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To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

26 Jan

WoolfWhistleEvery summer, the Ramsay’s visit their summer home on the beautiful Isle of Skye, surrounded by the excitement and chatter of family and friends, mirroring Virginia Woolf’s own joyful holidays of her youth. But as time passes, and in its wake the First World War, the transience of life becomes ever more apparent through the vignette of the thoughts and observations of the novel’s disparate cast.

Focusing on the idiosyncrasies and insecurities which we all recognise in ourselves, this book by turns witty and dark with an ever-present feeling of familiarity.  Woolf’s layered exploration of the relationships between people and places and the effects time has on both is as deft as it can be frustrating at times.

Played out over a decade in which WWI cruelly intervenes, this poignant depiction of life,  explores themes of loss, class and social structure and the question of perception on the connections we make and what they mean to us.

The language is the key to the readers enjoyment (or otherwise), it is wonderfully written with long, rhythmic sentences, plenty of commas and swirling prose containing tangents that comes back on themselves time and again like the waves breaking below the Ramsay’s holiday home.

On the flip side, I found it easy to get somewhat disoriented if I didn’t concentrate, the lengthy sentences and abrupt change of character can render certain passages confusing if one is not constantly focussed.  Of course if you do choose to lose yourself in the language, your patience will be infinitely rewarded by the richness of the prose.

It felt like I had spent an age reading through Woolf’s words but it was fitting, as this is one of those books that demands time and expects to be digested slowly for its richly descriptive paragraphs and multifaceted outlook on a number of factors. Life, death, feminism, psychology, place in society and so forth are all spoken about in subtle allusions rooted in literature and the thoughts of the time.

As the characters interact, we see their relationships and how they view the world,  their private opinions on life and the other guests in all the petty, contradictory, thoughtful tumultuousness that is the human mind.  It’s easy to relate to these people in all their flawed ways.  This is a thought-provoking, observant and challenging book which celebrates human nature in a very real light and the cocktail of complicated demands and roles that we must perform and observe for no other reason than because this is what we do and what is expected of us.

Having gotten to the end and ruminated over what it all means,  what else can I say but it is a celebration of those moments that define thoughts and understandings, that clarify,  that prove pivotal to the unique world view of the thinker.  I really enjoyed it, the book captures what it is to be alive, to perceive  and to exist in a social mess that attempts to define us when we are an enigma to ourselves.  It considers the inward chaos of thoughts but equally important defines and explores the limits of what cannot be analysed.

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59 Comments

Posted by on 26/01/2016 in Classics

 

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59 responses to “To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

  1. Jessica @ Like Bears to Honey

    26/01/2016 at 19:52

    I read this book for an art history class a few years ago, so we spent most of our time focusing on Woolf’s writing on perception and the art of making art. It seems like any time I have to read for school, I have a hard time remembering to actually enjoy the reading, because it becomes a chore. I may have to revisit this book soon, because it seems like you enjoyed your experience! What are you reading next?

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    • Ste J

      26/01/2016 at 20:18

      School does seem to suck the wonder out of books, I did enjoy its thickly layered text and the wide ranging amount of topics it covers. At the moment I am reading another wordy book, A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book which I’m enjoying and hope to finish sometime soon for a review, I can’t believe I have had it on my shelves for three years without starting it.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Jessica @ Like Bears to Honey

        26/01/2016 at 20:32

        I read The Children’s Book last year! It is definitely a big book, I had to draw a family tree to keep track of all the characters at first. I will eagerly look for your review on it!

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        • Ste J

          26/01/2016 at 20:37

          I am in two minds whether it has lost a bit of magic for me but as I’m not quite halfway through yet there is plenty of time to go with it and more coffee to drink also. It is a bit bewildering when they drop in a minor character and just go with it, that happened with some of the girls originally but I’m coping better now.

          Liked by 1 person

           
          • Jessica @ Like Bears to Honey

            26/01/2016 at 21:36

            Yes, I definitely had mixed feelings about the book. I won’t say more until you’ve finished the book!

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            • Ste J

              27/01/2016 at 16:23

              I’ve read another 100 or so pages down the pub today and I am now more appreciative yet more undecided on my stance…I blame too much coffee.

              Liked by 1 person

               
  2. Andrea Stephenson

    26/01/2016 at 19:57

    This one is on my list to read Ste and I have a copy upstairs, a great introduction, makes me want to dig it out now!

