Virginia Woolfe – To The Lighthouse

January 7, 2013

All lovers of quality literature should indulge themselves in this beautiful novel that broke away from the Victorian era. It stands as a landmark of high modernism.

That means Virginia Woolfe broke rules. Like James Joyce and Proust, she uses a stream of consciousness. (The mother joins her large complicated family in the dining room, fixating for a moment on the chair she will select, which is so out of sync with what’s going on in the room that the reader thinks she is going mad.). There isn’t an omniscient narrator. Rather, there are shifting points of view. The shift may come mid sentence or mid paragraph. She also works with pronouns so that when she shifts a point of view, you may not readily know it.  The purpose of this stylistic device is to show the interconnectedness of people.

She writes from inside the head of her main character Mrs. Ramsey, revealing her introspection and perceptions. Mrs. Ramsey is a mother of eight children, full of emotion, affection, married to a dictatorial Victorian scholar who worries about his immortality. His wife loves him one moment, not the next, and so on. Her introspections and perceptions are the key to the book’s greatness. Mrs. Ramsey dies halfway through the book. Unorthodox. Modernism.

The first third of the book takes place in one day of a summer vacation in the Hebrides. The second part of the book describes the house that has been abandoned for ten years. Eighteen pages of description, but what description! At the end of those years, housekeepers come to clean up and re-open the house.

In the third part, the remaining people who have not died return. The father takes the two remaining children in a boat to the lighthouse.  The lighthouse represents constancy in their chaotic world.