July 20, 2013
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (Review)
Author: Virginia Woolf
First published: 1927
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Remember this feeling when you get distracted while reading and can't remember what was on the page you just read and have to read it again from the top? Well, with Virginia Woolf I experience this all the time, although I stay concentrated as hell. Her writing is just soooo hard to follow, although it is beautiful at times, of course.
However, I found this novel much more coherent than Mrs. Dalloway, that I read and reviewed in spring. Maybe prof. Weinstein's lectures from The Fiction of Relationship course helped, but I didn't feel as at a loss after finishing To the Lighthouse as after finishing Mrs. Dalloway.
The book is divided into three parts, the first and the last describing one day in a life of a family in detail, and the second one dealing with the events that happened during the 10-year time elapsed between these days. The Ramsays may be called a happy family, leading a quiet life with their 8 children in a summer house with some lodgers. Mrs. Ramsay is the one the narrative concentrates on, and she is a kind of "world mother", for whom family life is everything. She has learned to manage and sometimes even admire her husband, Mr. Ramsay, who is a philosopher with a terrible need for approval and sympathy from outside. In pretty much the same way she also quietly manages the life of other lodgers, arranging marriages a well as meals.
But everything changes in the household when the war brings terrible changes to their lives: Mrs. Ramsay dies suddenly, leaving the family without her soothing and leading presence, then Prue, the eldest daughter marries and dies in childbirth, and then Andrew, one of the sons, is killed on a battlefield. And all this is quite ruthlessly conveyed to the reader in no more that three phrases hidden in the musings of the second chapter.
But then they come back: Mr. Ramsay, the remaining children and some of the lodgers. And they undertake the trip to the lighthouse that they failed at in the first chapter, 10 years ago. The narrative now follow mainly the thoughts of Lily Briscoe, one of the lodgers, an aspiring painter, who tries to put to the canvas this family, the lighthouse and the meaning of life. A lot has changed in these 10 years, but Mrs. Ramsay is still there, in the house, in the remembrances of the moments she was so good at capturing.
In my book:
Reading Woolf may be very demanding and tiring, but I've discovered that not giving up on her is the best policy, because you get something from her books and they stick with you and haunt you for a long time.