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    • Ste J

      26/01/2016 at 20:05

      It is the sort of weather to curl up with it and sink into an idyllic setting and let the language wash over you. I do enjoy being a tempter!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  3. Sarah

    26/01/2016 at 20:42

    The writing is truly magnificent, isn’t it? And you’re right about the pace, it needs a slow read to allow for a satisfactory rumination. Did you read it as part of the #Woolfalong? I’m hoping to fit in a Woolf novel or two during the year, as they’re always such a melancholy pleasure.

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    • Ste J

      26/01/2016 at 20:50

      Woolfalong? It sounds like an Australian town. My main reason for reading Woolf was because my T-Z author page is shorter than the rest, I wish I had a better reason but I enjoy symmetry where possible and lacking the latter part of the alphabet representation irks me.

      I’m not sure what I was expecting writing wise but I loved wallowing in it, I have Orlando which I may fit in sometime this year thanks to the Extraordinary League of Gentlemen.

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      • Alastair Savage

        27/01/2016 at 07:14

        Orlando is the best of her books, in my opinion, but also one to savour slowly.

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        • Ste J

          27/01/2016 at 16:47

          Orlando has been on my shelf for a while, I did wonder if Alan Moore was referring to Woolf’s Orlando or Orlando Furioso by Ludivico Ariosto, I now realise Woolf was his reference point but Furioso sounds like an intriguing mix of Baron Munchausen and Parzival which cannot fail to entice me.

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          • Alastair Savage

            28/01/2016 at 07:05

            That’s another book I’ve always wanted to read but never got round to. So many books, so little time..

            Liked by 1 person

             
  4. Jill Weatherholt

    26/01/2016 at 22:07

    Okay, you had me at lighthouse, Ste J. I adore lighthouses and I’m very drawn to this cover. No doubt it’s going on my TBR list. Thanks for a great review.

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    • Ste J

      27/01/2016 at 16:39

      There is something romantic and sinister about lighthouses, when I was younger I read a few stories about missing lighthouse keepers and watched The Horror at Fang Rock, classic Doctor Who with a Gothic feel to it. Lighthouses are such a mine for interesting and spooky stories.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  5. macjam47

    27/01/2016 at 00:15

    Beautifully done, my friend. Sometimes we get lost in a book that has so many characters and it does take time to sort it all out. I love reading your reviews as I never know what to expect in your choice of books.

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    • Ste J

      27/01/2016 at 16:38

      I do try and pick a different genre of book each time, although my reviews suggest different sometimes as I struggle to write reviews on some books whilst others are easily done. To the Lighthouse is a book that will stay with me for a while as I think on it. It makes being varied easier as I can read a lighter book as I think on other books I am reviewing because this man can multi-task!

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • macjam47

        28/01/2016 at 03:59

        LOL! The mighty multi-tasker! I find the same to be the case – some books are much easier to review than others.

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  6. Resa

    27/01/2016 at 01:26

    Ste J, what a fabulous review this is! You are so smart, articulate and well read. Oh,and easy to read.

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    • Ste J

      27/01/2016 at 17:01

      Thank you! I never pay mind to how I come across when I write as long as I make sense, your observations drive me to write and read more widely which is the best gift you can give a chap.

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      • Resa

        28/01/2016 at 23:04

        Keep writing & I’ll keep reading! Hugs to you!

        Liked by 1 person

         
  7. clarepooley33

    27/01/2016 at 01:50

    I loved this book and for the same reasons as you. Even though it is a short book I couldn’t read it quickly because of the wonderfully rich prose. VW made every word count and each sentence is like a necklace of jewels. I have read quite a few of her books and have enjoyed them all. I have also read her complete diaries which are so useful when trying to put her novels in context. I see from your comment to Sarah that you hope to read Orlando soon. That is a very strange book but well worth sticking with.

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    • Ste J

      27/01/2016 at 17:07

      I was introduced to Orlando through Alan Moore’s Extraordinary League of Gentlemen, that guy must be really well read. I like the idea of an enigma through time, it gels with my love of Doctor Who of course and that makes me happy. Woolf is a really good writer, there were a few times when I couldn;t pick the book up because I knew I didn’t have the patience at that time but that is probably a good thing as I appreciated it when I did read as opposed to powering through it for completion’s sake.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • clarepooley33

        27/01/2016 at 19:54

        I agree. It’s always a good idea to wait until we are ready for a book or author. You have to have enough experiences of your own to appreciate what the author is saying. I don’t know Alan Moore I am ashamed to say. Have heard of the film but have never seen it. My education is obviously incomplete!

