Reading Challenges

July 24, 2011

Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse Read Along-Week 3

This third week's To the Lighthouse reading revealed what I suspected might happen last week: a strong shift in plot and mood. The first half of the book has us soak up an atmosphere that is so detailed and told from a variety of perspectives that one moment feels like an eternity as we are privy to the innermost thoughts and feelings of Woolf's characters. During this time of rich and unhurried writing, though, we feel a build-up, and one anticipates the tide of change, just as the sky and waves show signs of a storm on the horizon.
It reminds me a bit of early modern works in art history (all fields of art including, dance, theater, etc.) that almost predicted the outbreak of World World I; that is, the works didn't reference war in and of itself, but anticipated the burst of tension that would lend itself to a major conflict (i.e. Stravinsky's music for and Nijinsky's choreography for "The Rite of Spring"). It's more about sensation and mood than anything else, like something in the air. Virginia Woolf masterfully sets the same structure around the changing winds at sea, the calm turned choppy waters that warn readers of the approaching storm. 

After spending over a hundred pages detailing the whims and fancies of a vacation households' inner workings, suddenly within a few short pages, essential characters are lost forever. When I read that Mrs. Ramsay died, I had to reread the passage to make sure I had correctly understand that she was indeed gone. The quick paced reading mirrors the dramatic and life-altering events that war-time produces and as a reader, the shock of unexpected loss was palpable.

Similar to last week, when I mentioned that Woolf showed us another side of Mr. Ramsay, readers sense his loss in a subtle but wrenching passage that details his reaching out for his wife in the night, only to find her side of the bed empty. I look forward to learning more about characters whom were perhaps overshadowed by other major players in the earliest portions of the book. Now that Mrs. Ramsay is gone, how will her husband and acquaintances adapt to new conditions? Without the drawn-out exposition, the drastic changes that such characters are currently experiencing in the latter half of the book wouldn't be felt so profoundly. I'm excited to finish the book this week as my emotional attachment to their lives grows stronger with every page.

By the way, in case you haven't been following my reading, I'm completing To the Lighthouse in four sections during the month of July, the read-along is sponsored by Unputdownables HERE.

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