To the Lighthouse

ByVirginia Woolf

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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Take my word for it--if you've not read Virginia Woolf before--you need to be in the mood to read her. I think her books can be unbearable otherwise. However, I was in the mood for "To the Lighthouse," and I thought it was terrific.
I've been much more intrigued by Virginia Woolf after Michael Cunningham's "The Hours," (and the subsequent film) brought her back into the limelight. She was fascinated with the degree to which everyday, seemingly trivial details of life can seem to be matters upon which the state of the world hinge in the lives of those experiencing them. Therefore, in Virginia Woolf's world, the decision as to whether or not a vacationing family will visit a lighthouse on the following day becomes the focus of everyone's thoughts--to a little boy, it seems as if his world will end if he doesn't get to go; to the father, his ability to determine whether or not they will go gives him a sense of power and authority over his wife and children.
And at the center of all this non-drama is Mrs. Ramsay, wife and mother, who is the foundation upon which the family is built. Woolf is expert in communicating the influence Mrs. Ramsay has on those around her. Everyone is struck by her beauty, her bearing, her very existence. It's this quality in her that makes so many wives and mothers the center of their respective families, which gives "To the Lighthouse" a sort of universality that resonated very strongly with me.
There has been a lot of literary study on the psychology of the novel (especially Freudian), which has become somewhat less interesting as Freud has become commonplace. I would instead appreciate it for the utter mastery of language exhibited by Woolf, and the insights she has into male/female relationships.
"To the Lighthouse" is one of those books that left me feeling incredibly sad in a very satisfied way, and I can't even tell you why. I don't always enjoy such ethereal writing (I don't even enjoy other books by Woolf) but in this case I enjoyed every word.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
lisa spielman
Those who come to Virginia Woolf for the first time do not know quite what to make of her style. Most authors structure their novels in the traditional rising action, climax, falling action manner. A linear line of plot is most often the key to their works. In Woolf's novels, she eschews such straight line plotting in favor of a weirdly blended kaleidoscopic view that makes relentless use of both a stream of consciousness narrator and interior monologues. In TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, Woolf tells the tale of a married couple, the Ramsays, who lived in England just before the First World War. The Ramsays are the prototypical Victorian family replete with servants, a summer beach house, eight children, and a keen awareness of the fragility of life. What happens to them is neither earth shaking nor memorable. What happens within them is of far greater consequence. As Woolf focuses on each character, she presents a highly subjective view of the internal thought processes of that character. Each thought is like a ripple caused by a stone thrown into a still pool. Woolf allows her character to meander not only spatially (from point to point) but also chronologically. Events are described as if they were occurring within the literal present, but most often the events are from the past merging into the future. Thus, the plot ripple pool is constantly crosscutting each other with events removed from each other both in space and in time. It is no wonder, then, that readers unfamiliar with such an expanding and contracting temporal flux are confused. Woolf challenges her readers to involve themselves in a manner that requires a dedication to reading not often found in more traditionally structured novels.

As one reads from section to section (there are three: The Window, Time Passes, and The Lighthouse), one becomes aware that the novel's primary symbols--the lighthouse, Lily's painting, the sea, and the internalized thought processes of Mrs. Ramsay--function in a manner that does not become clear until after one has read considerably into this admittedly puzzling work. The initial clue lies within the title of the book: "To the Lighthouse." Thus, the lighthouse is seen both as a starting point in a journey (its radiating beacon of light lies close to the Ramsay's summer home) and a destination in that the youngest of the Ramsays, James, wants to go there, but it takes him ten years to do so. Lily is Lily Briscoe, a close friend of the Ramsays who seems to have difficulty painting a portrait of Mrs. Ramsay, no great surprise there since that portrait points not so much to Mrs. Ramsay as it does to an abiding life-long interest of Virginia Woolf herself: the desire to impose order and form on a universe that is inherently chaotic. It is crucial to note that Lily succeeds only at the very end of the novel when Mrs. Ramsay has long been dead, thus emphasizing the ephemeral nature of her task. Mrs. Ramsay's personality also is a barometer of Woolf's belief that the post Great War society of England would forevermore be seen as formless as Mrs. Ramsay's meandering thoughts. The first section "The Window" forms the bulk of the book. It is here that Woolf depicts a rather ordinary family who collectively symbolizes the inability of individuals to leave an abiding footprint on the shifting sands of time. In the second part "Time Passes," time does indeed pass, ten years worth. The home of the Ramsays falls into decay that requires the re-entry of the surviving family members to invigorate it and themselves in the final section "The Lighthouse." Lily's painting of the now deceased Mrs. Ramsay allows Virginia Woolf to claim even a minor victory in the ultimately losing battle against cultural entropy.
I suspect that the major reason that most readers have with this book lies in their immediate recognition that they have to pay a great deal of attention to psychological free associating. As the characters' thoughts bounce off each other both temporarily and spatially, so must those of the readers, a most imposing task. But for those with persistence and an eye for the nontraditional in plotting, the effort is usually worth it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
There is something amiss for me here. Maybe it just hits too close home? I spent the last thirty years preparing myself to miss all the things I hadn't done, and reading about it seems anticlimactic. I liked Mrs Dalloway more, because it's broader.
Orlando :: A Room of One's Own (Annotated) :: To the Lighthouse (Wordsworth Classics) :: Orlando: A Biography :: Orlando (Annotated): A Biography
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
shahid azad
Virginia Woolf (1882 - 1941) was a well known writer, critic, feminist, and publisher. This was her fifth novel.

As background information, I read her first novel "The Voyage Out" published in 1915, skipped her second novel - which is considered to be a flop, Night and Day from 1919 - and then read "Jacob's Room," her third, then went on and read "Mrs. Dalloway," her fourth, and next read "To The Lighthouse," etc. Also, I read some of Woolf's non-fiction.

"The Voyage Out" is simple and straightforward work and it might remind the reader of a Jane Austen novel, but it set on a ship and then at a remote location. It is over 400 pages long, and has an Austen theme. After her second novel - which did not do very well - Woolf decided to be more risky and creative with the next book. She changed her style and approach to the novel and Woolf uses the stream of consciousness technique to bring a sense of the chaos and shortness of a young man's life around the time of World War I, Jacob's life, i.e.: from the pandemonium of Jacob's life as portrayed by Woolf through the use of the stream of the consciousness technique, we eventually have clarity in the novel. She carries this writing style on into the similarly chaotic story in the novel "Mrs. Dalloway."

This is her third novel using her stream of consciousness technique and she does it in a very dramatic fashion. The story is centered on the life of Mrs. Ramsay, a beautiful woman in her early fifties, and her older husband, and their eight children, plus other guests and neighbors and domestic help all at a beach house somewhere in Scotland on a warm summer day. Her husband is an academic and a bit remote. Mrs. Ramsay is more down to earth and mostly loved and admired by all.

As in the novel "Jacob's Room" the reader is left dangling as Woolf moves from character to character, giving the reader glimpses of their inner emotions. It is hard to determine what Woolf is doing and where she is going. But what she seems to be doing is celebrating a moment in a life. This is done very effectively with the stream of consciousness technique, and very dramatically as the story proceeds. The prose is brilliant and awe inspiring in some spots, and we see the genius of Woolf.

To say a lot more would ruin the story for the reader, but most will appreciate the way the story unfolds, and it unfolds very dramatically after a seemingly slow and complex start. The change has an effect on the reader - or so I found. Some think that it is Woolf's finest work and it would be hard to find fault with that assessment. She takes her ideas from "Jacob's Room" and applies them to a more complicated and dramatic setting at a family get together at a beach house, and it works.

This is a must read novel.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I have now read or listened (via audio tape) to this book five times. Each time, I have enjoyed it more, and have been enabled to look deeper into it.

What I like most about this book are the interior dialogues that all the major characters - Mrs. Ramsey, Charles Ramsey, James Ramsey, Lily Briscoe, etc. - engage in. We learn about their thoughts, their reveries, their likes and dislikes, their fears and worries, their hopes, etc.

In presenting these dialogues, each of these characters moves closer to all of us readers than would ever be possible if all we had were their external actions.

Indeed, the external actions, which fall into two days separated by 10 years, while themselves totally engaging, become the vehicle for the even more engaging internal "events" which "deliver" all the major characters so satisfyingly.

What can one say except that I join the chorus of those who believe that this might be the best modern novel ever written.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
lawrence a
This particular edition of Virgina Woolf's "To The Lighthouse" has never left me, so to speak, since first reading it when I purchased this exact book in 1990. So much has been written about the work, and the woman, one can feel the groans. But to me - with this novel, Virginia Woolf had truly created a genre that never existed before: fiction as a prose poem; or to be more specific - using the format of prose in novel parameters but elevating it to poetic heights that no other author had ever accomplished. I don't think Shakespeare could have done it - even if he had a sister. Indeed, the last five words of the novel itself sum up exactly what I am trying to say. If you have not read this book, I respectfully urge you to do so. If you have read it, please pick up a copy of this particular edition so beautifully rendered in cover art, layout and design by HBJ Modern Classics especially as a Hardcover. And as an endnote here, the only other author writing today who has followed this trail blazed by VW is the great writer and poet, Susan Minot ("Folly" "Evening" "4 am"). So if you have the interest, both authors' books are well worth your time.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
elahe mahdavi
Virginia Woolf's novel "To The Lighthouse," is, as its title suggests, a multivoiced final journey from the 19th century into the 20th. What must be determined over the course of reading the novel and reflecting on it, is the function of the lighthouse. Are its probing, distant lights supposed to be a beacon of hope as its characters move from the repressive age of Victoria into the liberating age of technology? Does the lighthouse echo the arch of experience which Tennyson's Ulysses claims 'fades forever and forever when I move' toward it? Or is the lighthouse just a lighthouse?
Mrs. Ramsay, the novel's main character and guiding principle, is herself a lighthouse, built on a foundation of tradition and stock 19th century notions of how people should interact in society and towards each other. Her matchmaking schemes are ever fainter echoes of the Victorian novel's marriage plots. Woolf undermines and qualifies Mrs. Ramsay's intentions by exploding the conventions of the 19th century novel - plot structure becomes amorphous, protean formlessness; narrative voice is shared between characters as narration becomes thought and smoothly passes from character to character, anticipating the stream of consciousness style.
Woolf also questions Mrs. Ramsay's social priorities - is marriage really a vital or necessary condition for women? Through close examination of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay's marriage, Lily Briscoe's determination to remain single, and the novel's myriad other relationships, Woolf severely problematizes any comfortable ideas about knowing other people. Another important issue is the social value of art - Frequent conversations involving the philosopher Mr. Ramsay, the doctoral student Charles Tansley, the poet Augustus Carmichael, and the painter Lily Briscoe, along with Woolf's own speculations on the permanence of human design in Part II ask us to consider the role of art in regard to humanity.
In a novel where the boundaries of time and space are consistently challenged, and the family unit is exposed, one must also focus on the erotics of storytelling. Love, hatred, admiration, and disgust permeate "To The Lighthouse." Our attempt as readers to understand the drive of the novel compels us to seek a reason for reading it among these four potential narrative scenarios. Does love, hate, or some combination of the two commit the characters to reveal their thoughts, and why do these thoughts involve us so that we feel a need to read to the end?
"To The Lighthouse" is a fascinating book - coming on the heels of such anti-Victorian masterpieces as Edith Wharton's "The Age of Innocence" and Samuel Butler's "The Way of All Flesh," Woolf's novel through form and content seeks to put the 19th century to rest, while simultaneously dealing with the terrors of post-World War I existence. Concentrate and give Woolf your undivided attention. This novel deserves it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sarah jarboe
"Lighthouse" is a unique novel which established Virginia Woolf's reputation as a great writer. The story focuses on 2 days in the life of a large middle class family, with a middle interlude where the family's house is the major character. The setting is the family's summer home, filled with house guests. The action, however, is all internal, the chronology hazy and the events--to the extent anything really "happens" at all--rather mundane.
This all made for tough going until it "clicked" around p. 50. What Woolf does is create in real time not "real" events but what is going on within--that constant stream of thoughts and emotions that remains hidden from the world. Woolf spends a long time on a simple scene of Mrs. Ramsay reading a story to her 6 year old son. In the space of a few short minutes as she reads aloud Mrs. Ramsay considers whether an engagement she has been encouraging between two of her guests will occur, feels trapped between her son's desire to go to the lighthouse and her husband's cruel squelching of the idea, worries about the bill to repair the greenhouse, and underlying all senses impending doom just beyond the horizon. Another example is Woolf's description of the interior struggle of Lily as she paints in a style that happens not to be in fashion at the time. But Woolf shows us what Lily sees in her mind--a line here, a shadow there, a form.
Virginia Woolf has a reputation of being "hard to read" and I was unsuccessful in trying to persuade my book club to try "Lighthouse." But I'm glad I plowed ahead on my own--it's a rich and complex work, and totally unlike anything I've ever read. Try it!
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
david steinberg
One of the worst books I have ever read. I finished it quickly so I could move on to something more to my liking. While I liked the writing style of the author I felt the content of the characters thoughts was trivial and mostly stupid. Anytime an interesting thought came up it wasn't pursued.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
dana mullins
After reading many of the other reviews, I am dismayed. I took to heart comments like "typical American action movie goers" disliking this book. I strongly disagree with this statement. I am 16 years old so some might say, I could find nothing of interest in this book, and I may not be as learned as the older audience reading it, but I would like to say that I have taken as much from it as any other. It doesn't have an exciting, action packed plot as much of the movies I watch do, but I thought that it's insight into male and female perspective was outstanding. Some parts of this book were slightly tiresome to read, but Virginia Woolf makes you think about life in ways that you haven't before. Although some books that I have read make you rush to finish to find out the exciting ending, Virginia Woolf encourages you to think about experiences, and beauty while reading. Many times I put this book down to contemplate ideas she was trying to portray. I would definetely recommend this book even to "typical American action movie goers".
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
I don't like modernism as a general rule, my modernist class this year is trying to change that, but unless you're Conrad, you don't really stand much chance.

However, there are passages in the novel which are truly stunning, especially in the third portion of the book. Woolf has a wonderful way with words about her. The thing about the book that clung to me the most is the idea of identity.

Identity is what other people label our souls.

Mrs. Ramsay, for instance, is labeled: wife, mother, hostess, daughter. None of these are labels which she has given herself. When she is in those moments of alone she faces this blackness which is really what we are without the identity which others have given us.

I liked this one and if you are looking for a slower read (really emphasize "slower") which has some pretty deep currents this one will work perfectly.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
muhammad amiruddin
Virginia Woolf wrote this book in 1927. It must have been courageous for her do so at the time as it's all stream of consciousness and she lets the reader get a glimpse inside her thought processes. The very slight plot focuses on a vacationing British family and their guests and there's a constant interior monologue about every little thing.
The first part, entitled "The Window" is by far the largest section of the book and the reader has to plow though a complex web of the author's thoughts as she focuses on one detail after another using all her senses. True, she's a gifted writer and deeply explores the relationships between men and women, focusing mainly on Mrs. Ramsay, the matriarch of the family. It's as if everything is in the background and the only thing in the foreground is what she has in her head.
The second part, entitled "Time Passes" is perhaps the strongest part of the book. It focuses on an empty house and its details of decay over a ten year period. It is masterfully done.
The third part, entitled "The Lighthouse" is about the remaining members of the family, who come back to the house in order to take a trip to the lighthouse which has been postponed for ten years. It's all very symbolic and the reader is left to draw his or her own conclusions about the meaning of it all.
This is the only Virginia Woolf book I've ever read and although I can appreciate the skill of the author, I'm not interested in reading any more of her works and can recommend this book only for fans of hers as well as those with a curiosity about her writing.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
have been pleasurably re-reading this. It is a most potent book. The craft of her writing is stunning. What struck me this time is how very much her writing is crossing art forms. To The Lighthouse is both astonishingly painterly and astonishingly musical. She uses arresting images, both images ‘in real’ which people observe, and images rising up out of emotion, to convey telling information. For example, a repeating image detailing one of the central themes – the portrait of a particular marriage – there is the suffering, succouring, Mrs Ramsey, holding it seems the world of nurturing wifehood and motherhood together, expanding into a kind of rapturous bliss of givingness, struck, again and again by the extraordinary image of a brass-beaked scimitar, as her husband, Mr Ramsay, demanded, and got, sympathy, importance, validity

“Mrs Ramsay , who had been sitting loosely, holding her son in her arm, braced herself, and half turning, seemed to raise herself with an effort, and at once to pourerect into the air a rain of energy, a column of spray, looking at the same time animated and alive as if all her energies were being fused into force, burning and illuminating (quietly though she sat, taking up her stocking again), and into this delicious fecundity, this fountain and spray of life, the fatal sterility of the male plunged itself, like a beak of brass, barren and bare"

The central ‘happenings’ in the narrative structure of this three section book, seem small – the outside centre stage story is thus :

The Ramseys, an upper middle class Victorian couple he an academic, she ‘artistic’ are on a family holiday in Skye, with their eight children. They open their holiday home to a group of academic and artistic friends. Part One, ‘The Window’ consists of one day. The youngest child, James who adores his mother and hates his father has been half-promised a trip to the Lighthouse on the following day. Mr Ramsey, and another of the guests contemptuously and realistically state that the weather will be poor, and they will be unable to go. Mrs Ramsey cannot bear her child to suffer the pain of disappointment and tries to hold out hope

In Part Two, Time Passes, a scant twenty pages, the most dramatic personal and world stage events are recounted, almost as an aside – the First World War, as a couple of local women are engaged in beating and brushing and dusting the holiday home, which some of the Ramsay Family, and some of the guests from last time, will return to, for the first time.

In Part Three, The Lighthouse, which also takes place over one day, the two youngest children, James, now in his teens and the youngest daughter, Cam, also in her teens, make that promised trip to the lighthouse with their father.

Some story, you might think, with all the major, events of world and family dramas happening off stage, in twenty pages. What Woolf is interested in is the inner life of character, the ceaseless running commentary inside our heads, which no one hears, no one sees. This is the hidden part of life. At the time I was ferociously first reading Woolf I was also as ferociously reading another writer, Doris Lessing, In the first novel of Lessing’s 5 volume ‘Children of Violence’ series, Martha Quest, set in what was Rhodesia, Lessing tells us that if you asked Martha’s mother to describe her day, she would have talked about the activities she engaged in, the undramatic part of daily life. But, as Lessing reminds us what is really going on is the seething inner dialogue, the clash between hidden thoughts, unconscious and conscious feeling, the stray images, words, familiar phrases which pop-up out of unconsciousness, the threads of memory which suddenly bob up, carried along on that conscious stream of inner babble, before sinking down again. THIS, Lessing suggests is as much (if not more) of a life as that in which we ‘do’ in the world, and the world sees

This is what Woolf is exploring.

This book is painterly, she paints shapes, colours, a canvas in her writing. Art, particularly painting, but creative endeavour, the purpose and drive of creativity, is another major theme of this book. The other central theme is the relationship between men’s worlds and women’s worlds, and the difficulties at that time for a female to have an identity outside the expected marriage and motherhood. This is illustrated by the specific examination of one particular family, Woolf’s own. Mr Ramsey, like her father, Sir Leslie Stephens, is an academic, doing important ‘work of the mind’ Mrs Ramsey, both in character, description, personality and ‘life events’ in the novel, mirrors Virginia’s mother Julia. There is another kind of female possibility for destiny explored in the novel – the woman with her own ‘vocation’ and place to make in the world, the woman who has her own place in history to carve, whose choice may be art, not marriage or motherhood. The first part of the book is held together by Mrs Ramsey, it is the creation of her charisma, the personification of the female role to nurture others. Lily Briscoe is an artist, Mrs Ramsey’s friend, pitied by her, for Lily is not beloved by men, Lily ‘with her little puckered face and her little Chinese eyes’. Lily Briscoe though has her own purpose. Lily paints her picture. Work gives meaning.

