Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

To the Lighthouse (original 1927; edition 1989)

by Virginia Woolf, Eudora Welty (Introduction)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
10,871None258 (3.88)495
Title:To the Lighthouse
Authors:Virginia Woolf
Other authors:Eudora Welty (Introduction)
Info:Harvest Books (1989), Edition: 1, Paperback, 209 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:2013, 1920s, female author, british literature, favorites, 1001 books

Work details

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927)

1001 (71) 1001 books (51) 1920s (55) 20th century (287) Bloomsbury (75) British (235) British fiction (49) British literature (180) classic (255) classics (243) England (99) English (99) English literature (196) family (84) feminism (76) fiction (1,675) Folio Society (38) literature (346) modernism (261) modernist (51) novel (393) own (62) read (137) Roman (43) stream of consciousness (132) to-read (199) unread (106) Virginia Woolf (113) women (54) Woolf (81)

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 495 mentions

English (129)  Dutch (2)  Swedish (1)  Danish (1)  Catalan (1)  Hebrew (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (136)
Showing 1-5 of 129 (next | show all)
It was odd, she thought, how if one was alone, one leant to inanimate things; trees, streams, flowers; felt they expressed one; felt they became one; felt they knew one, in a sense were one; felt an irrational tenderness thus (she looked at that long steady light) as for oneself. There rose, and she looked and looked with her needles suspended, there curled up off the floor of the mind, rose from the lake of one’s being, a mist, a bride to meet her lover—Virginia Woolf, writing through her character Mrs. Ramsay

No one will want to lie in clouds of mist with me, and even if someone did, I couldn’t expel the mist from my head—Franz Kafka, writing in his diary

We may pass each other in the mist only ever so often, if we're lucky, but we cannot stay there with each other. It doesn't matter if we vacation together, if we marry and live for years together, if one of us springs forth from the union of two others.

One feels an isolation and maybe a desire to connect, sometimes even a desperate mania. But who can share a dreamy solitude? By definition, no one. And if it was at all even possible, the mist remains. How could we find each other, each day, each hour. How could one’s dream self operate in reality? The pilot seat in your head is unlike the one outside of it. Out there, we cannot twist the knobs, adjust the instruments without consultation, without repercussions, without the sun blinding us. In the shadows, the mist, these difficulties melt away. But we are alone.

Mrs. Ramsay’s inner life, her mist, appears rich and rewarding. She maintains a special relationship with the third stroke of the Lighthouse beacon (the long steady light she refers to in the quoted passage above):

Watching it with fascination, hypnotised, as if it were stroking with its silver fingers some sealed vessel in her brain whose bursting would flood her with delight, she had known happiness, exquisite happiness, intense happiness, and it silvered the rough waves a little more brightly, as daylight faded, and the blue went out of the sea and it rolled in waves of pure lemon which curved and swelled and broke upon the beach and the ecstasy burst in her eyes and waves of pure delight raced over the floor of her mind and she felt, It is enough! It is enough!

Despite her tendency to drift off into the mist, Mrs. Ramsay is the linchpin in this book. She is perhaps Woolf's conception of the perfect character, drawing strength equally from both her inner and outer lives, and at the same time enriching the lives of those around her. As Lily sees her, “bringing them together; Mrs. Ramsay saying, 'Life stand still here'; Mrs. Ramsay making of the moment something permanent.” At one point, Lily recalls a memory of being with her on the beach:

Mrs. Ramsay sat silent. She was glad, Lily thought, to rest in silence, uncommunicative; to rest in the extreme obscurity of human relationships. Who knows what we are, what we feel? Who knows even at the moment of intimacy, This is knowledge? Aren't things spoilt then, Mrs. Ramsay may have asked (it seemed to have happened so often, this silence by her side) by saying them? Aren't we more expressive thus? The moment at least seemed extraordinarily fertile.

When we are fortunate enough to meet in the mist, it can be like this, a fertile moment felt. But the mist can also obscure from the outside looking in. Mr. Ramsay did not understand his wife's reveries. He misinterpreted them as sadness or distress:

She was aloof from him now in her beauty, in her sadness. He would let her be, and he passed her without a word, though it hurt him that she should look so distant, and he could not reach her, he could do nothing to help her.

Woolf shows, in her own inimitable way, this disconnect between a person's inner dialogue, their life in the mist, and the outer facade, what people see and think of them versus who they are inside. Not only do we not know what is going on inside other people, we often make up our own stories for them.

And this, Lily thought, taking the green paint on her brush, this making up scenes about them, is what we call “knowing” people, “thinking” of them, “being fond” of them! Not a word of it was true; she had made it up; but it was what she knew them by all the same.

We fabricate these stories for many reasons: to understand other people, to rationalize their behavior toward us and others, to fit them into our own ongoing painting of the world, much like Lily took ten years to move the tree in her own painting. And often our impressions, like Mr. Ramsay's about his wife, can be off the mark. Late in the novel, Lily muses, “Half one's notions of other people were, after all, grotesque. They served private purposes of one's own.”

There are other relationships at play here, like that of James and his father (“fight tyranny to the death!”), but they are all driven by these same themes of tension between inner life and outer life, impressions versus reality, what people really need from each other and what they actually get. Basically, the fundamentals of all human interaction laid out at a long table set for 20 dinner guests.

