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To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

To the Lighthouse (original 1927; edition 1989)

by Virginia Woolf, Eudora Welty (Introduction)

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11,167147251 (3.88)528
Title:To the Lighthouse
Authors:Virginia Woolf
Other authors:Eudora Welty (Introduction)
Info:Harvest Books (1989), Edition: 1, Paperback, 209 pages
Collections:Your library

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To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927)


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English (140)  Dutch (2)  Swedish (1)  Danish (1)  Catalan (1)  Hebrew (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (147)
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The very stone one kicks with one's boot will outlast Shakespeare.

I'm trying to think of something to say about To the Lighthouse that adequately sums up how I felt about it. And I can't. It's often been noted that it is so much harder to articulate how you feel about a book that resonates with you on every level, than it is to criticise. And it's probably true enough. Because I can't think of anything so beautiful to say as would encapsulate the feelings engendered in me by this tale, this meditation on parenthood and longing and the road not taken – and the road that has been. There's just nothing.

If you need a book to help you exorcise some ghosts, this is it.

I give To the Lighthouse ten out of ten.
  humblewomble | Oct 19, 2014 |
After having loved Mrs. Dalloway, I was expecting to enjoy this book, and was quite surprised to both find myself not liking it very much and that it was a slog to get through it. Ah, but that prose! This is truly wonderful writing, carefully cadenced, with a verbal sumptuousness perhaps found nowhere else but in Keats. But does this serve the story and its characters? This is where I ran into trouble. We are supposed to be experiencing things through the minds of the characters, what we get is the (much more interesting) mind of Virginia Woolf. None of these rather ordinary people could possible have experienced life with the vividness and originality of vision presented here. I found the intensely imagined descriptions, the similes (sometimes of almost Homeric elaborateness), and the flamboyant vocabulary consistently shifted my focus off of the characters and on to the author. And for all that, I couldn't get myself to care about these rather tiresome people or the lighthouse. ( )
  sjnorquist | Aug 4, 2014 |
This one has been too long waiting, like the children for their trip to the lighthouse. And, like the children, when they finally got to go, I approached it with mixed feelings and a little reluctance. It's one thing to love, love, love a difficult work you've known for 40 years and read multiple times with increasing understanding and appreciation. It's another to take on a new one, by a relatively unfamiliar (to me) author, and find an affinity. Virginia Woolf has lingered in the background of my literary experience, a bit of an intimidating presence, but no one ever forced me to reach out and take her hand. I'm quite glad that I have now done so, but I wasn't wrong to be trepidatious. Some scholar has probably counted the number of point-of-view shifts in this book; they come, usually, just as the reader is settling into one character's mind, and starting to feel comfortable there. The book is mainly about impressions, perceptions, images, and imaginings. There is virtually no plot. A few major life events are given parenthetical nods ("you need to know this happens, but you don't need to see it happen"). The setting is compelling--an island in the Hebrides, a shabby house, lawns, gardens and vistas of the open sea. The people are quite ordinary, with a few oddities among them, just like the people you know. The whole is a sum of the parts...a rather unexpected, but absolutely correct sum. This is a novel I am sure to return to, as there is simply too much to take in in a single reading.

Reviewed January 28, 2014 ( )
2 vote laytonwoman3rd | Jul 23, 2014 |
In To the Lighthouse, set on the Isle of Skye around the time of the first World War, 6 year old James Ramsay wants to go to the lighthouse, and has his mother's support, but his father says the weather will be bad and precludes their going. Family friend Lily Briscoe, unwed in her 30s, wants to paint, but doubts her ability, and is told by visiting Charles Tansley that women can't paint. These are two of the principal conflicts in this low key short novel. Will James overcome his domineering father and some day get to the lighthouse? Will Lily overcome her doubts and be fulfilled in her impulses to paint? Will the other characters, like Tansley, step out of the shadows of the overweening Ramseys and successfully lead their own lives?

Mrs. Ramsay is beautiful, charming and headstrong, with an obsessive desire to see others married. She is an avid admirer of her even more headstrong husband, who is accomplished and valued in his philosophical field. She is patient and benevolent, he is rude, quick-tempered and all about himself. Both fill the rooms they are in and leave barely enough air for others. Only the successful poet Mr. Carmichael avoids their effect and simply eats and drinks at their expense. The others are torn between admiration and resisting the influence.

Part of the genius of the book lies in Woolf's giving us the interior perspectives of all the characters. We get to know Lily's passions and longings, Charles' frustrations, James' enmity toward and similarities to his father, as well as the views of peripheral characters like James' sister Cam, who is pulled toward both her brother and her father. The other part of the book's genius is the gorgeous writing.

"Night after night, summer and winter, the torment of storms, the arrow-like stillness of fine weather, held their court without interference. Listening (had there been anyone there to listen) from the upper rooms of the empty house only gigantic chaos streaked with lightning could have been heard tumbling and tossing, as the winds and waves disported themselves like the amorphous bulks of leviathans whose brows are pierced by no light of reason, and mounted one on top of another, and lunged and plunged in the darkness or the daylight (for night and day, month and year ran shapelessly together) in idiot games, until it seemed as if the universe were battling and tumbling, in brute confusion and and wanton lust aimlessly by itself."

Gorgeous, and also quite dense in the reading. I ended up with respect, not love, for this one. It made me think of Proust, with beautiful writing and not much happening. In the midst of such talented writing, it seemed sacrilegious to long for a shot to ring out, but long I did. Four stars. ( )
1 vote jnwelch | Jul 23, 2014 |
Well, this was good. I was able to judge the book by the thoughts of a girl who visited an island for a number of years with her family. I felt her emotions and experienced her environment by reading her mind. Superb writing. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 140 (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 (360 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
Fastrová, JarmilaTranslatorsecondary 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
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"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
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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 21 descriptions

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

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Penguin Australia

Three editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141183411, 0141194812, 0141198516

Urban Romantics

Two editions of this book were published by Urban Romantics.

Editions: 1909175676, 190917548X

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