in 1927. It is widely considered her most successful use of stream-of-consciousness narrative, nonlinear plot, and interior monologue, crisply identifying characters without the formal structure of chronological time and omniscient narration, as well as her most perfectly realized fictional reflection on mortality, subjectivity, and the passage of time. The novel is often described as an elegy to Woolf’s mother, and as such it is thought to be a complex and poetic character study, incorporating all facets of personality, including emotions dark and hopeless. In her diary Woolf recorded her many difficulties in writing To the Lighthouse, including her fears about reliving her parents’ deaths—events that precipitated two of her most devastating emotional breakdowns. But Woolf evidently realized the greater significance of To the Lighthouse beyond its fictional portrayal of her childhood; in a diary entry written during her final revision of the novel in 1926 she wrote, “My present opinion is that it is easily the best of my books,” an assessment with which most critics agree.
The Voyage Out (novel) 1915
Kew Gardens (short stories) 1919
Night and Day (novel) 1919
Monday or Tuesday (short stories) 1921
Jacob's Room (novel) 1922
Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown (criticism) 1924
The Common Reader (criticism) 1925
Mrs. Dalloway (novel) 1925
To the Lighthouse (novel) 1927
Orlando (novel) 1928
A Room of One's Own (essays) 1929
The Waves (novel) 1931
The Second Common Reader (criticism) 1932
Flush A Biography (biography) 1933
The Years (novel) 1937
Three Guineas (essays) 1938
Roger Fry (biography) 1940
Between the Acts (novel) 1941
The Death of the Moth, and Other Essays (essays) 1942
A Haunted House, and Other Short Stories (short stories) 1943
The Moment, and Other Essays (essays) 1947
The Captain's Death Bed, and Other Essays (essays) 1950
Granite and Rainbow (essays) 1958
Nurse Lugton’s Golden Thimble [also published as Nurse Lugton's Curtain] (juvenile)...
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SOURCE: “Mythic Patterns in ‘To the Lighthouse,’” in PMLA, Vol. LXXI, No. 4, September 1956, pp. 547–62.
[In the following essay, Blotner argues for a mythic reading of To the Lighthouse, maintaining that both a coherent narrative plot and the final meaning of the novel can be located in the character of Mrs. Ramsay, who, according to Blotner, embodies the myth of the “Primordial Goddess” that includes the triad of Rhea, Demeter, and Persephone.]
The impulses and convictions which gave birth to Three Guineas and A Room of One's Own carried over into Virginia Woolf's fiction. Their most powerful expression is found in To the Lighthouse. But something, probably her strict and demanding artistic conscience, prevented their appearance in the form of the intellectual and argumentative feminism found in the first two books. In this novel Virginia Woolf's concept of woman's role in life is crystallized in the character of Mrs. Ramsay, whose attributes are those of major female figures in pagan myth. The most useful myth for interpreting the novel is that of the Primordial Goddess, who “is threefold in relation to Zeus: mother (Rhea), wife (Demeter), and daughter (Persephone).” One of the major sources of the myth is the Homeric “Hymn to Demeter,” in which the poet compares Rhea with her daughter Demeter, and makes it clear that Demeter...
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SOURCE: “Art in ‘To the Lighthouse,’” in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. VIII, No. 2, Summer, 1962, pp. 127–36.
[In the following essay, Cohn describes Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe as “magnetic poles,” representing, respectively, the forces of life and art.]
When Mr. Ramsay lands on the lighthouse rock, Lily Briscoe finishes her painting. All critics agree on the intimate and essential relation between these final events of Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse.1 Several critics have commented, too, on how Lily Briscoe's painting structures the book.2 But there has not been adequate appreciation of the way in which the theme of art functions in To The Lighthouse. Neither Leonard Woolf's term “psychological poem” nor Virginia Woolf's own hesitant suggestion of “elegy” succeeds in classifying the book, for, in part at least, it is a work of art about art—as are Hamlet and Don Quixote; as is much of the creation of artists so various as Yeats, Braque, Pirandello, Mann.
To The Lighthouse, serving to exorcise her parents' dominance,3 absorbing her by the opportunities it provided for perfecting her “method,” astonished its author by the spontaneous fluidity of its composition. In her diary Virginia Woolf comments on the “quick and flourishing attack on To The Lighthouse,” on her “dashing...
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SOURCE: “Vision Without Promise,” in Man in the Modern Novel, University of Washington Press, 1964, pp. 96–122.
[In the following essay, Hardy argues that Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay represent the “Masculine Principle and the Feminine Principle” and, as such, symbolize the tension between subject and object and their respective places in reality.]
