Here we are will Woolf again. I’m not sure if To The Lighthouse is more straight forward than Jacob’s Room or if I just got used to Woolf’s style of writing but this one definitely took less work to understand (at least in my opinion).
If you want a brief overview of the plot and some background on Woolf, check out this Crash Course video below:
The serene and maternal Mrs. Ramsay, the tragic yet absurd Mr. Ramsay, and their children and assorted guests are on holiday on the Isle of Skye. From the seemingly trivial postponement of a visit to a nearby lighthouse, Woolf constructs a remarkable, moving examination of the complex tensions and allegiances of family life and the conflict between men and women.
As time winds its way through their lives, the Ramsays face, alone and simultaneously, the greatest of human challenges and its greatest triumph—the human capacity for change.
Throughout the beginning of this novel is an ever approaching storm–one that, once it has come, will prevent the family from visiting the lighthouse. While not much in terms of plot (besides the above) happens in this novel, I find it interesting that from the very start there is this darkness looming on the horizon.
One of the parts of this novel that took my a few reads to understand was during the middle section which is told from the perspective of the Ramsey’s vacation house (no joke, because Modernists) in which the First World War is described as a storm:
The nights now are full of wind and destruction; the trees plunge and bend and their leaves fly helter skelter until the lawn is plastered with them and they lay packed in gutters and choke rain pipes and scatter damp paths.
Not only is this a powerful description but also, remember that storm they were talking about at the beginning? The one that would prevent them from visiting the lighthouse? Me thinks it has arrived. I went through the whole first part of this novel being like, “what’s the big deal? Some rain and wind, maybe lighting, and then sunny skies, right?” I even found it a bit dramatic when Mrs. Ramsey was talking about how her son James would remember the disappointment of not going to the lighthouse for the rest of his life. But replace of the scenes about a storm with talk of the coming war and it all seemed to click into place, for me anyway.
Overall, there are a lot of subtle things happening in this novel that, while fun for a certain kind of person (*cough* me), make this novel somewhat difficult to grasp. Like I mentioned before, not much happens on the plot end of things. If you don’t understand the impact of living in England during WWI or are ready to pick up all the subtly involved with stream-of-consciousness work from the early twentieth century, maybe pick something else? Agatha Christie maybe? (her books have all kinds of plot going on and they’re relatively short). It’s one of those books you have to read a couple of time to really get the most out of it.