TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf | Review

Months ago when I was choosing what tutorials I’d like to take at Oxford I asked my roommate if she knew anything about Virginia Woolf. She said that she had a really interesting life, particularly the circumstances of her death (she committed suicide and left a note). Based on my roommate’s vague interest alone I decided to take an entire term on Woolf and her writing… without having read anything by her myself. (Look at me being academically spontaneous.) Of course, I had heard mountains of praise about her famous works such as A Room of One’s Own and Mrs. Dalloway, but I knew nothing about her writing style at all.

Eager to brush up on Woolf before heading to Oxford, I decided that she would be one of my priority authors to read this summer. I arbitrarily started with To the Lighthouse solely because it was the only Woolf novel in my local public library. (A discovery that made me stare at the shelf angrily and promise that if I ever win the lottery I will most definitely donate money to this bookish abode.)

+ Stream of consciousness writing style. The first thing that struck me while reading this novel was the stream of consciousness style used. Little introduction is given of the characters, setting, or general premise of the story in the beginning; rather, the reader is thrown head first into a sea of thoughts and worries and hopes that one must wade through in order to understand the story as a whole. Woolf also writes via a variety of perspectives, each one focusing on the inner workings of a specific character. A major strength of this novel is the way Woolf uses this stream of consciousness style to seamlessly flow from one focal point to the next. The transitions are nearly imperceptible in the sense that you don’t even realize they have occurred until you’re already reading in the perspective of a different character.

+ Lily Briscoe. I knew that Lily would become my favorite character from the first time she was mentioned. Her position outside of the Ramsay family makes her perspective one of the most interesting and important views in the novel. I couldn’t help feeling an emotional connection with Lily as she yearns for the support and love of others. She views the Ramsay family as an idealized symbol of love and perfect unity; however, the other perspectives reveal a very different reality. Lily is a constant throughout the entire novel, much like the lighthouse itself. Even when time passes and certain characters come and go, Lily is always there with her painting, optimism, and fascinating introspection. She is both feminine and independent, a contrasting figure to Mrs. Ramsay.

+ The lighthouse. Ah, the lighthouse. It’s the common thread running through the entire novel, that elusive destination so greatly desired by Mrs. Ramsays’s children and so persistently avoided by Mr. Ramsay. The continual emphasis on visiting the lighthouse reminds me of Jay Gatsby looking out across the sound in The Great Gatsby, reaching towards that green light that embodied everything he had been working towards his entire life. Like the romanticized idea of the “American Dream” that Gatsby desires, the lighthouse represents a sort of unattainable end goal. When James finally reaches the lighthouse after years of wanting to visit it, he realizes that it cannot compare to the lighthouse he envisioned as a child. It is interesting to see everyone’s relationship to the lighthouse as the novel progresses, especially in the final section of the novel.

Overall, To the Lighthouse randomly happened to be a great introduction to Virginia Woolf’s writing. This is a captivating, fascinating, thought-provoking novel that sparks endless discussion points with its many intriguing themes. I’m so glad I took my roommate’s advice and chose to study Woolf for a term in Oxford. Hopefully I can read more of her work this summer!

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes! I think this is a great Woolf novel to pick up even if you’ve never read anything written by her before.

What are your thoughts on To the Lighthouse? What Woolf novel should I read next? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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29 thoughts on “TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf | Review

  1. I’d also recommend A Room of One’s Own and Mrs. Dalloway for a Woolf newbie, since they’re the easiest to read. To the Lighthouse is a beautiful place to start though!

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  2. I believe I’ve only read A Room of One’s Own and Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Of course, it’s possible I’m forgetting something because I took so very many literature courses in school.

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  3. Great review! It is strange how we all seem to know about Virginia Woolf and her death and yet nowadays not many people have read her works. I know I certainly haven’t! This review definitely makes me want to change that!

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    1. Thank you! I agree– I feel like I vaguely know what her most famous works are about– especially A Room of One’s Own– though To the Lighthouse is the only one I’ve read.

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  4. This is the only book by Woolf that I have read, and I loved it! I can’t wait to read more by her. I have also read a few of her short stories, which I recommend a read, as often Woolf’s writing I think is so beautiful that its great to read in short bursts, and appreciate all the beauty. I really loved the time passing section in to the lighthouse, just beautiful 🙂

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  5. I’ve read “To the Lighthouse” twice in my college career. One for an English Modernism/20th Century Philosophy cross-listed class my sophomore year of undergrad (and hated it). The second time for a Literature of Gender and Sexuality class my first year of graduate school (it made more sense since I had the notes from the first read-through).

    Woolf hasn’t been my favorite author. I’ve never liked stream of consciousness. Several people are shocked to hear this for whatever reason. I just enjoy having a plot that I can easily follow without having to hurl the book against the wall in frustration, begging for it to give up its secrets.

    That being said, “A Room of One’s Own” is the first bit by Woolf that I actually enjoyed (again, reading for the Sex & Gender Lit class). I’ve read “Mrs. Dalloway,” and while I enjoyed that more than TTL, I still couldn’t get around the stream of consciousness.

    There are people who love Woolf (my LGS teacher in particular) and there are some who can’t stand her. I’m sort of in the middle camp. She’s okay, but she’s not among my favorites. If I washed up on a deserted island and this book was there, I’d read it. Maybe I’d understand it more if it was the only thing I ever had access to. But as it is now, there are so many other things for me to read that I don’t want to waste time struggling through Woolf.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the novel.

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    1. Your Lit of Gender and Sexuality class sounds so interesting! The stream of consciousness writing style definitely took me a little bit to get used to and it was confusing at times. I found myself rereading certain passages to make sure I knew which character Woolf was actually focusing on. It’s good to hear that you enjoyed a Room of One’s Own– I think that’s the next thing by Woolf that I’m going to tackle!

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      1. It was a great class! I enjoyed the majority of what I read in there, but the stream-of-consciousness narratives that we read just didn’t do it for me. I’ve never been able to get into that style of writing, unfortunately. There are some people I know that just eat it up.

        I managed to figure out which passages belonged to which person, by myself and through the classes I took, and marked them all throughout the book so if my sister ever needs it (or if I hate myself enough to read it again), there will be something to help her, at least a little bit.

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      2. I always buy my books for school. It took me a long time (halfway through my sophomore year of undergrad!) to get comfortable with marking up my books. Now I wish I’d always done it. It makes it so much easier to keep track of things in those books I might need for school again in the future! (Or if my sister needs them!)

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  6. I started A Room of One’s Own earlier this summer but kind of stopped after the first chapter. Judging by your comment section, though, it’s worth pushing through. I have a lovely copy of To the Lighthouse that a friend gave me, so I might have that be my next Virginia Woolf read. 😀 Thank you so much for being passionate about classics and sharing your thoughts with us. It can get really tiring to see nothing but reviews of new releases. Your reviews are like a breath of fresh air.

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    1. Aww, thanks so much!! ❤ I'm so glad that you enjoy these reviews! I definitely understand what you mean about only seeing reviews on new releases….. it can actually be refreshing to go back to the past sometimes 🙂 It's really great to hear that other bookworms are enthusiastic about classics, too!

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