To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

So it was a fortnight ago that I thought I was about to commit a sacrilegious act here on Savidge Reads by admitting that I wasn’t a great fan of ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and that whilst I had respect for Woolf’s delightful London imagery and prose I wasn’t a fan of the book. I did say I would carry on with the ‘Woolf in Winter’ which I signed up for last year and use ‘To The Lighthouse’ as a second attempt to get along better with Ginny, would it work?

When ‘To The Lighthouse’ opens we join James Ramsey and his parents as they discuss the likelihood of visiting the nearby lighthouse the following day. Mrs Ramsey tries to pacify her son by saying that they can ‘if the weather is fine’ however Mr Ramsey is pessimistic and almost cruel in telling his son that ‘it won’t be fine’ somehow this initial chapter both sets the tone for the rest of the book. In fact really it sets the scene for the rest of the book where in three parts we see what becomes of the Ramsey family before and after World War I and why many years later they make that journey back to the lighthouse in question.

I found the way this book was written was quite incredible. The first part of the book sets the scene and tone of the rest of it, as I mentioned before whilst introducing all the characters. The second part I found an incredible piece of technically skilled writing as Woolf manages to encompass a decade of a family’s life including an event that rocks the family during the war torn years of World War I (Woolf called this writing a H, with two parts of a story and a corridor in the middle). The thing is I am not sure a book can live by prose alone in some books (see Home by Marilynne Robinson) and I found myself meandering mentally away during this book and then having to re-read a page or two.

I will say that I generally gelled with this book much better than I did with Mrs Dalloway. I seemed to care more about the characters in this novel and wanted to know more about them from the start. I think having had the previous Woolf experience of her writing through streams of consciousness I was also more open to the writing style and enjoyed this novel the more for it. I am not sure how this novel would be received by someone new to Woolf. This post is probably a slightly rambling and confused set of book thoughts, I think that is simply how Woolf leaves me. Stunning prose but, but… I don’t know quite what the but is but there is one and its making reading Woolf more of a chore than a pleasure.

So what does this mean for me and ‘Woolf in Winter’? At the moment I am a bit 50/50. I loved the idea of this read-a-long as I felt like I had support out there; sadly though I am also worried reading Woolf every two weeks for the two books could endanger me from being put off for life. I think what might be best is to have ‘Orlando’ on the bedside and the selection of short from the library loot the other day and see if they spark any interest. If they do marvellous, if they don’t well that’s fine too. Does that sound like a complete cop out? Do pop over to the wonderful Emily who is hosting today!

How did you all get on with ‘To The Lighthouse’? Do let me know as your thoughts after ‘Mrs Dalloway’ invigorated me for the next Woolf challenge and may again. I am sure lots of you will have lots of insight into this book that might push it from 3 stars (Mrs Dalloway would have had 2.5, so it’s a step forward) to 3.5, ha. So go for it, what did you think?

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34 Comments

Filed under Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Virginia Woolf

34 responses to “To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

  1. I’m not a huge Woolf fan although admittedly I haven’t persevered with her much. I think this title appeals to me most, being set by the seaside. If I’m going to read Woolf again I think it will have to be this one.

    • I think she likes her watery themes does old Ginny. I think I might possibly halt the Woolf in Winter now as Orlando and The Waves might be put aside one for spring and one for summer. I do want to read Flush though.

  2. I decided to read TTL really slowly, and enjoy it that way… and consequently I’m on p.30. Ooops! But I’m loving reading it so slowly – I think it’s my fourth time of reading, so there won’t be any surprises for me.

    I’m glad you’re getting on better with Ginny! Orlando is much more straight-forward in its prose, but then The Waves is the least plot-driven – so I look to seeing how you get on!

    • I didnt read it in a rush I promise because of the hardship with Dalloway thought would take this slower and was just still not sold.

      I think I am gonna have a Woolf break for a while as I dont want to kill the relationship off and worry doing all these big ones could just do that. I have a Hesperus collection of short stories of hers and Flush i might read when the Woolf whim takes me.

  3. I really look up to you and your ability to immerse yourself in just about anything. So to hear that you are struggling just a bit is one reason why I’ve never attempted Woolf. I’m not good with chore-reading. Certainly with the daily chaos of my life, I would not be able to concentrate. Perhaps if I had some time to myself I might give it a try.

    • I try really hard to give everything a go, which in this case could be the issue, maybe I am trying too hard. So think its time to step back from Ginny for a while and see if a sudden Woolf whim of something smaller works as and when and indeed if!

  4. Simon, I can’t give you insights (Emily can), only subjective feelings. I fell for this book, and want to give her a hundred stars, lol. (Will that possibly push your rating up 0.5)? Didn’t you find some phrases startlingly beautiful though? Thanks for reading along and I get how you need a break from her. I read TTL in one week but feel that I should’ve done so in a full two weeks. I liked Mrs Dalloway a lot but not nearly as much as TTL, so maybe with practice we do get along with VW better?