The musical structure of the novel struck me forcibly this time. Part of the ‘inner dialogue’ is the voice of remembered phrases, which might stick forcibly in the mind – words and phrases uttered by others, which stick in the mind. These may serve like a little musical coda, a recognisable theme, and just as in a classical symphony themes and variations on themes repeat, vanish, and teasingly surface again as part of the overall forward journey of a piece, so do words and phrases bob up in the minds of Woolf’s characters.

A chance comment by Charles Tansley, one of the guests in the first part, to Lily Briscoe “Women can’t paint, women can’t write” is part of the ‘Lily motif’ , if this were a piece of music. But so is the resolution of that particular discordant melody – ‘I must move the tree to the middle’

What I had forgotten, or perhaps not been aware of, last time I read this book, is that it is also funny – there is an kind of surprising humour, under the intensity. And, in this, there are connections to Chekhov’s plays, often performed with deep intensity, but also, like in life, the absurdity of it all, the little flashes of a sometimes spiteful amusement which also exist in our own hidden dialogues, as we observe those around us.

In the end, it is going to be Woolf’s voice which works, or doesn’t, for the reader. The reading is certainly different – something she engages in is a kind of subterranean connection of flowing inner dialogues, so the ‘stream of consciousness – or perhaps, most correctly stream of consciousness and unconsciousness’ starts in one person’s mind and suddenly the thinking the feeling, the words and the images are in another person’s inner dialogue. It is the images, it is the phrases, repeated, which negotiate the reader so that it is clear who we are ‘inner with’

I think this is definitely a book which will say developing things to a reader if they re-visit it at different stages of their own lives
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
bob ma
I have taken the time to re-read To the Lighthouse hundreds of times, and I will re-read it many more times before I die. This is one of the gems of world literature. I know people would tell me that Proust has done better, or Joyce, or Faulkner. But the exquisit pleasure of turning slowly the pages of this masterpiece goes increasing each time I re-read it.

Here the writer's eternal struggle with TIME is resolved elegantly without fanfare. Here the psychology of the characters are delved into sharply without giving pain to the readers. Here the vision comes all of a sudden, but maybe it comes so easily because it has been there from the very beginning. Don't you think?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
elizabeth birckhead
This book is about words -- the writing is breathtaking. Particularly the first section is an assault of waves of words washing over the reader. Mrs. Ramsey, though she thinks she's nothing special, inspires others to greatness and inspires them into action. She is the key to understanding this novel as she is the force behind all the words swirling around. The other pervasive force is that of Mr. Ramsey who serves as the negative force that stifles rather than promotes creation. Of all Woolf's books, I find this the most poignant and have read it over and over again. My more mature high school students loved it, while the immature ones (mostly boys in this case) didn't get it. It's a stirring novel that says mountains about the process of artistic creation. In fact, more than a feminist work, I would argue that To the Lighthouse is a meditation on the artistic process and what powers creation. Lily's all important "last stroke" of her painting becomes the emblem of artistic transcendance. Buy this edition for the excellent forward by Eudora Welty.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
alyse middleton
Virginia Woolf's "To The Lighthouse" can be a difficult read, with its highly stylized stream-of-consciousness prose, but it is a rewarding one in the end, even if it seems that nothing much has happened over the course of the novel. Despite taking place within a set period of time, from 1910-1920, the conflicts and themes presented transcend far beyond the scope of the novel. "To The Lighthouse" is a unique standard bearer for early modern literature.

To say that "To The Lighthouse" is a tale about the Ramsay family would be selling the book short. While this family and their experiences are the core of the novel, Woolf delves into some heavy examination of the roles that males and females are meant to play in society. Mrs. Ramsay is beloved by all for her extraordinary beauty, still evident in her fifties, but she is tied down by a demanding husband, eight very different children, and her own need to oversee every facet of people's lives. Mr. Ramsay, a selfish philosopher, depends upon his wife to build his ego, no matter the expense or the damage caused to his children. This examination of their lives takes place at their summer home on the Isle of Skye in Scotland with their various guests. Woolf begins by painting a loving and generous portrait of the Ramsays (modeled upon her own parents) before moving the action of the novel ten years into the future after the family has experienced a few catastrophes that they struggle to get over. The novel ends with the perspective of the outsiders, trying to make sense of what has been lost and what it means to life as a whole.

Virgina Woolf was an exceptionally talented writer, able to make mundane details vivid and able to capture the intricacies of family life and marriage without seeming sentimental. Her prose is poetic, following tangential thoughts to complete her circuitous paragraphs. Woolf allows her readers insight into not only one family, but into situations that concern everyone; mortality, love, family, and one's legacy. "To The Lighthouse" is a wonderful testament to Woolf's legacy as one of the premier authors of modern literature.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jen gould
Stream of consciousness prose went in and out of style pretty fast, though some experimenters occasionally make use of it still no one used it to greater effect than Joyce and Woolf. Of course they had the advantage of using the style first and so it was new. In my opinion Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was the best novel ever written in this style, but To the Lighthouse is the second best. Published in 1927 it deals with very large issues but in a very intimate setting. The Ramsay vacation home is visited every summer and every summer change and time itself makes its presence felt in varying ways on each of the consciousnesses that occuppy the house. The center consciousness is Mrs. Ramsay's whose quiet devotion to her family is compared to a freer kind of existence in the form of a female painter. Mrs. Ramsay is a kind of beacon to her family, she provides the safety and comfort that comes with order and ritual. Her husband is the head of the family and the one more connected to worldly awareness and concerns but her less obvious and less defineable role is really the one that allows all to function. But things happen that cannot be controlled. The war breaks the routine that had been established over the years and after the war things are no longer as they were, there is a desolate feel as post war life resumes because things that were once there no longer are. The interior monologues that capture each character in their moments of being support an overall view being that most of life is lived alone and to oneself and forces we cannot control really determine the demeanor of our days, our own decisions are important but in relation to the larger forces shaping them very small things. The books of the twenties are still the best. A quiet book that sends very deep and resonant waves through ones mind and body.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jacqueline treiber
This book is essentially divided into two parts: a day in the life of a British family and their guests at a seaside cottage, and ten years after the death of the matriarch, Mrs. Ramsay. The writing is an example of 20th century excellence. The narrator may change from page to page, but the reader always knows who is speaking. Although some paragraphs are incredibly long, in the Henry James style, there is clarity throughout. Peppered here and there are little essays which can stand on their own. The character of Mrs. Ramsay is central and is seen through her own thoughts and through the thoughts of the others on one day. In the second half of the book, most of the original characters return to the house sometime after Mrs. Ramsay's death and we feel their loss. What is this loss that they and we feel? She has held up the potential and promise of the destinies of the others, even though they may never reach it, a lighthouse beacon which survives her mortality.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
amanda callaghan
"He would pick a flower for her, lend her his books. But could he believe that Minta read them? She dragged them about the garden, sticking in leaves to mark the place."

In my attempt to understand Virginia Woolf's life, it would seem appropriate to read more of her work and understand how she viewed life in its beauty and horror. In To the Lighthouse there are brief glimpses of beauty in regards to nature, feelings and experience. Yet, the underlying emotion in this book seems to be a subtle frustration. The frustration of the reader attempting to stay focused and connected with the main themes and the frustration of the young James Ramsay, who only wishes to visit a lighthouse.

"Brooding, she changed the pool into the sea, and made the minnows into sharks and whales, and cast vast clouds over this tiny world by holding her hand against the sun, and so brought darkness and desolation, like God himself, to millions of ignorant and innocent creatures, and then took her hand away suddenly and let the sun stream down."

Virginia Woolf's descriptions can at times appear as vivid recollections and there is almost a tension at the start as if at any moment a scene of emotional instability will break and the characters will fall apart. Yet, they remain calm in their own insecurities, never really drawing on our sympathies. A child dreams, a mother hopes, a husband tries to dash both the dreams and hopes.

Then Virginia seems to be stepping in an out of her characters lives, experiencing little nuances of their existence. This results in a swirling of temporary chaos as you try to find your way out of the emotional complexity and sometimes overwhelming lists of people she introduces briefly. Only a few characters remain until the end and many of the temporary characters fly in and out of the story so fast, we can't quite grasp the importance of their introduction.

The most interesting part of the book seems to be when the house starts to fall apart and is then rescued from the encroaching decay, swollen sea-moistened woodwork and rusting hinges.

Some movies are better when viewed the second and third time and it seems this book gains a new clarity on the second reading. In the end I was disappointed not to learn about James' impressions of the final destination and honestly wished she had spent more time on the main characters. In the end it feels like bits and pieces all connected in some jigsaw puzzle of experience.

If you love the sea and lighthouses, there are short moments of pleasure and the descriptions cause you to lose track of reality for minutes at a time. I did love the description of a star sliding in the sky and then the entire sea lighting up in red and gold. In her writing she seems to have the ability to paint pictures of the inner world in memorable ways.

~The Rebecca Review
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
vishnu gopal
Woolf's sentence structure is entrancing, and her descriptions of the thoughts of the characters are vivid. I was intrigued at what goes on inside of Woolf's head because of profundities such as "the very stone one kicks with one's boot will outlast Shakespeare," and "so much depends ... upon distance: whether people are near or far from us."
It is nice that a book this intense can be a quick read. Anyone can read it and feel that they have accomplished something, not just the erudite. However, to really appreciate To the Lighthouse, you will have to read it a few times.
Woolf's writing style will be hard for many. She forms many complex sentences. The book is mostly about the internal struggles of her characters rather than a physical action book. Still, this is a very poignant book, and her prose is artistry with a purpose.
Skip the forward by Eudora Welty if you don't want a summary of the action of the book.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
jason loeffler
Virginia Woolf writes using a stream of consciousness, which provides for an interesting read as she explores the psychological effects of same events on different characters and permits the reader to study the characters in the novel to a greater extent. She doesn't speak from the first-person point of view of each character, but uses the third-person instead, so that all characters, no matter what age, have similar intellectual capacity as it appears. You'll need to devote a great deal of attention to the novel; it is hardly a light book, and you would probably only enjoy it to the full extent if you like this type of writing. Personally, Woolf's style is not one that I prefer, and I had a hard time getting into the novel. I also think that I would enjoy it far better the second time around: I often re-read books and find many things that I had failed to notice the first time. If you've never read any of her works previously, it is a pretty good novel to begin with to determine whether this style is to your liking.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
for a long time, i like many people, were trully afraid of verginia woolf, she is known as a stream of conciousness abscure and anigmatic writer, and since i don't have a litreture masters dgree i thought i would be lost in her writings. but then i saw "the hours" which led to reading "the hours" which led to reading "mrs. dalloway" and there i was - infront of one of the most notourious novels in modern litrature diving into the first page.

it's not an easy book to read, it's very chalanging, and you have to keep stricked consentarion on who's mind you are listening to, but it's one of the most wonderful and magical books i've ever read.

woolf's style jumps fromthe thought of one person to the other, exploring the inner soul, from high speritual notions about art and life, to the most mudmean experience of smelling a flower or taking care of the chidren, and she sees the same magic of life and living in everything. suddenly, as you get more obsorved in the thought of the ramzies, their childrens and guests, you realize so much about your own life and preseption, she makes you fall in love with her charecters, then hate them looking at them through another person's eyes. and more then that - she makes you switch between diffrent prespectives towared your own life.

in a very short volum, verginia woolf manage ot deeply examin complex topics of relationship within the family, classes in england, death, growing up, war, art and philosophy.

ithough deffenetly one of the more complicated books ever written, i have to say that even as a person that doesn't know that much about litrature, i enjoyed it deeply and i think it is a book anyone who loves readding and life in general, should read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
emily mccarroll
Virginia Wool's novel To the Lighthouse is a tour de force in the masterful use of English prose. In some instances, brilliantly skillful use of language seems to become an end in itself. without regard for the substance of the story being told. For one as talented as Virginia Woolf, this linguistic excess seems easy to forgive. She can, I think, be excused for overdoing a bit what she does best.

To the Lighthouse manifests the themes and stylistic distinctiveness of early 20th Century modernism even more strikingly than Woolf's later novel Mrs. Dalloway. To the Lighthouse is a nonlinear overlay of things unspoken, based almost entirely on accounts of conversations and feelings that one has within one's self, while betraying little of importance to others. This gives us a world that is often not even remotely connected with what seems to be its object. In truth, there exists a multiplicity of simultaneously occurring, overlapping worlds, each belonging to a character having his or her own place, inaccessible, for the most part, to others.

Nevertheless, compelling conversations occur, bespeaking the power of a vague frown, a wistful smile, a barely discernible nod, or a meeting of eyes across a crowded dinner table fraught with inconsequential social conventions. The more familiar the interlocutors, the richer the wordless exchange.

The interior worlds described by Woolf are complex and varied places, internally contradictory, and quite unstable. Though each of us is a creature of his or her own world, others are essential constituents. In them we discern youth, beauty, sadness, cruelty, surly self-importance, grace, need, intelligence, satisfaction, rage ... all the attributes and faculties that we use in constituting our own lived experience. Without saying so -- perhaps without recognition -- we rely on others to make our world understandable and livable. Should an other die, say one who seemed to have a way, just through her presence, of holding things together in an interpretable whole, we are bereft, filled with a sense of loss, perhaps even angry with her for leaving. After all, her passing has revealed the instability of our very self.

Uselfconsciously, we search for anchorages. But we are faced with repeated discovery that, in the long run, everyone else is just as unreliably subject to unanticipated change as we are. None of this has to do with character flaws, but is inherent in our nature. One of the characters in To the Lighthouse, reflecting on loss, aging, and uncertainty asks, "What does it all mean?" But Virginia Woolf is not interested in "What does it all mean?" or "What does it mean to be?"or similarly final metaphysical questions born in the hubris of professional philosophers. She asks and brilliantly answers a different question of more immediate importance: "What is it like to be?"

In his book After Theory, Terry Eagleton offers the judgment that post-modernism is best understood as just an extension of early 20th Century modernism. Perhaps he was thinking of Virginia Woolf's novels when he reached this conclusion. I can't imagine a better statement as to the nature of our face-to-face social world and the lives of those who constitute it than To the Lighthouse. It is a challenging existentialist masterpiece.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
nurita anandia
When I read a poem I generally have to read it several times before I can fully (hopefully) absorb its meaning. To The Lighthouse (TTL) reads like a prose poem, a text that also needs more than one reading. You read it slowly, and intently, and then reread passages. This being the case it is somewhat gratifying that the book is only 200 pages long for if it went beyond that it could become a sizable reading project.
The reader becomes a spirit flitting between the minds of the novel's characters. Their thoughts become the substance of the story. The plot is minimal; the action insignificant. In fact, the most physically active participants of TTL are the sun and the wind which prowl through a decaying house in the book's mid-section. Here Ms. Woolf becomes particularly poetic in describing the effects of the elements on a house that has been abandoned for ten years.
Mrs. Ramsey is a strong woman who is married to a professor who is well grounded in Victorian views about women. Her role is to serve her family, and to praise and feel sympathy for her husband. A physically attractive woman with eight children she still has ways of wielding power over people. Lily, on the other hand, is a single woman who values her independence, but doesn't seem -to me- to be achieving anything. The male characters are generally weak men who compensate by being arrogant. And it is not what these characters say that matters as much as what they think, and that is something you are privy to throughout the book.
The first 100 or so pages portray a one day scene in the lives of the Ramsey's and their guests in their seaside vacation home. Around thirty pages of the book are devoted to a dinner scene in which most everyone is bored. I must admit that the boredom was convincing as I began to be suffused with the same feeling. I am sure, however, that if I read this section one more time I will view it in a different light.
This stream of consciousness novel should be read by everyone interested in reading their way through the literary canon. Although it is a 1920s experiment in form it is still highly accessible to the average reader.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
tricia bateman
Many critics, teachers and readers consider To the Lighthouse to be Virginia Woolf's masterpiece. To the Lighthouse was published in 1927 and its structure is unique, although it does contain elements of the Victorian. Woolf wrote this novel in only one year and did very little rewriting. Both subtle and sharp, the ease with which the book was written is apparent in the flow of both its narrative and its prose. The novel was written during one of the brief peaceful and happy times in Woolf's life. (In 1895, after her mother's death, Woolf became almost continuously depressed and suffered a series of nervous breakdowns, culminating in her suicide by drowning in 1941.)
To the Lighthouse, like Woolf's previous novel, Jacob's Room, is a somewhat disjointed story, possessing numerous characters, points-of-view and conflicts. The overlapping and separation of the characters and their stories seems to result from both intention and oversight and is a product of what Woolf referred to as "all characters boiled down," and the "break of unity in my design."
The story centers around the summer vacation to the Isle of Skye of the Ramsey family, a family Woolf admitted was very much like her own. In fact, Woolf said that writing To the Lighthouse helped her "rub out" the obsessive memory of her own mother. Mrs. Ramsey, like Woolf's own mother, is a woman of decidedly Victorian ideals, choosing to focus on her home, her marriage and her family.
Interacting with Mrs. Ramsey is the character most representative of Woolf, herself, Lily Briscoe, a young girl who is staying in the same beachouse as the Ramseys. Unmarried, Lily draws both disapproval and sympathy from Mrs. Ramsey who firmly believes that "an unmarried woman has missed the best of life."
Mrs. Ramsey and Lily represent the conflict between the Victorian and the Edwardian eras, the age of the woman in the home and the advent of the woman in the workplace. An intelligent young woman, as well as a sensitive and talented artist, Lily is very aware of Mrs. Ramsey's disapproval.
The role of art in the novel deals primarily with Post-Impressionism and the attempt to freeze reality, not on paper or on canvas, but in the mind, and then to paint the very equivalent of this reality. In many ways, To the Lighthouse resembles a painting because of its three distinct images of reality: the summer, the return and the seven years in between.
Woolf was not the only writer to "paint" her novels. In Place in Fiction, Eudora Welty writes of "painting and writing, always the closest two of the 'sister arts.'" Throughout the novel, Lily works on one painting and cannot seem to "connect the mass on the right hand with that on the left...But the danger was that by doing that the unity of the whole might be broken." The need for connection in the painting is much like the need for connection in the narrative. And Lily and Mrs. Ramsey both serve to fulfill the role as unifier.
One of the most startling moments of unification occurs as Mrs. Ramsey is staring at a bowl of fruit she has placed in the middle of the table during a dinner party. Because of her extreme attention to detail, Mrs. Ramsey focuses on the bowl throughout the dinner. She particularly notices the perfection of the arrangement while also fearing its imminent destruction as she catches another guest looking at the fruit, no doubt desirous of it. Mrs. Ramsey thinks, "That was his way of looking, different from her. But looking together united them."
Even when not physically present in the story, Mrs. Ramsey continues to exert a strong influence. At the end of the novel, Mr. Ramsey finally takes his two youngest children, James and Cam, to the lighthouse. Both children have changed considerably from the time of their first vacation; Mrs. Ramsey's absence has required that they develop a new independence, yet she was their only tie to their father, the typically restrained and uninvolved Victorian husband.
The children must, however, incorporate the influence of both of their parents on their journey to the lighthouse, a journey that is both literal and figurative. From shore, Lily watches them as she paints their journey, recalling Mrs. Ramsey with both annoyance and love. Lily, like Woolf, herself, has finally come to terms with the connection of all things, the completion of a painting as well as the completion of a journey.
To the Lighthouse is a quiet, reflective and meditative novel and one of the first to display Woolf's unique Impressionistic stream-of-consciousness style.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ken white
Lauded as a staple of the modernist canon, Woolf's stream-of-consciousness novel of alienation is better appreciated for its exquisitely delicious prose and her ability to invoke the tragic beauty of striving for intimacy and immortality (symbolized by the eponymous lighthouse), only to find it always just beyond one's grasp. Is there a sadder line anywhere in Western literature than when Mrs. Ramsey is tucking her young son James into bed? "In a moment he would ask her, `Are we going to the Lighthouse?' And she would have to say, 'No: not tomorrow; your father says not.' Happily, Mildred came in to fetch them, and the bustle distracted them. But he kept looking back over his shoulder as Mildred carried him out, and she was certain that he was thinking, we are not going to the Lighthouse tomorrow; and she thought, he will remember that all his life."
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
matthew bin
In To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf accomplishes a feat that every writer hopes to accomplish in his/her lifetime: she creates out of the ordinary humdrum of the daily life of an English family of Ramsay's characters and paragraphs that will ever be part of the best of English writing produced in last century. In my opinion, several paragraphs in this novel are like jewels of English prose, that must be prized, possessed and displayed likewise. Woolf settles for a very subtle narrative, though which she presents innermost thoughts of her characters, especially women, and in the brilliance of her words, romance and life are captured like snapshots labelled thoughtfully and carefully!

