Wednesday 9 September 2020

Book Review of 'To the Lighthouse' by Virginia Woolf

This is my third book of Virginia Woolf. I'd been wanting to read this since the time I heard that this book is considered as one of the most autobiographical novels of the celebrated author.

Knowing her work to be feminist literature and having read her famous essay, 'A Room of Her Own' and also 'Orlando', I had a fair inkling of what to expect from her work. 

Structure and Narrative

"Women can't write. Women can't paint".
- Charles Tansley, The Window, 
To the Lighthouse.

'To the Lighthouse', first published in 1927, is comprised of three parts: The Window, Time passes and The Lighthouse. 

It is generally harder to read books written in the stream of consciousness mode. What makes this one a little harder is the multiple points of view of characters behind clubbed with the technique. 

The paragraphs move fluidly from one mind to another, but this makes the narrative even more confusing because one has to keep figuring out which character's mind musing is being narrated. 


That man, she thought, her anger rising in her, never gave; that man took. Mrs. Ramsay had given. Giving, giving, giving, she had died.
- Lily Briscoe, To the Lighthouse.

The imagery is vibrant, detailed and refreshing to read.Woolf captures the subtlest nuances of nature, relationships and ambiance alike, with easy aplomb.

The contrast between the chapters is distinct in the way the protagonist Mrs. Ramsay overpowers the pages with her strong presence and equally powerful absence.

The death of main characters as casual mentions, albeit in bracketted manner shocks the reader at regular intervals in part 2. While there is not much of a storyline to boast about, the book offers heavy symbolism at every turn. 

As the title suggests, the lighthouse is the chief symbol of whatever the reader may presume : hope, faith, longing or simply unfulfilled desires of life. The last chapter shows the futility or illusive nature of some such long-term desires. At the same time, it also makes a triumphant statement of a different kind of fulfillment for the character of Lily Briscoe, the artist, who completes her unfinished painting after many years.

Perhaps the most glaring one is it's theme of feminism, knowing what Woolf's genres are famous for. Unconventional roles are depicted through Lily, who defies norms of the century and chooses to stay single, happily so. 

One cannot miss the silent statement made by the book, when the ladies who do marry lead unfulfilled lives or face failed marriages. Three of Mrs.Ramsay's daughters want to defy the norms as well. Prue, the daughter who doesn't dies early, so does Andrew Ramsay, the son.

Some interesting nuances of the male-female relationship are noticed. Mrs. Ramsay, being powerful and strong, while her husband is needy, short-tempered, unpleasant, despite his supposed brilliance on the work front, is food for thought. Mr. Ramsay, swathed in self-pity, looking for sympathy and attention first from his wife, and then dramatically from even Lily, displays how emotionally dependent a man is on women, despite the supposed superiority of the species. The way he cheers up like a little boy, when she praises his boots is almost hilarious. Also, Charles Tansley's insecurity that seeks solace from the vibrant woman Mrs.Ramsey heightens the sense of her robust essence. 

The ironic contrast between the strong women and somewhat lacking men, in the patriarchal setup of the period it was written in is a symbolic statement in itself. And yet, the scenes are neither artificial or forced, but utterly realistic in the portrayal of characters.


Overall, this classic can be read by avid readers who enjoy the challenge of a book that draws upon their complete concentration and attentiveness. I rate the book a 3.7 out of 5.

Did you find my review useful? Do let me know in the comments.

Happy reading! Stay safe, readers.

Book photography:ChethanaRamesh

No comments:

Post a Comment