To the Lighthouse

by Virginia Woolf

Start Free Trial

Form and Content

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 563

Departing from the nineteenth century formalities of literary realism, Virginia Woolf pioneered, along with James Joyce and William Faulkner, the stream-of-consciousness technique employed in To the Lighthouse. Composed of three discrete but intimately related sections, the novel provides a poetic examination of English Victorian domesticity and social roles.

Woolf stealthily weaves through her characters’ psyches to reveal realities that are not necessarily apparent in either their actions or their speech. Section 1, aptly entitled “The Window,” invites the reader’s observation of the Ramsays’ summer household. Mrs. Ramsay sits by the window with James. She has promised him that they will sail to the lighthouse tomorrow to take provisions to the lighthouse keeper and his son. When Mr. Ramsay, backed by Charles Tansley, insists that the weather will prevent their journey, an angry Mrs. Ramsay offers a more optimistic forecast. It is Mr. Ramsay’s pursuit of Truth without any regard for people’s feelings that so upsets her. Although Mr. Ramsay repeatedly offends Mrs. Ramsay, she remains the dutiful Victorian wife, accepting his word over hers, accompanying him on silent strolls, and making him feel needed although she is the one who truly rules the house.

Standing at her easel a distance from the window, Lily Briscoe works to capture Mrs. Ramsay and James on canvas. William Bankes lounges nearby. Mrs. Ramsay invites Charles Tansley to join her for a walk into town, where she makes social calls and visits the sick. Mrs. Ramsay also spends time knitting, and Mr. Tansley discusses philosophy with Mr. Ramsay. In the meantime, the children play outside.

Andrew and Nancy have embarked upon a daring walk along the cliffs with Minta and Paul. Stealing a moment alone, Minta and Paul embrace, causing temporary discomfort to Nancy and Andrew, who spy the couple from afar. Having lost her grandmother’s brooch among the rocks, Minta provides Paul with the opportunity to conduct a heroic search. Unable to find the brooch before the tide rolls in, he devises a chivalric plan to present her with a new one. Their search for the brooch causes their late return to the house, leading Mrs. Ramsay first to worry and then to agitation, since they will disrupt her perfectly planned dinner.

The dinner, nevertheless, is a victory for Mrs. Ramsay, affording positive moments of cohesion for most present, though not without its bobbles. After dinner, Mrs. Ramsay picks up the nursemaid’s slack: She successfully puts James and Cam to bed by solving the dilemma of a decorative, but frightening, boar’s skull that keeps the children awake. She then joins her husband in the library while some of the guests go out to watch the waves.

Section 2, “Time Passes,” is short in length but covers ten years in time. Detailing the house’s deterioration, this section also brings news of World War I and the deaths of Mrs. Ramsay, Prue, and Andrew, which are announced in parenthetical asides.

The third and final section, “The Lighthouse,” introduces the return of Mr. Ramsay, Cam, James, Lily, and Mr. Carmichael to the Ramsay home on the Isle of Skye. With their enthusiasm for the trip to the lighthouse completely disintegrated, James and Cam nevertheless concede to their father’s insistence. Forgoing the trip herself, Lily remains on shore and completes the painting of Mrs. Ramsay and James that she had begun ten years earlier.

Places Discussed

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 553


Summerhouse. Ramshackle Victorian house on an island in the Hebrides that accommodates both the large Ramsay family and their friends. It is here that Mrs. Ramsay is in her element, ministering endlessly to the needs of...

(This entire section contains 553 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

her husband, children, and guests. Whether in her parlor knitting, presiding over the dinner table, or tucking her children into bed, Mrs. Ramsay is the life and soul of the house. However, while the nearby lighthouse seems to endure without change, the summerhouse gradually deteriorates over time. Neglected after a series of family deaths, the house succumbs to the forces of nature and falls into disrepair. While the lighthouse—always a symbol of timeless serenity—can withstand the sea and the weather, the Ramsay house is at the mercy of these elements. Similarly, the members of the Ramsay family themselves are at the mercy of a series of upheavals that devastate their lives, particularly the untimely deaths of Mrs. Ramsay of heart-failure and of one of her sons on the battlefields of World War I. The passage of time wreaks havoc on both the family and their home, marking the end of the Edwardian world in which Virginia Woolf herself had spent her childhood. Eventually, however, after the war, the house is restored to good order, and Mr. Ramsay and his two youngest children, along with Lily Briscoe and an old poet-friend of the family, return to it to try to put their lives back together.

