We first meet the Ramsays and their guests while they’re all staying at a seaside vacation house. The first part of the book covers several days from their lives while they’re planning to visit a lighthouse. The second part, on the other hand, tracks down the characters ten years later, right after the end of World War I, and shows us how things have turned out for them.
I stated in a previous blog post that I absolutely hate stream of consciousness, but it seems that I have to eat my words. Again. That seems to be happening a lot these days. The book uses stream of consciousness, but, for some reason, I actually like it. Maybe because I can understand it? The writing style was a bit confusing at first, because I couldn't tell whose thoughts I was reading once in a while. After the first couple of chapters, though, I became familiar enough with the individual thought processes of the characters to know whose thoughts I was reading.
Virginia Woolf is one of those writers whose writing leaps of the pages. You can touch the book and almost feel the words throbbing. In the second page of my edition, you can find this sentence:
Such were the extremes of emotion that Mr. Ramsay excited in his children’s breasts by his mere presence; standing, as now, lean as a knife, narrow as the blade of one, grinning sarcastically, not only with the pleasure of disillusioning his son and casting ridicule upon his wife, who was ten thousand times better in every way than he was…There’s something so visceral about the comparison between Mr. Ramsay and a knife. I can almost feel a shiny, steel blade in my hand, and I can see Mr. Ramsay in my mind’s eye—sharp and steely.
I also liked the portrayal of the marriage of the Ramsays. Mr. Ramsay is known as one of the great philosophers of his age, and is idolized by the young men from the universities. Mrs. Ramsay’s life, on the other hand, revolves around her eight children, and what their lives will be like in the future.
Just because Mr. Ramsay is a brilliant philosopher, however, doesn’t mean that he is more relevant than his wife. In fact, after his work is forgotten by the public, Mrs. Ramsay will still be remembered by their children and their guests, because she had such a huge impact on the lives of the people around her.
Lily Briscoe, one of the guests of the Ramsays at the seaside vacation house, is my favorite character from the book. She is a painter and doesn’t wish to marry, but, when she looks at the Ramsays, she wonders if she might be missing something vital.
Oh but, Lily would say, there was her father; her home; even, had she dared to say it, her painting. But all this seemed so little, so virginal, against the other.Yes to everything, Lily. To The Lighthouse was released in 1927, but many women can still relate to what Lily’s going through. Yes, they might have careers and friends and lots of fun, but one question will always rise up. Is it enough?
Lastly, I’m still wondering about the almost mythical Lighthouse and what it could possibly stand for. The Lighthouse could stand for so many things for all the different characters in the book, but I believe it stands for all the things we’re aiming for—the things that always seem just a little bit out of reach. Like Lily and her art. Like Mr. Ramsay and his desire to be a genius, to reach Z instead of just Q.