Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was a female writer who pioneered the field of modernism with novels and essays that focused on the female point of view. She was active in social criticism and her opinions were quite well known throughout the western world. In 1912 she married Leonard Woolf with whom she founded Hogarth Press.
Throughout her life she suffered mental breakdowns and ended up committing suicide on March 18, 1941. To The Lighthouse was a book about the Ramsay Family and a brief history on their fictional life which took place in Europe.
The story starts at their vacation house on the Isle of Skye and the events that spanned there in a time period of approximately ten years. The book focuses mainly on Mrs. Ramsay, her son James and their friend Lilly Briscoe, who is also staying with them. James wants to sail to a lighthouse that is close to their island. His father keeps telling James that they will go to it tomorrow but they never do.
A whole series of events then springs up around this in which Mrs. Ramsay is shown as a strong, beautiful woman who represents the Good in the story and her husband as the Bad. All the while Lilly Brisco is off to the side dealing with her own problems of not being married at age thirty-four and how she fits into the big picture.
So, the summer passes and they end up never going to the lighthouse. Then a span of ten years occurs and all the events during that period are told in brief.
Basically people get married, a lot of people die or become unhappy with their life and no one visits the island of Skye within that ten year timeline.
Then, in the last section of the book, Mr. Ramsay and James and some family and friends come back to the island (without Mrs. Ramsay because she had died several years earlier) and make the trip to the lighthouse together. Lilly Brisco is once again off to the side telling the reader more of her emotions and philosophies and gives a unique, female perspective on all the events that happened at the beginning of the book up till now, the end of the book.
Throughout the entire story you get to experience the mental processes of the characters and see how they make their judgments based on their gender. Females thought about emotion and living up to the standards set for them and males seemed to think very lowly of the women, repeatedly saying that they couldnt read or write or understand complex matters.
I think that Virginia Woolf wrote this book to show that women could indeed write and they could do it very well. All her female characters thought deeply about things that only men were supposed to think about and women could not. (Such as philosophy and the questioning of their roles in society. She must have felt a lot of prejudice during that era for being a woman and she wanted to prove that women could think deep thoughts and shape their own identities just as men did. I think she was striving to make the world aware of a womans social condition in hopes that society would change its ways.
Virginia Woolf seemed objective, but one couldnt tell clearly what about because there was so much being addressed in only one short novel and she didnt list her sources so she left you wondering where all her ideas came from. If Woolf has a thesis statement I think it is that life is short and unfair and that daily life can be an extraordinary event if we look at it through everyones point of view all at once.
This book gave me some new understanding of the period in that it showed that women were still being treated like dullards, even though Europe was claiming that it was civilized. This is important to know because it points out that Europes claim was completely false because if you want to be truly civilized you need to accept all humans living in a society. This way all voices can be heard and everyone can be treated equally. Several times in the book people referred to other nonEuropean peoples as savages, which I found quite inappropriate. It showed that these Europeans were not civilized at all and that all their problems were being caused from not understanding other people, even those they lived with. When I look at these statements from a modern viewpoint and that fact that I live in a multi-cultural society like America, I realize how unaware these Europeans really were and that their era must have been completely surrounded in ignorance.
Normally I wouldnt have read this book on my own time. Its not what I am interested in and its ideals have already been met for the most part by our society and Woolfs ideals are already shared by me anyway. I admit that I found this book difficult to read because of the grammar. It was outdated so I couldnt understand some of her words or the way she used some of her sentences. It slowed down the flow of reading, which is something that for me at least makes a book very enjoyable. I also was confused at the end of the book because I couldnt figure out what the purpose of the book was. To me, it seemed like a long story about some people who lived on an island and wanted to go to a lighthouse. All the people were emotionally undeveloped, especially the men. It was really hard for me find any meaning whatsoever. Im sure there was plenty of symbolism in there somewhere, but I still had trouble finding it. I think I probably would have picked up on some of it if I was completely enthralled in the book, but I wasnt.
In spite of all this I would still have to recommend it because it was written very beautifully. Some of the lines and even whole paragraphs sounded like poetry. The arrangement of words made the book very enjoyable and I liked some of the images that I pictured in my mind.
I also found that her book was different from any other that I had ever read because it focused so much on the thoughts of the characters. Most of the time someone would think of something and then their thoughts would go off on whole pages of rabbit trails that had nothing to do with the original topic. I really liked this because it was interesting and let me feel like I was inside of their minds and it also gave me a very good idea of who the characters really were. Virginia Woolf wrote this novel in a way that was beautiful to read and even though I had some difficulty with it, I would still be interested in reading more of her works in the future.