The book is sort of divided into two parts, separated by decades. What was most intoxicating part of the book was the description of this change, as was the description of the nightfall. Be it secret thoughts of women or their admirers, or the doubts and uncertainities of a professor-father or the feelings of children (in both times separated by more than a decade) or the simple description of nature, Woolf shows a talent that must make her as important to twentieth century literature as Joyce and Lawrence. She is in my opinion one of the finest (if not the finest) female novelist to have ever existed! Maybe my hyperbole is uncalled for, but my admiration stems from the deep admiration of an exquisite piece of creative writing! Like every classic, this one must be savored with slow speed; deep thoughts, few pages at a time and remembered by the beauty of the sentences and emotions they capture or arouse; and not by the turn of events or unfolding of drama, which even though interesting, is incidental to this incredible piece of literature!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
m rti
I will begin with a comment on the audio book. This version was narrated by Virginia Leishman. The audio quality was excellent and the narrator had a pleasant voice that was easy to listen to. The only complaint that I have (and since the style is so unique it may not be valid) is that the narrator did not use different voices for the different characters. I find it easier and more enjoyable to follow a novel when the narrator gives a distinct voice to each person. In this case, since we are mostly hearing the thoughts of each character, it may be difficult to imagine them thinking with a distinctive accent or intonation. I still would have preferred it, since sometime I had a hard time remembering which character was thinking.

The book itself was an interesting experience. This book consists mostly of the thoughts of various characters. I think she did a good job of capturing what thoughts could be like, but as such, sometimes they drift and this doesn't make for an easy to follow narrative. This is something that one needs to take as a whole. Fortunately it is a relatively short book and can be read rather quickly.

The language is beautiful, and the concept is fascinating. This is not a book for everyone, but is worthwhile for those interested in looking at new approaches to literature. Overall I enjoyed the experience, but can see how it may be boring to some readers.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jake erickson
I chose to read this book for a class when I was sixteen because a friend complained about it and said it was the most boring book in the world. I wondered if perhaps I might see something in it that she was missing.
What a found was a very enjoyable literary style - this was my first exposure to "stream-of-consciousness" writing. I enjoyed the author's complex 3rd person omniscient shifting of perspectives through the various characters in the tale. The style had great affinity with my own very analytical and philosophical yet aesthetic mind at the time. I read this book not for an exciting plot; but, for the beauty in the writing itself. The themes in it were very abstract - such as the subject of being genuine and the like. "To the Lighthouse" has a very reflective quality about it. This book is certainly not for everyone; but, it is beyond a doubt a masterpiece for its kind.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Wow...simply wow. Well, the first obvious thing to do is compare this to Ulysess. It is a 'day in the life of' subjectivist steam-of-consciousness novel, like Ulysess (though much, much easier to understand...more like Joyce in "A Portriait" really...), but it also has Proustian elements on the nature of time and man's place in time. It's a simple story, almost too simple. A family and some friends live on the Isle of Skye in the Hebrides. That's about it. But, oh the Characters! Everylast one of them can be analyzed for hours and hours, yet none of them ever become less then believable. It's a wonderful, moving experience to read this novel. And for those of you worrying about the difficulty, don't. This isn't Finnegans Wake. Yes, you do have to pay more attention to it then say, a Daniel Steele novel, and it is by no means escapist, but it isn't anything that a slightly intelligent person couldn't figure out. And every slightly intelligent person should read this novel.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I just finished Virginia Woolf's TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, and I am not sure what to write about it, except that it's a brilliant, fulfilling read, very rich and layered and nuanced and wonderful. It's a singular work that facilitates new understanding and insight, and makes the point effectively that the drama-rama of the human mind can supercede or at least equal the drama of the world around us.
The Ramsay family is the center of the story, and it is at their home in the Hebrides that the first section takes place, "The Window." In fact, this section, which covers only part of a day in time, comprises 125 pages of the 209-page book. In a way similar to that of MRS. DALLOWAY, Woolf switches the perspective among the Ramsay family and some of their guests, Lily, an indepedent single woman, the Ramsay children, and Charles Tansley, a student of Mr. Ramsay, a philosopher.
There are threads of the issue of femininity in the book. What do the differing ways in which Mrs. Ramsay, mother of eight and supportive wife, and Lily, single woman, painter, enact their feminity mean? How do they deal with and understand and love each other? What forces do they unleash on each other?
The book deals skillfully with the perception of the passage of time, as "The Window" deals with that short bit, focusing, I found, the book's most amazing and engaging section on the dinner party that night. The second section, "Time Passes," is merely 20 pages, but covers ten years, and the final section, "The Lighthouse" is one morning. There are all kinds of
reminders of the fluidity of time in the text, a skull of an animal on the wall in the children's nursery that causes them to be unable to sleep, as well as Mrs. Ramsay's glance back into the dining room at the end of the party and her realization that the success of the evening, which was somewhat hard won, is ephemeral and over, already in the past.
The second section has a different view of time, almost looking at the house from nature's point of view as time ravages the house through the war when the family isn't using it. It's very meditative. Major events in the lives of the people who attended the dinner are enclosed in brackets, as side notes, for the passage of time and the entropy that ensues is the major drama here. We see the lives and deaths of the characters as small things, part of a greater cycle that winds on and on in a more eternal, less fleeting, way.
What Woolf begins in the first section, she deals with more strongly in the third, I think, and that is that the validity of each person's differing perception of the others is equal. Two of the Ramsay children, James and Cam, go with their father and a fisherman and his boy to the lighthouse in the sailboat. James despises his father, while Cam sees his weaknesses and loves him for his vulnerabilities. She knows how James feels and feels drawn to protect James, too, but she knows a different father than James does.
I think that was what struck me the most about the book, the way the characters' combined perceptions assemble a greater truth and understanding than each of them singly has.
Woolf has a great insight and beautifully descriptive and engaging way of writing about thought as dramatic and intimate. Woolf writes about such things, the pleasure of picking up a pleasant and soothing thought so elegantly, that it doesn't seem to be writing on a page, but access to another's mind, and the part of the truth he or she holds.
And overall the writing is simply stunning.
In the first section, one of the characters loses a brooch on the beach, and they discuss going back to look for it the next day. By the time the book ends, the lost brooch seems so far away, in some deep and distant memory. I think this one detail is a mark of the beauty and success of the book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ana lane
It's been quite some time since I read this work, but it made a huge impression upon me. Written in the stream of consciousness style, it can at times take the reader (at least this reader ;-)) a moment or two to recognize and adjust one's self to the unannounced transition between the mind's eye of one character and that of the next. Like most stream of consciousness works, this is rich and subtle in it's psychological portrayals and observations, though I daresay it is more deft and profound than most. This author is one of the greats of literature.

Some other unusual structural aspects are both time dialation and compression (the first third of the book describes the happenings of a single day, and then suddenly years pass by within a few pages in the next portion). In addition (caution - plot revelation ahead) there is the sudden loss of the book's central character midway through the book that takes one completely by surprise.

I read this way back at University, and yet, it is still one of my all time favorites!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
lady jessica
..... but perhaps not the greatest story teller?

This book is one of the hardest I've tried to rate. The ending with its multiple perspectives - those on the boat, and those on the shore - is wonderful, and with just the right mix of the visionary. It's almost a ghost story, but nothing like any other ghost story I've read.

No matter where I picked the book up, and took up reading again, I was fascinated. I could feel the holiday the characters were experiencing as if I was there at the seaside even though I have only had one short holiday in Britain. But, then, I suspect that family life and the desultory holiday experience was very similar here in Australia. I don't really mean desultory, but the routine holiday venue with its hours of no-work, no-school often had a strange feeling of tedium mixed with the 'excitement' of something different from routine. Unfortunately, reading this book also resurrected the feeling in me - the book too well records the feeling - and I quickly found myself drifting off into my own private world and not regarding the words as well as I should - only to be fascinated again as my attention snapped back.

The book is wonderful for its multiple perspectives. Here is an example of a change of view mid-paragraph (this sort of thing often had me re-reading as my attenton drifted).

"What damned rot they talk, thought Charles Tansley, laying down his spoon precisely in the middle of his plate, which he had swept clean, as if Lily thought (he sat opposite her with his back to the window precisely in the middle of view), he were determined to make sure of his meals. Everything about him had that meagre fixity, that bare unloveliness. But nevertheless, the fact remained, it was almost impossible to dislike any one if one looked at them. She liked his eyes: they were blue, deep set, frightening."

The stream-of-consciousness writing style used by Woolf as closely as anything I have experienced imitates the greatest attribute of fine music - counterpoint - the ability of the mind to track and appreciate many strands of experience at the one time, to flick back and forth between many voices. With music you can listen to the same work many times and explore the multiple voices in different ways each time without compromising your appreciation of the whole. I suspect you could do this with several readings of 'To the Lighthouse' too. Unfortunately it takes a greater commitment to re-read a book than it does to, say, listen again to a Mozart symphony.

Woolf does have a great ending to this novel - a really memorable mood piece. Unfortunately, to extend the musical analogy, I found her melodies not strong enough, the development of ideas at times pedestrian (detail got in the way), the orchestration inadquate and the harmony not strong enough (although there is one very strong moment in the novel).
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Published in 1927, "To the Lighthouse" is Virginia Woolf's elegy for her parents--her attempt to describe and understand them through the prism of fiction. Two years earlier, Woolf had written in her diary that the book would be "fairly short" (it is) and that it would have "father's character done complete in it; & mother's; & St. Ives [the family summer home]; & childhood." It's impossible to overestimate the influence of Woolf's parents on the development of this book; a year after the book was published, she acknowledged that she "was obsessed by them both, unhealthily; & writing of them was a necessary act." As Hermione Lee put it in her biography, the novel is set in a "haunted house."

The remarkable empathy (and, to some extent, sympathy) for the novel's characters is testimony to Woolf's success: in powerful stream-of-consciousness passages told from ever-shifting perspectives, she re-creates from her own biography three entirely believable protagonists. Woolf's mother becomes Mrs. Ramsay, whose domain is largely confined to her home, her children, and her guests; like Clarissa Dalloway planning a party in Woolf's previous novel, Mrs. Ramsay sees the highlight of her day as carrying off a successful dinner for her family and guests--"she wished the dinner to be particularly nice." Her husband, a philosopher, remains aloof from his family and their social sphere; his abrasiveness is a source of occasional annoyance to Mrs. Ramsay, and his own obsession is nothing so fleeting as a dinner party but rather the legacy that will be left by his life's work.

Lily Briscoe, a young painter who is one of the guests, observes the family dynamics and critically regards the relationship between Mrs. Ramsay and her husband: "What was this mania of hers for marriage?" Lily also serves as a fictional alter-ego for Virginia Woolf herself. While working on a painting of Mrs. Ramsay reading to her son, Lily's lack of confidence is exacerbated by the opinion of another houseguest: "Women can't paint, women can't write"--a declaration linking Lily's timidity as a painter with Virginia's own qualms about the novel (she was anxious that it would be criticized as "sentimental"). Worrying unduly about what others think is inhibiting their talents.

It's become obligatory to mention the supposed lack of plot in this book--but that old saw ignores the transformation of the novel's characters and their pursuit for meaningfulness. Mr. Ramsay wants respect; Mrs. Ramsay wants to be happy in her marriage; their son James wants the approval of his father; Lily wants to be an artist--but all are thwarted in their search for happiness. One houseguest muses, "What does one live for?" Similarly, Mrs. Ramsay reflects as dinner starts, "What have I done with my life?" And Lily wonders while she works on her painting: "What is the meaning of life? That was all--a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years."

The novel's "action," then, is the quest to find the ever-elusive "meaning of life": both within a single day (during the first half of the novel) and then ten years later, after the first World War, when what remains of the shattered family returns to the summer home and finally makes a long-postponed boat-trip to the lighthouse. Not everyone finds what they are looking for, but at last Lily Briscoe, who remains behind at the cottage, understands that approval and contentment and artistic talent had been there all along--within herself. She never had to leave the shore.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
arda alkk sk gen
This is my first full-blown experience with Virginia Woolfe. I was always a bit too impatient, skimming over paragraphs of internal dialog to get to the plot. What a difference an amazing narrator makes! Yes, it is slow going at times, but the beauty of Woolfe's sentences make the focus on every word worthwhile. Leishman treats Woolfe's words as poetry, and I started thinking of them as that. For that reason, I disagree with the reviewer counseled against ten minute spurts -- at least in the audio version, the prose seemed so rich that it was hard to absorb more than a few minutes at a time. It was only when I began to savor each paragraph on its own that I could truly enjoy this work.

This book is truly profound. It has caused me to become more aware of my own inner life, and has changed the way I think about what it means to "know" another person. Highly, highly recommended -- and this is from someone who spends a lot of time reading trashy chick lit and thrillers!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sarani rangarajan
To the Lighthouse, published in 1927, is a landmark Modernist novel.

Written from multiple perspectives and shifting between time and characters, Woolf is not really concerned with plot. Instead, she paints a psychological portrait of the members of the Ramsay family and their friends, at their summerhouse in the Hebrides. To the Lighthouse is divided into three parts.

In the first section, (The Window), the character of Mrs. Ramsay is the lens through which most of the perspectives are focused, and her son's (James) desire to go "to the Lighthouse" is the catalyst from which the chapter takes shape.

In the next section, (Time Passes), told by an omniscient narrator, Woolf dramatises the decay of the summer house over a period of ten years, and the fate of various characters is divulged. This section has some powerful visual images that expound Woolf's skill as a writer.

In the third and final section, (The Lighthouse), the remaining family and friends finally get to the Lighthouse, and the novel becomes a meditation on love, loss, time and creativity.

To the Lighthouse is a difficult read. But if you can understand the nature of the stream-of-consciousness technique and Woolf's goal of representing the essence of experience, then you will be able to glean a better understanding of the narrative. To the Lighthouse creates internal landscapes, and the main technique is invoking memory and various associations on the thoughts and feelings of the characters.

This book will take time and patience. But if you keep working at it and savour ever word, then you will be in for a rewarding literary experience.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I think Woolf's project here is striving to force the reader into sympathetic identification with the characters, the landscape, and their own shoreside memories. It is a beautifully lyrical portrait of seascape woven around a feminist re-fashioning of Grimms' "The Fisherman and His Wife" as well as her own childhood memories.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
crystal king
Virginia Woolf (1882 - 1941) was a well known writer, critic, feminist, and publisher. This was her fifth novel.

As background information, I read her first novel "The Voyage Out" published in 1915, skipped her second novel - which is considered to be a flop, Night and Day from 1919 - and then read "Jacob's Room," her third, then went on and read "Mrs. Dalloway," her fourth, and next read "To The Lighthouse," etc. Also, I read some of Woolf's non-fiction.

"The Voyage Out" is simple and straightforward work and it might remind the reader of a Jane Austen novel, but it set on a ship and then at a remote location. It is over 400 pages long, and has an Austen theme. After her second novel - which did not do very well - Woolf decided to be more risky and creative with the next book. She changed her style and approach to the novel and Woolf uses the stream of consciousness technique to bring a sense of the chaos and shortness of a young man's life around the time of World War I, Jacob's life, i.e.: from the pandemonium of Jacob's life as portrayed by Woolf through the use of the stream of the consciousness technique, we eventually have clarity in the novel. She carries this writing style on into the similarly chaotic story in the novel "Mrs. Dalloway."

This is her third novel using her stream of consciousness technique and she does it in a very dramatic fashion. The story is centered on the life of Mrs. Ramsay, a beautiful woman in her early fifties, and her older husband, and their eight children, plus other guests and neighbors and domestic help all at a beach house somewhere in Scotland on a warm summer day. Her husband is an academic and a bit remote. Mrs. Ramsay is more down to earth, and she is mostly loved and admired by all.

As in the novel "Jacob's Room" the reader is left dangling as Woolf moves from character to character, giving the reader glimpses of their inner emotions. It is hard to determine what Woolf is doing and where she is going. But what she seems to be doing is celebrating a moment in a life. This is done very effectively with the stream of consciousness technique, and very dramatically as the story proceeds. The prose is brilliant and awe inspiring in some spots, and we see the genius of Woolf.

To say a lot more would ruin the story for the reader, but most will appreciate the way the story unfolds, and it unfolds very dramatically after a seemingly slow and complex start. The change has an effect on the reader - or so I found. Some think that it is Woolf's finest work and it would be hard to find fault with that assessment. She takes her ideas from "Jacob's Room" and applies them to a more complicated and dramatic setting at a family get together at a beach house, and it works.

This is a must read novel.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Here is a small point with a larger purpose: Virginia Woolf does not know Boeuf en Daube. Or at any rate, Mrs. Ramsay, the heroine of "To the Lighthouse," does not, and there is no suggestion of any irony in her thought on the topic:
"Everything depended upon things being served up to the precise moment they were ready. ... To keep it waiting was out of the question. Yet of course tonight, of all nights, out they went, and they came in late, and things had to be sent out, things had to be kept hot; the Boeuf en Daube would be entirely spoilt."
Well, if you know anything about the kitchen, you know that this is nonsense. Boeuf en Daube is probably the last thing that needs to be "served up to the precise moment ..." As Elizabeth David says in her "French Provincial Cooking:" "there must be scores of different recipes for daubes in Provence alone... essentially a country housewife's dish." And more to the point, per Ms. David:
"The daube is a useful dish for those who have to get a dinner party when they get home from the office. It can be cooked for 1 ½ hours the previous evening and finished on the night itself. Provided they have not been overcooked to start with, these beef and wine stews are all the better for a second or even third heating up."
I wonder how many English majors from the 1950s sold their souls for a good Boeuf en Daube (did Sylvia Plath have the recipe?) - and how much better off they would have been if they'd seen through it: understood that Mrs. Ramsay did not get the point, because Ms. Woolf did not get the point. Indeed, strictly speaking, the creation is not Mrs. Ramsay's at all, but you'd have to be a sharp-eyed reader to catch on: it is the servant who does the work and delivers the finished product and she, I suspect, knows better than her mistress how flexible and compliant it may be. There is an irony here and it is lost, I suspect, on the mistress and on the mistress' creator.
All of which leads to a larger point: Virginia Woolf does not know servants. Instance in particular her observation of Mrs. McNab, the old char who comes to reopen the summer house after long disuse. We get an elaborate set-piece description of Mrs. McNab, and it is not pretty: indeed, it is mean-spirited and dismissive in almost every way. Mrs. McNab "lurches" and "leers" She "was witless and she knew it;" she sings "like the voice of witlessness." Now, if this is true, it is inexcusably rude: one may want, for some artistic purpose, to show her lurching and leering for, but here it serves no purpose, unless you count its actual function in throwing light on the author. Anyway, the chances are it is not true. My guess is that Mrs. McNab has operated under far more constraint in life than either Ms. Woolf or Mrs. Ramsay ever dreamed of. Witless people do not survive under the iron whim of a Mrs. Ramsay; poor chars who do learn to survive will find that it takes all the skill one can muster.
I could go on, but I need to stay within the store's 1,000 word limit. The point is not that "To the Lighthouse" is a bad book. It's actually quite a good book; or at least it is a book full of good paragraphs, and Virginia Woolf seemingly cannot write a bad paragraph. It is as bad novel, because Virginia Woolf has little of the capacity for imaginative empathy that makes a really good novelist. They say that Shakespeare stands as a void at the center of his plays because he has poured every part of his being into his characters. Virginia Woolf takes almost all of her characters into herself. It is well done, but often we get to know more than we really want to know.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
There is only one way to describe this book: the way one would describe the cistine chapel or the Mona Lisa or Notre Dame. This is simply a classic. It breaks the confines of ordinary books to deliver a work of art that truly delves into the lives of its characters. I will admit, when I first started to read it I didn't quite get it. However, once I reached a certain part in the book, everything started to make sense (though that was largely a result of the class discussions on hte book). Those who criticise the book are seldom the people who finish it. If you want a light beach book to take to Florida over vacation, I suggest finding something else. However, if you want a challanging literary masterpiece, you've come to the right place.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
teddy ray
The plot of this book on the surface does not seem necessarily like it would engender a classic: a family with a caustic father, a loving mother and a youngest son who despises his father and in this particular instance wants to visit a lighthouse out in the ocean, a desire his father opposes. However, Woolf infuses this story with her fabulous (I think) writing style and a breadth of insights and observations that leave one fascinated and thinking throughout. Her writing style includes long sentences and a flow consciousness that some might find too burdensome. Somehow her writing reminds me of Sylvia Plath, with that same brilliance of wordplay. Quite simply it is a great book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
One of my favorite novels. It's dense and provocative and profound. So many passages say so much so well that I found myself constantly re-reading passages to get the meaning. At times Woolf lays it on a bit thick and it felt like reading through molasses. I kept longing for a letup that never came, like driving a winding road where you wait for a straightaway so you can recover. Demanding but worth the effort; disturbing and unsettling too. Not the best bedtime read.

