Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse

Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse

Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse

Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse

Synopsis

To the Lighthouse is perhaps the finest work by one of England's premier novelists, Virginia Woolf. The novel, greatly inspired by Woolf's own parents and family experiences, is a profound examination of the dynamics of family life. Despite this, and the many convincing passages that subtly depict daily life and human interaction, To the Lighthouse is not so much an example of realism as it is a modernist work that parodies the style of realism. The stream of consciousness narrative is in a constant flux, continually presenting the reader with natural yet unexpected turns in phrase, viewpoint, and plot. And the novel's rich imagery suggests rather than analyzes, thus making the work a brilliant example of literary impressionism.

Excerpt

In May 1940, less than a year before she drowned herself, Virginia Woolf read a paper to the Worker’s Educational Association in Brighton. We know it as the essay entitled “The Leaning Tower,” in which the Shelleyan emblem of the lonely tower takes on more of a social than an imaginative meaning. It is no longer the point of survey from which the poet Athanase gazes down in pity at the dark estate of mankind, and so is not an image of contemplative wisdom isolated from the mundane. Instead, it is “the tower of middle-class birth and expensive education,” from which the poetic generation of W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice stare sidelong at society. Woolf does not say so, but we can surmise that she preferred Shelley to Auden, while realizing that she herself dwelt in the leaning tower, unlike Yeats, to whom the lonely tower remained an inevitable metaphor for poetic stance.

It is proper that “The Leaning Tower,” as a speculation upon the decline of a Romantic image into belatedness, should concern itself also with the peculiarities of poetic influence:

Theories then are dangerous things. All the same we must risk
making one this afternoon since we are going to discuss modern
tendencies. Directly we speak of tendencies or movements we com
mit ourselves to the belief that there is some force, influence, outer
pressure which is strong enough to stamp itself upon a whole
group of different writers so that all their writing has a certain
common likeness. We must then have a theory as to what this
influence is. But let us always remember — influences are infinitely
numerous; writers are infinitely sensitive; each writer has a dif
ferent sensibility. That is why literature is always changing, like
the weather, like clouds in the sky. Read a page of Scott; then
of Henry James; try to work out the influences that have trans-

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