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To the Lighthouse
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1001 Monthly Group Read > August {2009} Discussion -- TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf

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mara | 220 comments Mod
One of my favorite books. I was happy to read this again. What did you think?


Lyn (Readinghearts) (lsmeadows) I love the way Virginia Woolf writes. I am about half way through and hope to finish tomorrow.



mara | 220 comments Mod
I know. When I picked it up again, my first thought was "I don't remember it being this confusing." Yeah, the narration jumps around and it's hard to pin to down the heck she's talking about. One thought kind of melts into the next


Eliza (elizac) | 77 comments This was my first Woolf and I have to say I was completely blown away. I think I'm going to have to reread this one a few times to truly get everything. I got lost in a few places but there were other times that a word or phrase she used is so perfect that I just had to say WOW!


Lyn (Readinghearts) (lsmeadows) Eliza - same here. I had never read Virginia Woolf before and have to admit was kind of scared to, but WOW. Although her stream of consciousness writing style is sometimes hard to follow, it is well worth the effort. I am looking forward to reading other titles by her. I think that is the best thing about the 1001 list and this group. It is getting me to read authors that I may not have chosen on my own, and many times I find that I enjoy them more than I thought.


mara | 220 comments Mod
Yes, it's very poetic. So many parts have a resonating quality that make you think about so many things beyond the people and things in the book itself. And I amire too the way she achieves a kind of philosophical rambling imposed over the characters.
Everything is so much more than it is.

I always took this book to be about Mrs. Ramsay. she was always the most interesting character for me. But now in this reading I am realize just how much this book is about her thoughts and feelings about Mr. Ramsay, her deep understanding and wisdom as an observer, especially when it comes to men.

This in particular I really like. "It was his power, his gift, suddenly to shred all superfluities, to shrink and diminish, so that he looked barer and felt sparer, even physically, yet lost none of his intensity of mind, and so stand on his little ledge facing the dark of human ignorance, how we know nothing and the sea eats away the ground we stand on - that was his fate, his gift." There is more and so much in the statement. It's like you start out reading about Mr. Ramsay and then all of a sudden you get the sense this is not about Mr. Ramsay but about the generations, the past, the presence, and the essence of what it is to be human and all that.


message 7: by Denise (new)

Denise | 235 comments I'm only halfway through, but thouroughly enjoying this. It is decidedly not plot-driven, yet so much is happening all the time. I have had to back up and reread a few sections as different images sent my mind off in different directions and I realized I had lost focus and got a bit lost.

Nice quote, Mara. I should be marking up my book because I keep coming accross bits I'd like to share, but I don't.


Suzanne Moore (suzeq) | 21 comments I wonder if the lighthouse could represent seeing clearly? Throughout the book, the children never arrive at the destination they so hoped to see. Later as the story comes to an end they make the trip as young adults with their father. Mr Ramsey reflects on the events of their life together and says, “We perished, each alone..” Maybe this was a revelation of some kind Cam later murmurs her father's line. I liked the way Woolf shows us what the characters may be thinking while they say things or act in ways disengaged from their thoughts. I find myself subconsciously doing the same thing. This novel helps me analyze human nature better ... we do perish each alone with inner thoughts that hold the soul's secrets.


message 9: by mara (last edited Aug 21, 2009 07:49PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

mara | 220 comments Mod
I agree, Suzanne. I'm reading over the last chapters now and I've come across a passage that has always puzzled and fascinated me. They are in the boat coming from the lighthouse with Mr. Ramsay, and it says, "Little bits of black cork floated past; the fish were dead in the bottom of the boat. Still her father read, and James looked at him and she looked at him, and they vowed that they would fight tyranny to the death, and he went on reading quite unconscious of what they thought."

What do they mean "fight tyrnanny." Mr. Ramsay? Do his children resent him? Is he misunderstood? I think Mr. Ramsay is a fascinating character and Woolf seems to want to communicate a lot about him and all he represents


message 10: by Richard (new)

Richard (rich7470) I think it means anything that is dehumanizing, e.g., tyrannical bosses, tyrannical jobs, tyrannical friendships, etc. It could be a metaphor for anything tyrannical.


message 11: by C. (new) - rated it 5 stars

C. (placematsgalore) | 14 comments I disagree, actually. I think it refers specifically to Mr. Ramsay. His children do resent him, fiercely, in the way that only children can. It is one of the beautiful things about the book that it represents children and their emotions in such a realistic and convincing way.


message 12: by Gini (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gini | 138 comments Choupette wrote: "I disagree, actually. I think it refers specifically to Mr. Ramsay."

