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To the Lighthouse


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A novel by V. Woolf, published 1927, which draws powerfully on the author's recollections of family holidays at St Ives, Cornwall, although the setting is ostensibly the Hebrides; her parents, as she acknowledged, provided the inspiration for the maternal, managing, gracious, much‐admired Mrs Ramsay, and the self‐centred, self‐pitying, poetry‐reciting, absurd, and tragic figure of the philosopher, Mr Ramsay, who become the focus of one of her most profound explorations of the conflict between the male and female principles.

The novel is in three sections. The first, ‘The Window’, describes a summer day, with the Ramsays on holiday with their eight children and assorted guests, who include the plump and lethargic elderly poet Augustus Carmichael; the painter Lily Briscoe and the graceless lower‐middle‐class academic Charles Tansley. Family tension centres on the desire of the youngest child, James, to visit the lighthouse, and his father's apparent desire to thwart him. The second section, ‘Time Passes’, records with laconic brevity the death of Mrs Ramsay and of her son Andrew, killed in the war, and dwells with a desolate lyricism on the abandoning of the family home, and its gradual post‐war reawakening; it ends with the arrival of Lily Briscoe and Mr Carmichael. The last section, ‘The Lighthouse’, describes the exhausting but finally successful efforts of Lily, through her painting, to recapture the revelation of shape‐in‐chaos which she owes to the vanished Mrs Ramsay, and the parallel efforts of Mr Ramsay, Camilla, and James to reach the lighthouse, which they also accomplish.

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards).


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Authors

Virginia Woolf (1882—1941) writer and publisher


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