Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf-Update on The Reading Life Virginia Woolf Project

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927, 256 pages)

I have  had Virginia Woolf on my must read soon list for a very long time but it seems I kept getting sidetracked from reading her.    When I won a copy of The Waves from a very gracious blogger  (links to all my posts on Virginia Woolf can be found at The Reading Life Virginia Woolf Project link above) I decided this was my push to at last read one of her masterworks.   I had just completed Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End and this helped put me in a mind set for reading The Waves.     I really enjoyed  The Waves a lot.     I took the approach  of just letting the prose go over me in waves (lots of water images in the work) and did not stress over achieving what some would call an intellectualized understanding of the book.    I knew then I wanted to read a lot more Woolf.    I decided to first read Hermione Lee's wonderful biography Virginia Woolf  to expand my background knowledge.     By then I knew Woolf has four consensus masterworks,   The Waves, Orlando, Mrs Dalloway, and To the Lighthouse.    I decided to read the other three of these works next.    My thinking was that by doing this if I end up only reading four of her works I will have experienced her best novels and if I do go on to read all of them I could go back and reread the major ones.  I have now read the Woolf "big four".

I also decided to read some short fiction along the way.     In addition to this I read Flush, her biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's dog, a really fun book and easy to follow.   It might not be a bad first Woolf.   I also read Jacob's Room.    I read her very famous A Room of One's Own, a few short stories and some essays.    

As I began To the Lighthouse I knew that much like The Waves the novel makes use of the stream of consciousness rather than plot action or conversations between the characters.     The central characters of the novel are Professor Ramsey, a well known philosopher and author,  his wife, their children and various guests at the Ramsey's home in Hebrides Islands.    All of Woolf's work seems quite social and to involve groups of people and their relationship to each other and their common experiences.    The opening section of the novel, "The Window" is taken up with interactions of the Ramsey's and their guests.  In section II, "Time Passes" we learn of the events of ten years in the lives of the Ramsey family.   One of their sons was killed in WWI and Mrs. Ramsey has passed away.     The relationship between the Ramseys is a brilliantly done depiction of mutually dependency in marriage.   In the last section the family finally makes the trip to the lighthouse.    Much like Parade's End I see To the Lighthouse  as a kind of Cubist novel in which we are shown how reality is created through a consensus of perceptions once one passes mere physical reality.

Of course the language is beautiful and lots of references are made to books and art that anyone will love.   I know people spent a life time reading Woolf and that there is a vast secondary literature on her and I respect that.    Leonard Woolf said To the Lighthouse was Virginia Woolf's best novel.    I suppose the sensible thing to do now would be to read her remaining novels in order of publication and then come back to the "big four".   Probably I will pretty much do that but for now I think I will next read her book length essay Three Guineas,   dealing with some of the political thoughts of Woolf, next.

All of the Woolf I have read so far can be read online at the University of Adelaide Library web page.

Mel u


Suko said...

Mel, I read some of her novels--Jacob's Room, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse--and also some of her essays in school many years ago. I find that when I reread her work, I remember some of what we discussed in class; and some of it just makes more sense now that I'm older. I am somewhat of a newcomer to her short stories, such as The New Dress. I still intend to read Flush one of these days. I have enjoyed reading many of your insightful reviews, as well as tidbits about her life, on your wonderful The Reading Life Virginia Woolf Project.

Laura J. Wellner (author pseudonym Laura J. W. Ryan) said...

I'm glad you enjoyed To The Light House, I haven't gotten into Three Guineas yet, it's on the To-Read pile on my desk along with Between the Acts. I'm in the middle of The Years, it's truly a delightful book it has the same fluidity of The Waves. I have thought about reading her books in order that they were written, maybe someday I will, although I've read them a bit higgledy-piggledy I'm seeing the progression as she grows as a writer...more confident perhaps. (I do recommend A Writer's Diary for any reader of Woolf.)

Ash said...

I wanted to read this before the end of the year but I just don't think it will happen. Maybe I'll get to it next year-- I think I would really enjoy it!