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To the Lighthouse

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Alex Grantham

on 9 December 2014

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Transcript of To the Lighthouse

Whilst it may not be considered a main theme in the idea of the book, we are told by Woolf that this story was a way to put her mother's spirit to rest. It allowed her to reach a catharsis that she needed and freed her from some long-lasting painful emotions.
Time & Awareness
These two themes are linked in an interesting way by Woolf, on the one hand we have the characters desperately trying to hold onto precious moments as they come. In contrast as readers we are flung from an indepth view of a single day all the way ten years in the future.
Awareness is linked with time in Woolf's novel, the expansion of a moment to a fuller realisation, becomes a major part of the book. Following the basis of time as she viewed it, Woolf creates an acute awareness in the reader of time and how it can be perceived differently.
The most striking part of the narration is the sudden jump to the future. Then we are told that Mrs Ramsay has died during an aside in brackets. This switch in narration begs the question of who is giving us this information.
"But what afterall is one night? A short space, especially when the darkness dims so soon, and so soon a bird sings, a cock crows, or a faint green quickens, like a turning leaf, in the hollow of the wave"
To the Lighthouse (1927)
Woolf's Past
By Virginia Woolf
Bergsonian Time
"This conception of intensive magnitude."
-Bergson (1910)
Personal Time: the Characters & the Readers.
Time and Plot
At the turn of the century Science was big news,
knowledge was paramount to achieving a sense
of acceptance in society. We can see the influence of many scientific theories in Woolf's novel. Shklovsky (1917) defined the difference between story and plot as being one of the key aspects in what he refers to as 'Art'. We can see how this theory applies to Woolf's choice in altering the focus of time to represent a model she wishes to infer.
Towards the end of 'To the lighthouse' we see that the house which we are now so accustomed to, is falling into disrepair. All the memories and events that transpired are becoming difficult to recall as time moves on and things eventually decay. We know that the resolution of entropy is peace, everything cools and in time the universe will become just a 'core of darkness'.
A brief explanation of thermodynamics
Its important because I say it is.
The Narrator
During the entire of Chapter 2 Part 3 we are being given descriptions and metaphors by a non-personified narrator. It is in this passage we hear that Mrs Ramsay has died, this narrator robs the reader of any emotions that the characters may have felt at the time. Mrs Ramsay becomes unimportant, her role diminished to the briefest of obituaries.
"It seemed now as if, touched by human penitence and all its toil, divine goodness had parted the curtain and displayed behind it, single, distinct, the hare erect; the wave falling; the boat rocking, Which, did we deserve them, should always be ours"
Is this choice of a very long sentence indicative of Woolf's theme of time, and in the Bergsonian formation an expansion of a moment. Are all these events simultaneously occurring in an attempt to paint a moment rather than a picture.
The narrator then uses 'we' implying a personification albeit an ambiguous one.

But who is it that we are hearing?

Well we can assume that it is someone familiar to the house, and so knows the sight.
The ghost of Mrs Ramsay?!
During the chapter we have many words which carry connotations of death.

When are we being told this?

How long is this telling as part of the story?
Are we being told that night time is passing or is this chapter's purpose to compare Mrs Ramsays death to the night. First, instilling the precept that night has come and "that it seems impossible that their calm should ever return" The narrator is hinting towards our finding out about Mrs Ramsay. the calm of the house has gone, and much like a drop of ink in a glass of water, we can never undo the change.
Awareness of the narrator
We know that the narrator has access to knowledge we are unable to find ourselves. Time has passed us without allowing for inspection of the events. Is this distancing of the reader employed to highlight the neutrality the universe has towards death. Things die all the time, why should one character's death be of more importance than what is happening through the window.
The Window
The window plays an important part of the imagery and symbolism that 'To the Lighthouse' tries to convey. In this scene we are told what is happening as the curtains are mysteriously drawn to reveal the events beyond. We are conversely reminded of Mrs Ramsay sitting in the window being painted by Lily and can ponder that this moment was one of her memories replayed.
Petry (2004)argues that Woolf attempts through her writing and symbolism to capture the essence of consciousness. A stream of thoughts described with the repeating theme of waves and the ocean. This is a break from linear narration and can alienate the reader.
Virginia Woolf
1895 Her mother unexpectedly died triggering the first of Woolf's breakdowns.
1904 Woolf's father dies leading to her second breakdown.
1915 Woolf suffers "a bout of violent madness" (Whitworth 2005)
1941 Drowns herself in the River Ouse
Whitworth, M. (2005)
Virginia woolf (Authors in context)
. Oxford: Oxford University Press
In 1901 Freud coined the idea of a 'screen memory' Stating that a memory can arise to conceal a moment of conflict at the time of its inception. Freud's ideas may have influenced Woolf in her depictions of the scenes in the window.
Born as Adeline Virginia Stephen coming from a big family Woolf was influenced greatly by her father, he allowed her access to a wide range of books which gave her a means of expression she would use her entire life.
Lee, H. (1997)
Virginia Woolf.
London: Vintage. [Online] Available from:
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=XEoo26xXxc4C&dq=virginia+woolf+biography&source=gbs_navlinks_s [Accessed 23/01/2014]
Woolf, V. (1927)
To the Lighthouse.
London: David Campbell Publishers Ltd.
Shklovsky, V. (1917) Theory of Prose. Art as Device. p1-15. Illinois: Dalkey Archive Press
[Online] Available from:
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=CI31iJEmuYoC&dq=art+as+device&source=gbs_navlinks_s [Accessed 22/01/2014]
(Whitworth, 2005)
"But what afterall is one
? A short
, especially when the


so soon, and so soon a
sings, a
cock crows
, or a

quickens, like a turning
, in the
of the
"It seemed now as if, touched by human penitence and all its toil, divine goodness had parted the
and displayed behind it, single, distinct, the
erect; the
falling; the
boat rocking
, Which, did
deserve them, should always be
Non-Linear narration

This extract shows how it moves away from providing context or chronology in the narration but randomly skips as thoughts do from one metaphor to another.
Petry, S. (2004) Motifs & symbols in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse [Online] Available from: www.Grin.com
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