What does Virginia Woolf biographer Hermione Lee think about To the Lighthouse?
In her award winning 1996 biography of Virginia Woolf, Oxford University Professor and literary critic Hermione Lee spends less time offering critiques of Woolf's writing and more time investigating the author's troubled life. However, she is masterful at using Woolf's own writing to inform her own when she sees fit. Commenting on the changes in America at the end of the 1800's, when the Victorian era was rapidly going out of style, Lee turns to Woolf's To the Lighthouse; quoted by reviewer Daphne Merkin in a 1997 New York Times Book Review of Lee's biography of Woolf, Lee had this to say:
Like Lily Briscoe conjuring up Mrs. Ramsay, we can superimpose, on to the image of the four young Stephens standing outside the hedge in the dusk, the image of summers of 20 years before. We can take the ghosts, turning them back into children, through the escallonia hedge . . . and back into the 1880's. The sun comes out, the house and garden are full of children and adults in Victorian clothes -- family, visitors -- walking and playing cricket and picking flowers and talking and reading. Julia Stephen is sitting there, casting her shadow on the step.
Interestingly, although Lee is more than competent at turning a sentence of lovely prose, and she is not afraid to infer or speculate on what she believes about Ms. Woolf based on her extensive research, she does not seek to romanticize, nor demonize any aspect of Woolf's often problematic and unhappy life. Rather, according to Merkin, she is able to humanize someone whose life and work have become the stuff of legend.