*Hebrides Islands

*Hebrides Islands (HEH-brah-dees). Island group off the northwest coast of Scotland on which the summerhouse stands. Woolf probably chose this as her novel’s setting because of its sense of wilderness and its proximity to an untrammeled sea that suggests the mysterious and the primal. The sea here is associated with danger and disorder and, after Mrs. Ramsay dies, with an existential meaninglessness.


Lighthouse. Coastal edifice near the summerhouse and a constant presence in this novel, beginning with its opening scene, in which the Ramsays debate the idea of making a picnic outing to the lighthouse. Mrs. Ramsay, the wife and mother who presides over the summerhouse and its various guests and children, and who is sure the weather will be fine enough for the trip, has a special connection to the lighthouse. When she sits at her parlor window looking out at the lighthouse while knitting, her spiritual communion with the lighthouse occasions a flood of strong feelings. Later, as she presides over dinner, she still feels the lighthouse’s presence, which for her represents a transcendental sense of security and well-being.

Six or seven years after Mrs. Ramsay’s sudden death, Mr. Ramsay and his two youngest children return to the summerhouse and finally make the long-awaited trip to the lighthouse. Although all three are lonely and still feel the loss of Mrs. Ramsay, things miraculously begin to go well. The outing to the lighthouse becomes an occasion during which the rift between Mr. Ramsay and his children begins to be healed. Lily Briscoe, a family friend of the Ramsay’s, also seems to encounter the lighthouse through a picture she is painting from the shore. As she places a straight, lighthouselike line in her picture, she feels at last a sense of peace and completion similar to that of Mrs. Ramsay before she died.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 142

The small revolutions fought by Lily for choosing against marriage, by Minta for wearing a torn stocking, and by Cam for refusing to give Mr. Bankes a flower are representative of the literary and social revolutions inspired by the publication of To the Lighthouse. By the time that the novel was published, Woolf had already achieved critical acclaim and was an outspoken member of the Bloomsbury group. She was constantly engaging the dominant voices of her society, and her ideas about gender and domestic life were seriously addressed as a consequence.

To the Lighthouse does not provide solutions to the problems of sexual polarization. In fact, Lily’s androgynous convergence is far from ideal. By raising the issues of gender so honestly and openly in her novel, however, Woolf laid the foundations for a feminist discourse that has not lost its momentum.

Historical Context

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 700

World War I World War I began in 1914, the result of an unresolved and perilous series of Balkan Crises. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, the intense territorial dispute between Austro-Hungary and Serbia intensified, quickly spreading through the rest of Europe. Great Britain, Russia, and France joined together as the Allied Powers against the Central Power Alliance of Austro-Hungary and Germany. After Russia dropped out of the Allied forces, and the Luisitania was sunk, America eventually entered the fray. The war, known in Europe as the Great War, took place on a scale never before seen in history. It lasted four years, cost $350 billion, and took the lives of 22 million people. In To the Lighthouse Andrew Ramsay becomes one of the victims of the war.

World War I revealed a new and horrifying form of warfare that took place in the trenches and the air, both innovations. It was also the most technologically advanced war, relying on a number of new inventions, such as machine guns, mortar bombs, and barbed wire. Most scarring was innovations in biological weaponry. Death by mustard gas in the bunkers and trenches created a profound sense of shock in the surviving troops and horrible deaths for the fallen. Movingly documented by English War Poets like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, the Great War sent thousands of emotionally and physically shell-shocked men back to their homes.

Modernism Modernism is a literary, artistic, and philosophical movement that began at the end of the nineteenth century. Modernists feel that earlier forms of art have reached their goals and become uninteresting, and they reject the realism of the nineteenth century. In response to older forms, the new art and literature was consciously non-representational and experimental, refusing to portray significant action, and emphasizing human reactions and interpretations instead of physical realities. Freudian psychology was often incorporated into the new writing and art, since it overturns previous philosophies and makes the internal life of a person the most important aspect of reality.

The new art exploded into an unwelcome world in 1913, at The Armory Show. This international exhibition of modern art took place at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City, opening in February and then travelling to Chicago, and Boston. It drew crowds of more than 100,000 people, and brought Postimpressionism and Cubism to international attention. The Armory Show, or Armory Circus, as some preferred to call it, was the first exhibition of modern art in America and the catalyst for many of the major modernist movements. In To the Lighthouse, this new and shocking art is the kind that Lily Briscoe attempts to create.

