June 1st, 2019

Virginia Woolf: To The Lighthouse (Half Way Through)

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As a lay(wo)man, my first impression of To the Lighthouse is that it felt rather cloying, nay clinging. Woolf was one of the first pioneers of creating work from a 'stream of conscious' approach, which is seen via her use of complex and elongated sentences.The external dialogue is scant and relies heavily on internal dialogue, therefore the reader is in the presence of an awful amount of inner psychology, hence giving the reader the sense of both isolation and claustrophobia of both themselves and the characters within the story.  The narrative voice tends to shift from one to another quite quickly and this demands an awful amount of attention from the reader.  The reader is also heavily dependent on a multiple character point of view to get a sense of place, which can be pretty fragmentary at times. It is well documented that Mr and Mrs Ramsay were based on Woolf's own parents and their relationship; both play to the stereotypical roles of the late Victorian generation.  Virginia idolised her mother Julia, who appears to be the archetypal Angel of the Hearth and that her father was the typical patrician; revered, but also distant, aloof and prone to bouts of melancholia; Woolf definitely inherited his brilliant mind, but also his mental health issues.  In some respects, this is well played in To the Lighthouse, as Mrs Ramsay's demeanour and generosity of spirit reflects Julia Stephen's good nature, just as Mr Ramsay's irritability, low esteem and 'splendid mind' (p.30) mirrors Leslie Stephen's own persona.

I found Woolf's writing and thought process quite intriguing.  There is character observation at work, where one accurately describes another's angst, that they would be wrapped up in the concerns as to whether they are 'saying the right thing [or] making a good impression' (p.88) and this is prevalent in all the characters in one form or another throughout the book.  Woolf's 'stream of conscious' style literally slows and breaks down the inner thought processes of us all.  Whether or not we are aware of it, quite often we consider many things as 'one thought synaesthesia' , where the weather superimposes over previous memories, on top of current thoughts, that can be distracted by the words of a song, or the fleeting glimpse of a familiar face.  By our very nature, we are able to hold these concepts in a moment of time and unconsciously, but when they are separated out and consciously analysed, these feelings become quite complex and indeed suffocating.

I liked her simple turn of phrase when she quotes one characters observance of another:

'Like all stupid people, he had a kind of modesty too, a consideration for what you were feeling, which, once in a way at least, she found attractive.  Now he was thinking, not about himself or about Tolstoi, but whether she was cold, whether she felt a draught, whether she would like a pear.' (p.88).

Woolf uses trebling (in this case 'whether') and syndetic listing often, so that thoughts are quite extensively packed, showing the overloaded mind of the author and the characters she created..

I am over half way through the novel and drawing to the close of 'The Window' section of the story. My overall feeling is that I am interested, yet not totally captivated by it, I would say it is a reflection on my pace of life and other things that require greater attention, than her skills as an evocative author.  Best sentences of the day has to be the following : 'What was the use of flinging a Cashmere shawl over the edge of a picture frame? In two weeks, it would be the colour of pea soup.' (p.26).  For those of us who live in sometimes cold, often dark and definitely very damp Cornwall, one only knows what this is like.  Mould spores are prevalent if a granite house or cottage aren't heated or aired enough and I would think that in nineteenth century St Ives, doubly so.