I just finished the book today (and was completely bowled over by it), and I agree with you. Mr. Ramsay is a tyrant to his family, and this resentment is led by James, who was the closest to their mother. James has Mrs. Ramsay's sensitivity without her feminine outlook and training. He was jealous of his mother's attentions to his father. Had he continued to grow up with both his parents, his closeness to his mother probably would have naturally drifted toward a more adult relationship. But Mrs. Ramsay died, and James' incipient maturation in his relationships with his parents died with her. James is trapped in viewing Mr. Ramsay only as the man who stole his mother's attention. He is absolutely wed to viewing his father as a tyrant, and Mr. Ramsay has no idea how to deal with his children without the ameliorating influence of Mrs. Ramsay. Their relationship is frozen at the Oedipal phase.

Whereas Cam, as more of a wild child tomboy when Mrs. Ramsay died, her relationship with her father is much more fluid. This is why her loyalties are so torn: she wants to support James, but she sees Mr. Ramsay as more than just their father the tyrant. She understands that her father is human. She feels sympathy for him, and James knows it. It makes him even more obdurate and determined not to see his father as a human. Cam knows and is trying to hold onto her loyalty to James and their mutual hatred of tyranny.

Which doesn't mean that some of the symbols aren't more universal, but the imagery is personal as well.



message 13: by C. (new) - rated it 5 stars

C. (placematsgalore) | 14 comments Gini wrote: I just finished the book today (and was completely bowled over by it), and I agree with you. Mr. Ramsay is a..."

That was very nicely put. I love the way she captures the way it's possible to both love and hate a person.

Another aspect of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay's characters comes from Woolf's own parents. TTL is very autobiographical, and was in many ways Woolf's means of working out her own issues with her parents.




message 14: by Gini (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gini | 138 comments Choupette wrote: "I love the way she captures the way it's possible to both love and hate a person."

The writing in the first section - the running thoughts of all the characters intertwining and running from adoration to frustration to hatred and back again. It's so staggeringly real. I read this on the heels of my father-in-law's funeral, my husband's stepdad and a man who was apparently a challenge to live with when my husband was young, but with whom I've only had an adult relationship. My adult relationship with him helped my husband develop an adult relationship with him that was warm and respectful. James' relationship with Mr. Ramsay very much resonated with me because of the circumstances.




message 15: by C. (new) - rated it 5 stars

C. (placematsgalore) | 14 comments The writing in the first section - the running thoughts of all the characters intertwining and running from adoration to frustration to hatred and back again. It's so staggeringly real.

Oh my god, yes! I had never encountered anything like it. It completely knocked me over, I had no idea it was possible to write so realistically about anything, let alone things so complex as human relationships! I still can't believe it.


message 16: by Gini (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gini | 138 comments Choupette wrote: "I had never encountered anything like it. It completely knocked me over..."

In a way it was fortunate that I was stuck on a plane while reading it. Otherwise I might have abandoned myself to tears of desolation at the mixture of love and frustration. It was staggeringly resonant.




message 17: by Gini (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gini | 138 comments I am wondering about the character of Lily, who is an outsider to the family and yet whose point of view dominates so much of the story: with the death of Mrs. Ramsay, that worldview is lost, but Lily's carries on to the third part. She is clearly more than a cipher, because despite her deep love of the Ramsay family she rejects utterly Mrs. Ramsay's way of life. She does not marry, she remains a painter and an independent woman, she does not perform the womanly arts of comforting men and easing them on their way through life. She appears to represent the beginnings of modern women taking power for themselves.

And yet, her painting of the house frames the entire story. She fails at painting it in the first section because she approaches it as something too precious, too sacred. She completes her painting of it at the end of the book, but it's clear that the painting is an angular abstraction. Yet she is joyful that the lighthouse has at last been reached. What does it signify?


Dianna | 82 comments Woolf was a feminist. When I read To The Lighthouse I saw Mrs. Ramsay as a picture or an archetype of women in general. They are the guiding force in the world. In this case Woolf portrays a family. I felt so connected to Mrs. Ramsay. She seems to give up herself for her family. I feel ambivilance about that because if it were not for her, the family would have been lost, yet what could she have done if she had not been planted in that one spot as a light for them?


message 19: by Sara (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sara I finished it a couple of days ago. At first I was a little confused on where the story was going and right after I completed it I did not feel that I had grasped what the story was about and I did not like it.

I have though about it a little more now and now I understand mostly what was going on and I enjoyed it. This is only my second Virgina Woolf book so I think I am still getting used to her style but I studied her in my university English class and I would like to eventually read more of her books.

I liked how she divided it up into three sections. I felt connected to Mrs. Ramsay and I got a glimps of how much she gave up for her family eben though her husband did not seem to notice. I enjoyed also how Lily took over the third part and gace a view of the woman Mrs. Ramsay would have been if she had remained independant like Lily.


