I have been wary of Virginia Woolf for some time. I read Orlando at a very young age and did not like it one bit and since then have been very anxious about any Woolf related works. Though how I could possibly be attempting to read classics, especially Classics written by Women (Women’s Classics Literature Reading Event) without reading Woolf was something I often wondered about and finally Ali came to my rescue with her #WoolfAlong. Now seemed like a good time as any to start reading a Woolf; after all, the stars were propitiously aligned so to speak. I chose what is considered Ms. Woolf best work To The Lighthouse and plunged in.
The novel is divided into 3 sections -The Window, Time Passes and To the Lighthouse. The Window opens with Mr and Mrs Ramsay and some their friends visiting them in the summer house of Isle of Skye. They have eight children between them and there are tensions between them as well between them and the children. James the youngest of the Ramsay children wants to go to the Lighthouse, but his father crashes his dreams by saying that the weather will not be clear enough for the expedition, a statement that causes James to resent his father and creates tensions between Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay. Lily Briscoe, a young under confident artist is a friend visiting the Ramsays ,as is William Banks, a scholar and Paul Rayley, a young man about town and Minta Manning, along with Charles Tanney, a young upcoming scholar, whose views that women cannot write, cannot paint, greatly undermines Lily’s confidence. Each guest has their own assessment of the Ramsays and vice-versa. The section ends with a dinner party and an engagement of Paul Rayley and Minta. Section 2 is a series of images of time passing, there are deaths and Mrs. McNab who keeps the house for the Ramsays informs us of the decay in the house over a period of 10 years, that includes the World War I years, during which the Ramsay’s have cease to visit the house. Section 3 opens with the return of some of the members of the Ramsay family and some of their old friends, including Lily Briscoe. The Ramsays, especially Mr. Ramsay and James finally set out for the Lighthouse and Lily Briscoe finally finishes the painting she had started 10 years ago.
I had heard much about Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness approach and the fact that especially in this book there is not too much of an action and I was not sure if this was something I was going to really enjoy! Goes to show that unless you try something, you will never know. I loved the book. I am in complete awe of how the whole process of thinking and thoughts connected and held the entire novel together. I completely mesmerized by the fact that the these thoughts reveal the characters as well move the novel forward. I loved Section 2 where there are no distinct characters and just a sense of time moving and as it moved, my heart broke for the change and the loss; but the ending fortified me and the triumph of reaching the Lighthouse was significant at so many levels. There are enough philosophical debates for the reader to ponder over, long after the novel is read – for instance the transience of work. Mr. Ramsay is constantly worried that his work will be forgotten once he is dead and oblivion is the inevitable end, no matter how great you are. The concept that art as portrayed in Lily Briscoe’s painting is only means of truly capturing the memories and happiness.The question of marriage as a means of true happiness – Mrs. Ramsay, herself in a happily married state, despite minor irritations is convinced that marriage is “the” thing for women to attain true happiness; however Lily is convinced that women may have other resources outside of marriage to find happiness and containment and not all marriages lead to happiness.The characterizations are wonderful and even the inanimate objects like sea and the house and the lighthouse are integral and characters unto themselves moving the story along. Most of all I was completely bowled over by prose, the colors that described an image and at the same time spoke of emotions experience by the central characters – “she had known happiness, exquisite happiness, intense happiness, and it silvered the rough waves a little more brightly, as daylight faded, and the blue went out of the sea and it rolled in waves of pure lemon which curved and swelled and broke upon the beach and the ecstasy burst in her eyes and waves of pure delight raced over the floor of her mind and she felt, It is enough! It is enough!”Another instance of so,e vivid prose where the natural phenomena describes the agony of the protagonists “The nights now are full of wind and destruction; the trees plunge and bend and their leaves fly helter skelter until the lawn is plastered with them and they lie packed in gutters and choke rain pipes and scatter damp paths. Also the sea tosses itself and breaks itself, and should any sleeper fancying that he might find on the beach an answer to his doubts, a sharer of his solitude, throw off his bedclothes and go down by himself to walk on the sand, no image with semblance of serving and divine promptitude comes readily to hand bringing the night to order and making the world reflect the compass of the soul. The hand dwindles in his hand; the voice bellows in his ear. Almost it would appear that it is useless in such confusion to ask the night those questions as to what, and why, and wherefore, which tempt the sleeper from his bed to seek an answer.” The only thing I felt that kind of stumped me is that we in the end do not know what happened to Mr. Banks or even some of the other children of the Ramsays. It was like being left in the middle of road, without even knowing which direction to head in. But that is only a minor deterrent, not taking anything at all from this brilliant book
What more can I say, except that unless your read it, you can never really experience it. I know I will keep coming back to book again and again!