It would seem impossible to construct the problem of human identity apart from consideration of the mysteries of sex and procreation. The sexual character of the human individual, however inevitably mixed, no one person purely male or purely female—and, indeed, this indecisiveness only serves to emphasize the importance of the dichotomy—is radical. Chiefly in being aware of this character in other persons, which is the procreative potentiality, whether affirmed or denied, deprived or richly endowed, the capacity to bring forth many out of the one, do we recognize the otherness of ourselves.
Virginia Woolf's novel [To The Lighthouse] has as its ultimate theme precisely what Andrew Ramsay defines, in answer to Lily Briscoe's question, as the burden of his father's philosophical preoccupation—“subject and object and the nature of reality.” But Lily is speaking both as woman and as artist when she replies that “Heavens, she had no notion what that meant,” and is instructed then by Andrew to “think of a kitchen table …...
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SOURCE: “‘To the Lighthouse’: Death, Mourning, and Transfiguration,” in Literature and Psychology, Vol. XXI, No. 3, 1971, pp. 115–31.
[In the following essay, Corsa discusses the ways in which To the Lighthouse follows the typical psychological patterns of mourning and Woolf's own efforts to come to terms with the persistent presence of “death in life.”]
In this present year of 1970 Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse has had two interpretive studies that seem to me to have rather impressively explored two important levels of the novel: the conscious and the unconscious. Jean O. Love's Worlds in Consciousness1 examines Mrs. Woolf's novels in the light of developmental cognitive psychology and devotes two chapters (11 and 12) to a close scrutiny of To The Lighthouse; Harvena Richter's The Inward Voyage2 analyzes what she calls “subjective modes” in the novels making use of Freud and Lesser as well as of Piaget, Cassirer, and Langer. It will be sometime, I think, before either of these studies can be fully apprehended and utilized by readers seeking to understand the spell Mrs. Woolf's novels exerts over them. And though one suspects they do not “have the answer” one also suspects it will be a long while before their work is superseded. They have many too many insights to be other than serious roadblocks for others who have been...
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SOURCE: “Lily Brisco's Painting: A Key to Personal Relationships in ‘To the Lighthouse,’” in Criticism, Vol. XIII, No. 1, Winter, 1971, pp. 26–38.
[In the following essay, Proudfit contends that the meaning of To the Lighthouse, and particularly the figure of Mrs. Ramsay, is largely contained in the post-Impressionistic quality of Lily Briscoe's painting and in Lily's ambiguous relationship to Mrs. Ramsay.]
It has become almost commonplace among critics of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse to regard Mrs. Ramsay, unquestionably one of the most perfect statements of feminine sensibility, intuition, and maternal comfort in literature, as a magnetic life force, entering and irradiating the lives of those around her, which must somehow be fulfilled and immortalized through the Ramsay family's final pilgrimage to the lighthouse. Even Jean Guiguet, author of the most recent and certainly the best full-scale work on Mrs. Woolf's writings to date, Virginia Woolf and Her Works, sees the voyage of Mr. Ramsay, Cam, and James as a validation of Mrs. Ramsay's victory over death, as a validation of her ability to haunt the pages of the novel “with a presence that echoes the material permanence of the lighthouse.”1 The counter-interpretation of Mrs. Ramsay, that offered in 1958 by Glenn Pedersen,2 regarding Mrs. Ramsay as a dominating, selfish, suffocating power...
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SOURCE: “The Tension of Stalemate,” in Chaos in the Novel/The Novel in Chaos, Schocken Books, 1974, pp. 120–140.
[In the following essay, Seltzer examines the inherent lack of integrity and stability in the human personality and the resultant personal and social distance and, ultimately, chaos as chronicled by Woolf in To the Lighthouse.]
Many contemporary novelists have surrendered a good deal or all of their artistic control to the belief that a chaotic vision of life can be truly represented only by a chaotic form. To the extent that artifice is falsification, its presence would seem to undermine the confusion that the author is trying to project. But must all aesthetic order dissolve before a philosophical sense of disorder can be communicated? If so, then the novel may be as dead as it has been rumored to be. But if the novel is flexible enough, it may be saved by the very artifice which has threatened to stifle it. In short, the novel can provide illusions of devastating experience without subjecting itself to the inevitable destruction that the experience itself might lead to. The trick is to know how to handle artistic freedom—and that in itself implies a discipline that many contemporaries are evading or willfully abdicating. Just as Marlow in Heart of Darkness can peer into Kurtz's abyss without falling into it, so the reader can be mentally jarred by the appearance of...