The Twenties The Twenties were characterized by what Joseph Wood Krutch called the "Modern Temper." This was the new intellectual and social climate that rejected many of the traditional beliefs in progress, patriotism and art, at the same time as it looked for new forms of politics. Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, Marxism and socialism had gained a new importance in European thought. With Lenin in power and the genocidal legacy of Stalinism still unimaginable, the Soviet Union was taken as a model for many young idealists. Labor relations in Britain reached conditions bordering on class war. The coal miners led the Trade Union Congress in a general strike, paralyzing the country. They demanded, "Not a penny off the pay; not a minute on the day." Changes in social climate fostered new freedoms. In 1918 the Women's Suffrage movement triumphed, and British women over the age of thirty were granted the right to vote. Those between the ages of twenty-one and thirty were allowed to vote starting in 1928.

The Wall Street Crash plunged the World into economic depression in 1929 and exacerbated social divides. In 1927, however, Europe had finally begun to recover from the Great War, and there was a sense of optimism among the privileged "bright young things" of the British social scene. Writers like Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh represented the new kind of young person—dashing, daring, and flippant. The scandalous young women of this social set were the British equivalent of the American "flappers." Like the younger Ramsay daughters, they refuse to take anything too seriously, and wear their hair and skirts short.

Literary Style

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 658

Stream of Consciousness The narrative technique that Woolf uses for most of To the Lighthouse is normally called stream of consciousness. This technique was a product of Modernism a literary movement characterized by introspection, self-awareness and an openness to the unconscious. Associated primarily with Woolf and James Joyce this technique was a way of representing the whole mind of an individual, not just conscious thought. It is based on the psychological theory that human minds are made up of many layers of awareness, from highly articulated rational thought, to emotional responsiveness, all the way to the animal pre-speech level of need and instinct. The basis of the technique is the notion that all of these layers are present in the mind of a human at any given moment—a "stream of consciousness" composed of the flow of sensations, thoughts, memories, associations, and reflections. If the exact pattern of the mind ("consciousness") is to be described, then these varied, disjointed, and illogical elements must find expression in a flow of words, images and ideas similar to the unorganized flow of the mind. In To the Lighthouse Woolf describes the technique while talking about Lily Briscoe:

To follow her thought was like following a voice which speaks too quickly to be taken down by one's pencil, and the voice was her own voice saying with out prompting undeniable, everlasting, contradictory things.

Woolf's characteristic version of the stream of consciousness puts a new spin on the technique. Instead of being an attempt to capture the complexities of one individual mind, her novel is an attempt to capture the minds of a large group of people as they interact over time. This is achieved by the constant shifting of point of view and narrative chronology—often within the same paragraph or line.

Free Association Part of the stream of consciousness style of Woolf's novel, free association is a term that describes the connections, or associations, that a person's mind makes between seemingly random things. A major part of the Freudian method of analysis is to ask people to say the first thing that comes to mind when they are given a word or object. By looking at the kinds of associations that occur, the analyst can find patterns in the randomness that reveal much about the character of the patient.

In To the Lighthouse, Woolf uses this free association style to reveal her characters. Charles Tansley, for example, sees Mrs. Ramsay next to a picture of Queen Victoria and realizes that she is beautiful. From that he thinks of flowers, bouquets and Mrs. Ramsay "stepping through fields of flowers … with the stars in her eyes and the wind in her hair" gathering "fallen lambs" to her breast. The patterns of his thoughts reveal his character in ways that an analyst would be able to see. Mrs. Ramsay is the "queen" of his life, because he thinks of her after seeing a real queen. He associates her with flowers because his studies shut him off from the natural world, and she brings him out of his studious mind-set. He imagines her gathering "lost lambs" because he feels orphaned, and sees her as a Christ-like parental figure.

Psychology The theories of the new Freudian psychology are used throughout the novel. The narrative structure is a literary version of the emphasis that psychology places on the subjective reality of emotions and desires. Freudian psychology suggests that emotions, needs, and instincts are more important in understanding personality than rational thoughts. In keeping with this theory, rational thought is shown to be useless to describe characters throughout To the Lighthouse. When, for example, William Tansley tells himself that he doesn't like Mrs. Ramsay because she is "fifty at least," his "freely-associated" emotions tell the real story. Also part of Freudian theory is the emphasis placed on childhood experiences and emotions in the formation of adult personality. Mrs. Ramsay sums this up when she says, "Children never forget."

