Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Feminism Revealed from Lily's Picture in to the Lighthouse

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Feminism Revealed from Lily's Picture in to the Lighthouse

Article excerpt


Narration about Lily and her picture runs through Woolf's masterpiece To the Lighthouse. Through analyzing the metaphor of Lily holding a brush and the blankness left in the middle of the picture, this paper aims to illustrate the feminist thoughts revealed from the picture.

Key words: Feminism; Blankness; Lily's picture; Women; Men


Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse presents the story of an eminent scholar's family, the Ramsays. At the beginning of the story, the Ramsays are on vocation with some friends in their seaside villa. The youngest child James asks to go to the lighthouse the next day, which receives warm response from Mrs. Ramsay with "Yes, of course, if it's fine tomorrow"(Woolf, 1994, p.1), but cold disapproval from Mr. Ramsay with "But it won't be fine" (p.1). The scene changes from Mrs. Ramsay attempting to distract her son from disappointment to other members. Then in the flow of consciousness, Mrs. Ramsay remembers that she is supposed to be keeping her head as much as possible in the same position for Lily Briscoe, who is painting her. Lily Briscoe, a friend of the Ramsays', comes to stage as a single woman painter, who has been trying to draw a picture for the mother and her little son. During the painting, somehow it seems a bit difficult for her to deal with the blankness in the middle of the picture, which perplexes her even at the following dinner party. The unfinished picture is put aside for ten years during which Mrs. Ramsay has passed away. It is until the Ramsays return to the villa that the picture is mentioned again. When Mr. Ramsay sails with his two children to the Lighthouse, Lily struggles with her aesthetic problem, finally resolving them as the Ramsays land at the lighthouse and the novel ends.


The narration about Lily and her painting occupies a considerable length of the story and the novel ends with the completion of her picture, which is no doubt of particular importance to the theme. "As Woolf certainly intended, Lily Briscoe's paintings have usually been read as analogous to the novel itself, implying in turn that Lily represents Woolf herself" (Hussey, 1995, p.42). As a pioneer of feminism, Woolf expresses her feminist thoughts through novels. Likewise, her consciousness of feminism may be supposed to express through Lily's picture.

Mrs. Ramsay and Lily are the two important female figures in the novel. An in-depth analytic comparison had better be made between the two women in order that we have a good understanding of the theme.

It is notable that Lily has a special intimacy for Mrs. Ramsay. She has to "control her impulse to fling herself (thank heaven she had always resisted so far) at Mrs. Ramsay's knee and say to her?but what could one say to her? 'I'm in love with you?' No, that was not true" (p.14). When Mrs. Ramsay makes a night visit to Lily and tries to persuade her to marry, she "laid her head on Mrs. Ramsay' lap and laughed and laughed and laughed, laughed almost hysterically at the thought of Mrs. Ramsay presiding with immutable calm over destinies which she completely failed to understand" (p.36).

Some critics hold that these descriptions reveal Woolf's lesbian attachment to Mrs. Ramsay. About their relationship, Lisa Williams says that "Lily is like a bee drawn to the intangible? Lily's unfulfilled lesbian longing for this Mrs. Ramsay, the icon of Victorian womanhood, leaves her completely isolated. Even though Lily can reject the values Mrs. Ramsay represents, she is still nonetheless in love with her" (Williams, p.143). She also points out that Mrs. Ramsay and Lily have set up a special mother-daughter relationship, both of whom are artists to some extent. They depend on each other and reject each other at the same time.

In my opinion, Lily's attachment to Mrs. Ramsay can never be regarded as a lesbian eroticism. As an unmarried, plain-looking but independent woman, Lily represents the spirit of woman's pursuit of equality and emancipation. …

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