Most critics regard To the Lighthouse as Woolf’s finest achievement, and she herself shared this view. Woolf perfected her method in this book, developing a highly individual technique in which structure, form, content, and meaning are extremely complex as they are used to develop individual characters, their relationships to one another, to life itself, and to the most profound problems of human existence, love, art, and death. Her method consists in elaborating a multiple point of view presenting both past and present through her characters’ eyes as well as through those of an omniscient writer. She thus reveals to the reader in manifold perspective the extraordinary range of emotional and mental processes that make up human experience for her characters.
The structure of the novel resembles that of a two-act play with an interlude between the acts. In the first and by far the longest part, “The Window,” Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay (unmistakably based on her own parents) with their eight children are vacationing at their summer home on an island off the coast of Scotland; some friends are spending a weekend with them. Their six-year-old son James wants to visit the nearby lighthouse the next day; his mother agrees, but his father is certain that the weather will not be fine. The guests intermingle; the artist Lily Briscoe works on a painting. In the evening they all enjoy a meal of buf en daube and experience a sense of unity and happiness in the perfection of this moment that, like an artist, Mrs. Ramsay has created by controlling the elements that united to produce it. Most of these events are narrated through interior monologues with numerous flashbacks and shifting points of view.
In a second, very brief part, “Time Passes,”...
(The entire section is 726 words.)