Compare and Contrast

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 351

1910s: Unrest grows in Tsarist Russia as the oppressive state cracks down on reformers and activists.

1920s: The Bolshevik revolution has taken place, and Lenin is in power. His New Economic Policy is being instituted, which allows greater economic freedom and a measure of controlled capitalism.

Today: Communist Soviet Union has collapsed, and Russia is in ruins following a disastrous attempt to switch to a U.S.-style free market economy.

1910s: After World War I the 1919 Treaty of Versailles establishes an international body that will arbitrate disputes. It also demands that Germany pay reparations for the war.

1920s: The League of Nations has been formed, but its powers are very limited. America refuses to be involved, and has not ratified the Treaty of Versailles. The League is powerless, and fails to prevent the events that lead to World War II.

Today: The United Nations has been in place since 1945, and has learned from the fate of the League of Nations. The UN provides a working arena for international diplomacy, peacekeeping, and aid.

1910s: The British Labour Party is a new creation, struggling to find a support base. Many members of the British intellectual scene are in sympathy with its socialist ideology. After the Russian Revolution, the ruling classes of Britain become obsessed with the possibility of a similar British uprising.

1920s: Britain is brought almost to the brink of class war in a series of major industrial actions that culminate in the great General Strike.

Today: The Labour Party, led by Prime Minister Tony Blair, is the governing party in Great Britain.

1910s: The British Women's Suffrage movement demands the right to vote.

1920s: British women over thirty are granted the right to vote in 1918. American women win their battle in 1919. It is a long struggle that is resisted by many men—Switzerland will not accept women's suffrage in full until 1971.

Today: Generations of legal rights have still not resulted in equality between men and women. In Britain and America, women's pay averages less than 70 percent of men's, and women still make up a tiny proportion of CEOs and politicians.

Techniques / Literary Precedents

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 279

Woolf's technique of narrating through a stream-of-consciousness and imagery reached their full potential in To the Lighthouse. The narrative layers subjective perceptions and rapid transitions between multiple consciousnesses, and the novel is constructed in three sections which reflect this fluidity, ending with a narrative many years after the events described in the first section take place. These devices allow Woolf to further dramatize the devastations that follow in the wake of World War I. The novel explores questions of temporality and "objective" reality while placing its central concern on the obscurity of human relationships; here, Woolf's text dialogues extensively with Freudian psychoanalysis and, in particular, with Freud's Oedipal scenario.

In all of Woolf's novels, her conceptions of form and self owe a great deal to ideas that she had absorbed in her wide reading of both English Romantic poets and the fin-de-siecle French writers. Her readings show a fusion of novel and lyric that did not lead, as expected to the dilution of the novel; rather, it intensified the novelist's task. The interior monologue is created by mental associations which proceed independently of time or cause and facilitate the interweaving of motifs, figurative language, metaphor, simile, and intense symbolism. The significance of the stream-of-consciousness is not only that it is logical and planned, but that it creates the subjectivities of the characters.

To the Lighthouse is considered to be one of the exemplary texts of literary Modernism and its stream-of-consciousness technique is treated as the apotheosis of western Realism. For these reasons, Woolf's novel now occupies a central place in the critical debates surrounding the definitional parameters of literary Modernism and the role of women's writing in its definition.

Media Adaptations

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 75

The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) produced a dramatization of To the Lighthouse for British television in 1983. Kenneth Branagh, Rosemary Harris, Michael Gough, and Suzanne Bertish star. It is available from Magnum Entertainment Inc.

An audio book edition of To the Lighthouse is available from Naxos AudioBooks Ltd. The 1996 recording is read by the British actress, Juliet Stevenson.

Penguin Audiobooks also released a recorded edition of the novel in 1997. Their edition is read by Eileen Atkins.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 901

Sources Eric Auerbach, "The Brown Stocking," in his Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, Princeton University Press, 1946, pp. 16-34.

Abel, Elizabeth, Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis (Chicago University Press, 1989).

Beja, Morris, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse: A Casebook (Macmillan, 1970).

Bell, Quentin, Virginia Woolf: A Biography, 2 vols. (Hogarth Press, 1972).

Joseph L. Blotner, "Mythic Patterns in To the Lighthouse," in PMLA, Vol. 71, 1956, pp. 547-62.