Lyn (Readinghearts) (lsmeadows) Dianna wrote: "Woolf was a feminist. When I read To The Lighthouse I saw Mrs. Ramsay as a picture or an archetype of women in general. They are the guiding force in the world. In this case Woolf portrays a fam..."

And Lily was the antithesis to Mrs. Ramsay in my opinion. I really liked the portrayal of her character in the third section, where she told us what Mrs. Ramsay would do but showed us what the new breed would do. OR maybe it was just what women wanted to do.



message 21: by mara (new) - rated it 5 stars

mara | 220 comments Mod
Oh yes I agree. Gender is a big part of what this novel si really about. This novel is about men and women not just the characters themselves. At the same time, it's not a simple matter of men being oppressive and women being subjugated. It's hard to put aside our preconceptions about gender roles of the time, but I think the meaning is more rich and complex if we do and think about what the characters themselves felt within their circumstances, not as mere representations of male-dominance and female-limitation

However, these ideas are definitely part of the novel. I keep going back to chapter 17. What has happened to Mrs. Ramsay? She seems depressed. It begins "But what have I done with my life?" And at the table she wonders how she ever felt any affection for her husband and reflects that her dining table and "ladling out soup" are all she's ever had. Then she shifts her feeling (Lily recognizes) by pitying people - Mr. Tansley and Mr. Bankes.

What is going on here? Has Mr. Ramsay done this to her? How? Is her role so obviously depressing? Is she too wise? Why does she feel so alienated from warmth and emotion? Where is the joie de vivre she seemed to have in the beginning? The understanding Madonna-like wisdom from the first half of the novel?

Do we ever find out how she dies?

Think I'm going to read the last half tonight again


message 22: by Mark (last edited Aug 29, 2009 04:15PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mark (bikeboy) | 14 comments I just joined this group and To the Lighthouse (TTL) is the first book I've read with the group. I'm impressed with how successful your algorithm is at choosing good books, while simultaneously making it impossible to get into a rut.

I was mesmerized by TTL and finished it within 24 hours of picking it up. I found the style difficult but rewarding; it seemed like I needed to reread about 20% of the paragraphs just to get what was going on, and I frequently lost track of whom the pronouns were referring to. I did like getting inside all of these characters, particularly at the dinner party scene (Chapter 17 referred to in message 24), which is a deliberately virtuoso display of writing talent.

There are quit a few posts asking about Lily's role. She seems like a stand-in for the author. The description of her efforts to get it right could easily describe the process involved in writing TTL.
The last two sentences of the novel are both the character Lily thinking about the painting,and the author's relief at having completed the novel: "It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision".

Mara asks about why Mrs. Ramsay is so depressed. I think it's the limited Victorian vision of her role as wife and mother. From Woolf's perspective, it would be more surprising to find such a character that wasn't depressed. Paradoxically, Mrs. Ramsay seems eager to thrust that role on virtually every young woman who enters her sphere.

I don't know what the lighthouse symbolizes, but the trip to the lighthouse took on two meanings for me. The first is an attempt to make things right, given the role the trip played in the first section of the book. Mr. Ramsay's attitude about the trip in Section 1 encapsulated much of the ill will between himself and his family (specifically Mrs. Ramsay and James). When Mr. Ramsay finally makes the trip in section 3, his manner is so authoritarian and aloof, showing that even when he is trying to do something right he is a rather pathetic character. The second aspect of the trip is the distancing from the island, and the necessity of imagining the details of the island when they can no longer be visually discerned. To me, this was an obvious symbol of the time separating Section 3 and Section 1, and the role of the author or painter in trying to bridge that gap.

There is so much going on in this book, I feel like I've only touched on a few points. I'm looking forward to hearing what more readers think.



message 23: by C. (new) - rated it 5 stars

C. (placematsgalore) | 14 comments I don't know what the lighthouse symbolizes

The lighthouse is often interpreted as a phallic symbol, though apparently Woolf herself rejected this interpretation, saying it had no symbolic meaning. Nonetheless, most critics seem to ignore her.

I think you're definitely right about Lily being a stand-in for Woolf, and also the reasons for Mrs. Ramsay's depression. However, I find Mrs. Ramsay to be one of the most fascinating characters in the book, and possibly the most brilliantly portrayed. Her alternate acceptance and rejection of the role life has allotted her is beautifully real, and I love that she's not just a repressed woman - despite her official worthlessness the power she wields over the other characters is enormous, and it is because of this complexity (or ambiguity) in her character that Lily finds it so difficult to free herself from her.


