To the Lighthouse

by Virginia Woolf

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If Virginia Woolf wrote To the Lighthouse today, what would the title be?

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To the Lighthouse, which Virginia Woolf published in 1927, is a three-part novel. In the first section, the Ramsay family spends the summer at their house at the Isle of Skye. The son, James, wants to visit the lighthouse just off the coast of the island the next day, and his mother assures him that he will be able to, but Mr. Ramsay believes the weather will not allow it.

In the second section, called "Time Passes," a number of large human, political, and natural events unfold, including the turn of the seasons, the outbreak and end of the First World War, and the death of Mrs. Ramsay. The third section describes the remaining members of the Ramsay family, with some of their friends, back at the summer house at the Isle of Skye. James wants to go to the lighthouse again, and this time, he reaches it on a small boat. 

The lighthouse in this novel is a symbol of things that are desired, longed for, and unknown. Its importance changes over time: in the first section, it is the object of James' whim; in the third section, however, it has taken on greater importance, becoming a kind of pilgrimage site, as James wants to go not only to see the building, but also to honor his memory of his deceased mother.

The lighthouse works beautifully as a visual symbol for this purpose, and is often illuminated by the sun or shrouded in mist and fog. However, while To the Lighthouse is a very historical novel, the lighthouse itself is most powerful as a symbol, rather than a specific historical site, and wouldn't necessarily need to be "updated" if the novel was rewritten today. However, another novel that deals with the same themes might have its own "lighthouse"-- and that lighthouse could be any site or object that has a sheen of unattainability and significance as a personal memory. 

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