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        • Ste J

          28/01/2016 at 08:59

          The graphic novels are much better than the film, there are a wealth of literary references which added a huge number of good books to my wishlist. Reading begets reading and makes me happy.

          Liked by 1 person

           
  8. Liz

    27/01/2016 at 05:06

    I love the idea of a Woolfalong! It sounds like a musical instrument to me. I also love your reason for picking this book… Anyway, I digress. I was surprised that I did not know TTLH was set on Skye – one of my most favourite places in the world. This alone, coupled with another fabulous review from you, has catapulted it well up to the tottering heights of my to read list.

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    • Ste J

      27/01/2016 at 17:00

      It always amazes me when I come across books that I had no idea were set in a time or place that interested me yet were nevertheless written by somebody famous. It just goes to sow how strange the world of literature is, that we do not see these books that speak to us in amongst all the other great works. It does spur me on to read as much as I can though and bring those books to my wonderful readers.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  9. shadowoperator

    27/01/2016 at 13:46

    Oh, let’s wallow awhile in fine literature! I’m so excited to hear that you’ve read “To the Lighthouse”! It’s about my favorite Woolf, or so I was going to say until you reminded me of “Orlando.” Many people treat it as a literary curoisity, but i think it’s actually a fine modern novel which has postmodern time machine elements in it. And shame on you for resisting so long the call of Byatt’s “The Children’s Book”! Byatt, I feel is the natural inheritor of the Woolfian tradition: she’s what Virginia Woolf wanted to be, what Virginia Woolf aspired to for herself and every other woman: she’s not only well-educated, she’s highly creative. Woolf pined all her life about the fact that good schools at the time were not receptive to women, and I think she would really have liked and admired (and been a rival of) Byatt, had they lived at the same time. Anyway, enjoy. You can’t go wrong with these writers (though I did find Woolf’s “The Waves” a little tedious–the sorts of sentences you mention without much in the way of plot, to my thinking).

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    • Ste J

      27/01/2016 at 17:27

      I find people who treat certain books as curiosities miss the point, I have labelled a few such books I have read as such but in more of an appreciative way, I look forward to reading more of her works. he Children’s Boom started off strongly started to annoy me in parts but now I am over halfway it is getting good again, it is pure chance that I picked this book up so soon after. I am enjoying the themes that are a natural progression of Woolf’s thoughts and also bowing my head in shame that it took three years to get around to reading it.

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      • shadowoperator

        06/02/2016 at 12:40

        It’s so long since I read “To the Lighthouse”–I was trying to remember who my favorite character was (other than the mother figure) and it just popped into my head this morning–Lily, the artist! There was a brief bit in there which I’ve always found intriguing, something about something or someone being shaped like a triangle. Funny, the things we remember!

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        • Ste J

          06/02/2016 at 13:15

          There is something different and thought provoking on every page, I remember precisely the bit you are on about. Lily is a good character, I always hoped that something good would come about for her, I liked the mother to begin with as well but as I read on, I started to be mildly annoyed by her.

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  10. Theanne aka magnoliamoonpie

    27/01/2016 at 15:39

    Seems I always feel at war with Virginia and her writing…however, after reading your words regarding To the LIghthouse I might just give this one a try too 🙂

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    • Ste J

      27/01/2016 at 16:31

      I think it depends on your frame of mind for her books, had I tackled this at other times I most certainly would have abandoned it in frustration but the beauty of books is that we can reread them and appreciate them better second time around…or not, such is the wilfulness of reading.

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      • Theanne aka magnoliamoonpie

        27/01/2016 at 17:18

        I find that to be true of V. Woolf…that reading a 2nd or 3rd time allows me to feel the emotion of the work. While I in no way have the intellect they did…I always feel drawn to VW and Sylvia Plath, for many reasons. The “wilfulness of reading” I like that wording 🙂

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  11. Sheila

    27/01/2016 at 16:18

    This sounds like a perfect winter read – to bring back some of those summer days while getting lost in the language. I’ll have to make sure to read it soon – thank you!

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    • Ste J

      27/01/2016 at 16:53

      I find it strange that we love books that remind us of summer, yet when summer comes there is never a winter book that enters the mind…Those Russian classics are always best left for winter and autumn and such.

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      • Sheila

        27/01/2016 at 17:01

        That’s true – maybe I’ll have to try reading some Jack London this summer to cool off. The Russian books give us that cozy feeling so that’s always fun during a snowstorm, but I can’t imagine them as a beach read.

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        • Ste J

          27/01/2016 at 17:10

          I keep looking at all the Russian books I have and they do seem overly daunting for some strange reason. I hope yo squeeze some in before summer, then I can read Enid Blyton books and be a child again.