Overall, a beautifully-written and an intense search for meaning. Becomes even more poignant when you consider the tragic fate of Woolf herself.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
scott daniel
This book is boring to the maximum! All the characters seem so distant and practically the only thing we are possibly able to connect with is the damn landscape ! Although , this sort of writing is typical to our conscience: a stream that is never stagnant, it is not comprehensive when put on paper ( unless of course we note our own thoughts) I guess it shows that it is never easy to truly decipher the thoughts and reasonings of one another.
Woolf is successful in portraying a character if we seperate each section of each part. when she tries to congregate 14 characters (of which 6 are the most important) she really messes up.
My advice is if you have a choice-don't go for it!
It just gives you headaches!! Well , for me it did!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
holly bond
I agree with the previous reviewer: this takes time to read. You cannot speed read this book. I find myself having to concentrate on almost every phrase, certainly every sentence. I also find that I cannot read more than one "chapter" at a time, except for some of the real short chapters.

But if you take the time, shut out all other distractions, perhaps some soothing Norah Jones or Connie Rae in the background (at very low volume), and absorb each word, phrase, sentence, you should really enjoy "To The Lighthouse."

I am about a third of the way through. I don't even know if there's a plot. I doubt that there is. But the observations that Virginia Woolf makes of those around her is incredible. I can understand why she often recorded that she could only write for an hour or so each day.

Her understanding of the relationship between a child and a mother is phenomenal. It heightens one's appreciation for all moms. Maybe this was the mother's day card Virginia was never able to give her own mom.

(Incidentally, "To The Lighthouse" concerns a family with eight children, which sounds a bit far-fetched, but in fact Virginia was one of eight children growing up in London.)
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
christine hopkins
It's a phenomenon that a place so unliterary as Hollywood is often responsible for renewed interest in a writer's work or personal story.

Virginia Woolf got a giant boost a couple of years ago with a major film production called "The Hours." Nicole Kidman received an Academy Award for her portrayal of today's subject/author.

The edition of Woolf's "To The Lighthouse" read to produce this book report has a 1927 copyright and was published by Harcourt, Brace and Company; a brown-paged and rickety offering in gray cloth cover.

the scribe, a screenwriter himself, took it up because of the awareness of Woolf gained from "The Hours" and surrounding media.

It is difficult to say what the book is truly about. Like many good novels it's about many things, but no single thing you follow, anticipating development, comfortable with the pace of revelation. You hardly know what's being revealed.

The story does not move many places or ever truly "get going" in the dramatic sense; that's not considered a flaw at highwayscribery, rather a virtue. Woolf's long ruminations and interior examinations are where the energy is, inside the characters who act little, but think much.

The language is exacting, taxing, and sometimes the author's sentences finish somewhere else than they're supposed to. It's hard to imagine that such a baroque and delving prose would stand a snowball's chance in hell of getting published today.

It was written, you see, before the vast commercialization of that same revolutionary film-making--as-storytelling process and the homogenizing effect it had on most people's treatment of literature.

A family called the Ramsays have a coastal house somewhere in Britannia before the First World War. They are genteel; he a famous philosopher, she a hothouse flower of heightened sensibility.

Three-quarters of the book take place in a 24-hour expanse as Woolf takes us through the minds of nearly a dozen people; people thinking about their relationship to a larger world, to themselves, to the people gathered at the Ramsays.

Although not wealthy, the Ramsays can afford to keep some illustrious guests at the summer home and their brood numbers five or six. And so the author's mind-mining finds plenty of fertile ground for topics worldly and domestic alike:

"...children never forget. For this reason, it was so important what one said, and what one did, and it was a relief when they went to bed. For now she need not think about anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of - to think; well, not even to think."

So what?

If you're a parent it rings true. It tells you something you knew innately, but had never crystallized into a solid idea. Good literature does that. Pulls us in by making us relate and instructs, turns pleasure into profit, while you're laying beneath the warm glow of a golden late-night lamp.

But the scribe's writing like Woolf here (that happens).

Mrs. Ramsay is the star of this gentile warm-season gathering, the looking glass through whom we experience the day-turned-evening event, the one who judges the motives and shortcomings of the guests, although we are treated to the points-of-view from other characters, too.

A fading beauty, but a beauty both spiritual and cosmetic nonetheless, Mrs. Ramsay's particular gift is the arrangement of sublime moments and her conflict is that she enjoys them so much more than those she deigns to design them for:

"Everything seemed possible. Everything seemed right. Just now (but this cannot last, she thought, dissociating herself from the moment while they were all talking about boots) just now she had reached a security; she hovered like a hawk suspended; like a flag floating in an element of joy which filled every nerve of her body fully and sweetly, not noisily, solemnly rather..."

Looking for a little post-reading help, the scribe read an article by Louise DeSalvo on Woolf's relationship with writer Rita Sackville-West, during which she wrote "To the Lighthouse."

It's from a book entitled "Significant Others, Creativity & Intimate Passion," edited by Whitney Chadwick and Isabelle de Courtivron, and published by Thames and Hudson in 1993. Some of the other couplings it assays are Clare and Andre Malraux, Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett, Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin.

According to DeSalvo, the younger lover and writer saw that Woolf needed social interaction, and made sure she got it, because "Virginia based her fiction primarily upon observation, not upon her imagination."

So Mrs. Ramsay may very well be Woolf's mother, a woman affected by withdrawal and depression.

While together, they generated the finest work of their lives, Woolf informing Sackville-West's writing with a greater literary quality, Rita giving Virginia an openness and the tools to reach a wider, best-selling audience.

"To the Lighthouse" was one in a troika of novels ("The Waves" and "The Years) that "examined her childhood in the Stephen Family, a childhood riddled with violence, sexual abuse, and emotional neglect," according to DeSalvo.

The Mr. Ramsay of "To the Lighthouse," corresponds to Woolf's characterization of life with her father as, "living in a cage with a lion." His "self-absorbed" grief is on display and much-detailed in the novel.

Not an unsympathetic man, Mr. Ramsay is falling just short of being a great philosopher and the resulting worries keep him from strengthening the fading connection he has with his wife. She must repress the need to quote the price of a roofing job to stay out of his fuzzy head where he is very busy. Those around him cannot help but be charmed by his magnetism and intelligence, but his overbearing nature (sometimes he's just being a father), leads mostly to resentment.

So, "To the Lighthouse" is a work pegged to her childhood and perhaps Virginia is Lily, a minor character and more minor painter. Here she alternates between artistic courage and terror, enriching before a blank canvas.

"For what could be more formidable than that space? Here she was again, she thought, stepping back to look at it, drawn out of gossip, out of living, out of community with people into the presence of this formidable ancient enemy of hers - this other things, this truth, this reality, which suddenly laid hands on her, emerged stark at the back of appearances and commanded attention."

If you want to read a map of your precious individual self, you might want to try Virginia. If you don't, maybe you shouldn't.

Or maybe you should read it no matter what, because it's reading. Listen to how Woolf weaves her own enjoyment of books into the fabric of the character Mrs. Ramsay:

"And she waited a little, knitting, wondering, and slowly those words they had said at dinner, `the China rose is all abloom and buzzing with the honey bee,' began washing from side to side of her mind rhythmically, and as they washed, words, like little shaded lights, one red, one blue, one yellow, lit up in the dark of her mind, and seemed leaving their perches up there to fly across and across, or to cry out and be echoed: so she turned and felt on the table beside her for a book."

On this particular outing the family situation seems vulnerable, threatened by a crumbling roof and cracks in the emotional edifice, but it's difficult to tell if the looming threat is extraordinary or just the stuff we all live with. In any case, Mrs. Ramsay triumphs once more, creating a sublime moment that is gone more quickly than it took to manufacture. The guests enjoy a magic they've come to expect, but without guessing at the work behind it.

The story breaks suddenly as Mrs. Ramsay turns the lights out on her children for the evening and the reader is then vaulted into a second book entitled: "Time Passes."

World War I comes. Some of those present on the summer weekend have been taken by it. Mrs. Ramsay has died, "suddenly" and the family has ceased returning to the beach house. Pages-long, majestic descriptions of the house's decrepitude, of nature's advances upon the property, of the lingering spirits that once warmed it unwind under Woolf's careful, intricate hand.

Such stretches recall Italo Calvino who observed that literature represents a rare moment of order in a universe heading toward dissolution: "The literary work is one of those small points of privilege where things crystallize into a form which acquires such meaning."

Finally the Ramsays return, robbed of their life force, a pale facsimile of the prior clan, stitched to one another by grief only. Again it is Lily, the old maid and mediocre turtle artist, who brings us to the point of the piece. Veiled and indirect throughout, Woolf now bids attention be paid in her first sentence:

"The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one. This, that, and the other; herself and Charles Tansley and the breaking wave; Mrs. Ramsay bringing them together; Mrs. Ramsay saying, "Life stand still here"; Mrs. Ramsay making of the moment something permanent (as in another sphere Lily herself tried to make of the moment something permanent) - this was of the nature of a revelation. In the midst of chaos there was shape; this eternal passing and flowing (she looked at the clouds going and the leaves shaking) was struck into stability. Life stand still here, Mrs. Ramsay said. "Mrs. Ramsay! Mrs. Ramsay!" she repeated. She owed it all to her."

So mostly, "To the Lighthouse," is a character sketch and Valentine to Mrs. Ramsay: perhaps Woolf's mother, perhaps Rita Sackville-West, perhaps somebody else, an amalgamation, or nobody at all. Just somebody she thought we'd like to see.

For time travelers, the tale offers the privilege of vacationing with a homogeneous family of middle-class gentility at the beginning of the 20th Century. It's no wonder Woolf could wander and wade through the psyches of those present. Isolated, far from the news of the moment, without any means of communicating to the outside world, everybody is obligated to be present and consider one another and the landscape of dunes, long lawns at dusk, and wind-rippled tide pools.

And then it's modern literature and the modern world. The politics discussed at the table sound familiar and strangely up-to-date, the strivings and shortcomings of the characters are not far at all from our own: to be great, to be respected, to get to the lighthouse.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
justin alva
Though this is an incredibly difficult read, it's worth it if you have the time and patience. The story is in three parts, the first being a family planning a trip to a lighthouse, the second being a tragedy that occurs, and the third being the actual trip to the lighthouse. The story asks the questions, "Is man the sum of his experiences?" and "Is time the succession of a line of lampposts?" I won't tell you the answers that Woolf provides or that I agree with them (she was certifiable and reading this book gives a glimpse into that tragic mind), but I will tell you that in between the sometimes laborious but skillful symbolism there is often a passage of beautifully poetic stream-of-consciousness prose.
As the masterpiece it is, 5 stars are not enough.

J. Lyon Layden
The Other Side of Yore
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
vanessa swan
I am aware of how important Woolf's work is in the context of early 20th century literature. I'm also aware that Woolf is someone who many respect, but whose style they may not necessarily like. I am one of those people. Woolf's experimental style--stream of consciousness--is revolutionary, coming at a time when most writers began to break free of Pre-WWI literary conventions.
However, she remains, to this day, someone who is difficult to read and difficult to comprehend. Reading "To the Lighthouse" was relatively easy. But understanding it was not. To be more vulgar, it was so boring, I lost any sense of awareness of the story and the characters. Some say Mrs. Ramsay's thoughts were complex and ahead of her time; I say they were small and meaningless. And the men were even smaller, even more base. The experiment with the text was successful, but the story's worth can easily be debated.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
taylor o brien
Stylistically midway between her more traditionally structured novels like The Voyage Out, and experimental, modernist works like The Waves, To the Lighthouse melds elements of both experiment and tradition, making a balanced, well-organized, richly textured novel. Woolf is very adept at re-creating the passage of time in bold, unexpected ways. The brilliant middle interlude in this novel, Time Passes, is perhaps a case study in this. The reader is treated to an omniscient overview of the weathering of the Ramsay House. All this takes place under the watchful light of the Lighthouse of the title, sending out its beam to a world which is destroying itself only to be reconstituted as something wholly different, completely other. In Woolf's body of work To the Light House captures the very best of her prose skills and conceptual genius in one novel.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
lekshmy shaji
An extraordinary book, at once light as air and dense with meaning. From the smallest happenings (a family gathered at a seaside house) seen in two brief glimpses (a long summer afternoon before the first world war, and a single morning ten years later), Virginia Woolf distils a profound meditation on love and loss, hope and disappointment, and human relationships, especially the precarious and limiting balance between men and women. But it is impossible to summarize in a sentence what Woolf achieves in two hundred pages, so let me just pick on three specifics: art, thought, and time.

ART. The Harcourt Harvest Book paperback edition has a beautiful cover, apparently a tinted turn-of-the century photograph of a beach with the sea and a lighthouse beyond. It is a perfect evocation of the period and of lazy summers by the sea. Yet the credits say it is adapted from a photo by a much later artist, Herbert List; presumably the period air and the uncanny overtones of Seurat's "Grande Jatte" are the work of the designer, Liz Demeter. I mention this partly because a book's cover is like incidental music; it creates the context in which you start reading, and this is perfect. But also because visual art also plays an important part in the book. One of the guests of the owners of the house, the Ramsays, is Lily Briscoe, an unmarried woman in her thirties. We first see her as she is painting in the garden: "Lily's picture! Mrs. Ramsay smiled. With her little Chinese eyes and her puckered-up face, she would never marry; one could not take her painting very seriously." So of course we take her for a mere amateur; and Lily similarly puts herself down, conditioned by a climate which denied creativity to women except as wives and mothers. But when we get to look closer at Lily's picture we see that it is extremely advanced for its time, and her thought processes are as rigorous as anything we hear from the paterfamilias Mr. Ramsay, a once-celebrated philosopher. Indeed in the glorious closing chapters of the book, it is Lily, struggling to express balance and feeling in paint, who comes closest to giving meaning and permanency to the whole family history. One recalls that one of Virginia Woolf's closest friends in the Bloomsbury Group was the art critic Roger Fry, who coined the term post-impressionism. Lily, far from being a minor character, stands as the alter ego of Woolf herself, achieving in touches of paint a very close analogy to what the author manages so marvelously in words.

THOUGHT. But fine as Virginia Woolf's visual descriptions are, her main medium is not sight but thought. The two days at the seaside are described entirely through the minds of various individual members of the family and their guests. There is occasional dialogue, but no third-person narrator. A paragraph may start with the thoughts of one person about another, switch smoothly to the mind of that other person, and then return to the first again. And often the thoughts of the first character will change significantly between one moment and the next. Affection can switch suddenly to anger and back again; Woolf knows that most emotions, especially given the complex ties that bind families, can seldom be contained by a single label; through her apparent contradictions, she builds up a truth that is richer than could have been attained by consistency alone. Again, I think of the visual arts and the multiple viewpoints of cubism, but though a modern writer, Woolf is not a modern-ist; her technique is concealed, not flaunted; she is not a "difficult" writer in the sense that Joyce or even Faulkner are. As a results, her portraits come through with great warmth, especially that of Mrs. Ramsay, willingly adopting a supporting role to her curmudgeonly husband (or almost willingly -- with Woolf that is important), but blessed with a radiance of personality that illuminates the entire book, even when she is not at the center of it.

TIME. Most novels tell a story that unfolds gradually over the course of time; this doesn't. The outer sections of the book take place virtually in real time; the action happens at about the same speed as it takes to read about it. But for all intents and purposes, these sections are static compared to the ten-year duration of the narrative as a whole. Only one thing happens in either of the outer sections that could really be called an event, and that involves two minor characters whose relationship to the Ramsays is never clearly specified. But that does not mean lack of movement. The rapidly shifting juxtapositions and viewpoints build up a dense texture of relationships and feelings that reach a certain stability at the close of the first (and longest) section, but leave you wanting more. In painting terms again, one might call this opening a still life -- except that the various figures in it are now linked by quasi-electrical charges, so that the balance between them is not static but dynamic, presently in equilibrium but capable of further motion. In effect, you could close the book at this moment and write your own narrative. Instead, Virginia Woolf does something quite extraordinary. In the ten short chapters of the twenty-page interlude entitled "Time Passes," she takes on the role of narrator for the first time, and tells what happens in the next few minutes, the remainder of that night, the ensuing nights, the changing seasons, the course of the War, and the passage of years. She writes of impersonal things -- the house, the garden, the wind, the sea -- throwing in small nuggets of personal information almost as afterthoughts. When the Ramsays finally return, much has changed, and the former golden days seem tarnished. But by the end of this marvelous novel, Virginia Woolf has burnished them to a new shine, less brilliant perhaps, but deeper and more lasting.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
jamie smetzer
First of all, I understand the psychology of the book and that it attempted something quite different from the conventional novel of its day (or the conventional novel of any day, for that matter). However, who could honestly say that there is something going on here that wasn't done much better by writers such as Joyce or Faulkner -- who also, by the way, generally had the courtesy and ability to include characters worthy of your attention, and a plot worth following. "To the Light-house" comes off as a college-lit writing exercise by a very precocious and observant writer, but one that ultimately lacks some very important abilities necessary to create top-shelf fiction.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jonathan hammond
This is a great choice for listening to via Audio CD. The recording uses several actors to different characters and stream of consciousness works wonderfully in this medium. I highly recommend this production; it was produced for radio so there are also a variety of 'background noises' (I'm sure there's a professional term) that draw life into the scenes described.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
rachelle rae
Woolf's work is always more of a journey than a read and as such, as with all journeys, you need to stop and take stock along the way to make sense of your experiences, digest what is and learn to love and to appreciate it. The simplist and tiniest of actions are examined in microscopic detail so as to capture the finer feeling of the moment and what it is to be alive, here this concept is fully realised juxtaposed against terrific loss and the emotion of carrying on into newer less certain times and with assumed constants gone.

Enriching and beautiful. Once you reach her pitch, Woolf is a joy to read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sharleen nelson
I almost put this book down after the first 100 pages. The writing was difficult to get into and I kept thinking to myself, "is it worth the bother?"

I am SO glad that I did persist through the book, because it certainly was worth it. Woolf's writing is very lyrical and flows so freely (and so scattered!) that I sometimes had to re-read sentences multiple times to make sure I'd understood things correctly. It was slow going compared to my usual reading; but it was so beautiful! There's a passage in the book where Mr. Ramsey is reading, and it explains my approach to the book rather well:
"He if he were guiding something, or wheedling a large flock of sheep, or pushing his way up and up a single narrow path; and sometimes he went fast and straight, and broke his way through the bramble, and sometimes it seemed a branch struck at him, a bramble blinded him, but he was not going to let himself be beaten by that; on he went, tossing over page after page."

Woolf's brier patch of words is thick and convoluted, but it was completely worthwhile picking it apart in spite of the slow start.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dijana di
"'To the Lighthouse,'" he thought. "Yes. I shall read `To the Lighthouse.'"