    • Emily’s post is just jaw dropping it also adds to the slight feeling I have that I am not at the party most people are with Woolf hahaha.

      I find lots and lots of her prose, phrases and the like utterly wonderful wordwise its just somehow leaving me cold and I never thought I would say ‘prose is not enough’ but in this case I think I am sadly. Definate 0.5 for your entusiasm…

      I think I will just try Woolf as and when and see if that works better for me.

      • Simon, thanks so much for reading along though! I’m glad you still want to try more of her in the future. Frances says Orlando is quite different from the past two, though.. I haven’t started yet but read a little of the introduction and find that it’s less of a serious novel and more just written out of fun and whim. I’m waiting to be pleasantly surprised.

      • I might be with you all for Orlando, I might not either way I think what you four have done is wonderful and only wish I could have been a more worthy participant in a way.

  5. I’m still trying to figure out if I can like Woolf (that seems like a strange goal, but there were are). I’ve read To The Lighthouse and Mrs Dalloway but I had to force myself through both. Like you, I thought the writing was incredibily skilled but there was nothing about it that grabbed me. I’ve seen many reviews of Flush this week – maybe that’s the way into Woolf for me. Or maybe not. I suppose it hardly matters if I never learn to like her.

    • I think we are at the same point as I am trying to figure out if I like her too!

      The writing is skilled, beautiful and atmospheric, its just doing nothing for me which is winding me up a little bit. I have a feeling Flush or the short stories might be my new tact, but maybe no deadlines with them.

  6. Simon, I’d take a break and maybe pop in and out of the short stories as and when you feel fit and/or read Flush. Don’t feel bad that you haven’t fallen in love with Ginny nor try to force yourself to read her and feel what some others feel; as you say, it will either happen in the future or it won’t.

    I’ve posted by impressions of To the Lighthouse and found it very difficult to do so.

    • I had a look and really enjoyed them.

      I dont think I am good with mass reading deadlines and I love Woolf in Winter so its sad for me to be maybe dropping out but I think if maybe it was one a month I could have had the space to process Dalloway more and then this. I am pleased its made me read her work, even if I am getting cross with myself about not getting it.

  7. I think our tastes much be completely opposite, Simon! Home was one of my faves as well. 🙂 But isn’t that great about literature – there’s something for everyone. I really think Woolf can be one of those authors that either hits a person or doesn’t…although I’ve been interested to see the differences in peoples’ reactions to Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse. Thanks for reading along, anyway!

    As far as continuing, I would NOT recommend reading The Waves if lovely prose alone is not enough for you, but you might prefer Orlando – there is definitely more action, and it’s less heavy, more playful.

    • I have nothing against a book of prose normally Emily (apart from Home but my main issue with that was the rewriting of another book which is just prose too hee hee) and actually am known to get annoyed when people say ‘there wasn’t enough plot for me’. I think this is why I am finding Woolf doubly frustrating so far, who knows a re-read in the future and some random Woolf whims and she may become a fav in time who can say?

  8. farmlanebooks

    To the Lighthouse is my first Woolf and it has put me off her for life! I can cope with her writing style, but I need at least a tiny bit of plot. I’d say this was a lot better than Home, but I won’t be reading any more Woolf or Robinson again – there are too many fantastic books out there to bother with reading things I don’t enjoy.

    • For life? You really wouldnt read another word of hers from one book? I find that slightly suprising but I do understand what you mean about there being too little time and too many books not to read what you dont like. I am a tiny bit shocked you don’t give an author more than one whirl though. You might be missing some wonderful books that author wrote.

  9. This was my second reading of TTL, which meant that I knew ahead of time what was going to happen. So, there must have been some kind of a plot–if I knew what was going to happen! (Is that a good proof?) I like Ginny while I’m reading her, whether first time or second time; but when I’m finished I don’t come away with that fondness that I have for some books. I find her very teasing, if that’s a good word. By the way, there was a movie of Orlando some years ago, starring Tilda Swinton. I hope the book is more convincing than the movie was.

    • Well there is a sort of plot, but I could read Gilead again and know what was going to happen and thats that not a lot does hahaha.

      I might give Orlando a whirl will see how the mood takes me. I did say no challenges and whim reading this year so maybe I should stick to that?

  10. Aaron

    Joyce, Woolf, and Faulkner are the great modern masters of the interior monologue and stream of consciousness. I enjoy them all tremendously and am particularly fond of both Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse. However, the technique can be off-putting as it requires the reader to actually enter someone else’s mind and become familiar with the way that mind work and freely associates. That takes a fair amount of concentration and patience (and, for the record, my patience ran out with The Waves.) Still, Woolf’s prose is so luminous and vital and alive, that I consider her one of the great masters of the 20th century.

