To the Lighthouse

WOOLF in WINTER.   I’m late to the party, having been unable to finish books by any deadline.  To catch up on the discussion, please visit the Evening All Afternoon post from January 29th.

Thoughts   To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, no year printed?!* Harcourt Brace and World (originally published 1927), 310 pages

MOTIVATION to READ:    I’m falling in love with Virginia Woolf’s style.     I am attempting to participate in the Woolf in Winter Read-along but am woefully behind and have ‘blasts of doubt’** that I will get to the remaining books per the discussion timetable.    Can’t read everything!   I hate being overwhelmed by my tbr…    This was a library book, but I’m hoping to find a large print version so I can donate to the Shaw Home Library (and get my dear friend Madeline to read it – not that she needs large print but she doesn’t need me buying her books – ha!  *wink*)

WHAT IT’s ABOUT:    I’ve only just started reading everyone’s posts from two weeks ago, but I hope it is OK to borrow something I saw somewhere in a comment that this is “low on plot.”    The setting is a summer home owned by the Ramseys and filled with their eight children and more than a few guests and servants.    The first half of the book is comprised of a morning scene when a boy expresses a wish to go to the lighthouse but gets shot down due to probable weather conditions.   This part (and the day) ends at dinner.    The second half was an impersonal section of life thoughts (perhaps VWs?) with snippets of death notices – sounds harsh as I write it this way but it was harsh to me so I’ll not change it.     We are back at the summer house ten years later:     the servants tidy the place,   Lily starts over on a painting,  and a few others take a sailboat to the Lighthouse.    That’s about it.

I guess I should mention one of the main protagonists, Mrs. Ramsey, and how she is truly the heart of this novel.    We feel her thoughts and emotions (can thoughts be felt?   Are thoughts not energy?  – say yes – and we can feel energy, right?   so I do believe we can feel thoughts.)   We are “in knowing” of Mrs. Ramsey in the first half of the book as she contemplates everything that is important to her and we get softly seamlessly transferred between other character’s thoughts as they revolve around Mrs. Ramsey – she controlled a solar system and she was the sun.          It just struck me that I usually do not write much in my ‘thoughts’ posts about what a book is about but I want to with this one – and yet almost nothing ‘happens’!   I think, perhaps, that this book is another ‘in the head’ books and I’m not confident with literature-analysis.   Like the difference between knowing a great song and not being able to sing;  I appreciate the amazing critiques but feel unable to express (or even have) my own thoughts.   I am in awe of the other reviews and feel so humbled to think I want to try and be smart enough to participate.   (thus the few comments – I am inadequate even saying ‘wow – great review’.   But I’m here.   I’ll play.    Ya know, these things can get so intimidating – these discussions – but …    I don’t know.  I’ll shut up.   No, I won’t, who am I kidding!?


Last night, in my sleeps or in my dreams, I’m really not sure which, I wrestled with thinking and the construction of sentences with many commas as Ms Woolf does in this book and I felt the wave action of strange thoughts move and toss me and myself questioning the big questions without really voicing or expressing the question in words – it was a strange gloomy glossy swirly experience that now is only a shimmering hazy reflection that I’m not really sure happened as I remember.

Woolf’s prose is brain candy but luxurious candy like dark chocolate mousse or chocolate truffles from Godiva or Vosges Haute Chocolate with Bacon…

I did not like Mr. Ramsey.      I never did understand the ‘someone has blundered’ stuff.     He was like DOWN to his wife’s UP — opposites.  He only thought of himself – she thought of others.    His creation was his own wonderfulness living on;   hers was a beautiful moment held in time.    Not to say she was perfect;  I don’t want to say that.    But she was at least more self-aware and considerate, even if over-bearing.

p. 240 Mrs. R saying “Life stand still here.”

I loved the dichotomy of different perspectives all on the same event or situation.   How dinners together are wonderful or just a waste of time;  a silly diversion or necessary for true connections to others.

I was amazed at the skill that VW moved us through to other people – sometimes within sentences, so easy!   It felt like a camera panning over a scene and the thoughts therein voiced as the camera focused, from one person to the next.    How non-repetitive the obvious repetition seemed – it was appropriate.      How some phrases were poetry:   “He caught the rats, he cut the grass.”  p. 209  -and/or-   “ineffectiveness of action, supremacy of thought”  p. 292.