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SOURCE: “The Waters of Annihilation: Symbols and Double Vision in ‘To the Lighthouse,’” in Form and Meaning in Fiction, The University of Georgia Press, 1975, pp. 340–58.
[In the following essay, Friedman argues in favor of multiple interpretations of the symbolism in To the Lighthouse,particularly because of Woolf's belief in the supremacy of the individual's inner life over any artificially imposed outer reality.]
So much depends then, thought Lily Briscoe, looking at the sea, which had scarcely a stain on it, … upon distance: whether people are near or far from us.
(To the Lighthouse, p. 284)1
While there is general agreement that To the Lighthouse centers on questions of order and chaos, permanence and change, detachment and involvement, intellection and intuition, male and female, critical unanimity disappears in the actual tracing out of these themes and the analysis of the patterns of imagery evoking them. Thus, for example, it is clear that the simultaneous completion of Lily Briscoe's painting and the arrival of Mr. Ramsay, James, and Cam at the Lighthouse are somehow functioning together to finish the book, but no two commentators have agreed as to what that function means as an ending of what has gone before. S. H. Derbyshire claims that Mr. Ramsay is undergoing a transition from...
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SOURCE: “Light in ‘To the Lighthouse,’” in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 23, No. 3, October, 1977, pp. 377–89.
[In the following essay, Stewart explores the various meanings of darkness and light in the three sections of To the Lighthouse.]
The essence of the Lighthouse symbol is Light itself. In “The Window,” Light is the positive force of visionary consciousness; in “Time Passes,” it is the negative counterpart of departed consciousness; and in “The Lighthouse,” it is the reanimation of consciousness in a creative rhythm that seeks spiritual and aesthetic Oneness.
At its first appearance in To the Lighthouse,1 the Lighthouse is a rigid vertical dominating horizontal planes of land and sea. It is seen by Mrs. Ramsay, as part of “the view … that her husband loved” (p. 25): “… the whole bay spread before them and Mrs. Ramsay could not help exclaiming, ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ For the great plateful of blue water was before her; the hoary Lighthouse, distant, austere, in the midst; and on the right, as far as the eye could see, fading and falling, in soft low pleats, the green sand dunes with the wild flowing grasses on them, which always seemed to be running away into some moon country, uninhabited of men” (Ibid.). She is aware of a man-made, intellectual reality at the center of her landscape, but also of natural,...
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SOURCE: “Spaces: ‘To the Lighthouse,’” in The Author in His Work: Essays on a Problem in Criticism, edited by Louis L. Martz and Aubrey Williams, Yale University Press, 1978, pp. 375–89.
[In the following essay, Gregor argues that the autobiographical elements in To the Lighthouse ultimately compromise the novel's success because of Woolf's difficulty in distancing herself from her narrative and her characters.]
I, I, I,—how we have lost the secret of saying that.1
On Wednesday, 28, November 1928, a year after the publication of To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary:
Father's birthday. He would have been 96, 96, yes, today; and could have been 96, like other people one has known: but mercifully was not. His life would have entirely ended mine. What would have happened? No writing, no books;—inconceivable.
I used to think of him and mother daily; but writing the Lighthouse laid them in my mind. And now he comes back sometimes, but differently. (I believe this to be true—that I was observed by them both, unhealthily; and writing of them was a necessary act.) He comes back now more as a contemporary. I must read him some day. I wonder if I can...
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SOURCE: “Mysticism and Atheism in ‘To the Lighthouse,’” in Studies in the Novel, Vol. 13, Winter, 1981, pp. 408–23.
[In the following essay, Corner discusses what he sees as Woolf's intersection of atheism and mysticism in To the Lighthouse, finding that the characters come to have faith in a greater pattern but still recognize the universe as other.]
Virginia Woolf was an atheist: she was also a mystic. Both the mysticism and the atheism are there in some words that she wrote not long before her death. She is talking about the sudden shocks that life delivers, and of how she no longer finds in them “an enemy hidden behind the cotton wool of daily life”; instead, they are “a token of some real thing behind appearances. … From this I reach what I might call a philosophy … that behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we—I mean all human beings—are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art. … But there is no Shakespeare, there is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God. …”1 The point of this article is to consider her atheism and her mysticism together; only in this way does it seem to me possible to understand either. I shall concentrate on To the Lighthouse, though this is not to imply that these issues are ignored elsewhere in her work. The Waves, in particular, touches on...
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SOURCE: “Where the Spear Plants Grew: the Ramsays' Marriage in ‘To the Lighthouse,’” in New Feminist Essays on Virginia Woolf, edited by Jane Marcus, University of Nebraska Press, 1981, pp. 148–69.