The thought was not a new one to him, but this time, it had appeared in his mind almost before he realized that it had appeared. He did not know why it had appeared just now, but there it was. And it was a good thought, he decided, one that he would act upon, one he would make a success of. He was glad for his decision, for he was one of that class of people who find it difficult to distinguish between the thought and the actual practice of the thought, and so was endowed with a sense of satisfaction and bliss that he would soon be reading, once again, "To the Lighthouse."

But a second thought came to him, immediately following the first. It chided him, and said to him, you did not like the book before, when you tried to read it the first time, so why do you want to read it again now, and probably fail once more. The time is not right for you to read "To the Lighthouse."

As soon as he thought it, the new thought infuriated him and he felt that if he had a knife, or a hatchet, or a blade of some sort, and if the thought had been a person, and not just a random thought, that he would pierce its heart with the blade and kill it. He was that upset about not being able to finish "To the Lighthouse" when he had attempted to read it the first time.

He recalled the time he had first tried to read "To the Lighthouse." It was only a month or so ago. He could not recall the exact day, or the time, or even the month, but on one fine fall day, sitting in his office, Scot, sitting on the other side of the cubicle wall, had asked him, as he often asked such questions, if he had ever read Virginia Woolf. No, he had replied, he had not.

He searched his memory, seeking to find a title by Virginia Woolf that he could remember. Almost at once, he realized, after thinking about it for only a moment, that he had not ever read anything by Virginia Woolf, and wondered directly why he had not read anything she had written. In point of fact, he thought to himself, he did not even know the title of a single book by Virginia Woolf. It was strange.

Of course, he had heard of Virginia Woolf, as had anyone of his generation, for he could remember clearly the movie, what was it called, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Oh, yes. "Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" That was the title of the movie. But he could recall little about the movie itself, and, because it was so many years ago, he had almost forgotten its title, or even what it was about, except that it was about a college professor and his frustrated wife, and something about an imaginary child. Beyond that, he could remember nothing about the film, and had in fact wondered, even as he had watched it, first in the theater and then several years later on a television rerun, what, indeed the movie had to do with Virginia Woolf. And many years later, now, brooding about the novels of Virginia Woolf and the movie "Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf," he was still perplexed as to what this film had to do with Virginia Woolf, for he could think of nothing, nothing at all, beyond the title, of course. Except that the husband, as played by Richard Burton, was a college English professor.

And as he often did with such thoughts, in this case, the thought that he should read a book by Virginia Woolf, he decided to follow up on it and find out more about Virginia Woolf and acquire one of her books to read. Online, he searched the catalog of the Dallas Public Library, and eventually, after discovering at last how to spell the name correctly, W-O-O-L-F and not W-O-L-F-E or some other such variation, he found the lengthy list of books written by Virginia Woolf, and was startled, for he usually knew such things, when he realized that he did not recognize even one of the titles.

In dismay, he had called back across the cubicle wall to Scot, who was sitting there patiently, doing what Scot does, whatever it is, to pass the time of day at the office. Which book by Virginia Woolf should he read, he had asked, and directly came back the reply, across the cubicle wall: "To the Lighthouse." Scot had said he should read "To the Lighthouse."

Upon arriving home from the office that day, he had discovered that he had no other pressing obligations for the evening, and so he had collected his various things to return to the library, books he had finished, records he had played, library things, collected them all together and carried them out to the car, and driven into town, directly to the library. Shortly thereafter, on the third floor of the library, in the fiction section, correctly but not predictably filed under W, for the library had recently been rearranged, and sometimes books were taken off the shelf to be part of a temporary display, or even taken downstairs to entice patrons randomly seeking an interesting book to read, he had found a copy of "To the Lighthouse."

Happily he checked it out, and took it home with him, with much anticipation of beginning it in the morning, for he planned to read it on the train while going to work.

Unfortunately, when he started it, sitting in his usual seat on the train the next morning, riding to work, he found the book uninteresting. He simply could not grasp its meaning, or follow the flow of its words, or the complexity of its sentences, or the vague and fleeting thoughts that Virginia Woolf had so carefully crafted for its pages. After all the weak romance novels, and slick mystery novels, and cheap crime thrillers, and clumsy science fiction stories that he had recently been reading, all written in the usual, direct, post-Hemingway style of contemporary American fiction, heavily laced with terse dialogue and carefully constructed plot twists according to standard formulas, the ephemeral beauty of Virginia Woolf's luxurious writing and lush prose and sketchy plot was able to make scarcely a dent in his shallow American consciousness.

So, after a few days of making little headway, even after what he considered to be an heroic effort, he snapped the book shut in confusion and frustration and put it aside. He did not like "To the Lighthouse," he told Scot the next day, and said that he had found it boring, and had put it aside. Reluctantly, of course, he had said, he had put it aside, for it was his usual custom to finish a book he had started, especially if it was a significant one, as in this case, a classic, like "To the Lighthouse."

And Scot, rather unperturbed, as was his way, did not say anything much in response to his comment. He just said that he was reading it himself because of a school requirement and was happily deciphering its meaning. That is what Scot said he liked to do, in actual fact, to decipher meaning.

And so it was now weeks later, and there it was, still sitting on the table in his house, the copy of "To the Lighthouse" he had not yet returned to the library. He saw it there sometimes, sitting on the table, and he felt that it was reproaching him, chiding him as it were, that he had not been able to finish it, scolding him because he had found it vague and frustrating and meaningless and finally, boring.

And then, just a week or so prior to his Christmas vacation, the new thought had occurred to him, the thought that he should read "To the Lighthouse" again. Yes, he decided, he should read it again, and this time he would succeed, he was sure. He would try once again to read "To the Lighthouse." This time, he thought, he would learn how to decipher its intricate text, parse its lush sentences, and find a way to penetrate to the very core of its meaning. But this time, he would not read the book, page by page, depending on his visual faculties, his eyes, to communicate the words to his brain. No. Instead, this time, he would use his ears, his auditory senses, the senses that he, as a trained musician, most favored. He would listen to someone read the text to him. Suddenly, he knew what he was going to do. He would listen to a recording of the book, read by an accomplished reader, in the car, on the trip he was about to take for his Christmas Holiday.

By a fortunate chance, he found another copy of "To the Lighthouse," an audio book on 7 CD's, eight hours long, narrated by a British actress called Virginia Leishman. And so he acquired it out and carried it with him in the car on his trip.

Time passed.

First, time passed in the car.

And then, the time of the Christmas Holidays passed, as well.

The long trip from Texas to South Carolina had taken two days, two long rainy days of bad restaurants and a cheap hotel room, and driving in the rain in heavy traffic trying to avoid an accident. And the music on the XM Radio he had just bought had managed to divert his attention away from the album of seven CD's carefully packed in the box on the back seat of his car, the audio book recording of "To the Lighthouse" that he had obtained with such anticipation to wile away the long hours on a road trip of many days, such as this one.

When he had arrived at his destination, he still had not listened to his recording of "To the Lighthouse." And while on vacation, the busy activities of the Christmas season occupied his time to such an extent that he had little time to read, much less listen to a book on tape for eight hours at a time, or even in one hour segments.

The happy days of the Holidays sped by, those short days and long nights of fun and festivity and family warmth, passing by quickly in a whirlwind of parties and dinners and gatherings and church services, those family moments that are the happy custom of celebration during the Christmas season. Suddenly, almost in a flash, he realized that the holidays were over and the joyful family celebrations and parties and gatherings were finished and it was time for him to return home.

With both a feeling of relief that the hectic holiday schedule was quickly drawing to a close, and yet with a tinge of regret that he would leave behind him once again the loving arms of his dear mother and the good-will of his family to return to his self sufficient life style, he began to make his plans for the long trek west, the journey of more than one thousand miles that he would make to return home.

On the morning of his departure, as he carefully loaded his belongings back into the car, he saw the audio book recording of "To the Lighthouse" carefully packed in the box he had placed on the back seat. This time, on this leg of his journey, he thought, he really was going to read "To the Lighthouse." At last, he was ready to listen attentively. And so he reached behind the seat and into the box to pull out the album that contained the collection of CD's that was the recording of "To the Lighthouse." He carefully placed it on the front seat of the car, within arms reach, and then placed beside it the portable CD player that he had brought along just for that purpose. Yes. Today he would listen to "To the Lighthouse," and began at once to feel a strong sense of anticipation for the reading.

But the driving conditions were poor that morning, with clouds and wind and rain and generally bad weather threatening to make the driving difficult. For that reason, he feared that, if his attention were diverted from the recorded performance by the strain of driving, he would fail in his endeavor to make a success of the reading of "To the Lighthouse." Furthermore, in case he became too involved in the story, he was somewhat frightened at the thought of having his attention averted from the road during a difficult traffic maneuver, thus putting himself in danger of an accident. For this reason, for both of these reasons, for all of these reasons, in fact, he decided to postpone his reading of "To the Lighthouse" until after he had passed over the mountains of South and North Carolina and had descended onto the plains of eastern Tennessee, where the road gradually wound down out of the mountains and gently stretched across nearly 400 miles of fertile farmland to the Mississippi River, and beyond. Making one last stop to say farewell to his mother, he carefully guided the car out onto the highway and began the difficult journey through the mountains.

The drive was indeed difficult, and the pavement, wet because of the clouds and the wind and the rain and the generally bad weather, and the heavy traffic, and the condition of the highway, which wound slowly up the steep mountain sides and then plunged down quickly, deep into the valleys, where the road ran alongside rushing rivers swollen with newly fallen rain, impeded his progress and required that he concentrate fully on the road.

On one occasion, he came upon the flashing lights of a police cruiser and an ambulance, and surreptitiously glanced at the accident and its victims as he crept by, his progress hampered by the traffic backup. Someone may have died here, he reflected, and wondered what his own fate would be if he failed to negotiate the mountain roads successfully. But no, he conceded, such a circumstance was unlikely, and he drove on. As he drove, he recalled from time to time the empty seat next to him, the seat empty of a passenger, but in which he had placed his audio book recording of "To the Lighthouse," and anticipated in his mind the time when he would be able to listen to it and give it his full attention.

Finally, after three intense hours of driving through the steep mountains in the rain and the wind and the generally bad weather, he crossed from North Carolina into Tennessee. A short time later, he stopped at the first rest stop which appeared alongside the highway. And after taking a moment to refresh himself, he was able to relax and feel the stress of driving through the mountains in bad weather begin to melt away. In a few moments, he was renewed and invigorated and climbed back into his car to continue his journey.

He re-entered the highway and joined the swiftly flowing stream of traffic driving west along the Interstate. Gradually, just as he knew it would, the road left the mountains and descended onto the gently rolling plains of eastern Tennessee. With a sigh of relief, and knowing that the trip would quickly assume a familiar routine, he settled back for the long drive that would take him through Knoxville, and Nashville, and Memphis, and Little Rock, before turning south towards Shreveport, bringing him finally to his destination, Dallas.

Now, he decided. Yes. Now is the time to read "To the Lighthouse."

Awkwardly, while keeping his eyes on the road, he reached over to the passenger seat, found the CD player, and clumsily hooked it up. Then, fumbling around again until he found the album that contained the audio book recording of "To the Lighthouse," he opened it and extracted the first CD, which he placed, still somewhat awkwardly, for it is tricky to manage a CD player and drive at the same time, into the player. He punched the button on the machine, adjusted the volume, and the words floated out of the speakers and into the car.

"'To the Lighthouse'" by Virginia Woolf. Disk One," came the announcer's voice. Then the reader, Virginia Leishman, intoned: "Prologue. Chapter One."

He began to listen, and he listened for the next 800 miles, and, listening intently, he immersed himself in Virginia Woolf's story of the Ramsay family, their summer vacation on the Isle of Skye, and their son James' much anticipated and long delayed journey to the lighthouse.

"Well done," he thought, two days later, when it was finished. And he was pleased as he congratulated himself in his own private way, because he had listened to "To the Lighthouse" in its entirety, and found it enjoyable.

Thus, he put the finishing touch on his trip, the trip that was his Christmas vacation.


A short time afterwards, only a few days, really, he reflected on his experience of reading "To the Lighthouse" as an audio book.

The trick to reading Virginia Woolf, he decided, is in knowing where to break the sentences, where to pause, and where to separate the subordinate clauses, so that the sentences parse correctly. If one does this incorrectly, as often happens on first reading of the printed page, the effect can be jarring, when, for example, a noun is unfortunately connected with the wrong verb, causing the sentence to go in the wrong direction, or parts of the sentence are left dangling. If such a thing happens, and it is likely to happen often on a first reading, the only solution for the reader is to re-read the sentence until it parses correctly, and the proper meaning emerges. This makes for slow going at first, when reading printed text, but if one can get the knack of the Woolf style, and if the reader perseveres, and is willing to make the effort to do a second reading whenever necessary, the inherent beauty of the text will soon emerge.

This unfortunate problem is nearly absent when one listens to the story read aloud as an audio book. On the recording, the reader, in this case Virginia Leishman, on the audio book version of "To the Lighthouse" published by Recorded Books, Inc., has of necessity, already analyzed the material, and the sentences as they are read have an ebb and flow of natural speech that is eminently satisfying. Also, the text takes on a transparent, poetic quality, as of carefully constructed blank verse, which allows the listener's imagination to free itself from the printed page, visualize in the mind's eye the situations and places described in the story, and immerse itself in the thoughts, emotions and utterances of Virginia Woolf's characters.

Listing to Virginia Woolf's prose, when read aloud and properly delivered, is both soothing and exciting. Her story, with the most sketchy of plots, and carefully constructed out of the most mundane of events of daily life, the painting of a picture, sewing, shopping, a chance encounter on the road, the preparation of a meal, and the chit chat of diners sitting at table, becomes both engaging and exciting to the listener, who feels himself becoming involved as part of the inner being of the various characters as they engage themselves in the shifting scene around them and react to the situations they encounter. Even if the mind occasionally wanders while the reading continues, it does not matter much, for in such cases, the listener's inner voice will merely merge into the texture of the tale, while the subconscious mind will continue listening to the words being read aloud, and quickly pull one back into the story after only a short moment.

The plot of "To the Lighthouse" is a simple one.

The story begins in the year 1910. The Ramsay family is on vacation from London and living in a cottage they own in Scotland, on the Isle of Skye. There are eight children in the family. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay have also invited several guests to join them for the summer.

James, Mrs. Ramsay's youngest son, who is six, asks if they can go to the lighthouse the next day. Mrs. Ramsay agrees, but Mr. Ramsay contradicts his wife and tells his son the weather will be bad. James is very disappointed.

That evening there is a dinner party, and the next morning, the weather is indeed wrong for a boat trip to the lighthouse.

10 years pass. Mrs. Ramsay has died of unknown causes, Andrew, the oldest son, has been killed in World War I, and Prue, the oldest daughter, has died in childbirth after a short marriage. The Ramsay cottage on the Isle of Sky falls into ruin.

The year is now 1920. Mr. Ramsay decides to come back to the cottage for the summer one more time. The cottage is quickly put in order, and Mr. Ramsay arrives with James and his sister Cam and a few guests.

During this stay, Mr. Ramsay decides to take James to the lighthouse. James, who is now 16, guides the boat through the billowing waves, so that the group arrives safely. "Well done," says Mr. Ramsey to James when they arrive safely at the lighthouse, and James is secretly pleased to receive this simple declaration of praise from his demanding father. Finally, James has had his visit to the lighthouse. It is a moment of intense satisfaction for the reader.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The Freudian take regarding To the Lighthouse has been almost beaten to death. I think that anyone who focuses too much on the phallic symbolism of the Lighthouse itself in this work does so to their own detriment. Why? Because To the Lighthouse could perhaps be Virginia Woolf's most finely crafted work.
If one were to look too deeply into the symbolism they may miss the beautifully painted character portrait of Mrs. Ramsey as the stolid maternal who really holds the family, household, and social interactions of her husband together while he goes about dreaming and philosophizing, only to have to pick the pieces up later when she dies and he is left alone.
To the Lighthouse is filled with wonderful and memorable characters. Not just Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey, but also Lila Briscoe the aritst, and Minta Doyle the carefree young almost self absorbed girl in a woman's body. Then there is Mr. Carmichael who appears kind of an old wizened sage who remains somewhat aloof but finally finds success as a poet at the end of the novel. There's Tansley the anti-social atheist intellectual who may still have a softer side somewhere beneath his cold exterior...the list goes on and on...and by now I'm probably rambling, but anyway, To the Lighthouse is Virgina's Woolf best and everyone who reads it should be able to find something they can appreciate about it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
aman shurbaji
A deceptively simple novel that explores the meaning of life. Written in a stream-of-consciousness poetic style, this is a book that should be read slowly, not at the pace of a traditional novel, or you will miss the slow-motion explosions of beautiful insights lurking about when least expected. Her characters move like spirits in the material world. And as the reader - the voyeur transported to this other dimension - you hear and feel them brush past you like ghosts - who will sometimes pass right through your heart. Unequivocally, this is my favorite novel.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
pms mrsmoose
I can see how this book earned its acclaim. The imagery is clearly the product of an exceptional writer. However the density of the book and the lack of connection to the characters made reading this a chore for me. I'm glad I read it but I was also glad when I reached the end.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Virginia Woolf achieves her most sterling triumphs when she focuses, as she does in To the Lighthouse, on the relationships of men and women to the seemingly trivial events of everyday life. In this book, the camera lens is on the interplay of contact between members of the Ramsay family as they vacation (in about 1913-ish) at their summer home in the Hebrides, trying to plan an excursion to the lighthouse.
Popular once again because of Cunningham's novel The Hours (a spin-off of Mrs. Dalloway) and the superbe movie based on the novel, Virginia Woolf's books are once again bestsellers - and that's a very, very good sign.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Look, I hated this book. I hated reading it. I hate all stream of consciousness writing, or very nearly all. I hate what little I have read of Joyce, I hate most of what Faulkner I have read, and I find Proust nearly as unreadable.
This work is the only work by Virginia Woolf I have ever read. It took me nearly forever to finish it. Reading it's long, winding, meandering sentences was like walking through molasses.
Thank goodness I have finally, FINALLY finished it.
I hope to never ever read anything else by Virginia Woolf.
And I mean that.
Keep her stuff away from me.
It just does not interest me at all.
...Having said all that, I must hasten to add, however, that I do recognize this novel, this ability to string together random thoughts and make some semblance of sense out of them, to be a work of clear genius. It must've taken her a staggering amount of work, amount of thought. The woman clearly had a wealth of intellect and talent. Just keep anything else by her away from me, because it doesn't interest me in the slightest, this detailed, ultra-remonstrated British upper-crust mindset stuff.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Virginia Woolf was a true literary genius, with a gift for capturing the emotional lives of her characters that isn't often seen in modern writing. That said, To the Lighthouse is one of her more difficult works; it follows the character's internal lives in a very Joyce-ian way, and like all true stream of consciousness writing, can be hard to fully comprehend. But the depth of feeling she manages to encapsulate with her deft turn of phrase is remarkable, and well worth reading. I don't recommend this novel for those who have never read Woolf before. Start with Mrs. Dalloway, and when you read To the Lighthouse later, you'll appreciate it more.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
bruce averyheart
A perfect example of "show, don't tell." A single thought or emotion takes the better part of a page just to get stated, which is fine, but then we move on. Also, though Woolf was a master of the compound sentence in earlier works, by this point she frequently drifts into "run-on" territory, and it's honestly pretty grating. If you ripped a passage from here and handed it in as a creative writing student, there's a good chance a teacher (assuming they wouldn't recognize a random bit) would tear it a new one with their red pen.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jamie navarro
To The Lighthouse (and Woolf in general) is probably not going to be satisfying for a reader looking for a page-turning, pulse-pounding escape from sleep. For those interested in literary history, or more particularly, the emergence of Modernism, this book is a great place to start.

The prose is lyrical, provocative, but dense. You might take a look at the plot summary on Sparknotes to check your interest level. Do you enjoy long depictions of dinner parties and inner monologue? If not, I would skip this. If you're not sure, the first chapter will either pull you right in or kick you right out.

