eBook Publisher RosettaBooks Fictionwise
Release Date December 2002
(Burlington County Library System)
To the Lighthouse (5 May 1927) is a novel by Virginia Woolf. A landmark novel of high modernism, the text, centering on the Ramsay family and their visits to the Isle of Skye in Scotland between 1910 and 1920, skillfully manipulates temporality and psychological exploration.
To the Lighthouse follows and extends the tradition of modernist novelists like Marcel Proust and James Joyce, where the plot is secondary to philosophical introspection, and the prose can be winding and hard to follow. The novel includes little dialogue and almost no action; most of it is written as thoughts and observations. The novel recalls the power of childhood emotions and highlights the impermanence of adult relationships. One of the book's several themes is the ubiquity of transience.
The novel is one of Woolf's most successful and accessible experiments in the modernist mode, including stream-of-consciousness. The three sections of the book take place between 1910 and 1920 and revolve around various members of the Ramsay family and their guests during visits to their summer residence on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.
Section I —"The Window": young James Ramsay fervently hopes to visit the lighthouse on the following day, but while his mother assures him, his father insists they will have to call off the trip due to weather. Various guests and colleagues interact with one another as Mrs. Ramsay attempts to placate all. The story progresses through shifting points of view.
Section II — "Time Passes": an omniscient narrator takes over to inform us about the war and the fates of some of the characters from the first section.
Section III— "The Lighthouse": Mr. Ramsay returns to the family's deserted summer home 10 years after the book's initial events. He and two of his children decide to sail out to visit the lighthouse. While they are gone, Lily Brisco, one of the previous guests, finishes an uncompleted painting.
Letter from Virginia Woolf to Angus Davidson
25 December 1926
Presented by Frances Hooper ’14
Smith College Libraries
To the Lighthouse
New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1927
Dust jacket designed by Vanessa Bell
Smith College Libraries
Presented by Esther Cloudman Dunn
Smith College Libraries
Virginia Woolf was about forty years old when this photograph was taken; it was used by Harcourt Brace for promotion. Angus Davidson (1898-1980) was an assistant at the Hogarth Press from 1924 to 1927, succeeding George (“Dadie”) Rylands. In her Christmas letter from St. Ives, Cornwall, Woolf thanks Angus for some honey and writes: “All my facts about lighthouses are wrong.”
(Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College)
Virginia Woolf To the Lighthouse 1927
ew York: Harcourt, Brace, 1927
Smith College Libraries
To the Lighthouse was published on the thirty-second anniversary of her mother’s death, and features a dust jacket by Vanessa Bell. Woolf’s fifth novel concerns a large Victorian family, the Ramsays, seen before and after World War I. The novel is set at the Ramsay’s summer house on the Isle of Skye in the Hebrides. Woolf used her own childhood memories of summers spent at Talland House in St. Ives, Cornwall, to write the novel, but transformed this private material into a self-sufficient work of art.
Since its original publication on 5 May 1927, To the Lighthouse has attracted a worldwide readership. The Frances Hooper collection contains Swedish, Norwegian, German, Hungarian, and Galician translations of the novel. To the Lighthouse outsold Woolf’s previous books, enabling her to buy a car. The novel was also awarded the Femina-Vie Heureuse prize in 1928.
(Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College)
“It's often said that To the Lighthouse is Virginia Woolf's "most autobiographical" book. Personally, I think aspects of Woolf's biography slip into all her works in interesting ways (Orlando is based on her lover Vita Sackville-West's family background; Mrs. Dalloway contains her most explicit depiction of mental illness). It's certainly true, though, that Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay are modeled on Woolf's own mother and father, celebrated beauty Julia Duckworth and famous National Biography writer Leslie Stephen, and that the Ramsay family's summer home on the Isle of Skye mirrors Talland House, where the Stephen family spent summers in the 1880s and 1890s. (As you can see from the link, modern-day Talland House has been converted into a suite of "luxury holiday apartments" and painted a somewhat blistering chartreuse.) Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf's sister and fellow Bloomsbury Group member, wrote to her after first reading To the Lighthouse that....."in the first part of the book you have given a portrait of mother which is more like her to me than anything I could ever have conceived of as possible. It is almost painful to have her so raised from the dead. You have made one feel the extraordinary beauty of her character, which must be the most difficult thing in the world to do. It was like meeting her again with oneself grown up and on equal terms and it seems to me the most astonishing feat of creation to have been able to see her in such a way. You have given father too I think as clearly but perhaps, I may be wrong, that isn't quite so difficult. There is more to catch hold of. Still it seems to me to be the only thing about him which ever gave a true idea."
