To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf)


Virginia Woolf’s writing is like no other I will ever come across.

To say that To the Lighthouse is a difficult read is certainly an understatement. Although the novel is only 150 pages, Woolf’s verbose style of writing makes it a laborious read. Writing in her characteristic stream-of-consciousness technique, Woolf creates an impressionistic story with very little dialogue and barely any action.

The plot of To the Lighthouse might seem pointless on the surface, since very little happens in it. The novel follows the Ramsays and their eight children, who are staying at their summer house when a party of guests and colleagues comes over to dine with them. They make plans to visit the lighthouse, but this outing is foiled due to bad weather. This plan becomes drawn out throughout the story, as the Ramsays anticipate their visit to the lighthouse for a decade. Although the plot appears simplistic, it’s essential to grasp the layers of hidden meaning in order to fully understand the novel. To the Lighthouse demonstrates the complexity of life and how the relationships we have in our lifetimes are vast and endless in nature.

Woolf successfully depicts the tiniest of details in her characters in a way that makes us recognize both the terror and beauty concealed within their personalities. For instance, Mrs. Ramsay, based on Woolf’s own mother, is mistrusted by other characters. Despite her negative image, she cannot help loving the uncertain young artist, Lily Briscoe.

While the prospect of reading Woolf may be daunting, the experience of reading her poetic, philosophic, and psychological introspections is one of undeniable value. Woolf fuses poetry, prose, autobiography, socio-political criticism, and much more within her literature. She continuously returns to existential debates that many of us have contemplated throughout our lives. She writes, “What is the meaning of life? That was 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 were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”

In celebration of the temporary and fleeting moments of life, To the Lighthouse constantly reiterates how life isn’t about the endpoint, but rather, the process of living.