[In the following essay, Lilienfeld contends that the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay is founded on Victorian social and personal principles that are destructive to them both and that Woolf, in To the Lighthouse, is attempting to offer an alternative in the third part of the novel.]
They had reached the gap between two clumps of red-hot pokers. … No, they could not share that; they could not say that. … They turned away from the view, and began to walk up the path where the silver-green spear like plants grew, arm in arm. His arm was almost like a young man's arm, Mrs. Ramsay thought, thin and hard, and she thought with delight how strong he still was, though he was over sixty, and how untamed and optimistic. …1
Virginia Woolf projects the Ramsays' relation onto the landscape throughout To the Lighthouse. Here we see that the Ramsays' marriage, based on love, has imperfections like the hedge.2 To associate them in this way with the rootedness of Mrs Ramsay's garden might confuse us as to the soil of their union. Is their relation, so embedded in the flux of the waters, the hills of the land, a perception of...
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SOURCE: “Tables in Trees: Realism in ‘To the Lighthouse,’” in Studies in the Novel, Vol. 16, No. 4, Winter, 1984, pp. 424–434.
[In the following essay, Bassoff argues that in To the Lighthouse realism is centered on individual sight and experience.]
Toward the beginning of To the Lighthouse, young James Ramsay, sitting on the floor cutting out pictures from an illustrated catalogue, endows one of the pictures with all the “heavenly bliss” he feels as his mother speaks.1 As the child is father to the man, moments like these are the prototypes of the Woolfian epiphany or spot of time: the moment when some consciousness—either dramatized within the text or implied by the text—transcends its usual limitations by transcending the usual appearances of the world. Cézanne once made a famous remark that painting from nature is not copying the object but realizing one's sensations. For that reason, as Robert Hughes points out, Cézanne's goal became “presence, not illusion”: “The fruit in the great still-lives of Cézanne's late years … are so weighted with pictorial decision—their rosy surfaces filled, as it were, with thought—that they seem twice as solid as real fruit.2 For Virginia Woolf, similarly, writing from nature is realizing certain psychological states—states of desire, dependency, and conflict—that may be particularly...
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SOURCE: “Color in ‘To the Lighthouse,’” in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 31, Winter, 1985, pp. 438–58.
[In the following essay, Stewart compares Woolf's literary technique in To the Lighthouse with the artistic techniques—particularly the use of color—of painters of the post-Impressionist movement.]
According to Virginia Woolf, “painting and writing … have much in common. The novelist after all wants to make us see. … It is a very complex business, the mixing and marrying of words that goes on, probably unconsciously, in the poet's mind to feed the reader's eye. All great writers are great colourists. …”1 While “sound and sight seem to make equal parts of [her] first impressions,” Woolf stresses their painterly quality.2
In To the Lighthouse, Woolf's search for spiritual essences is expressed in light and color.3 Johannes Itten's metaphysic of light and color illuminates the relation between creative source (Mrs. Ramsay/the Lighthouse) and creative artist (Lily Briscoe/the painting) in Woolf's novel.4 Itten (AC, p. 153) further affirms that “the end and aim of all artistic endeavor is liberation of the spiritual essence of form and color and its release from imprisonment in the world of objects.” Woolf's art does not reach so far toward abstraction, but she does imply that the...
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SOURCE: “‘Robbed of Meaning’: The Work at the Center of ‘To The Lighthouse,’” in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 38, No. 1, Spring, 1992, pp.217–34.
[In the following essay, Emery examines patriarchal and colonialist elements in To the Lighthouse.]
Critiques of “Western feminism” have demonstrated convincingly that much of feminist discourse constructs its subject through processes of exclusion (see, for example, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Chandra T. Mohanty, Biddy Martin and Chandra T. Mohanty, and Gayatri C. Spivak's “Texts” and “Foreword”). A passage from Virginia Woolf's well-known essay “A Room of One's Own” exemplifies the dynamic: “It is one of the great advantages of being a woman that one can pass even a very fine negress without wishing to make an Englishwoman of her” (52). The sentence constitutes its subject—“woman” and “one”—as exclusively English and white. It excludes black women from the category “woman” and presumes to judge them as “very fine” in the same breath that it criticizes masculine imperialist habits of thought.
Woolf's sentence demonstrates the deconstructive dictum that, in opposing a system of power, “one” nevertheless becomes complicit in the system through the structures of language that oppose, exclude, and appropriate. The sentence also, however, enacts the dialogism Mikhail...