And Woolf herself wrote to Vita:
"I don't know if I'm like Mrs. Ramsay; as my mother died when I was 13 probably it is a child's view of her: but I have some sentimental delight in thinking that you like her. She has haunted me: but then so did that old wretch my father. Do you think it sentimental? Do you think it irreverent about him? I should like to know. I was more like him than her, I think; and therefore more critical: but he was an adorable man, and somehow, tremendous.”.....
(Posted by emily_morine at LibraryThing.com, Jan 29, 2010)
In the novel, To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf illustrates the character of Mr. Ramsay, a husband and father of eight children. As a husband, he degrades and mentally abuses his wife, Mrs. Ramsay, and as a father, he disparages and psychologically injures his children. Yet, Mr. Ramsay has another side -- a second dimension. He carries the traits of a very compassionate and loving husband and a securing and nurturing father. Although Woolf depicts Mr. Ramsay as crude, brusque, and insensitive, he, nonetheless, desires happiness and welfare for his family.
Even though Mr. Ramsay frequently scolds and denounces Mrs. Ramsay, he still seeks happiness and comfort for his wife. For example, after Mrs. Ramsay lies to James about the next day's weather, "He (Mr. Ramsay) stamped his foot on the stone step. 'Damn you,' he said." Mr. Ramsay devastates his wife's emotions. Because of a little lie, the temperamental Mr. Ramsay hurts, if not kills, Mrs. Ramsay's emotions. Still, right after the incident, Mr. Ramsay self-reflects and "(he was) ashamed of that petulance (that he brought to his wife)." Mr. Ramsay understands and regrets the sorrow he brought on Mrs. Ramsay. He sympathizes with her and is "ashamed" for what he had done. Mr. Ramsay wants to appease his wife and make her happy as a result of the torment that he inflicted on her. Next, Woolf again illustrates Mr. Ramsay's insensitive dimension when Mr. Ramsay makes Mrs. Ramsay "bend her head as if to let the pelt of jagged hail, the drench of dirty water, bespatter her unrebuked." Mr. Ramsay is heartless to his wife's feelings; it is as if he enjoys "drenching" Mrs. Ramsay and enjoys seeing her in mental anguish. However, Woolf later contrasts the callous Mr. Ramsay with a more sensitive and caring Mr. Ramsay:
So stiffened and composed the lines of her face in a habit of sternness that when her husband passed… he could not help noting, the sternness at the heart of her beauty. It saddened him, and her remoteness pained him.
Therefore, here Mr. Ramsay is portrayed as a sympathetic and caring husband that is "pained" by the expression of sorrow on his wife's face. Mr. Ramsay is sensitive to his wife's feelings and desires her well-being. Woolf illustrates the inconsistency of Mr. Ramsay's character through his and Mrs. Ramsay's interactions.
Next, Woolf portrays Mr. Ramsay as a brusque and callous father by his harsh interactions with his children, when his true motive is to help and secure his children's welfare. Mr. Ramsay is depicted as a father whom, "had there been an axe, or a poker, any weapon that would have gashed a hole in (Mr. Ramsay's) breast and killed him, there and then, James would have seized it," because of the Mr. Ramsay's constant, pessimistic rambling, "it won't be fine." Mr. Ramsay is depicted as a sharp, deadly, and sarcastic killjoy that destroys the anticipation and happiness of his child, James. His children regard him with the utmost rancor that they even think of stabbing him to death. However, little do his children know that, "he (Mr. Ramsay) was incapable of untruth; never altered a disagreeable word to suit the pleasure… of any human being, least of all of his own children, who… should be aware from childhood that life is difficult; (he would instill) courage, truth, and the power to endure." The main purpose for his bluntness is not to intentionally hurt his children, but instead to strengthen them. He wants his children to grow up as successful, self-sufficient people. Thus, even though Mr. Ramsay does have a crude dimension in his character, he also has a second dimension of sensibility.
