Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse


I have always had mixed feelings about reading Virginia Woolf. I expected her to be difficult, and somehow, not very interesting. I had read Orlando, but only after seeing the movie with Tilda Swinton. I did like this book quite a bit. I might even have read it twice. It still sits in my library.

In the Coursera MOOC on The Fiction of Relationship, I had to read To the Lighthouse. It was a fascinating read, with so many textures of looking at the minutiae of every day family life and the myriad relationships in it. I am now much more attracted to the nuanced description of social settings than by neat fast moving plots and one if well served in that respect by To the Lighthouse.

I have still not resolved what the Lighthouse represents, though… I have had several thoughts on the subject, but more questions, than answers.

Here are some of my favorite quotes, with my questions and attempts at interpretation (still in telegraphic style). And I have highlighted whether they are from the part of the book that is narrated from Mrs. Ramsay’s point of view or from Lily’s point of view.

p.39 Mrs. R POV “How, then, she has asked herself, did one know one thing or another thing about people, sealed as they were?”

  • How does one know or connect to others, who remain essentially unknowable?
  • Just as Lily attempts to know and understand Mrs. Ramsay (and vice versa)
  • Can you know others? Can you even know yourself? Is the Lighthouse a metaphor of the unknown part of us, remote, hard to get to? Rather than a guiding light for others.
  • In the first part of the book, the repeated inquiry as to whether we can go to the lighthouse, could be seen as can we know ourselves

p. 108 Lily POV “Going to the Lighthouse. But what does one send to the Lighthouse? Perished. Alone. The grey-green light on the wall opposite. The empty places. Such were some of the parts, but how bring them together?”

  • Stream-of-consciousness writing
  • Lily’s expression of her confusion, search for a sense of self, and of belonging.

p. 115 Lily POV “Her sympathy seemed to be cast on her, like a bramble sprung across her face. She felt curiously divided, as if one part of her were drawn out there – it was a still day, hazy; the Lighthouse looked this morning at an immense distance; the other had fixed itself doggedly, solidly, here on the lawn.”

  • Difficulty to connect with others (show sympathy to Mr. Ramsay)
  • The Lighthouse is part of Lily? She feels divided, standing on the lawn, see the lighthouse in the distance as a part of herself she is not reconciled with

p.137 Lily POV “For nothing was simply one thing. The other Lighthouse was true too. It was sometimes hardly to be seen across the bay.”

  • Called for interpretation of what the Lighthouse is: a POV? A symbol of status, a metaphor for truth or an ideal?
  • Lily is reflecting on the fact that there is no single interpretation for any given situation. Nothing also is completely unique; there is more than one Lighthouse.

p. 142 Lily POV “For whatever reason she could not achieve that razor edge of balance between two opposite forces; Mr. Ramsay and the picture; which was necessary.”

  • Lily returned to the house on the island, where she witnessed the perfect domesticity of the Ramsay household. In the absence of Mrs. Ramsay, she searches for a balance for her relationship to Mr. Ramsay. The picture stands for the expression of her true self and own perception of reality. In the presence of Mr. Ramsay, she fails to achieve the balance and focus she craves for. Can woman be herself, within the relationship to man?

There are so many facets to this book; it is absolutely brilliant.



Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. Read as published on eBooks@Adelaide. Originally published in 1927.


2 responses »

    • Hi Karen!
      I intend to… I’ve fallen behind on the reading and the videos with being busy at work and everything else. I am about 2/3 of the way through Faulkner. I got started on Borges which I am reading in Spanish and he is a bit difficult. But I want to stick with the course because I am finding it incredibly stimulating.

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