To The Lighthouse is not easy. I found it impossible to concentrate on it with any background noise, hunger...or anything else on my mind. If you decide to try it, give yourself a chance to enjoy it. Don't skim, don't read for less than 30 minutes at a time, and try to read every day until you're done. It's hard to pick back up if you slack.

I found TTLH to be a thoughtful, beautifully written book. It was slow going, though, and I don't know if I'll ever need to read it again, hence 4 stars.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I must have read this novel at least five or six times, and every time I return to it I re-discover its greatness; I also discover things I haven't noticed before. I've read it on my own, and for class assignments, and for writing major papers about it, and it remains, for me, the best book written in the twentieth century. It's not about plot (it doesn't really have much of it), nor about any one specific topic or theme - it is about human relationships, and how, even in a small grouping of people, these relationships assume a depth that is above and beyond the pettiness of their actual concerns. It is, however, a rather difficult book to read, especially if you're expecting a plot-driven story, and requires patience. As you can obviously understand by my words so far, however, it is more than worth it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sally gardner
I haven't read To the Lighthouse since college, a time at which I understood very little about it, but was still greatly moved. Two things struck me about the experience of re-reading it. One is that while I can't claim full understanding, I no longer found myself struggling with the form in order to read the book. The second is how much more resonant the book became for me now that I'm older and can identify more with Mrs. Ramsey instead of seeing the book only through the character of Lily Briscoe.
To the Lighthouse centers around the Ramsey family and the people they bring in their wake to their home on the Isle of Skye. Families in the world of this book are fragile things. The first half creates the Ramsey family group so well that when the second half is without it, the reader is constantly aware of the ghost images standing in the empty spaces. Meanwhile, Lily tries to understand the world she's in and make her painting by meditating about the Ramseys and how much has changed in the world around them.
The book is tremendously beautiful and sad. I'll look forward to re-reading it again in another ten years.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
anastasia t
The epitome of subjectivity in writing. At first, this makes for a very difficult read if you're not used to this stream of consciousness style (and I was not), but by the end of the book, you may wish every novel was written in this form. I have encountered few books that have so well invited me into the minds of its characters. Truly a journey to "the self," the spotlight of consciousness.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
I thought that this book was incredibly well written, but while i thought that it was well done, and it was certainly reflective of the time in which it was supposed to represent, I thought that it was very difficult to understand. I found myself re-reading passages over and over again, just to get the meaning that Woolf was trying to convey. I thought that the author was trying to express a stoic look at the snobbishness of the Victorian era. While Mrs. Ramsay is the guiding light in the entire book, I thought that she was also the one that really made it difficult to understand. I also thought that Mrs. Ramsay was the one that referred to the lighthouse the most. I recognized the lighthouse as a symbol for the goals that everyone that was vacationing there had, but also for everyone that was visiting the Ramsays. Also, reflective of the era, is the way that Mrs. Ramsay looked at love. She liked the concept of being in love, but she didnt nessacarily love who she was married to. Or rather, she did, but she chose to question it. I am still not sure what the whole deal is with the Ramsay adults. The Ramsay children, however, are the idealistic symbols for the future--they symbolize the promise of what is possible to come for the family and the rest of the world.They thought taht the lighthouse was the answer to all of their problems--and in reality, it was the creator of most of them. And, of course, while the Ramsays were a huge part of the story, Lily Briscoe and Charles Tansley were the two characters that epitomized the entire theme of the novel. They are the abstract, just like Lily's paintings, and they are the ones that really understand the world and what is going on. They are the ones that will still survive when the society that everyone knows crumbles to the ground. All in all, I thought that this novel was well written, but I thought that Woolf could have explained things a little better.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
After completing the incredible Woolf novel "Mrs. Dalloway" I eagerly dived into "To The Lighthouse" expecting similar (if not greater) satisfaction. Unfortunately, from the very beginning I felt that the stream of consciousness narration betrayed itself with the excessive unrealistic "deep" thoughts and ponderings of the lesser characters. Sure, we all know Mr. Ramsay is a ponderous metaphysician and we expect such soul-searching from him - but from all the others as well, and at all times? Every character seems to be CONSTANTLY measuring their self worth and working out a personal philosophy while they go about their otherwise mundane daily existence. To be sure, we all have these "moments of reflection", but Woolf overdoes it here. I suppose the critical eminence of the book and its assured position in the canon still make it a must-read, but I would advise first time readers to reduce any high expectations concerning the novel's psychological realism.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
beverly mcclaskey
I highly recommend the Oxford World's Classics edition of this deeply poignant book, which I think is one of the crowning achievements of 20th-century art. David Bradshaw, the scholar who edited this version, writes by far the best introductions I've ever read, and this one is wonderful. It's beautifully written and so compelling that I couldn't put it down. I can't imagine a better source of illumination: not only does it provide crucial historical and cultural context for understanding Woolf but it also directs reader attention to textual details that might otherwise be missed, especially in a first reading. You definitely owe it to yourself (and Woolf) to take care to order the right edition.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
To the Lighthouse is an immortal work of fiction. For some readers it is the most beautiful novel ever written. This edition, however, you should avoid. There are numerous terrible typographical errors. Whole phrases are left out. Also the way the paragraphs are set out on the page are distressing. Woolf's style makes every parenthesis-mark matter, and the more white space on the page (within reason) the better. In this edition everything is jammed together as efficiently as possible. To me it was painful.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
natalie pietro
the internet being mostly ephemeral as opposed to the medium of published novels this review is extemporaneous and lacking. There is a paragraph in "To the Lighthouse" which describes the lord of the manor more clearly than a camera. This paragraph is one sentence long though not one long sentence. The thought, care, sweat and anguish which must have gone into the complete thrill of brushing the character onto paper is mortar and brick to the sentence. It stands as does Virginia Woolf.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This is definitely one of my favorite books ever. Through the story of the Ramsay family, Woolf delivers an enchanting and intelligent story of domestic life and of the relationships between men and women. By celebrating everyday life, she champions women's traditional roles. Each time I read this novel, I am amazed at the cultural commentary Woolf included, and at its continued relevance to life today. And the ways she shows time passing in this novel are simply magnificent.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
nanette lee
Perhaps it's my male mind, or maybe my relative youth (junior in college), but I really can't say I enjoyed the book much. I do agree on one account with the people who gave it five stars: it would take Virginia Woolf's own words to possibly describe how beautifully written the novel is, and how enchanting her prose is.
However, that is the only reason I gave it as many as three stars; it is just boring. The back of the book reads "The subject of this brilliant novel is the daily life of an English family in the Hebrides". And, well, that really is all it's about, and let me tell you, my daily life of lectures and math homework is about as exciting as what happens in this book, people talk, people grow old, time passes. Hmmm....I can get enough of that in my daily life, thank you very much. Lastly, her insights into true human nature (presented in all its actual boringness) goes well beyond any author I've ever read (and I've read quite a lot), but it really didn't tell me anything I didn't know.
To sum, if you want to read a good book to learn or appreciate HOW to write, pick To The Lighthouse up first; if you want to read a good book to learn or appreciate WHAT to write about, go elsewhere, anywhere else.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
stephanie tillman
"To The Lighthouse" is a portrait of the Ramsey family; a portrait "taken" as they are vacationing at their summer home on the rugged coast of Scotland. This is a very interior portrait, though, the most interior I've ever stumble upon in any book to date. For me, at least, this book transcends the barrier of time, culture and all else and speaks straight from the soul, something few authors have been able to do.
Two things struck me about the experience of reading it. One is that while I cant claim full understanding, I no longer found myself struggling with the form in order to read the book. The second is how much more booming the book became for me now that I'm older and can identify more with Mrs. Ramsey instead of seeing the book only through the character of Lily Briscoe.
To the Lighthouse brings the Ramsey family and the people they bring their wake to their home on the Isle of Skye. Families in the world of this book are little things. The first half creates the Ramsey family group so well that when the second half is without it, the reader is always aware of the ghost images standing in the empty spaces. We found out what has happened to the missing members of the group by a reunion with the ghosts of the past. Meanwhile, lily tries to understand the world shes in and make her painting by meditating about the ramseys and how much has changed in the world around them.
I beleive that Woolfs well known stream technique at its more poetic and influential than anyone else I have read. The boook is very beautiful and sad at the same time. I'll look forward re-reading it again in a couple more years. It's luminous, it's astonsishing, it's prizewinning. It's a book I think high school students should be made to read to really understand life at its fullest.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
clarice james
V.W use and style of writing captivates the patient, and open minded person. It is different from the usual novels in its style but it still captures the importance of family and the need for families to be strong. The breakdown in families happen everyday as in V.W life,yet, through the book V.W shows how she would have liked her life to end by the reuniting of the family. However, and unfortunately V.W committs suicide. The book should be used as a lesson to all!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
casey forbes
I'm a senior in high school, and when I picked up To the Lighthouse for my summer reading this summer, I had no idea how much it would inspire me and change my perspective on life and writing. The book is not concerned with plot, but more with symbolism and human emotions and truths about life and the role of women in 20th century English society.
For someone who had never encountered Modernist writing style, I found Woolf's stream of consciousness wrting style extremely refreshing. It switches between characters' thoughts and the story so fluently that although it is occasionally confusing, overall, it makes the book more of a cohesive whole.
Of course, I can't deny that I used Sparknotes to fully understand the book. But that was because I had to comment on symbolism in my reading log, and some of Woolf's symbolism is hard to understand. However, you don't need to use Sparknotes to understand this book. I understood everything without them but still used them because I love this book so much that I wanted to know everything about it! (And I have never felt that way about summer reading before.)
This book was really fascinating and was an interesting insight into the social heirarchy of the 20th century and the roles of women in that society. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Lily Briscoe and Mrs. Ramsay, and I think that their struggles are those that any woman can relate to. Overall, I would say that To the Lighthouse is a masterpiece and is a must-read for any woman, especially women writers. I know that it has changed my perspective on being a woman writer and has inspired me to consider pursuing writing as a career.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kris erickson
and understood over time EXCEPT that people living right now evidentally feel "superior" to their forbears who "broke" with custom (in the way Virginia did in "To the Lighthouse") to enable the types of experimentation with "thought" and "stream of consciousness" to be furthered, expanded, invented and BY NOW to be well known as a "genre." Internet writing IS by virtue of it's "nature" necessarily AT TIMES "stream of consciousness" in the chatrooms, at certain online venues. No Virginia Woolf does not interact back. For AOL users, her "ims" are blocked. She's dead, and you couldn't just start talking to Judith Krantz, John Grisham or whoever you wanted to talk with today anyway.
One does not pick up "To the Lighthouse" to read contemporary american fiction of the late twentieth century. The "espoused formula" of many readers was precisely what Virginia Woolf flouted.
The misunderstanding of this woman's book by so many readers (many, American males) is a sad testimony to the state of "true literacy" and our "cultural legacy" in the United States.
"To The Lighthouse" will also stand as a historical marker. Perhaps it will help the ill comprehending "boring brigade" to know that there ARE no more "lighthouse keepers." The last "manpowered" Lighthouse in GreatBritain was evacuated and automated in the most recent of months (sometime around Christmas I believe of 1998 or the beginning of 1999).
This woman has made history now, more than once.
How could people NOT be interested in how other people think, in slowing down the pace, in the quiet rhythm of different places and times.
I am at a loss as to how so many persons misconstrued and misunderstood a great author like VW in a great book like "TTHLH" while greedily gorging on necrophilia by persons like Poppy Z. Brite.
Nato is still bombing Kosovo. Ms. Woolf committed suicide during WW2.
I understand the readers that feel FULFILLED by this amazing book. It is disheartening to know that there are people out there, with strange ideas of "literature" and well...that as to the group of persons with their negative opinions of "To The Lighthouse" I guess it's too bad I cannot understand you. You say tomatoe and I say tomahto but you know... To The Lighthouse is still a "Stellar" and an important book and will remain so as long as the "pundits of taste" and the "Canon" mandates. I can tell you that will be as long as this globe spins.
Read the book for yourself. I would only use capitals as some reader stop someone from hurting themselves. A little culture never hurt anyone. Perhaps, the best one could hope to be by cultural illiteracy is (arching and eyebrow) amused.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
In To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf details the intricate and ambivalent relationships among members of the Ramsay family and their friends. During the gathering, when the son James wants to go to the lighthouse, Mr. Ramsay asserts himself by declaring that the weather wouldn't allow the trip the next day. Yet, when he seeks Mrs. Ramsay to comfort him, he shows his insecurity. And Mrs. Ramsay wants to make everything right and everyone happy. Lily Briscoe struggles to paint Mrs. Ramsay's portrait while Charles Tansley, Mr. Ramsay's admirer, undermines her confidence with his chauvinist remarks about women incapable of writing and painting. During dinner, when the poet Augustus Carmichael wants a second helping of soup, Mr. Ramsay was rude to him. When Mrs. Ramsay leaves the guests and reflects on the events of the day, we can sense the sadness amid the laughter and hubbub of the party.

The section "Time Passes" gives us a sense of loss. Not only because W.W.I. comes and goes, taking along with in millions of lives. Not only because Mrs. Ramsay and the son Andrew and the daughter Pru passed away. But also because the passage of time has washed away the past: the laughter of the party, the joy of the engagement between Paul Rayley and Minta Doyle, the promise to go to the lighthouse, and Lily Briscoe's struggle with self-confidence. Those moments relegated to the survivors' memories, waiting to drop into oblivion.

In the section "The Lighthouse," Mr. Ramsay his son James and his daughter Cam go to the lighthouse, and Lily finishes her painting. Promises and goals fulfilled. Yet, Mr. Ramsay remains insecure and seeks comfort from Lily but fails to receive any. He also asserts himself but forcing his son and daughter to go to the lighthouse, though eventually they come to respect him. Again the ambivalence between these characters. And Virginia Woolf is a master at these subtle emotions. To read her work is to experience the passing of time, and loss and sadness mixing with life and joy.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
joy ebertz
To the light house is one of many books of Virginia Woolf that could be considered a real novel. It has got all the genius of her writing together with her detailed description that anyone who has to read anything written by Virginia Woolf cannot and should not miss reading this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
aaron shea
When I first started to read this book, I said oh no another stream of conciousness novel. I have plowed through James Joyce and William Faulkner in the past and felt like I was taking part in a laboratory experiment. But Lighthouse was very different. Only a great writer can make me take interest in a boring story, or care about characters in their day-to-day life. Excellent book, the description of the run-down house really hit me.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
When I first began to read To The Lighthouse it seemed dull and monotonous but as I kept reading, I began to see how wrong my first impression was. She writes with a beautifully rhythmic pattern that entralls the reader and made me love the book. The book is centered around her characters' private introspections that I both agreed with and learned from. She pulls you into an entirely different world that you simply do not want to leave. I intend to re-read this book over and over again to better absorb its beauty, passion, and wisdom. Read this book! But keep an open mind for it takes patience to fall into this masterpiece that Woolf created.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jerry cranford
This novel opens with the Ramsay family on holiday in England. Mrs. Ramsay loves her children above all else and thinks that motherhood is the ultimate in achievement and happiness. She spends this day in time running the household, tending to the needs of their guests, matchmaking two of the young folks who are with them, and trying to protect her youngest son from the disappointment of a possibly canceled outing the next morning. Her husband storms about, lost in his own selfish thoughts, carelessly hurting his children's feelings.

The narration passes from person to person, and we are able to observe the Ramsay family from various angles on this day.

Time passes in the middle section. Many things change, and a decade later one of the guests from the original section, a painter named Lily, is back at the vacation house. Everything is different, although she is much the same, struggling with her art. She remembers the Ramsay family and thinks about what they meant to her as she works on her painting.

This is a beautifully written story. I liked being able to get inside the heads of different characters, to see how they thought about each other. I especially loved the middle section of this book, in which the passage of time is seen through the objects in the vacation home.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
To the Lighthouse is a novel about a boy named James Ramsay who is growing up during World War I. "The Window" opens up by telling us how James longs to go to the lighthouse that is just across the sea. He hates his father because he takes joy in being rude to his eight children and his wife, Mrs. Ramsay who would not say a mean word about anyone. The Ramsays' house a number of guests at their home in Hebrides. Mr. Tansley is a present day "understudy" of Mr. Ramsay who is a metaphysical philosopher who doesn't think his profession is impacting anyone. Mr. Tansley worships Mr. Ramsay because anything he says, Mr. Tansley is always backing him up no matter whose business he's intruding upon.
Lily Briscoe is also a guest at the home. She is a painter who like Mr. Ramsay feels her artistic abilities are getting her nowhere in life. She admires Mrs. Ramsay and starts a portrait of her, however never finishes it. Mrs. Ramsay introduced her to William Bankes who was a friend of the family. Her plan was to get them to marry one another but it did not work out that way. She did manage to arrange one wedding which was between Paul Rayley and Minta Doyle.
During the next chapter, "Time Passes", World War I spreads over Europe. The Ramsay's eldest son is killed in battle. Also one of their daughters, Prue died from a birth defect. During this chapter, Mrs. Ramsay passes away suddenly. James is left in a tough situation. He has to cope with the loss of his mother, but also come to the fact that his abusive father is the only one left. Through all of this misfortune, the summer house in the Hebrides is no longer visited.
Ten years pass and Mr. Ramsay decides to take James and James' sister, Cam to the lighthouse. James has turned into the kind of man that his father is, he is very moody and stubborn. When they get close to the shoreline to the lighthouse, bonding between son and father occurs. Mr. Ramsay is proud of his son because of person he came to be. Just as they arrive at the shore, Lily, the aspiring painter finishes one of her paintings.
I enjoyed this book overall. It was slow in the beginning but after the first few pages, I really came to enjoy reading it. It made me realize my life's worth even though my life has yet to start. No matter where it takes me, I now know to never give up and be persistent with what I like to do. If I continue on that path even with the bumps along the way, by the end my life with be put in perspective for me.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This book is not for everyone! Last month our bookclub read "The Divine Secrets of the YA YA Sisterhood" which I thought was just drivel but is an absolute hit with the public. Fortunately our selection this month was "To the Lighthouse". This is the anti "YA YA" book. It is very spiritual and existential. The symbolism is beautiful. I will never think of lighthouses the same again. I am just sorry that I waited until I was 40 years old to read this book. At least I found it! I will read it over and over. True there is no real plot, but Virginia Woolf is a genuis in her commentary on life. The whole novel is told from the inside out. Everything is told from someone's thoughts. I could not put the book down and was struck with a sense of Awe the entire time. To me this is a true work of art. I also admire her treatment of the theme of masculine and feminine in our society. It is a sad commentary on our society that there are over 300 comments under the book about the Ya Ya's and just a couple of comments on "To the Lighthouse".
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Nicole Kidman's narration is phenomenal. She just surrounds you with the words, emotion, setting, it is sublime.
I preferred this one to Stevenson's; I could not abide Stevenson's breathy, exaggerated whisper.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jean mcd
This is quite simply, the most beautiful, illuminating, and period-defining book I have ever read. The prose is smooth and fluid, and if you let it carry you into the book, it will completely absorb you. I understand how stream-of-consciousness can be difficult, but rather than fighting the stream in an attempt to understand every sentence, I recommend 'going with the flow' for the first few pages and letting your visceral reactions to the emotions and ideas in the book guide you.
This is a book about transitions; from childhood to adulthood, from an era of clearly defined roles to one of liberation; it is a book about the things people need from each other but have difficulty communicating; it is a book about the impossibility of communication and the other subtle ways we attempt to bridge the divide between ourselves and other people. I doubt these topics will ever be addressed as elegantly.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
adrienne arieff
I know I shouldn't judge an author based on only one of her novels, no matter how boring it may be. If I were to recommend reading this novel, it would be only to someone like myself who is just trying to get a feel for why a "classic" is called a "classic" and then try another book by the same author. I am not too sure that this novel gives the author justice. And so, if you were to read this novel, and you are like me, and were not really sure what to make of it, I would recommend reading another of the author's novels in addition to this one. I will be reading Mrs. Dalloway to see if there really is something about Virginia Woolf worth noting. This book, however, was sorta interesting, but nothing to get excited about.. why is it a classic? I have really no idea.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This is not a book for everyone. It wasn't meant for me, and it is not one that I'll ever re-visit, but I can acknowledge that it is a minor classic.