I adored Lily.   I respected her thoughtful questioning and her choosing her life as she did while accepting that others thought her a sad old-maid.    I loved her internal challenges to everyone – not giving Mr. Ramsey the sympathy he was so desperate for, considering the idea of not being kind to Charles Tansley because he was a total ass.

So much going on in this:   male-female relationships, generational differences,  reactions and choices per gender,  father-son vs.  father-daughter relationships, physical beauty and its impressions, marriage, even love as a concept – all kinds of love.

Do I assume that the red-hot poker flower was a symbol of something or that I’m over-analyzing?   Passions and emotions?      In fact, flowers in general appear everywhere throughout the text.   “She dropped her basket of flowers.”

I thought the very last line was incredible (and I would quote it here but I dropped the book back off at the library before I wrote it down!!!   oh well.)

RATING:   Five Pieces of Pie.

p155 – furze – gorse: very spiny and dense evergreen shrub with fragrant golden-yellow flowers; common throughout western Europe  (I don’t know gorse, either!   You get the same definition…)
p260 – benignant – serenely mild and kindly (I know benign – but am used to it only in terms of types of tumors;  I had not seen it in this form and even though I could ‘figure it out’, I wanted to write it down.)
p294 – cosmogony – the branch of astrophysics that studies the origin and evolution and structure of the universe (see note in parenthesis for benignant – same issue)
p296 – earwig – any of numerous insects of the order Dermaptera having elongate bodies and slender many-jointed antennae and a pair of large pincers at the rear.   YUCK.
p303 – censer – a container for burning incense; especially one that is swung on a chain in a religious ritual.
p309 – asphodels – a plant

I had the coolest bookmark for this book.   It featured a beautiful collection of lighthouses from Rhode Island.   If you would like to see it, please visit the artist who created it;  Bev’s  <– just click

(I just throw this in because it was from first thing this morning after getting 8″ of snow.    It was so beautiful but the pretty suspended stuff in the tree limbs and on the streets are already melted away…  I was trying to find a photo of Whale Rock which USED to be a lighthouse.)

* but this tiny print after the “All rights reserved, blahblahblah”  of Y.5.67 makes me think this book was printed in 1967.    A glued-in note states that the book was purchased for the Wareham Free Library in 1974.   The book cover says it is a Harbrace Modern Classic.

** Although the context weight is much different between my situation here and the one with Lily on p236-7, I loved this: “Always (it was her nature, or in her sex, she did not know which) before she exchanged the fluidity of life for the concentration of painting   (text shows no punctuation but I need a pause here) she had few moments of nakedness when she seemed like an unborn soul, a soul reft of body, hesitating on some windy pinnacle and exposed without protection to all the blasts of doubt.”


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17 thoughts on “To the Lighthouse

  1. I am so in awe of everyone who’s reading Virginia Woolf! I’m completely intimidated by her, even though everybody seems to be joining in the love-fest. I am not great with books that have slim plots – I’m all about the story!

    1. Why? WHY?! I both get and don’t about this intimidation thing. Could it be you studied her in school and she was portrayed as having a ‘difficult’ style? Isn’t that subjective? Someone on another post suggested certain personalities are attracted to Woolf’s work and some just are not. But why be intimidated? I’ve also read that people assume that she is a snob and would not like them – where do we get this? It fascinates. I can’t wait to read a bio of her because to me she is just some lady who lived in England at the turn of the century and wrote some interesting stuff. I had never heard of her when I was in school and it makes me mad that my English teachers never suggested her to me. (since those were the days I read ‘good’ stuff; Honors English, etc) Why were the only women authors I was exposed to Austen, the Brontes, Alcott? (which I scorned as nice-books-for-girls and thus read Vonnegut instead.) or did I just miss it. I wish I could find a recommended list of reading from those days to see if I just failed to consider or if the school system did. But then again, I was pretty dismissive of liberal arts in those days, too since I wanted to make lots of money and choose a career that paid well. ha! So sad, so laughable.

  2. Do you know, I’ve never read anything by Virginia Woolf. I might have to remedy that this year. I enjoyed reading this post, by the way.

