To the Lighthouse (Review)

Labels: Great Works

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To the Lighthouse
Virginia Woolf, 1927
309 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
October 2008

Family and guests gather at a rambling seaside cottage, time passes and, 10 years later, father, son and daughter take a boat trip out to a light house. There you have the sum total of plot in Virginia Woolf's famed novel.

Characters and their individual perception are what intrigue Woolf, not plot—and in Lighthouseshe gives full rein to her modernist ideas: reality is subjective, life is transient, truth and certainty are unattainable. It is only art that offers an antidote to an ever changing, death-threatening world.

The book is divided into three sections. In the first, Mrs. Ramsay, the central figure, attempts to unify the household, to accomodate the separate desires of her family and guests. The short second section denotes the passage of time—war, death, and time's ever encroachment on the deserted seaside house. The third section sees the return of Mr. Ramsay and two of his children as they attempt to reach the lighthouse.

What's the significance of the lighthouse? Good question. Obviously, a symbol, but one that's suggestive—not definitive—of illumination, solidity, certainty, permanence. When son James finally sees the lighthouse of his boyhood longing, it is not as he imagined but different. Yet which vision is the correct one? Both, he concludes—no single vision contains the complete truth.

Heavy, yeah, but that's Woolf. . . the "who's afraid of Virginia" part.

Try not to rush through this gorgeous work. Take your time and savor the writing—give Woolf leeway, allowing her to pull you in through her hypnotically luminous prose and imagery.

See our Reading Guide for To the Lighthouse.

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