Tag Archives: Cornwall

Virginia Woolf (5): To the Lighthouse

I don’t think the streams of consciousnesses in either Virginia Woolf’s 1925 Mrs. Dalloway (my favorite) or her 1927  To the Lighthouse (generally regarded as her greatest work)  are the way anyone thinks (maybe Molly Bloom’s at the end of Ulysses are, though I have my doubts about that, too). They do reveal what the characters, mostly Mrs. Ramsey in the first part of To the Lighthouse and Lily Briscoe in the last part think about various things and (mostly) other people.


(cover of first edition)

Part Two is about the summer house in the Hebrides (north of where Woolf’s family summered when she was young, on St. Ives Bay, Cornwall)  as it falls apart after the death of Mrs. Ramsey and two of her eight children (Andrew in WWI, Prue in childbirth; Woolf had four siblings, none of whom died during WWI, three of whom outlived her, plus three half-siblings from her mother’s first marriage), though there is the housekeeper, Mrs. McNab fretting about the decay she cannot block on her own.

Though not having a “comic ending,” the book has something of a happy ending, as Lily completes the picture she first tried to paint in Part One. Though I thought she was a version of Vanessa Bell in Part One, I realized she was more of a self-portrait of the woman artist, albeit one less recognized than either of the Stephens sisters (whose parents are pictured as the Ramseys). More so than the houseguest poet, Augustus Carmichael.

Godrevy_sunset_Dave Taskis.PNG

(the original model of the lighthouse, Godrevy Lighthouse in St. Ives Bay, Cornwall, photo by Dave Taskis from Wikimedia Commons)

Cam(illa) and the resentful James get to the lighthouse with their father in Part Three, also. I think Woolf portrays the two Ramsey males convincingly.  (She wwould say in A Room of One’s Own that women did not write books about men, and the main characters in To the Lighthouse are male; still there are major male characters in the novels from her prime.) The child James desperately wanted to go to the lighthouse, though told the weather (forecast) would not permit it.

I think that Woolf’s best work was done in the six-year period between 1925 and 1931 (Mrs. Dalloway to The Waves), including A Room of One’s Own, which I will take up next. (I have failed to get through Orlando ((1928), twice.)

©2018, Stephen O. Murray