Vindication comes in the end for at least a few characters. To me, Woolf's message hovers in the mist. But I see a little of it. Sometimes the passage of time is all we can count on for achieving these glimpses. I know I have found that to be true. And yet Kafka's words still nest in my head. There is too much mist and no way to expel it. Or as Woolf puts it:

Beneath it is all dark, it is all spreading, it is unfathomably deep; but now and again we rise to the surface and that is what you see us by. ( )
  S.D. | Apr 4, 2014 |
I liked the parts where she describes the weather, or the nature. That's all I liked.
I think this is one of the books that are praised because they're very hard to understand/grasp/follow the sequence of actions and characters. i never understood who was talking to whom, who was in the room, who was drawing a painting and who just barged in. So many characters squeezed in, and she doesn't clarify who's who! Who's Lily Briscoe? Which ones are the kids of Mrs Ramsay, and what's that dude's position, is he a guest? a butler? What is he doing in the room? Why was she startled, was she drawing or posing for the painting?!
I think i understand English, but Virginia Woolf made me feel I'm in 3rd grade. This book has made me sooo irritated and angry, I wanted to fall in love with it, but i simply couldn't bring myself to finish it! It's a very absurd way of writing, you never know if she's imagining/analyzing things in her head, or if she's actually witnessing these people she's mentioning suddenly! And please tell me why a sentence has a zillion commas and lasts for a whole paragraph?! VERY long sentences, it made me dizzy, i had to reread and reread, and still i felt I didn't quite understand her take, it was ambivalent, vague, and incoherent. If that's what English literature is like, I'm sticking with French literature ( )
  pathogenik | Mar 2, 2014 |
I might have to read this again before I rate it. I think it would resonate a bit better with people who have experienced more loss in their life than me
  Achromatic | Feb 16, 2014 |
Actually, it is that good, and you and I just aren't smart enough to get it. That said, if you're willing to think it over for a good long while, even if you won't get it, you'll have lots of fun and become a better person. So stop whinging and read. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Story of the Ramsay's starts and ends on the Isle of Skye in Scotland told mostly in stream of consciousness. First we are introduced to the Ramsay's as husband and wife/mother and father. The Ramsay's have a good marriage. Mrs Ramsay is a strong woman in her way and holds the family together. Son James loves his mother but dislikes his father. A trip to the lighthouse cannot happen because of weather. Life is interupted by WWI. Several people die and no one returns to the summer home for 10 years. Finally the family does return and the trip finally occurs. The narration shifts from person to person, started with Mrs Ramsay and ends with Lily Briscoe, an artist and strong independent woman who has not married who achieves her vision. This story is somewhat autobiographical of Virginia Woolf's own life. She is what I would categorize as a "woman's" author. ( )
  Kristelh | Dec 15, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 129 (next | show all)
How was it that, this time, everything in the book fell so completely into place? How could I have missed it - above all, the patterns, the artistry - the first time through? How could I have missed the resonance of Mr Ramsay's Tennyson quotation, coming as it does like a prophecy of the first world war? How could I not have grasped that the person painting and the one writing were in effect the same? ("Women can't write, women can't paint..." ) And the way time passes over everything like a cloud, and solid objects flicker and dissolve? And the way Lily's picture of Mrs Ramsay - incomplete, insufficient, doomed to be stuck in an attic - becomes, as she adds the one line that ties it all together at the end, the book we've just read?
"To the Lighthouse" has not the formal perfection, the cohesiveness, the intense vividness of characterization that belong to "Mrs. Dalloway." It has particles of failure in it. It is inferior to "Mrs. Dalloway" in the degree to which its aims are achieved; it is superior in the magnitude of the aims themselves. For in its portrayal of life that is less orderly, more complex and so much doomed to frustration, it strikes a more important note, and it gives us an interlude of vision that must stand at the head of all Virginia Woolf's work.

» Add other authors (255 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Woolf, Virginiaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fiedeldij Dop, JoTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Alfsen, MereteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bertolucci, AttilioForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Celenza, GiuliaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dunmore, HelenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fischer, PaulCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hoffman, AliceIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holliday, TerenceIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kaila, KaiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mathias, RobertCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Munck, IngalisaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Welty, EudoraIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
First words
"Yes, of course, if it's fine tomorrow," said Mrs. Ramsay. "But you'll have to be up with the lark," she added.
She was thinking how all those paths and the lawn, tick and knotted with the lives they had lived there, were gone: were rubbed out; were past; were unreal, and now this was real
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English


Book description
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0156907399, Paperback)

“Radiant as [To the Lighthouse] is in its beauty, there could never be a mistake about it: here is a novel to the last degree severe and uncompromising. I think that beyond being about the very nature of reality, it is itself a vision of reality.”—Eudora Welty, from the Introduction


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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:22:02 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

At their holiday home in Cornwall, a distant lighthouse holds a haunting attraction for the members of an Edwardian family as disillusionment, turmoil, and a world on the brink of war plague the family's relationships.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 16 descriptions

Quick Links

Popular covers


Average: (3.88)
0.5 14
1 69
1.5 10
2 122
2.5 28
3 350
3.5 85
4 588
4.5 102
5 666


Four editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

See editions

Penguin Australia

Three editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141183411, 0141194812, 0141198516

Urban Romantics

An edition of this book was published by Urban Romantics.

» Publisher information page

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 89,501,537 books! | Top bar: Always visible