  3. Yay, five pies! Love that quote you pulled: “Life stand still here.” Also love how you compared the book to Godiva chocolate truffles.. only you could make that connection, Care! 🙂

    I might be one of the very few who in fact loved Mr R. I didn’t like him at the beginning (the first pages) but while William Bankes was reminiscing about him (while with Lily), and especially when Mr R was looking onto Mrs R and James from afar, I sympathised with him. Especially at the end.

    1. Well, to reply to your comment abt chocolate: I first had ‘rolling in luxurious sheets’ but didn’t want anyone to assume more than I meant.

      Regarding sympathies for characters, VW often gave us teeter-tottering viewpoints of them to like them or not like them, back and forth. And often between characters – for instance, Lily dislikes Tansley then decides he is tolerable. Even Mrs. R decides, “yes, I like him” as if it were only a decision and not a reflection of her reactions/feelings. I think VW often considered Mrs. R’s feelings hot/cold for her husband but the degrees were slight.

      I choose to dislike Mr.R this time around but maybe on a reread, I can find more sympathy. Also, do you recall the line about instincts? “And this, like all instincts, was a little distressing to people who did not share it.” Explaining (somewhat) Mr.Carmichael’s dislike of Mrs.R. But I have also found that we dislike things about others that we dislike about ourselves. I keep thinking about this.

      AND to anyone else reading this, DO VISIT Claire’s review of TtL:

      1. Care, I’m afraid I don’t remember the instincts part until you quoted it. Her books give me info overload, but in a good way. Nicole of bibliographing wrote about that teeter tottering of liking and then not liking one another; it’s how we are in life, don’t you agree? I at least do that a lot.

        Thanks for the link love, btw, but my post is kind of embarrassing because it doesn’t really say much other than demonstrate a fit of gushing. Lol.

        1. Maybe, but your review was heartfelt and encouraged terrific comments and I related to it so I think it is great.

          I managed to visit ALL the posts and enjoyed the variety of insights – this is so fun. I was also able to avoid the Orlando ones. I’m afraid I’ll be late to that party, too.

  4. I loved this when I read it in college but it’s been years since I read Woolf. I love that you all are reading and enjoying her! Great review Care! 🙂

  5. Care, you really got going with the words “and I felt the wave action of strange thoughts move and toss me…” I’ll take your random thoughts any day! I have to say, I was intimidated 2 weeks ago by the whole experience of the TTL challenge–some bloggers are so well educated about VW! — and I was very down in the dumps about the book. The whole time I read it I was haunted by the scene in the movie “The Hours” where VW is shown walking into the river to drown herself. But, trying so hard to write something that other people would like, I didn’t say this. So I’m very much for random thoughts– you seem to be very honest about your reactions. I love all the little things you put in, your bookmark; the vocabulary words… I too look up words I don’t know –and write the definitions in the margins.

    Do we feel thoughts? I never stopped to think about this, but I think we must. The red-hot poker flower? I hope somebody answers your question about whether this is symbolic because I’m curious myself.

    1. I think VW felt thoughts – I’m sure I read a line or two in TTL about the physical construct of a thought. ? Did you read one of the posts that said Woolf didn’t encourage any symbol analysis for this work? At least that is how I took it – more to be felt emotionally rather than deconstructed?

  6. I greatly enjoyed your review!! Other than being thoroughly researched, I feel that your review was beautifully written as well! 🙂

    I’ve never read Woolf, but after seeing so many beautiful reviews online, I can only run and grab the next copy I get! Thanks for thoroughly reviewing this!

  7. Care, belated thanks for the kind comment on my own To the Lighthouse post and your own lovely Woolf post here! I think Woolf is more “challenging” in some ways than many other writers, but I don’t understand the intimidation factor either. That being said, I got a big chuckle out of your Austen/Brontes/Alcott “nice-books-for-girls” crack since those authors are way harder to avoid than Woolf in the blog world most of the year!

    1. Hello! Thank you for stopping by here. Hypocrite that I am, I find myself intimidated by A.S.Byatt – her vocabulary is astounding. But I can’t think of any other authors that I’ve been hesitant to read. Maybe that guy who wrote Lolita…

      Your read-along invitation is appreciated and I will consider joining in for a book or two. Thank you. (anyone reading this, just click over to Richard’s blog and look for a post called INVITATION…)

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