    By all means do read Orlando, which reveals quite another side of Woolf. It is an interesting commentary on gender roles, asking us to consider what it means to have a particular gender identity. She poses this question in such an original manner that I think you will find it quite enjoyable.

    • Thanks for your comment Aaron. I normally am not put off books that seem to simply be prose. I also dont mind the interior monologue as am a huge fan of Alan Bennett’s work and thats one of the things that he excells at. I just sadly think Woolf leaves me a bit cold.

      I would say any good book puts you in the mind of other characters in fact Blacklands which I read recently puts your rather too well in the mind of a child killing psychopath so I would by no means says its something I am put off by nor something exclusive to Woolf.

      I think some authors you just like and you dont and some books the same. I would like to try more of her work, I think just maybe not under a deadline and more on a whim.

  11. First of all, calling her Ginny in your opening just cracked me up! I love that easy going tone, and find it refreshing when it comes to our heavy Mrs. Woolf. Like you, I’m not in love with her. But, as Claire said, I do appreciate the beautiful phrases she writes…the mood she evokes. I have to look at her writing as more of a slice of life than an action film. 😉

    • Glad that I could make you laugh! I too appreciate her work, am slightly worried people havent gotten that from my posts on her and I have always said I am in much respect of her writing, its just not for me. I don’t need all my books to have action I do need to gel with them though.

  12. Have to love your honesty here. But please keep reading? Orlando does have more of a recognizable plot, is extremely playful. It is also a love letter of sorts to Vita Sackville-West. Occasionally great commentary on biography. And you can hold me personally accountable if you do not like it. 🙂

    • Well I do try and always be honest whilst being fairly positive at the same time if I can.

      I will keep reading Woolf, at the moment she feels a chore (which is slightly tragic as some lovely Woolf books have been sent from a publisher this week) maybe I just need a break from her?

      I have heard wonderful things about Orlando so I might pop my nose in it for a taster in a week or so and see, who knows I may just stil join in for that one! See how getting all the reading for book group and NTTVBG goes too.

  13. This read along has been my introduction to Woolf and I am absolutely loving her work so far but my reading philosophy has always been if a book or author just isn’t for me than I don’t push that – I move on to something else. I also think that loving a particular book or author has a lot to do with timing – I think if I had read Woolf 10 or even 5 years ago I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I am now.

    • I think there will suddenly be a book where it becomes more than just wonderful writing and I suddenly go ‘aha now I have it’ but at the same time I think me and ginny need some space or I might end up avoiding her for life and I 100% agree about books and timing.

  14. Simon, I can relate to your feeling that reading Woolf is a bit of a chore because I’m in the somewhat weird position of just loving her writing style but still feeling that some human connection is missing between us somehow (I feel the same way about Borges, another writer I greatly admire, at times as well). And as much as I’ve enjoyed reading both Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse for the first time, there are a number of other things I’d gladly be reading right now if the Woolf in Winter organizers and readers weren’t such a great group. It’s hard to read the same author four times in two months unless you’re just completely bowled over by him/her. Anyway, thanks for the post–I greatly enjoy tuning in to hear what you have to say pro or con!

    • I too love her writing Richard I just feel absolutely no connection to it either and though its a lovely group doing Wopolf in Winter I am slightly worried it could be overkill for me as I am just not really getting it or enjoying it. I will see how the next week goes and then decide I think.

      I am pro and con about Woolf which is rare for me with books.

  15. Yes, incredible sure is one way of putting it. And as you said, it’s perfectly fine to ramble out disconnected thoughts since, stylistically, that’s what the novel is like right? And I do LOVE the way it was played out. But I do understand why some might not like her writing at all. To each his own 🙂

    To my regret, I didn’t get to read it in full (but I read the ending). I simply felt that I’m still a bit of an amateur reader to be reading Woolf. There are just some classics that needs to be respected and be taken very seriously, and for that I think I’ll let some time pass by first before I get back to reading Woolf. The next time I read To The Lighthouse, I want to be prepared to have a better grasp at it 🙂

  16. lena

    I’m glad you gave it a shot at least. I agree with Frances that Orlando is very different – and that you may enjoy it quite a bit more. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that you’ll join in for the discussion.

    As for TTL, it knocked me off of my feet. I finished it a day late (last Saturday) but had no idea how to write intelligently about it without gushing so I couldn’t say very much at all on my blog (though I have journal pages upon journal pages of thoughts and connections that I can’t wait to follow up on in a second reading.

    • I dont think I will have time to join in for Orlando sadly as am halfway through a mammoth book and cant put it down. I definately plan on reading it in the future though, I think Flush is my next port of call with Woolf.

  17. Pingback: Flush – Virginia Woolf « Savidge Reads

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