To the Lighthouse Topics for Further Study
by Virginia Woolf

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Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Virginia Woolf summed up James Joyce's writing style as "the work of a queasy adolescent fingering his pimples." Look at the different versions of stream of consciousness to be found in Woolf's To the Lighthouse and Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in light of this assessment. What are the differences between the two narrative techniques? What do you think led Woolf to see Joyce's style as immature and self-absorbed?

Feminist critiques of To the Lighthouse have drawn very different conclusions about its gender politics. Elaine Showalter suggests that the novel is a retreat from feminism into mysticism, while Toril Moi argues that it is a radical feminist attack on the logic of patriarchal male society. Which assessment seems to you better supported by Woolf s book? What textual evidence can you find for either of these viewpoints?

"Had there been an axe handy, or a poker, any weapon that would have gashed a hole in his father's breast and killed him, there and then, James would have seized it." Many critics have suggested that James Ramsay has an Oedipal complex. What is Freud's concept of the Oedipal complex? Do you think James is suffering from it? Research the history of the idea and make a case for or against.

To the Lighthouse ends when Lily Briscoe puts the final stroke on her picture. Many critics have suggested that Woolf's novel is an attempt to create writing that is conceptually identical to Lily's Post-Impressionist painting. Research the history of experimental art in the first decades of the twentieth century. What is the theory behind abstract art like Lily's? How is it similar to Woolf's novelistic style?

The Ramsay children have views on British society that are very different from those of the older generation. They question the value of "the Bank of England and the Indian Empire." Investigate the political and social reform movements of the twenties and thirties. What was new about the younger generation? Why had they begun to question Victorian values?