To the Lighthouse

by Virginia Woolf

Start Free Trial

Can we talk about To The Lighthouse as an example of Bildungsroman?  

We can understand To the Lighthouse as a bildungsroman by focusing on the figure of Lily Briscoe. Lily, partially unformed in part one, grows to full maturity in the third part of the novel. She lets go of the ghost of Mrs. Ramsey. After she lets go, Lily can finish her painting, which is a symbol of her own completion.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A bildungsroman is a story in which a person, usually young, grows to maturity.

By focusing on Lily Briscoe, the character in the novel roughly based on Woolf herself, we can understand To the Lighthouse as a bildungsroman. Lily, whose consciousness is on display in both the first and third parts of the novel—especially in the long stream-of-consciousness passages in part three—matures between those parts.

Lily starts out unformed as the novel opens. She adores Mrs. Ramsey and is working on a painting she is not yet able to finish. Her inability to finish the painting is a symbol that she herself is still unfinished. She loves the idea of being in love and views with envy the romance of Paul and Minta, which results in their engagement. She toys with the idea of marrying Mr. Bankes, something Mrs. Ramsey would very much like to orchestrate. While Lily leans away from marriage and into her work as an artist as the first part ends, her future is still uncertain.

A decade later, when she returns to the Isle of Skye for the reunion held long after Mrs. Ramsey's death, she has matured into the person she is going to be—an unmarried artist who derives satisfaction fromher work, even if she expects to be forgotten after her death. She is content to be a single woman. Yet she returns because she has unfinished business. At the island, she is finally able to fully grieve and then let go of the ghost of Mrs. Ramsey and all the traditional womanhood she represents. Lily's growth into maturity is symbolized in her finally being able to complete her painting as the novel ends.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team