Brenda Cregor's Reviews > To the Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
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Sep 19, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites
Read from September 19 to October 02, 2010

Why do I DO this to myself?
Ms. Woolf was hard for me the first time.
Her stream-of-consciousness style is intriguing, and certainly I appreciate the "nuggets" of literary brilliance therein, but...woe woe is ME!
Supposedly, according to critics...this book is going to change me.

A POST-SCRIPT: Today, I was speaking to my younger brother about Virginia and this mini-novel. During our conversation, I was able to articulate something I realized a week after I put this book down: the core of the story was based on two twenty four hour periods ( much like Mrs. Dalloway focused on one twenty four hour period). The difference was that these two time periods were separated by a description of change and dilapidation of both people and things which transpired between these two days. In addition, looking back on my time with these characters and their thoughts and aspirations, I realized how ONE DAY can deeply affect our lives:each thought, side-way glance, and seemingly miniscule action affects generations and in reality...eternity. But, thankfully, Ms. Woolf gives her readers and characters one more twenty four hour period in which to redeem themselves and to "close the window" on the past.

What I am going to say is not a compliment to myself. At the same time, it is not a condemnation. But, if I were to switch brains with an author, hoping to think the same way, I would trade with Virginia ( minus the chemical imbalances and a great deal of thinking on her part, which I feel came from ignorance of certain truths she was not privy to during her lifetime).
I have often told my husband if he were to step inside my head for even a few minutes, it would wear him out for a week, that is how quickly my brain moves ( Note: There is no claim of genius or exceptional thought attached to this declaration.). I'm simply thinking ALL THE TIME. In addition, I can cover a number of seemingly unrelated ideas in a matter of seconds ( Do not worry, the connections are apparent to me).
So, what I found most "profound" about this work were the inner thoughts of the characters and, being a student of human nature, how true-to-life and deep each human being and relationship was depicted by Ms. Woolf. The minutia! The words to define! The ability to SEE!
The book is about the complexity of even the most "simple life", the moments of purity and beauty we miss because we are not in the present, the "space between", our ignorance about life's potential curveballs, and at the same time a mother's ability to see the thoughts and feelings of her children, forgiveness, regret, and ultimately one artist's self-actualization.
I cannot begin to quote every passage I underlined, starred, and circled. But here are a few kernels of Virginia's vigilance at capturing what many authors before her thought impossible, the essence of humanity: We perish each alone.
* If reality is what looms, love is what pervades---so much so that it is quite rarely present in the specific; it is both everywhere and nowhere at a given time. ( Okay, that is not Ms. Woolf, that is from the foreward, but you see how this book inspires people.)
* It was love, she thought...distilled and filtered; love that never attempted to clutch its object; but, like the love which mathematicians bear their symbols, or poets their phrases, was meant to be spread over the world and become part of the human gain. So it was indeed.
* Nothing happened. Nothing! Nothing! as she leant her head against Mrs. Ramsay's knee. And yet, she knew knowledge and wisdom were stored up in Mrs. Ramsay's heart. How then, she had asked herself, did one know one thing or another thing about people, sealed as they were?
* There is was before her---life. Life, she thought---but she did not finish her thought. She took a look at life, for she had a clear sense of it there, something real, something private, which she shared neither with her children nor with her husband. A sort of transaction went on between them, in which she was on one side, and life was on another, and she was always trying to get the better of it, as it was of her; and sometimes they parleyed ( when she sat alone); there were, she remembered, great reconciliation scenes; but for the most part, oddly enough, she must admit that she felt this thing that she called life terrible, hostile, and quick to pounce on you if you gave it a chance.
* She disliked anything that reminded her that she had been seen sitting thinking.
* So that is a marriage, Lily thought, a man and a woman looking at a girl throwing a ball.
* And again she felt alone in the presence of her old antagonist, life.
*Then why did she mind what he said?...what did that matter coming from him, since clearly it was not true to him but for some reason helpful to him, and that was why he said it? Why did her whole being bow, like corn under a wind, and erect itself again from this abasement only with a great and rather painful effort?
*...and it fascinated her, as if, while she had changed, that particular day, now become very still and beautiful, had remained there, all these years.
*...friendships, even the best of them, are frail things. One drifts apart.
*...she could return to that dream land, that unreal but fascinating place...where one moved about without haste or anxiety, for there was not future to worry about.
* Pray heaven that the inside of my mind may not be exposed.
* He was not "in love" of course; it was one of those unclassified affections of which there are so many.
* ...there is a coherence in things, a stability; immune from change, and shines the face of the flowing, the fleeting, the spectral, like a ruby; so that again tonight she had the feeling she had had once today, already, of peace, or rest. Of such moments, she thought, the thing is made that endures.
* What is the meaning of life? That was a all---a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there will little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one. This, that, and the other..."Life stand still here."
* We perished each alone.
* She was rest in silence, uncommunicative; to rest in the extreme obscurity of human relationships. Who knows what we are, what we feel? Who knows even at the moment of intimacy, This is knowledge?
* And this...making up scenes about them, is what we call "knowing" people, "thinking" of them, "being fond" of them! Not a word of it was true; she had made it up; but it was what she knew them by all the same...
* But beauty was not everything. Beauty had this penalty---it came too readily, came too completely. It stilled life---froze it. One forgot the little agitations; the flush; the pallor, some queer distortion, some light or shadow, which made the face unrecognizable for a moment and yet added a quality one saw for ever after. It was simpler to smooth that all out under the cover of beauty.
* Little words that broke up the thought and dismembered it said could say nothing to nobody. The urgency of the moment always missed its mark. Word fluttered sideways and struck the object inches too low. Then one gave it up; then the idea sunk back again...
* Love had a thousand shapes. There might be lovers whose gift it was to choose out the elements of things and place them together and so, giving them a wholeness not theirs in life, make of some scene, or meeting of people ( all now gone and separate), one of these globed compacted things over which thought lingers, and love plays.
* But this was one way of knowing people, she thought: to know the outline, not the detail...
* He upset the proportions of one's world.
* Half one's notions of other people were, after all, grotesque. They served private purposes of one's own.
* For in the rough and tumble of daily life, with all those children about, all those visitors, one had constantly a sense of repetition---of one thing falling where another had fallen, and so setting up an echo which chimed in the air and made it full of vibrations.
*I will marry you, she might have said, with her hand in his: but no more.

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Quotes Brenda Liked

Virginia Woolf
“The strange thing about life is that though the nature of it must have been apparent to every one for hundreds of years, no one has left any adequate account of it.”
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

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