(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Ramsay family portrait is one that was intimately familiar to Virginia Woolf’s Victorian sensibilities. She presents an outwardly functional social structure. Beneath the surface of her characters’ actions and spoken words, however, rest contempt, frustration, and dissatisfaction with an outmoded code of behavior that nevertheless continues to be enforced.

To the Lighthouse is a novel propelled almost entirely by internal thoughts. The physical activities undertaken by the characters serve merely as jumping-off points for Woolf to comment upon and interpret the underlying realities. The voices of Lily Briscoe and Mrs. Ramsay most clearly delineate the problems that Woolf chooses to address. Both display reservations and confusion regarding their chosen codes of behavior. Lily proudly rejects Victorian conventions. Opting to remain single, she can paint and develop platonic relations with men primarily because she refuses to compromise herself by either aiding insecure men, such as Mr. Ramsay, or indulging the egos of overweening men, such as Charles Tansley. Unfortunately, however, Lily suffers insecurities about her bold differentness. Mrs. Ramsay, on the other hand, recognizes that society is sexually polarized, and she sees it as her duty to uphold the system. Consequently, she suppresses her individuality to serve the dominant male society.

Mrs. Ramsay’s sacrifices are not without remorse; she frequently registers...

(The entire section is 515 words.)