To the Lighthouse, which Virginia Woolf published in 1927, takes place on the Isle of Skye, the northernmost island in the Inner Hebrides in Scotland. The setting is, however, generally considered to bear more resemblance to St. Ives, in Cornwall, where Virginia Woolf spent many of her summers growing up.
The landscape of Skye plays an important role in To the Lighthouse, illustrating, reinforcing, and paralleling many of the novel's themes. The novel is concerned with the passage of time, and the way in which human life is enfolded into the larger cycles or progression of the natural world. This is particularly apparent in Part II ("Time Passes"), when major human events, like the death of Mrs. Ramsay, are bracketed within in a larger, naturalistic narrative. In the same way, the powerful setting of the rocky coastline enfolds the Ramsay family at their summer home, the history of the beach and the mountains a magnificent backdrop for the small and important human drama that plays out inside it.
The lighthouse itself, a key element of the setting, also plays an important role in the novel. The lighthouse stands in for something unknown, longed for, and ultimately unattainable. As a site, it generates many of the emotions that are so important in the novel, and which, elsewhere, are revealed in relation to Mrs. Ramsay's death, or Lily Briscoe's painting. In this way, the lighthouse helps create and magnify some of the complex emotions related to other actions in the novel.