Rachel Bowlby, Virginia Woolf: Feminist Destinations, Blackwell, 1988, p. 79.

Irene Dash, Deena Kushner, and Deborah Moore, "How Light a Lighthouse for Today's Women?" in The Lost Traditions: Mothers and Daughters in Literature, edited by Cathy Davidson and E. M. Broner, Ungar, 1980, pp. 176-88.

DiBattista, Maria, Virginia Woolf’s Major Novels: The Fables of Anon (Yale University Press, 1980).

Gordon, Lyndall, Virginia Woolf: A Literary Life (Macmillan, 1991).

James Halfley, The Glass Roof: Virginia Woolf as Novelist, The University of California Press, 1954, p. 80.

Louis Kronenberger, The New York Times, May 8, 1927.

Leaska, Mitchell A., The Novels of Virginia Woolf: From Beginning to End (John Jay Press, 1977).

Lee, Hermone, “To the Lighthouse” in Virginia Woolf: Introduction to the Major Works, ed. Julia Briggs (Virago Press, 1994).

Jane Lilienfeld, "'The Deceptiveness of Beauty': Mother Love and Mother Hate in To the Lighthouse," in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 23, 1977, pp. 345-73.

Thomas Matro, "Only Relations: Vision and Achievement in To the Lighthouse," in PMLA, Vol. 99, No. 2, March, 1984, pp. 212-24.

Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory, Methuen, 1985, p. 12.

A. D. Moody, "To the Lighthouse," in Twentieth Century Interpretations of To the Lighthouse, Prentice Hall, 1970, pp. 53-8.

Suzanne Raitt, Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, St. Martin's Press, 1990.

Richter, Harvena, Virginia Woolf: The Inward Voyage (Princeton University Press, 1970).

Ruotolo, Lucio P., The Interrupted Moment: A View of Virginia Woolf’s Novels (Stanford University Press, 1986).

Elaine Showalter, A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Bronte to Lessing, Princeton University Press, 1977.

Thomas A. Vogler, introduction to Twentieth Century Interpretations of To the Lighthouse, Prentice Hall, 1970, pp. 1-39.

Janet Winston, "'Something Out of Harmony': To the Lighthouse and the Subject(s) of Empire," in Woolf Studies Annual, Vol. 2, 1996, pp. 39-70.

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1927.

For Further Study Quentin Bell, Bloomsbury Recalled, Columbia University Press, 1997. Bell, Woolf's nephew, portrays the literary figures and visual artists he knew so well through a series of vignettes. Reminiscence is key to Bell's prose portraits of his parents, Vanessa and Clive Bell, as well as Leonard Woolf, Ottoline Morrell, and other luminaries and lesser-known members associated with Bloomsbury.

Jane Goldman, The Feminist Aesthetics of Virginia Woolf: Modernism Post-Impressionism and the Politics of the Visual, Cambridge University Press, 1997. Goldman offers a revisionary, feminist reading of Woolf's work. Focusing on Woolf's engagement with the artistic theories of her time, Goldman traces Woolf's fascination with the aesthetic possibilities of the Postimpressionist exhibition of 1910 and the solar eclipse of 1927 by linking her response to wider literary and cultural contexts.

Paul Goring, "The Shape of To the Lighthouse: Lily Briscoe' s Painting and the Reader's Vision," in Word & Image, Vol. 10, No. 3, pp. 222-29. This essay shows how Lily's creation of her painting parallels Woolf's creation of the novel itself.

Mark Hussey, Virginia Woolf A to Z: A Comprehensive Reference for Students, Teachers and Common Readers to Her Life, Works and Critical Reception, Oxford University Press, 1996. An alphabetical reference guide to Woolf's life and work. It includes detailed synopses of all the major and most of the minor works with an overview of their critical reception; all characters, both fictional and factual; contemporaries of Woolf—family members, friends, lovers, and all the Bloomsbury Group members; literary terms associated with Woolf; and place names from both her life and fiction.

Mitchell Leaska, Granite and Rainbow: The Hidden Life of Virginia Woolf, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1998. Accepting the theory that Woolf was afflicted with manic-depressive psychosis—not a neurotic condition, but a genetically transmitted affective disorder—Leaska's book assesses the extent to which this disorder shaped Woolf's genius as a writer.

