To the Lighthouse - notes
Pause, reflect, and the reader may see at once the opposing yet relative perceptions made between life, love, marriage and death in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. In this novel, Woolf seems to capture perfectly the very essence of life, while conveying life’s significance as communicated to the reader in light tones of consciousness arranged with the play of visual imagery. That is, each character in the novel plays an intrinsic role in that the individuality of other characters can be seen only through the former’s psyche. Moreover, every aspect of this novel plays a significant role in its creation. For instance; the saturation of the present by the past, the atmospheres conjoining personalities and separating them, and the moments when things come together and fall apart. This paper will explore such aspects of To the Lighthouse while incorporating the notion that the world Woolf creates in this novel is one that combines finite and infinite truth. A created world that recognizes both limitation and isolation and how these themes are interrelated in and throughout the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay. Conceptually, Woolf combines all of the aforementioned realities of life into the presentation of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, a married couple that seem to stand for both accurate and visionary approaches to the reality of life. It is important, then, to consider that To the Lighthouse is not only representational of life, but that it also catches life. It is thus the goal of this paper to readily show why this is so.
In the novel, the theme of marriage is a fundamental one. The actual meaning of this marriage, however, receives differing clarifications. In a book by Alice van Buren Kelley, for example, an interpretation of the Ramsays’ marriage by Herbert Marder is considered: “Herbert Marder feels that Virginia Woolf ‘viewed marriage from two
essentially different points of view, describing it, in an intensely critical spirit as a patriarchal institution, but also expressing a visionary ideal of marriage as the ultimate relation’” (Kelley 115). This quotation seems to illustrate both the strife and harmony of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay’s relationship to one another. One could further suggest that the Ramsays’ marriage represent an ideal balance between seemingly conflicted truths. This observation of opposing truths is depicted in both characters. At the beginning of the novel for instance, Mr. Ramsay is portrayed as a man who is always truthful: “What he said was true. It was always true. He was incapable of untruth; never tampered with a fact; never altered a disagreeable word to suit the pleasure or convenience of any mortal being, least of all of his own children...” (Woolf 8). This quality that Mr. Ramsay possesses, however positive or negative, is juxtaposed with that of an opposing quality which is characterized in Mrs. Ramsay: “But then again, it was the other thing too – not being able to tell him the truth, being afraid, for instance, about the greenhouse roof and the expense it would be...” (Woolf 45). To the Lighthouse, then, is really a story of a struggle between two kinds of truth – Mr. Ramsay’s and Mrs. Ramsay’s. For him, truth seems to be concrete, factual; for her, truth seems to be one’s endeavor toward truth. To further clarify this claim, I will make reference to a point in the novel in which the reader is able to see just how different Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay perceive life. It is when they are discussing their son Andrew, and what he might accomplish in life: “’Oh scholarships!’ she said. Mr. Ramsay thought her foolish for saying that, about a serious thing, like a scholarship. He should be very proud of Andrew if he got a scholarship, he said. She would be just as proud of him if he didn’t, she answered” (Woolf 74). The differing
approaches of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, (whether perceived as right or wrong) present a choice between the former and the latter; which is indeed a matter of preference; of perception. For in this novel there lies an alternative for the reader, a choice or option that is illustrative of life.
I will now shift focus back to Mr.