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  12. Jilanne Hoffmann

    27/01/2016 at 20:00

    Yes, she isn’t a writer for those with short attention spans, unless you’re just admiring her ability to put sentences together. She was dark and witty. I read this book a long time ago, and I’m thinking it’s time for a re-read. I’ve got a few posts about Woolf, including one that links to her reading one of her essays, if you do a search for her on my blog. Cheers!

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    • Ste J

      28/01/2016 at 10:07

      Excellent, I shall go check them out. I can understand why Woolf divides people with her writing but I for one am a big fan.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  13. Letizia

    28/01/2016 at 22:17

    I love this book (as well as The Waves) and your review has really done it justice. It’s one of those beautiful works of art where form and content support each other.

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    • Ste J

      05/02/2016 at 16:12

      I am glad I could do it justice, I would have liked to be a lot ore analytical of the text itself but that way would have lead to a month of posts and possibly a bit of madness creeping in. The Waves is getting a lot of love, it is going on the list!

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  14. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder

    28/01/2016 at 22:18

    I read this long ago, in my college days and fell in love with the book. Your words have just rekindled my memory… I liked Mrs Dalloway also.. 🙂

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    • Ste J

      05/02/2016 at 16:14

      I shall be picking up plenty more of Woolf as soon as my bank account realises its tight grip on my finances. I love to remind people of books as well as find new ones for them to read. It makes me happy.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  15. Sherri

    02/02/2016 at 23:01

    I’ve often wondered about this book, definitely one I want to read at some point but not yet as I know I will want to spend time digesting it and at the moment, I’m finding it hard to break away from my writing so that I don’t get off track. But thank you for your wonderful review, I love the sound of it and Woolf’s wonderful prose, one to tuck away and look forward to…

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Ste J

      05/02/2016 at 16:35

      Yes don’t let this distract you, it will save for later and you would be enticed into her world, it is unavoidable and demands time spent gazing in thoughtful mode. I hope your writing is going well my friend and that nobody steals your pen (becuase I don’t hold with the idea of typing on a keyboard, I never use one myself, this is just you dreaming)

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Sherri

        05/02/2016 at 17:34

        Something to look forward to for later, definitely. The writing is going surprisingly well, thank you my friend. I did manage to get one post out this week, and if I can keep going with my rewrites as I have this week, then I hope to get back to that all important writing/blogging balance and be a bit less scarce around here. Let’s see. A good dream then… 🙂

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        • Ste J

          05/02/2016 at 19:37

          I shall be around the blogs visiting tomorrow, it has been a while so loads to catch up on but I will feel better about being away when I have done that. I am glad the writing is going well, keep going my friend!

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  16. Asha

    07/02/2016 at 06:09

    I haven’t yet the opportunity to read any of Woolf’s book. Do I start with this one? What do you recommend, J?

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    • Ste J

      07/02/2016 at 09:51

      This was my first Woolf book and I enjoyed it so yes I think it is a good place to start, as I read more I shall keep you updated.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Asha

        07/02/2016 at 13:48

        Sounds good. So once I finish Anton Chekhov, I may begin with this. Although, I also want to read Brothers Karamazov next.

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        • Ste J

          09/02/2016 at 13:49

          I’ve never tackled any Chekhov but I have The Brothers Karamazov somewhere, it looks like a hefty tome, as ever your opinion of it will be most welcome.

          Liked by 1 person

           
  17. anna amundsen

    16/02/2016 at 23:09

    The book is a diamond. I will state just that much.

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    • Ste J

      17/02/2016 at 18:55

      Yes it really is, I am looking forward to reading more of her in the upcoming months.

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  18. The Book Haven

    16/03/2016 at 00:17

    I am not particularly fond of stream of consciousness technique, which is why I keep avoiding James Joyce (Finnegans Wake gives Sartre’s obscurity a run for money) but Virginia Woolf is delightfully poetic and musical. I read somewhere, this novel requires multiple readings at different stages of life for proper interpretation. I would like to read To the Lighthouse at least three times (just read once so far and found it brilliantly evocative).

    Yes, it does demand your full attention like you pointed out. I guess that is the fun part of reading Woolf.

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    • Ste J

      16/03/2016 at 09:29

      Joyce is an author who I have never really wanted to read, maybe one day when the book pile has been well and truly decimated (as if!) then I will. It will be intriguing to reread and further review in a few decades, if we are all still blogging that is.

      Like

       

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