To the Lighthouse

Last week I read Virginia Woolf’s 1927 novel To the Lighthouse. The remarkable thing about this book was the prose style: stream-of-consciousness and third person omniscient. Often passages of text were beautifully written and lucid; yet as the point of view switched from character to character I often found myself wondering whose mind I was in, and I had to retrace my steps to see if I was now with Mrs. Ramsey or Lily Briscoe and so forth.

The novel’s structure has three sections, the first “The Window,” the second “Time Passes,” and the third, “The Lighthouse,” and was also part of Woolf’s artistic style of matching form, content, and prose technique. The first and last sections are two days ten years apart (but located in the same place on the Isle of Skye), with the middle section a strange, and experimental, component  that Woolf described as comparable as the bar in a H. In this part of the novel inanimate objects (e.g. the house) and consciousness-free entities (e.g. the wind) contain a sentience, a human-like emotion as nature slowly destroys the house (interior and exterior) and overruns the garden. This is something John Ruskin with his notion of the Pathetic Fallacy (his contention that writers giving inanimate objects human emotions is the product of an unhinged mind, driven by violent emotion) would have abhorred.  For me, Woolf, for the most part, pulls off this narrative trick. Mainly, I think because of the singleness of vision and the manner in which she juxtapositions the deaths of Mrs. Ramsey, Prue Ramsey, and Andrew Ramsey in parenthetical asides.

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