July 20, 2013

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (Review)

Title: To the Lighthouse
Author: Virginia Woolf
First published: 1927
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★★★☆☆

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.


  1. I read this book for a uni course, so that was a little while ago, but I remember how hard it was to concentrate on the text. The only very vivid scene left in my mind is that from a food table (not sure if they were having dinner, but likely) and a very long and detailed description of pot of stew :) I want to read Mrs Dalloway some time soon-ish.

    1. You are right, there is a table scene, one of the key ones! Mrs Dalloway was harder for me, but maybe that was because it was my first Woolf ever, and I'm getting used to her style :)

  2. Woolf has never ever disappointed. I recently reread Mrs Dalloway and what a joy to read it a second time. I really feel I understood it better and appreciated it even more. I haven't read To the Lighthouse but Woolf is on my to read list, once I get through the books I already have cluttering my life.

    1. I guess she is the kind of writer that requires re-reading, and maybe I'll do it too sometime, but right now I have too many books to read for the first time :)

  3. I remember starting "To the lighthouse" over and over again. The words are beautiful but I'm just not a fan of the stream of consciounsness manner. I like "Mrs. Dalloway" better though. Still, I appreciate Mrs. Woolfs essays much more than her novels. Have you ever read one? They are brilliant.
    Anyway, as war as modernists go, I much prefer Mansfield (even if Mrs. Woolf would turn in her grave upon hearing that...)

  4. I'm glad to read someone a bit on the fence, as I am. I didn't hate To The Lighthouse, but I will probably never re-read it. As the above reader, I am not a fan or stream of consciousness, but Woolf does create some marvelous descriptive prose.
    My review: http://100greatestnovelsofalltimequest.blogspot.com/2012/12/to-lighthouse-by-virginia-woolf-1927-13.html


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