Christina Stind | 183 comments I just finished the book a couple of days ago and I find that I still think about and wonder what it all means. I really liked the book and I was very impressed with VW's writing skill. However, I do think that I appreciated the book more on an intellectual level than on a pure enjoyment level - which is fine, of course.

After reading it, I came to think of Hegel's thesis - anti-thesis - synthesis structure and to me, this book is written that way. The first part has the house filled with people, life, light, dinner parties, conversation ... Then the second part has the house completely empty and falling to pieces, slowly decaying. And then the third part shows the house somewhat restored to it's former glory and with some of the people back again - but still resonating is the decay shown in part two and the people who were lost. So it's a synthesis of the two first part.

I also think that Mrs Ramsay and Lily are two opposites, that Lily are the beginning of the modern woman fighting with freeing herself from Mrs Ramsay's ideals and ideas on matrimony and a woman's role.

Most of all, I'm just so impressed with VW's writing style and how she could keep it all together and tell this story through her stream of consciousness method.


message 25: by mara (new) - rated it 5 stars

mara | 220 comments Mod
Welcome, Mark! Choupette thank you! Yes, I agree with you. Mrs. Ramsay is a complex character, yes she wields a lot of power, of the more subtle kind, but a kind that the book in a lot of ways celebrates. She is the force that ties everyone together. She has a lot of power and wisdom and insight when it comes to people. She is really sort of a goddess figure here, giving counsel, shaping destinies, peering into the soul of things. And I love how Woolf is able to play that angle while showing us that at the same time Mrs. Ramsay herself is questioning it, that she herself feels alienated from it - again such masterful rendering of that complexity. And that, too, is why I don't think Mr. Ramsay is such a villain. I think through Mrs. Ramsay's eyes we are supposed to examine him, critically, but also as a character as complex and vulnerable as herself. Yes, he is pathetic, but there is more pathos than loathing there I think


message 26: by Gini (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gini | 138 comments mara wrote: "Mrs. Ramsay is a complex character, yes she wields a lot of power, of the more subtle kind, but a kind that the book in a lot of ways c..."

It seems to me that Wolf herself is struggling to find some reconciliation between the gracious yet ultimately stifled Mrs. Ramsay and the independent but cool-hearted Lily. Lily admires Mrs. Ramsay's ability to give of herself to others, and Mrs. Ramsay envies Lily's freedom. By turns they admire, envy, and pity each other. Mrs. Ramsay dies and with her dies most of the spirit of graciousness (the house falls apart), but some sliver of it remains to be rebuilt into something not quite the same.

Woolf the feminist kills the old expectations for women, but Woolf the person recognizes that, without someone to take that role, the life of society is somewhat diminished. She regards the loss with understandable regret, as Lily tries to find some way to reach out to Mr. Ramsay.




message 27: by Åsa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Åsa (hallon02) | 2 comments Like Mark, I just joined this group (in fact, I just joined the site), and as I just finished a book a couple days ago, I thought I'd jump into this list too.

So I finished this book last night. And then I lay awake most of the night thinking about it.

It's been quite some time since I read Woolf, and for the first 20-ish pages of the book I have to admit I struggled a little to get into the style, but then I couldn't put it down.

I find it fascinating how she manages to put so much meaning into her words, and how, despite the fact that not much really happens on the pages, there's still a sense of accomplishment throughout the book.

I have to confess, for most of the book, I didn't really like Mr Ramsay. But then again, he, as everyone else, is a victim of the circumstances of the time he's living in. He's a man, who for better or worse, deeply requires the sympathy and, dare I say, admiration, of other people, maybe because of some character flaw, or as a result of his childhood. And at least the first, he gets readily from Mrs Ramsay. In fact, she seems incapable of not giving it, even when she herself wishes she could resist. And when she dies, he is still the same person, who can't change the man he has become.


Kimberley To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf is a complete piece of art in every sense of the word. It's a beautiful portrait about the Ramsay family and their relationships with each other.

The structure of the book is significant to plot of the book and adds to the themes so intensely and with style. The central motif is the battle between masculine and feminine aspects of the world, that are defined through Mr and Mrs Ramsay to perfection.

To the Lighthouse tells of the journey...more To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf is a complete piece of art in every sense of the word. It's a beautiful portrait about the Ramsay family and their relationships with each other.

The structure of the book is significant to plot of the book and adds to the themes so intensely and with style. The central motif is the battle between masculine and feminine aspects of the world, that are defined through Mr and Mrs Ramsay to perfection.

To the Lighthouse tells of the journey that we all must take in life and when we actually get there, it is not always how we pictured and life doesn't have a happy ending for everyone.


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