Reading Challenges

July 17, 2011

Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse Read Along-Week 2

Another week, another quarter of To the Lighthouse completed. For those of you who haven't already heard, I'm participating in Unputdownable's Virginia Woolf July read-along of To the Lighthouse HERE. You can find my very first impressions HERE. This week we readers began to learn more about the characters as various perspectives continued to be explored, revealing new threads of insight here and there. In my last post, I voiced my unease with Mrs. Ramsay's Victorian-esque sense of propriety and perfection. Onward her behavior demonstrates more and more the neurosis and critical nature that comes with such a label.
This also reminds us just how subjective a narrator's account of events can be. Mrs. Ramsay, so critical of those around her, may not be the best judge of character given her incredibly narrow standards of acceptable behavior. Since we're really reading the thoughts of each character, we hear their own honest impressions in detail, but it doesn't mean that they aren't biased or even rationalizing matters to themselves. I say this having observed that many readers first sympathized with Mrs. Ramsay and took a strong dislike to her husband, the philosopher.

This week, although the husband remains a rather flat background character whose personality has largely been constructed on other's opinions, Mr. Ramsay begins to take on a tad more dimensionality as we briefly follow his thoughts and actions. His portrayal doesn't alter drastically, but we do have the sense that there is some lingering sense of regret within him, some small hesitation that does remind of us his humanity, at least. One thing I forgot to address last week that continues in the second quarter of the novel is the animosity we feel towards philosophy in To the Lighthouse. It's almost a surprising wave of anti-intellectualism to imbibe Mr. Ramsay with characteristics associated as cold and unfeeling: ration, logic i.e. philosophy and institutional learning, pitted against Mrs. Ramsay's stereotypically female sense of intuition and emotion. I remain surprised that Woolf would choose to create such a rift (of course at this point, anything could happen and a complete turnaround is still possible, but I rather doubt it) between what are typically opposing pairs (although they needn't be): cold reason/warm feeling, contained male/neurotic female, cultivation/nature, etc. Perhaps, though, Woolf is intending to shed some feminist sensibility on the matter in the future that will reveal itself. 

As the novel continues there isn't much to report in terms of a major shift in the style, but there are nice passages, particularly describing Lily Briscoe's relationship to painting. When she discusses her artistic process and frustration, the reader can truly feel Virginia Woolf's sympathy to the act of creation. Of course we know that Woolf was an active member of the Bloomsbury Group, a circle of artists and writers, so her links with painting are firmly established. More importantly, as an artist of the written word, she perhaps uses Briscoe's painting as an analogy for her own work. 

Looking foward to reading more next week as the lighthouse's beam continues to shine and shift its focus from character to character.


  1. I really enjoy reading your thoughts on this book. I'm reading it, too, and I don't get nearly as much out of it on my own. Hey! I guess that's what read-alongs are for?! :)

  2. Hi Jill, I totally agree about read-alongs; it's great to hear how others interpret the material and like or dislike it! Happy to be reading with you and thanks for the visit! :)

  3. Great to read your thoughts on this.

  4. Thanks Ann! Are you participating in the read-along too?


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