Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thoughts: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

I finished reading To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf while sitting cross-legged on the floor of our locker room at work. I could have read it at the pantry like any other normal person, but the pantry is like the watering hole for all the people in our office. Friends come and go, conversations abound, and reading even a single page becomes virtually impossible.

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.


mooderino said...

I read this book a thousand years ago (approx) and can remember nothing about it. Loved the review, might dig it out and give it another go.

Moody Writing
The Funnily Enough

Zibilee said...

This was a wonderful review, Darlyn, and it might just inspire me to pick this one up, even though I have avoided Woolf for the longest time because she intimidates me. I might make this a read for the new year, thanks to you!

Allie said...

I love Woolf. Her writing is just so beautiful.

I struggle a little with stream-of-consciousness when I first start a new book. It just takes me a few pages to get used to the flow of the language again and how to read it, but once I'm okay with it, the book just comes alive!

Now I need to read this one sooner!

Audra said...

Lovely review -- you have me itching to go home and pick this up now!! I do love Woolf and I think she gets such a bad rap sometimes -- she seems intimidating when I really think she's quite inviting.

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

This is the Woolf I am most likely to read, I just find her such an intimidating writer though. Was it hard to follow?

Kailana said...

I really should make an effort to read some Virginia Woolf in 2012... I have only read Mrs. Dalloway and that was years ago.

Aarti said...

Wait, people read books in your office pantry? How big is this place? I am fascinated by the picture in my mind.

o said...

It's been a while since I read it, but doesn't the lighthouse represent something that is close but feels unobtainable? I'll have to re-read it, I think!

Jillian said...

I own this one, and this review REALLY makes me want to read it. I've only read a couple of Woolf's works (one short story, and one essay), but I really, really like her. So glad this one worked for you. I can't wait!

Rebecca Reid said...

oh what a beautiful reflection post. You've made me want to reread this one. Have you read Mrs Dalloway yet? I love that one even more.


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