Hermione Lee, Virginia Woolf, Knopf, 1997. Often regarded as the best modern biography of Virginia Woolf, Lee extricates her subject from cliches about madness and modernism to reveal a vigorous artist whose work is politically probing as well as psychologically delicate.

Jane Lilienfeld, "Where the Spear Plants Grew: The Ramsays' Marriage in To the Lighthouse," in New Feminist Essays on Virginia Woolf, edited by Jane Marcus, The University of Nebraska Press, 1981, pp. 148-69. Lilienfeld uses the tools of feminist criticism to examine the Ramsays' marriage. She attempts to prove that Woolf both celebrates and criticizes it while she makes the urgency for creating new modes of human love and partnership clear.

Nicholas Marsh, Virginia Woolf: The Novels, St. Martin's Press, 1998. Marsh uses excerpts from three of Woolf's novels to show how Woolf's writing style illuminates her subject matter.

Annis Pratt, "Sexual Imagery in To the Lighthouse: A New Feminist Approach," Modern Fiction Studies, 1972, pp. 417-31. Pratt's article examines the sections of eroticism in To the Lighthouse, suggesting that Mrs. Ramsay shows the "pseudo-sexual adaptation" imposed upon her by her marriage and culture.

Panthea Reid, Art and Affection: A Life of Virginia Woolf, Oxford University Press, 1996. Reid makes a case for the crucially formative relationships Virginia Woolf had with several women in her life, especially with her sister Vanessa, and sees Woolf's art as bound up with a play for the "motherly affection" she felt she was losing or had lost from her sister.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 455

Bassoff, Bruce. “Tables in Trees: Realism in To the Lighthouse.” Studies in the Novel 16, no. 4 (Winter, 1984): 424-434. Contends that Woolf redefines realism in her novel. Focusing on Lily Briscoe, Bassoff demonstrates how her perception is mediated by her interaction with other characters.

Beja, Morris. Critical Essays on Virginia Woolf. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1985. This text attempts to reconcile disparate schools of Woolf criticism. Includes a review of To the Lighthouse, written by Conrad Aiken, that appeared in 1927 upon the novel’s publication.

Daugherty, Beth Rigel. “ ‘There she sat’: The Power of the Feminist Imagination in To the Lighthouse.” Twentieth Century Literature 37, no. 3 (Fall, 1991): 289-308. A well-argued interpretation that centers on the moment of Mrs. Ramsay’s reappearance near the end of the novel. Contends that Lily’s acceptance of Mrs. Ramsay as a woman, free of patriarchal influences, allows the latter to reappear in her own right.

Kelley, Alice van Buren. “To the Lighthouse”: The Marriage of Life and Art. Boston: Twayne, 1987. A superb starting place. Provides a reading of the book, a wealth of background information, a chronology, and a discussion of critical responses.

Kelley, Alice van Buren. The Novels of Virginia Woolf: Fact and Vision. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973. A study of the significance of creative tension between objective reality and inconfirmable poetic insight in Woolf’s novels. Includes a chapter on To the Lighthouse that explores the influences of fact and vision upon the novel’s plot, characterization, and imagery.

Leaska, Mitchell A. Virginia Woolf’s Lighthouse: A Study in Critical Method. New York: Columbia University Press, 1970. A systematic examination of Woolf’s style and the multiple-point-of-view technique. Vigorously defends Woolf’s method, emphasizing the importance of the reader in achieving meaning.

Love, Jean O. Virginia Woolf: Sources of Madness and Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977. A biography investigating the paradoxical connection between Woolf’s life and art. Provides a psychological interpretation of the author based on primary documents.

Marcus, Jane, ed. New Feminist Essays on Virginia Woolf. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1981. An insightful collection of essays that approach the author from an unabashedly feminist perspective. Includes a chapter by Jane Lilienfeld discussing the Ramsays’ marriage.

Matro, Thomas G. “Only Visions: Vision and Achievement in To the Lighthouse.” PMLA 99, no. 2 (March, 1984): 212-224. Sees an analogy between Lily’s aesthetics and the relations between the novel’s characters. Holds that the vision required for painting becomes a metaphor for the perception needed in human relationships.

Zwerdling, Alex. Virginia Woolf and the Real World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. A study of Woolf’s social vision and her response to the historical events and sociopolitical currents of her age. Included an enlightening chapter on the domestic politics of To the Lighthouse.


Critical Essays


Short-Answer Quizzes