Much like the far superior Under the Volcano, this book focuses on how the thing is said, and not the thing itself. The plot is spare and banal, and what little action there is is tangential: what matters to Woolf is the inner psychology, the interpersonal dynamics, the thoughts, perceptions, emotions and feelings.

The book has a calamitous exordium, populated with clunkers such as this:

"Then, up behind the great black rock, almost every evening spurted irregularly, so that one had to watch for it and it was a delight when it came, a fountain of white water, and then, while one waited for that, one watched, on the pale semicircular beach, wave after wave shedding again and again smoothly, a film of mother of pearl."

But, gradually, the lyricism and prose pick up, and become almost sublime in many parts. Woolf does not have much to say, but she says it very beautifully, once she's found her sea-legs.

To the Lighthouse is very overrated at #15 on the MLA should be ranked far beneath All the King's Men, Appointment in Samarra, and the incredibly brilliant Pale Fire. (Most English professors would doubtless disagree.) That said, it does deserve a spot on the list, and is not an aesthetically devoid waste of time like Wide Sargasso Sea.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
This book is essentially divided into two parts: a day in the life of a British family and their guests at a seaside cottage, and ten years after the death of the matriarch, Mrs. Ramsay. The writing is an example of 20th century excellence. The narrator may change from page to page, but the reader always knows who is speaking. Although some paragraphs are incredibly long, in the Henry James style, there is clarity throughout. Little essays are peppered here and there which can stand on their own. The character of Mrs. Ramsay is central and is seen through her own thoughts and through the thoughts of the others on one day. In the second half of the book, most of the original characters return to the house sometime after Mrs. Ramsay's death and we feel their loss. What is this loss that they and we feel? She has held up the potential and promise of the destinies of the others, even though they may never reach it, a lighthouse beacon which survives her mortality.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
nancy baker schwark
I find it hard to believe this is one of the best novels ever. Perhaps it's meaning was lost on me.. but I really did not enjoy this novel. I had to struggle to complete it. I was very dissapointed with the author and her over- monotonous, boring style. It seems that this novel could have adequatley been told as a short story and would have only lost it's monotone and repetitive nature. I kept looking for the literary genius buried deep within- but unfortunatley I never found it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
If you are going to read only one of Virginia Woolf's many works, this is the one to read. She is the greatest novelist, but her novels cannot be equal, some being better or more universal than others. She really *arrives* in this one. I first read it twenty years ago in college, but I still think of phrases, thoughts, and concepts from this book. The novel's themes resonate the way poetry does. Worth the reputation. I hope no one ever tries to make a movie out of this one.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
So, To The Lighthouse. It's a brilliant book, really. There are points when you're reading this book where you can step back and look at a paragraph or a passage or a chapter and say: THAT'S how a good book should be written, that's how brilliant authors do their thing.
Which is why I feel guilty that I hated this book so much. It was a scant 200 pages, and it took me MONTHS to read; I hated all the characters, hated the writing style, hated everything about the book, which is weird because I completely recognize just how good of a book it was. It makes me shudder a little bit to think back on it. If I were forced to reread this book, I actually might start chewing on my wrists.
So there it is. It's a great book, sure, but at the same time, it was horrible. Can't say I'd recommend it to anyone. Wish that weren't the case, but it is.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
tori macallister
First of all, this was my first experience in reading a stream of consciousness book. When I first began reading it, I thought I would enjoy it more than I did. Since I only read it in my spare time, which would sometimes only be fifteen minutes, I did not pay as much attention to the small details as I should have. It became difficult for me to follow each character because my own mind wondered off as the pages turned. Generally, I enjoy books that are suspenseful or have a fast-paced storyline, so this was simply not the style of book for me. Do not read this book if you are looking for an exciting plot or simply do not have the time to put into reading this short novel.

There were many reasons why I did not enjoy reading this classic. First of all, I disliked the author's complex, third person omniscient shifting of perspectives through the various characters in the tale. The book focuses more on the summer home in the Hebrides than on the actual characters themselves. Only the character's inner thoughts are written about and there are very few physical descriptions of them. The story is more about the inner workings and complexities of the small group of people than the lighthouse (or going there). Narrative voice is shared between characters as narration becomes thought and smoothly passes from character to character, anticipating the stream of consciousness style. The themes are also very abstract and its plot structure becomes undefined at times.

To the Lighthouse is a quiet and meditative novel that deals with post World War I issues. Often, I felt as if Woolf could not hold a single thought or development long enough to
make me care about anything. Virginia Woolf did give glances to a few good story possibilities, but then she would move on to something else; thus, losing my interest and never truly
developing any character or situation. As soon as something intriguing was about to occur, the book would jump back to events that happened in the past chapters.

I have read books that I enjoyed less than To the Lighthouse, so I do not consider it to be a horrible piece of literature. If you like to read stories that jump and skip from place to place, then maybe this novel is for you. I felt this novel could have adequately been told as a short story with its only lost being its monotone and dull nature. I had to struggle to complete this book, so maybe the meaning was just lost on me. I kept reading to see if there was some literary genius buried within, but unfortunately I never found it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jo alston
Virginia Woolf's TO THE LIGHTHOUSE represents change, reactions to and the
emotional turmoil it causes within the family, and when interpreted archetypally,
it also tells the tale of human nature in environments that appear immutable but
in reality are as ever changing as the ephemeral nature of the human soul.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
I've discovered a little secret to reading Virginia Woolf -- it takes time.
It is practically impossible to read this book in little ten-minute spots, while watching television or babysitting. Don't try it; you'll end up not liking it.
It needs your time. Give it an hour with no interruptions. Get a bag of pistachios and read. Unplug the phone, turn off the TV. Read and don't stop. Then you'll discover the joy of Virginia Woolf -- for while her prose is tough, it is haunting, beautiful, and real.
Once you've settled into it, you'll discover a wonderful book, a tale of everyday life lived. Both intensely personal and incredibly universal, this book is life itself.
So, you want the real review. Alright, it's the story of a beach house, where reside the Ramseys and their various friends. Mrs. Ramsey is a goddess and nearly everyone worships her. This is more fun to read than it sounds. Lily Briscoe is a painter trying to figure out what she sees and what she loves.
There is a brutal twist in the middle, and the rest of the book is coping with that. No, I won't tell you what it is. Go read the book. It's great.
It's about beauty, about the incredible tragedy of time passing, about art and the world, about love and marriage, about people. It's not only a book about life, it is a book of life itself.
So maybe it's not written for our 30 second commercial, read at the bus stop age.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
alex buckley
I really enjoyed this one. Read the dinner table scene and you'll see why Woolf was admired for her fluid, realistic and breath-taking style. She makes everyone in the cast have internal dialogues while they're also talking out loud. Purely brilliant stuff. A great read, the language will jump into you and won't let go. It's like a poem within a poem within a poem...
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
peyton rosencrants
I've read the book two or three times and loved it every time. Listening to this audio version of the book was a different experience. I got more of a feeling of who Mrs. Ramsey was and how she had a huge impact on the lives of those around her.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
I thought this book was pretty good as I kept on reading. At the beginning the author went on and on with that stream of consciousness stuff. I thought that toward the end of the first of the three parts it was getting interesting. It is about a middle class British family that goes through life in a typical way except that people stay at their house. Considering there are eight children and a husband and wife, that is a lot of people in one home. Overall the book was pretty good and i like how lily briscoe finished her painting. This book revolves around Mrs. Ramsay the main character who is portrayed similiarly to the lighthouse. She is the central lady who does all the work and solves all the family problems. She is like a lighthouse where everything is around her. She wanted to go to the lighthouse so I think that is why Woolf named it this.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
becca pettus
August Macke's innovative illustrations serve as a counter-point to the prevailing mood of "To the Lighthouse", the never explicitly mentioned but sensed background of World War I. Macke, one of the foremost members of the German Expressionist group known as Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), was killed in the early days of the war, in 1914, when he was only 27, cutting short the career of this extraordinary avant-garde artist
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
bobby sanmiguel
The Power of "To"

Furiously trying to finish reading To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf before the opera began, I didn't take time to read the program notes. The lights dimmed, three men stood on stage, a table behind them. Several days earlier, I attended a discussion by a set designer named Beowulf Boritt, who explained his "lighthouse" came together in three acts, the "lighthouse" being built on the stage. Woolf's text was divided into three parts. Made sense to me. The men began singing, the small orchestra played. I waited for Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe to appear . . . and finally figured out--the opera was not based Virginia Woolf's novel. I leaped from Peter Maxwell Davies' The Lighthouse to Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse. This lighthouse was about the murder of three lighthouse keepers.

Virginia Woolf, the early feminist who wrote A Room of Her Own, ask for women to have a seat at the publishing table. She ended up in a sexless marriage to a man whom she loved, yet her husband, realizing his wife's creative genius, published her work: To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando, Flush, and A Room of One's Own. Unable to live through a second world war, Virginia committed suicide, putting rocks in her pockets and "finding a room of her own." She created a path for women writers to follow her powerful creative pen.

Reading Lighthouse again, I was struck by how much my writing reflects Woolf's. Her three sections, the first with Mrs. Dalloway's knitting sock, her son James' cutting objects from a catalogue, Lily Brisco's painting a picture; flash forward to Mrs. Dalloway's death; and finally the present with James, his sister Cam, and their father rowing to the Lighthouse as Lily Brisco paints a scene begun years prior. My novel takes the protagonist to a flashback in college, to an incident after the husband's death; to the husband's death, a flashback to her living alone, forward to her entering a war zone. Editors continue to respond, The text is confusing to readers. Not so, say most readers.

Other similarities include Woolf's interior monologues of Lily Brisco as she observes Mrs. Dalloway; text repetition, "some one had blundered" written five times; "We are in the hands of the Lord" written twice); "But I beneath a rougher sea/ Was whelmed in deep gulfs than he." Written twice. My text is filled with blood, sex, money, CIA references repetitiously strewn throughout the novel. Her text separated and set off for emphasis
"stormed at with shot and shell."
My "Straight Arrow" chapter sets off inner dialogue
to demonstrate my horror at hearing a best friend had assassinated an entire family and their servants and nervously waited for a helicopter to retrieve him.

Even Woolf's "subject/object" and the nature of reality, that is--"you think of a kitchen table when a kitchen table is not present in your vision" is similar. My epilogue in six sections, hermeneutics & T.S. Eliot's objective correlative--objects arranged to affect an epiphany--and students learning to read high-level conceptual thinking, through objects--a mother's breast to a kitchen table to love and empathy, models Woolf's "subject/object." Woolf's colors--red, purple, grey, blue, lemon, white, violet--are written into my stories, red poinsettias, gold temples, grey uniforms, white smoke from a Buddhist cremation. Woolf's themes--"knitting, the journey is enough"; my spiraling journey begins and ends at the same point, the journey is the focus. Woolf's ideas: "half of one's notions of other people, after all, were grotesque. They served private notions of one's own." We say (or write) the words we need to hear.

And I guess we "write" what we need to read. Virginia filled her pockets with rocks and stepped into the stream that changed writing for women. We're all taking a journey "to" the lighthouse."
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jennifer swystun
absolutely stunning literature, i've read some great books, by some great authors (nabokov, proust, fitzgerald, hemingway, dickens, faulkner, dreiser, thoreau, joyce) and this is definetly a standout among the pack. it definetly deserves its place in the canon and a place on your "read books rack" if you are any kind of serious literati or academic. It probes deeply human and profound topics; man's relation to nature and time, the meaning of life, gender issues, relationships. And most of all it is absolutly beautiful prose. the second section, time passes, is probably the most beautiful literature i have ever had the pleasure of. pick this one up!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
amel sherif
When I first began reading this book I did not realize that it was stream of consciousness book and was worried that it might turn out to be another "The Sound and The Fury" of which I could not get past the first section. How wrong I was. From the very begining, after the initial surprise, I was enthralled by this book. The wonderful point of this book is the characters and how the book flows. I was never bored reading the book and constantly found myself wanting to read to the next chapter. Also, I find myself liking it better now that I think about it more and really look forward to reading it again. Please get this book, you will not regret it.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
alicia dunn
Slow isn't necessarily bad, but in this book it was. I am biased against the `consciousness' style of writing, so my perception of this book was already negative before I started reading it. The book wasn't too difficult to understand (unlike The Sound and Fury by Faulkner) but it was just plain uninteresting. William Bankes (a character in the book) said concerning literature "let us enjoy what we do enjoy," and I simply did not enjoy Virginia Wolfe's book.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Shouldn't a great novel be enjoyable to the reader? This is the most boring novel I have ever wasted time on. Admittedly the prose was beautiful. But if you merely want to read a bautiful flow of words read a Burns poem.
Maybe the aristocracy of Britain in the 1920's loved this book but it is not woth reading today.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Not written for the attention deficit disorder generation. If your preference is children's literature, shallow fantasy, Republican politics, or weak science fiction (Star Wars III), this book is not for you (see Jonathan Pike). This is a book dealing with subtle emotional currents which requires a little effort by the reader. Those of a lazy inclination, I can see, would rather deride the book than admit to-if possible-their own intellectual inadequacies or sheer laziness.

There are no explosions, gunfire, or whatever fantastical nonsense the television generation requires to distract them from ever having to think or wonder about their petty, shallow, and meaningless existence. They are all 'W's I guess.

Woolf is rightly thought to be one of the greatest writers of all time. This book proves it. She was indeed a master.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
sarah pruitt
This review is from: To the Lighthouse (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
I re-read this book during the past week (i read it first some ten years ago, but I didn't remember it at all). I have given it a two-star rating, because I suppose that it means something to some people, like the in-bred Bloomsbury group with which the author was inextricably woven by the links of blood and by the literary, artistic and moralizing interests which set her set well apart. (I know that I've just used 'set' in two different senses. Why not?)

But to me, the effect was one-star. It was just a constant irritation and of no use at all - except, as I say, that it shows that it takes all sorts of people to make up the world we live in. I have skimmed through a lot of the reviews and comments, and agree with all the negative verdicts. As regards the positive verdicts, I can only ask, what's the point of the author's admired ramblings?

I found the English style to be extremely irritating, with no sensible use of the comma, and no use at all, I think, of a legitimate enclosed interruption between two dashes. Instead, Woolf has an infinite number of sentences (almost paragraphs, as some people point out) which begin, and then have the initial grammatical subject interrupted by a series of (unbracketed, un-commaed) interruptions, so that the whole sentence needs to be re-read and re-read in order to make sense of it. I consider that to be an unforgivable fault in writing. Also, to know who is speaking, and to whom, and why, or who is simply reflecting, and why, is so often not clear. Unforgivable again.

I conclude by saying, what I haven't noticed from others (though it may be there), that she reverses nearly every comment she makes about what she sees and thinks with a further reflection which means that she could easily have formed quite a different opinion about what she and her characters see and think: the darkness could have been a light, the brilliant purple could have been either a brilliant white or an obscuring black; the past could illuminate, or it might totally obscure, the present, and so on. In other words, meaningless meanderings, unrealistic goals (as far as the ordinary person is concerned), unrealistic realisations - the teenage son James gets his father's approval, after all those years of being down-trodden, because he steers their sailing boat accurately to the lighthouse ...

Every action, every bit of body language, every supposed thought, of everybody, from the fisherman's boy and the cook to the artist and the scientist and the eminent philosopher, is analysed by the author, to see if it measures up to - what exactly? I don't know.

I ploughed through the whole book, but it was the most awful experience.

