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Virginia Woolf – To The Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse was first published in 1927 and is one of Virginia Woolf’s best known works and is set on two days ten years apart. The plot centers around the Ramsay family’s anticipation of and reflection upon a visit to a lighthouse and the connected familial tensions. Woolf is famous for her style of writing known as stream-of-consciousness, her books usually dont have a plot one can follow and are focused entirely on the thoughts, perceptions, emotions and random flights taken by the minds of the characters. This book is a good example of that but should not be taken lightly as something banal, it is actually a complex narrative full of interweaving themes, the prose is lyrical and beautiful in parts and the novel is laden with a deep emotional heaviness.

First impression or rather first thing to impress me is Woolf’s ability to be so impeccably aware of the flow of thoughts, emotions, perceptions and all the other opaque workings of our subconscious at any given time. This gives her the ability to follow her characters’ fictitious and often complicated trains of thought and all of the powerful feelings that come along with them at any point in time inspired only by them seeing various mundane objects such as kitchen tables or fleeting glances of other people

She could see it all so clearly, so commandingly, when she looked: it was when she took her brush in hand that the whole thing changed. It was in that moment’s flight between the picture and her canvas that the demons set on her who often brought her to the verge of tears and made this passage from conception to work as dreadful as any down a dark passage for a child. Such she often found herself -struggling against terrific ods to maintain her courage; to say: ‘But this is what I see; this is what I see’, and so to clasp some miserable remnant of her vision to her breast, which a thousand forces did their best to pluck from her. And it was then too, in that chill and windy way, as she began to paint, that there forced themselves upon her other things, her own inadequacy, her insignificance, keeping house for her father off the Brompton Road, and had much ado to control her impulse to fling herslef (thank Heaven she had always resisted so far) at Mrs Ramsay’s knee and say to her – but what could one say to her? ‘I’m in love with this all’, waving her hand at the hedge, at the hosue, at the children? It was absurd, it was impossible.

In this passage we see Woolf perfectly encapsulate in all of its gory detail the struggles of an artist about to embark on a translation of artistic vision to crude canvas, all of the mind’s wanderings and emotional upheavals that this causes. There is an amazing ability to grasp such deep emotion.

How then did it work out, all this? How did one judge people, think of them? How did one add up this and that and conclude that it was liking one felt, or disliking? And to those words, what meaning attached, after all?

Here Woolf addresses the uncertainty of forming perceptions of people and how those perceptions are often impermanent and often-changing. She also addresses the hypocricy of forming judgments, formulating them into words, sentences, adjectives and all of the imperfections of language that go along with doing that.

And the above two excerpts are just that, two excerpts. There are many more riches in the novel itself and it is a very interesting read. Apparently when writing it Woolf spent time just sitting and figuring out how her mind and emotions work. It must have been a difficult experience, sometimes we may discover things about ourselves and the way we think/feel that we never knew and are hard to confront. Respect is due.

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