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SOURCE: “Language, Subject, Self: Reading the Style of ‘To the Lighthouse,’” in Novel: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 26, No. 2, Winter, 1993, pp. 192–213.
[In the following essay, Saunders discusses Woolf's style in To the Lighthouse and its relation to the notion of self that she constructs.]
I. PRELIMINARY CONSIDERATIONS
The project of this paper is to investigate the relationship of Virginia Woolf's style in To the Lighthouse to concepts of the self—both to establish the significance of this style to the individual “selves” within the novel and to investigate the notion of self in abstracto that is constructed by way of this style. I would emphasize two things from the outset: first, that this is not a paper about how style “parallels” meaning, but about how style itself means and, second, that Woolf's style, like a garden of forking paths, will lead us in various and suggestive directions which cannot be entirely explored within this paper; indeed, many of the notions about the self posited by Woolf's style are of a complexity which should not, in my view, be wrenched into facile resolutions or determinate “statements” about the self. While numerous studies have treated concepts of the self in Woolf's work thematically, and several have made tenuous connections between the affective, non-semantic qualities of language and the...
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SOURCE: “The Window: Knowledge of Other Minds in Virginia Woolf's ‘To the Lighthouse,’” in New Literary History, Vol. 26, Autumn, 1995, pp. 731–53.
[In the following essay, which was originally presented at the Seventeenth International Wittgenstein Symposium in Kirchberg/Wechsel, Austria, in 1994, Nussbaum discusses the ability of people to know and understand the minds of others as Woolf sets forth her theory in To the Lighthouse.]
“How, then, she had asked herself, did one know one thing or another thing about people, sealed as they were?”1 Sitting close to Mrs. Ramsay, “close as she could get” (78), her arms around Mrs. Ramsay's knees, loving her intensely, Lily Briscoe wonders how to get inside her to see the “sacred inscriptions” in her heart, “which if one could spell them out, would teach one everything, but they would never be offered openly, never made public” (79). She searches for a technique by which these internal tablets might be read: “What art was there, known to love or cunning, by which one pressed through into those secret chambers?” (79). The art eludes her, and yet she continues to long for it: “How, then, she had asked herself, did one know one thing or another thing about people, sealed as they were? Only like a bee, drawn by some sweetness or sharpness in the air intangible to touch or taste, one haunted the dome-shaped hive, ranged the...
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SOURCE: “Woolf's Metaphysics of Tragic Vision in ‘To the Lighthouse,’” in Philological Quarterly, Vol. 75, Winter, 1996, pp. 109–32.
[In the following essay, Levy argues that “at the most profound level, To the Lighthouse portrays the journey toward tragic vision, where the object perceived is the transience of the perceiving subject and the tendency of time to efface the structure on which personal stability depends.”]
In “The Brown Stocking,” a much quoted chapter of his celebrated study, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, Eric Auerbach argues that To the Lighthouse inverts the conventional relation in fiction between inner and outer events: “In Virginia Woolf's case the exterior events have actually lost their hegemony, they serve to release and interpret inner events, whereas before her time … inner movements preponderately function to prepare and motivate significant exterior happenings.”1 According to his analysis of the novel, events external to character are subordinate to the subjective musing or “chains of ideas” (477) they evoke, as if the function of the outer world were to provide a stimulus for the inner one: “the exterior objective reality of the momentary present … is nothing but an occasion. … The stress is placed entirely on what the occasion releases, things which are not seen directly...
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Barr, Tina. “Divine Politics: Virginia Woolf’s Journey toward Eleusis in To the Lighthouse.” Boundary 2 20, No. 1 (Spring 1993): 125–45.
Discusses To the Lighthousein terms of the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone in order to locate the novel’s full political and feminist implications.
Barzilai, Shula. “The Politics of Quotation in To the Lighthouse: Mrs. Woolf Recites Mr. Tennyson and Mr. Cowper.” Literature and Psychology XLI, No. 3 (1995): 22–43.
Considers the significance of Woolf’s repetition of passages from Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and Cowper’s “The Castaway” throughout To the Lighthouse.
Beer, Gillian. “Hume, Stephen, and Elegy in To the Lighthouse.” Essays in Criticism XXXIV, No. 1 (January 1984): 33–55.
Examines the meaning of absence in To the Lighthouse and its relation to the elegiac stance of mourning and coming to terms with loss.
Beja, Morris, ed. Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse. London: Macmillan, 1970, 256 p.
Collection of essays on To the Lighthouse; includes background information and first reviews of the novel.
Clark, Miriam Marty. “Consciousness, Stream and Quanta, in To the Lighthouse.”...
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