To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

First published 1927

Virginia Woolf is known for giving a new style to fiction: stream of consciousness, wherein the narrator employs interior monologue to tell the story. As such the emphasis is on character-building and not on plot and storyline. Such novels are difficult to read and it takes a lot of work for writers to make the story interesting.

This pioneering novel is an imperfect work but it’s a perfect example of the stream-of-consciousness mode. The novel has two parts. Part I tells of a couple with several children who have a guesthouse in one of the British Isles, where they invite close friends and acquaintances to stay over the summer. Through a monologue driven by Mrs. Ramsay’s character the novel explores the rift between her and her husband and their differences on bringing up the children. Along with it there are reflections on the peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of their guests which come to light as they interact with each other. The story meanders about the quest of Mrs. Ramsay to take her boy (James?) to the lighthouse seen from their residence, but their plan keeps getting delayed by bad weather.

Part II is fast forward to when Mrs. Ramsay is dead and the lives of a few others have also moved forward. James and his younger sister return to the their house along with their father and a few old friends who are happy and surprised to have got the invitation after a long absence. Mr. Ramsay is perhaps trying to mend his relations with his children, but as he takes them to the lighthouse, their bitterness with their father and their past differences come alive.

At times the writing is vague, almost arbitrary, so you can’t make out who is thinking what ; sentences are clogged with too many parentheses, which is not a style I’m particularly fond of. But since it was a pioneering attempt at this way of storytelling, the novel has gained a must-read status in the canon of English literature.

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