Virginia Woolf pictures the character of Mr. Ramsay as an authentic human being; he has a second-dimension that allows him to have both evil and sincere attributes. She does not write about either a very humble and generous man or a very insolent and cruel man; instead, Woolf gives the readers a real character with both traits that allow readers to understand the foibles of characters like Mr. Ramsay.
("The Two-Dimensional Character of Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse." 123HelpMe.com. 09 Apr 2010)
the FASHION SPOT
"Virginia Woolf writes of the essential loneliness and aloneness of human beings. In the first passage I am examining Mrs. Ramsay is the heart of the group gathered around the dinner table. It is because of her that they are assembled. She is the wife, the mother. And the whole of the effort of merging and flowing and creating rested on her. But she feels disconnected, outside that eddy that held the others, alone. She views her husband almost as an inanimate object. She could not understand how she had ever felt any emotion or affection for him. The room has become shabby. Beauty has dissolved. The gathering for which she is responsible is merely a group of strangers sitting at the same table. Nothing seemed to have merged. They all sat separate. Mrs. Ramsay understands that she must bring these people together. Again she felt, as a fact without hostility, the sterility of men, for if she did not do it nobody would do it. So she drifts into the eddy to do her duty.....albeit reluctantly.....she began all this business, as a sailor not without weariness sees the wind fill his sail and yet hardly wants to be off again and thinks how, had the ship sunk he would have whirled round and round and found rest on the floor of the sea.
This passage is so true! In a traditional family (my family) there is a man (husband and father), a woman (wife and mother), and children. The woman is claimed by all. She is held responsible, both in the eyes of her family and in her own eyes, for the happiness and well-being of all. She is the glue, the anchor, the spark, the damper. She is lonely but never alone. The idea of drifting to the bottom of the sea can seem inviting to be free and alone! This short passage aptly illustrates a real woman's very complicated feelings about the demands of family and society upon her. I think it is no less valid now then it was in the 1920s when the book was written.
Earlier in the book a scene takes place that illustrates another aspect of this issue. Mrs. Ramsay is reading to James when Augustus Carmichael walks by. Mrs. Ramsay senses that Mr. Carmichael does not care for her "he shrank from her." She feels that Mr. Carmichael knows that a not insignificant reason for her caring for and kindness to others is vanity.
It injured her that he should shrink. It hurt her. And yet not cleanly, not rightly. That was what she minded.....the sense she had now when Mr. Carmichael shuffled past, just nodding to her question, with a book beneath his arm, in his yellow slippers, that she was suspected; and that all this desire of hers to give, to help, was vanity. For her own self-satisfaction was it that she wished so instinctively to help, to give, that people might say of her, 'O Mrs. Ramsay! dear Mrs. Ramsay...Mrs. Ramsay, of course!' and need her and send for her and admire her? Was it not secretly this that she wanted, and therefore when Mr. Carmichael shrank away from her, as he did at this moment, making off to some corner where he did acrostics endlessly, she did not feel merely snubbed back in her instinct, but made aware of the pettiness of some part of her, and of human relations, how flawed they are, how despicable, how self-seeking, at their best.
So Mrs. Ramsay is the helper, the giver, the organizer and arranger. But her reasons for being these things are many: she feels compelled by her family and her friends and by society; she knows that men are "sterile" and incapable, and that "if she did not do it nobody would do it;" she truly loves her husband much of the time and her children all of the time; she enjoys the approbation that she receives. Mrs. Woolf has written a portrait of a real woman.
("Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse - Portrait of a Real Woman." At 123HelpMe.com. 09 Apr 2010).