Best wishes to those brave enough to tackle it, and to those who are clever enough to find it marvellous.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
This is a more demanding read, really a literary event when it came out in the 1920s. It's about a British family on vacation and the family stresses and tension that arise. The narrative moves about with a shifting perspective, making it excellent for book clubs that want to push it. Good for discussion about the structure of thought and time.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
michael rostenbach
Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse" is an underappreciated masterpiece. Though often overshadowed by "Mrs. Dalloway" (which certainly deserves its repute), "To the Lighthouse" stands on its own as a great classic. It chronicles the lives of the Ramsay family and some friends, examining human relationships and emotions with great insight. The characters are elegant and well developed, the writing is lovely, and the form is daring and innovative. "To the Lighthouse" is a rare kind of book that can change the way you read characters.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Those of you interested in an engaging plot should, in general, shy away from Virginia Woolf. _Lighthouse_ is an exquisite novel that explores the minds of its characters. In fact, it is only through the thoughts of one character that the reader learns about another. The culmination of this can easily be seen during the dinner in the first section. Gorgeous, and as Welty says "ethereal" prose throughout. Techniques like the flow of time in the second section are what truly amaze me about Woolf's writing.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
leo batic
It explains the complex relationships between man and wife of the Ramsay family, more than a story in itself is a deep psychological study of both characters. It has to be read very slowly and carefully and think at the same time as the author messages seem to be deeply embedded in the text.
It has very beautiful passages, in the middle of the book the way Woolf depicts the way the maid describes the interior of the Ramsay's abandoned house is something colossal
It is listed among the best 100 novels ever written
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
heba abdulaziz
I read this book in 8th grade because I heard of it while reading *Letters to Julia* by Barbara Ware Holmes. I had to get it through inter-library loan, but I am glad I did because it was one of the most wonderful books I have ever read. I am probably the only one in the 9th grade who has read it, but it gives me a sort of blessed feeling to have read it and I don't want to recommend it to any of my friends. I don't think they would get very much out of it, and to enjoy this book you have to get a lot out of it. While reading the book I felt like I was one with Lily, especially in the last paragraph. This is an thought-provoking book for readers who like "thinking" books.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
bill zimmerman
"To the Lighthouse" is a rambling monotony, a lifeless droning. No matter how loudly the literary lemmings scream, that will always be so. Woolf opens "To the Lighthouse" with a very uninteresting sentence and a "So what" bit of exposition; both come to nothing, promising us little and failing to deliver even that. The story was rambling, incoherent and boring in the extreme. Woolf jumped from head to head, thought to thought, as if each threatened to bite off her foot as she landed. The "story" (and calling "To the Lighthouse" a story is a huge generosity) is painfully slow. So slow, in fact, that you come to "The End" and still nothing has developed.
The book is filled with poorly written exposition that not only stops the story dead, but takes us completely away from it time and again. Each sentence starts with a jerk, wanders around, twists back upon itself, spirals away from us, then trips its way back to the starting point. Woolf seemed to have no idea about what it was that she really wanted to say and no ability to state any of it succinctly or coherently. Continuing in this trend, Woolf keeps the dialogue brief in the extreme and does it for no other reason than for her to run on and on and on and . . . with her exposition, using those miles long sentences that the reader is PRAYING will end, but that just keep muddling along, belaboring point after senseless point. The poor woman had no talent at all when it came to simply telling a straightforward tale and making it interesting to anyone but herself.
Little of the book has anything to do with the lighthouse, or with going there. It's more about the inner workings and complexities of a small group of people. Kind of like taking a series of snapshots of the group, then going one by one and telling what is in each of their heads. As we go through the various bits of these snapshots, now and then Woolf tosses out the seeds of something interesting, then immediately stamps the life out of them before they can sprout into something greater. Included in these are some tantalizing crumbs of internal monologue, but Woolf can't even stay focused on that. She wonders through each character's personal musings just the same way that she wonders through the main story, never allowing one thought to fully form before rambling away from it. This is the story's real tragedy, because she turns some marvelous phrases, but loses them in the tale's incoherence.
The shrieking chant of "but it's EXPERIMENTAL fiction!" cannot excuse the many and severe shortcomings. Bad writing is bad writing, no matter what feeble attempts at justification are made to hide that fact.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
cody robinson
To The Lighthouse was an ambitious, brave experiment in literature, a bold venture into stream-of-consciousness techniques and profound themes relating to the fundamental differences between the sexes. It deserves to be recognized as an important contribution to 20th century fiction. Alas, that does not mean that it deserves to be read. It was far too tedious, and relied to a great extent on style and literary technique to drive it forward. And while I rarely go searching for "an easy read," nor do I seek out plot-driven novels, this book was simply too far towards the opposite extremes to be enjoyable.
The most highly regarded of Virginia Woolf's many books, To The Lighthouse focuses on the Ramseys, a British family in the 1910s and their interactions with family friends at their vacation home in Scotland. I wish I could say more about the plot, but frankly, not much happens. Oh, sorry, they keep talking about sailing out to the Lighthouse (and eventually they do, even). But this book is not about plot. It is about the emotional and philosophical ruminations of Woolf's characters, none of whom is particularly sympathetic or engrossing. Woolf juxtaposes the rational, abrasive Mr. Ramsay with the pleasant, introspective Mrs. Ramsay in an attempt to make profound statements about the differences between men and women. Woven into this central issue are the themes of love and art. Perhaps this book was revolutionary when it was first written, but can it appropriately be considered timeless? Given its limited appeal to even the most avid, intelligent readers of today, I think the answer is 'no.'
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
If you haven't read it already, well...shame on you! There is no way to describe in my measly little words what Woolf accomplished with TTLH. She was a writer of mind-boggling skill and imagination, and this novel is a tremendous stylistic triumph on her part. True, it can be difficult book for some and tends to fly right over the head of many readers (hence, I might suggest, the "boring" reactions) But, if you want a REAL book, one that engages both emotion and intellect, one that will keep your head spinning with the beauty and exactingness of its ideas, this book is for you. A truly incredible accomplishment.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jenn carr
I am french and I actually study this book . We cannot say that it is boring as It is written in some of the comments,we must undertand the real meaning hidden behind each sentence!! then it's great
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
scott bishop
Virginia Woolf captures the complexity of human consciousness and memory in a beautiful way in this work. She artfully works her way into the skin of every character and sees the world through their biases, experiences, and memories. Would highly recommend.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Once upon a time Samuel Johnson travelled an overland route to Skye. He predicted that the weather would be rainy for the next half year. The temperature was not warm but 57 degrees. In To the Lighthouse, the Ramsays repeatedly indicate that the weather is your biggest enemy. This book is a good springboard for learning about observation charts, barometer reading, temperature differences, prediction skills. I was inspired to find answers to the following questions. What is the oldest navigational aid? Where and when was America's first lighthouse built? What was the name of the first lightship? (NORE) Which lighthouse is located on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan? Ida Lewis was the keeper of which lighthouse? (LIME ROCK) What is the name of the British ship that Rececca and Abigail Bates turned back from the shores of Scituate, Massachusetts? Name two fuels that have been used to light a beacon?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A modern classic, arguably in the top ten along with the likes of Gatsby, Ulysses, Heart of Darkness, In Search of Lost Time, etc. An absolutely flawless work in which every word contributes to the overall effect and the author demonstrates her gift for stretching the English language to its most beautiful and striking extreme. A must-read for those interested in modern literature.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
cody w
Virginia Woolf's novel "To the Lighthouse" is about the inner psyche of the Ramsay family and friends as they progress over a ten year period. It is written in an stream-of-consciousness style except for an interlude between the two major time periods. I did not find this book very interesting. Although there is a lot of prose on the pages, I found that in the end I knew very little about the major characters. This book just wasn't worth the read for me.
For those of you who don't like "spoilers" (there is one shocker at the end of the first time period), don't read the introduction by Eudora Welty found in this version. It reads like a book report and essentially summarizes the entire plot.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
holly andrews
Each time I read this book, I find something new. I still don't understand half of it. But Woolf's language is beautiful. The story has made me examine my own life. Few books have moved me as much as this one.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
chris rediske
Yes, this is the best novel ever written using stream-of-consciousness narrative, Joyce not excepted, but it's unfair to introduce it that clinically. Simply put, if you want the privilege of living briefly inside the minds of some of the most ordinary and yet most compelling characters ever conceived--and such a paradox is a tribute to Woolf's genius--read this book. Well worth the delicious effort.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I had to read this book for school, but I'm very glad I did. It's exquistely constructed, and Woolf does a great job of really showing how people think. It takes some getting used to the shifting perspectives, but it's worth the effort. A great, intellectual read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
hamed seyed allaei
A beautifully and thoughtfully written novel examining and comparing life and art during the WWI era in Great Britain and contrasting those who experience life primarily through deeds and action (Mrs. Ramsay) and those who primarily experience life through thought and reflection (Mr. Carmichael)--and the underlying contempt and misunderstanding each has for the other.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
As an avid reader, I understand that everyone has their own taste in books. For me this book was a worthless chore. Woolfe says it herself in her own book. One good idea and everything afterwards becomes amplification (meaningless in my opinion) and repetition. Heck, if you are bored with the Saturday NY Times crossword puzzle, then try the Sunday one or this book. The reward is in finishing it. There is nothing new.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
saje goodson
My issue is not with Virginia Woolf -- it is with publisher, Classic House Books. Among this book's many problems:
- It's riddled with typographical errors and plain old spelling mistakes ("furtile"???)
- No section/chapter breaks (as in the much, much better Penguin edition) -- which, given the denseness of Woolf's writing, actively impairs reading comprehension
- It's terribly designed: Random words in all caps ("BOEUF EN DAUBE"), awful typography: en dashes (-) rendered as double hyphens (--), dumb quotes (inch marks) instead of proper "educated" or "curly" quotation marks. I can't bring myself to look at the text closely, but it appears to be at least partially set in Times New Roman.
- Cheap paper stock
- Awful cover design and amateurish description on the back cover ("beautifully produced by Classic House Books" - Ha!)

Don't waste your time with this edition and encourage the proliferation of such sloppy hack jobs. Look for the Penguin edition, which is professionally put together, and features both an enlightening introduction and helpful end notes. Shame on you, Classic House Books!
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Okay, I read a bunch of criticism to figure out why this book is on the list,
never mind why it's so high on the list. As one would expect, the critics are
awash in psychoblither. But there's one thing I didn't see, and it's the
obvious one, Virginia Woolf was consumed by (...)envy. What the hell else
could the title of the freakin' book mean?
Let's parse the phrase:
To: towards
the: the
Lighthouse: enormous erect phallus
I'm thinking you don't need a graduate degree to figure this one out.
A noxious blend of James Joyce, Sigmund Freud & feminism, it's all interior monologues & mini-epiphanies. No worthwhile human being could possibly live a productive life while having these banal, self-important soliloquies running through his head--we'd still be in caves.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
daniel cain
I see Woolf's point. I understand what she was doing and saying. But it was poorly executed. Every bit of it from beginning to end.
She can't hold a single thought or development for long enough to make me care about anything. The writing seems to have been a toy for the writer, and not at all a serious attempt at a novel. As another reviewer stated, Woolf does give us a few glances at some great phrasings and story possibilities, but then she stamps it all out and moves on to something, anything, else. Just so long as the story never becomes interesting. God forbid.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
...when she listened to this on a car trip.

I know, it's a classic, important book. It's well-written, and the narrator does a beautiful job. But I made the mistake of listening to this in my car on a long trip, and had to pull over several times because it kept putting me to sleep. I also had to keep restarting the CDs to figure out who the characters were, and never did understand why some of them were there at all.

And whatever happened to the reddish-brown stocking?
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
After you get accustomed to the stream-of-consciousness style, the characters really come alive with their all-too-human thoughts. I really connected with some of Mrs. Ramsay's ideas, and that was very moving.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
I hesitate ever to use superlatives like "best" or "worst." But here in Virginia Woolf's "classic," I must report the most obtuse, slow, bone-dry, pretentious, pseudo-intellectual, ultimately boring collection of pages I have ever been forced to read.

On my way to a Master's in English, I had the distinct misfortune of being assigned this book, and the professor who taught it said one has to read it multiple times in order to feel the book's true import. Few books are worth that, least of all this insipid, meandering mess. He attached special significance to the word "silver," which apparently appeared a couple of times at key points. This came as a shock to me for two reasons: 1) I was unaware this book HAD any key points; and 2) The only silver on my mind was a kitchen knife to open a vein and end the misery this book was perpetrating upon my person.

In "fairness," (I suppose that is the apropos word), the teacher did say one could only ascertain the importance of the placement of the references to silver if reading the book backwards. Those words actually came out of his mouth, and those are the kind of mental calisthenics in which one has to indulge to find meaning in this atrocity to good writing and clear thought.

I digress. My summary of the book goes thus: There is no action. There is no plot (basically, they go to the lighthouse... after 10 years of pondering it). There is very little dialogue, and no cohesion is to be found anywhere within its covers. It consists of an internal monologue that switches between four or more characters, none of whom are the least bit interesting.

I have read books I disliked before, I have read boring books before, but this was as close to unreadable as any book I have ever held in my hands that wasn't in a foreign language.

Just awful. So, yes, I'm going against my usual ban on superlatives. "To the Lighthouse" is the WORST.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
This book is quite possibly the worst book I have ever read.
If you ever took a literature class in college you will remember that there are a variety of ways to critique a book. Most classifications include basing your critique on how well the work teaches true principles, the form of the work, the background and ambience of the work and the author, and how well the work stands the test of time. This work fails abysmally in all of these areas.
First of all this is a book about nothing and nothing happens. There is no plot and the author does not say anything worth thinking about or reading twice to get the meaning. Some critics claim that this is why the book is so good. Some even claim that Woolf is trying to say something about hum-drum life, family structure and even, absurdly, male and female roles. Don't believe it! Don't waste your time reading this.
Secondly, this book has no form, no climax, no denouement, no nothing. I suppose you could say that this means the form is that literary word used to describe books that make you want to commit suicide when they are assigned in an English course taught by some spinster Lesbian - stream-of-consciousness. Well there's no stream and no character in the book is conscious. Obviously the author did carefully construct the inner and external dialogues so it is emphatically not stream-of-consciousness. Read Joyce and then this garbage and you will see the difference.
Thirdly, there is no point looking into the life and ambience of the author and period of writing if this is the best book she wrote. (And it is generally considered the best book she wrote)
Lastly, this book fails the test-of-time standard. It is becoming more and more irrelevant.
Now you may ask why did I read this then? Because it was assigned reading. This book is the written equivalent of strychnine. Every page is so utterly bereft of anything of value that your mind and intellect writhe in agony as you force your abused eyes to read the next sentence. Be kind to yourself and tell your literature teacher you would prefer self-immolation to having to read this.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
gretchen crookes
Just how do you write a "stream of conscious novel?" It takes loads of talent to form words together precisely how one might think. I first encountered this style reading James Joyce's "A Portrait of and Artist as a Young Man," and later was amazed to see it perfected by William Faulkner in "The Sound and the Fury" I have to admit, this style of writing was starting to grow on me......that is until I read Woolfe's version of stream of conscious in "To the Lighthouse" which in my opinion is a failure of epic proportions. What makes it an even greater failure is the fact that some people consider this one of the greatest books ever written. To speak the honest truth, I can't remember I time when I have not enjoyed reading a book, as much as I didn't enjoy reading this one.

According to "expert" analysis, To the Lighthouse is supposed to use a mixture of symbolism in random thinking to show a portrait of characters that are searching for the meaning of life. The actual Lighthouse is a different symbol to each individual character. To the Lighthouse is also supposedly a dead on accurate view of gender roles and differences between men and women, and every character represents a different piece of this gender puzzle. I have read what the "experts" say, but I will let you be the judge.

The novel does have an original way of telling its story. It drifts from character to character without ever telling us when, and lets us know the thoughts they are thinking. These vague thoughts tell a story as they are strung along. I wish I could explain the plot, but there really isn't one. The story opens at the Ramsey's vacation home where we learn mainly about Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey, and their assortment of guests. Guests like the painter, Lily, and the sexist Charles, and the dignified Mr. Banks. The first half of the story brings us in and out of their minds. Your mind will wander more than the writing style as you desperately try to grasp what the hell is going on, and wondering if anybody really thinks like this in real life. The thoughts of these characters are borderline absurd, and the most amazing aspect of all is that by the end of the novel I didn't know a single thing more about these characters than I did when it started. All I know is the nonsense, abstract thoughts they think. I don't know a thing about their beliefs or character.

The only one I felt I knew a thing about was Mr. Ramsey. He wants others praise, and his son James wants to kill him. What else? Lily likes to paint....and Mrs. Ramsey likes to go to the market. Oh, and at the end of the story Mr. Ramsey finally takes his son to the lighthouse, which never happened in part one. Oh, we also learn that a few of the Ramsey's have died, in the "Time passes" sequence. Not that we care, we didn't know any of them anyway. Is this review helpful to you? Does it make sense? Probably not, but neither does a word of this novel.

This is without a doubt, the worst classic I have ever read. Even with all the explanations. I really want to meet the person who got something out of this mess and try to understand why in the world anyone would think it was great. I don't get it. I love stream of conscious books, but this one is a failure on a colossal scale.

If you like books about nothing, characters that are lifeless, books without plot, which are all about style and have no substance, than I think this might be the book for you. I wish I could tell you more of what it was about, but it really isn't about anything. I can picture a conversation I might have later in life about this novel and I think it might go something like this:
"So, did you ever read that book called To the Lighthouse?"
"I think so, I can't really recall." (Myself)
"What was it about?"
"You know, I don't really know, I don't think it was about anything really." (Myself)
It has been a day, and already these words ring true. This book will be forgotten faster than my dinner I am eating at the moment is digested.

Grade: D+
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
dyah rinni
I keep track of all the books I read, and every year I note those that I especially enjoyed and those that were seriously disappointing. It's only March, but "To the Lighthouse" is far and away the front runner for worst book this year.

I won't repeat what many other one- and two-star reviews of this book have effectively said in criticism -- I do recommend scanning through them if you are considering reading this. I will only add a few specific comments I haven't seen others make.

Major - Nothing of interest happens throughout the whole story (ok, this is a frequent criticism in other reviews - but it is so important that I had to say it). Most of the book is spent inside people's heads, but their thoughts are so uninteresting I had to wonder why the reader was even supposed to care about the petty things that mattered to them. Readers generally want fictional characters to be worthy of their attention: (1) to be compelling and take us away from our own lives - not to recreate the frequently mundane aspects of our everyday worlds, and (2) to give us experiences normally unavailable to us and subsequent insights - to live and learn vicariously. That never happened for me in "To the Lighthouse."

Major - I hated how often Woolf rambled on and on. Many of her sentences, thoughts of one character or another (proofs that speak to the veracity of subjective viewpoint rather than objective experience) - many of them, which as it turned out, I had to restart once or twice to decipher what was being said, all too frequently - much as I intentionally mimicked with this sentence - went 30 words or more before THE VERB appeared.

Minor - the Ramsay's had eight children; can you name them? I tried to and came up with ten names (well, one a nickname). Within the first few pages of the book, Mrs. Ramsay makes a comment that prompts "her daughters, Prue, Nancy, Rose" to imagine having a life different than their mother's. In the last section, we also see Cam (Camilla), a younger daughter, revisit the summer house after her mother has died. In the middle of the book, though, Mrs. Ramsay walks into the children's bedroom late one night to find the children awake. Reference is made to Mildred - who is she? Skimming through the book, I could only find one other reference to her. Is she one of the Ramsays, or is she a nanny? I could not tell. So that's four or five daughters. Regarding sons, early on, four are named - Andrew, Jasper, Roger, and James. However, there is also one passage that refers to what seems to be a teething infant, not identified by actual name, but by the nickname The Badger (a reference to his teething). We don't see him ever again in the story, though, so is he a Ramsay child or not? That, then, is four or five sons as well. (Additionally, in the final section, after we have learned two of the eight children died, we only see two of the remaining children return with the father. What happened to the other four? No mention is made at all of them. To me, this made them simply window dressing, rather than pertinent characters.) As I admitted, this is a minor frustration with the story, but it is a real criticism I have of Woolf's storytelling and it was enough of a distraction that it contributed to my overall disappointment as well.

This is the first book I've read by Virginia Woolf. And unless someone gives me a compelling argument for any other, it will remain the only one as well.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
jordan hageman
I cannot get over how bad this novel is. Read Faulkner as the master of the stream of consciousness technique. To the elitist reviewers who "Can't believe this only has a 4 star average", wake up to the fact that this book repulses many people, and it's NOT because we can't understand the content; it's that we see through Woolf's shallow and dull story telling masked by over-the-top modernist phrasing. Seriously, this is by far the most overrated "classic" in our literary cannon.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
It could be that I'm not sophisticated enough to appreciate the nuances of this book. To me, it was a bunch of rambling, individual perspectives. Had to reread many paragraphs to get the jist of the writing. I never could see a unifying theme; just individual characters. Clearly, there were relationships among the characters, but not enough to see a strong storyline.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
chris sauerwein
this book is one of the most boring books i have had to read this semester. if it wasn't for a class i would have THROWN IT AWAY. spare yourself the torture, don't buy it. on the other hand, if you have trouble sleeping, feel free to pick up a copy as soon as possible.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
jodie howard
I am an avid reader but couldn't get into this one - stream of consciousness writing seems a way to avoid the trouble of orderly, focused writing. Back to something solid - like Tolkien, Melville, Trollope, Austen.....
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
kim potocsky
I agree with Jon Pike and C. Thomas below (other reviewers). I certainly agree that someone needs to end the farce that Virginia Woolf is a good writer. Her work, to me, is neither thought-provoking nor well-written. I was really disappointed with this "work" and actually threw my copy into a box headed for Goodwill (not really good will to pass it on, but I had to get it out of my house)...and I never give away books. Let's stop pretending folks...
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
todd norris
Unimaginative, angry, pleading, boring, mundane, violent, the book may capture the interior dialogue of its female characters, but being male I only know that Ms. Woolfe's male characters were utterly unconvincing. Clearly, the Ramsey's are based on her own parents; and though this was written in 1927 and she drowned herself in the River Ouse in 1941, she foreshadows her suicide on almost every other page of this book. How or why anyone would recommend it is beyond me. Better to read Proust or Faulkner or Kathy Acker.
(Waterily and Ghostlily are illustrative of Woolfe's horrible diction and mindset, as are these parentheses).
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
peter pollard
Please, let's put a stop once and for all to this farce that Virginia Woolfe is a good author. She's awful. Just terrible. Can any one of you honestly say you enjoy her books? No, you can't. People just claim to like them so they sound scholarly and sophisticated. Every single book is filled with rambling insanity about every little thought that pops into the heads of her boringly depressing characters. Nothing happens in her books. By the 5 page you want all the characters to die anyways.

This one is even worse than the others, because it is basically an autobiography of this lunatic, arrogant woman. Want proof she's an arrogant snob? She once claimed that James Joyce was "illiterate and underbred". James Joyce! And as for her lunacy, how many times did she try to kill herself? 4 or 5 times? And the worst part is, she kept failing! What a loser! She finally had to fill her pockets with rocks and walk into a river to finish the job! And yet somehow, people keep exhaulting her as this great tortured artist, as if being out of your mind insane automatically makes your writing great. It doesn't. She sucks. Don't read this book.

I hate Virginia Woolf.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
"To the Lighthouse" is the dullest novel I have ever read. But I should also make clear that I very much like Virginia's Woolf's essays, books like "A Room of One Own," "Three Guineas," and her other non-fiction.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
"To the Lighthouse" is the first book by Virginia Woolf I have read, aside from the first volume of her diary, and I was greatly disappointed. I felt that this was just a juxtaposition of random thoughts spewed onto the page, without any consistency or coherency. This is the first book I did not read word-for-word, and even skimming it was painful. I do not recommend.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
dustin wax
I found this book to be immensely boring. It has no real plot, and it defies almost every rule of grammar I have been taught. Many words were mispelled, and I had a hard time forcing myself to finish the book. After reading the entire book, I cannot recall anything about it other than Mrs. Ramasay's name. I don't know what any of the people who gave this book good reviews were thinking, because I would NEVER recommend this to anyone who I held even the smallest amount of respect for.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
susan lipman
I chose to read this book after reading several recommendations about how it is a model for how to write & construct fiction. Au contraire, this is quite simply the worst book I have EVER read. Turgid, boring, meaningless, confusing, tedious, pointless. I want a refund on the time in my life I spent toiling through this mess.
Please RateTo the Lighthouse
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