To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
(Annotated)

77%

18 Critic Reviews

The Hebridean island setting, the company of old family friends, the rhythms and routines the characters adopt to pass the days, can all seem like so much incidental detail in a grand literary experiment. But they are not. To the Lighthouse really is a book about holidays...
-Guardian

Synopsis

Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse is one of her greatest literary achievements and among the most influential novels of the twentieth century.

 

The serene and maternal Mrs. Ramsay, the tragic yet absurd Mr. Ramsay, and their children and assorted guests are on holiday on the Isle of Skye. From the seemingly trivial postponement of a visit to a nearby lighthouse, Woolf constructs a remarkable, moving examination of the complex tensions and allegiances of family life and the conflict between men and women.

 

About Virginia Woolf

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Virginia Woolf was born in London, the daughter of the prominent literary critic Leslie Stephen. She never received a formal university education; her early education was obtained at home through her parents and governesses. After death of her father in 1904, her family moved to Bloomsbury, where they formed the nucleus of the Bloomsbury Group, a circle of philosophers, writers and artists. As a writer, Woolf was a great experimenter. She scorned the traditional narrative form and turned to expressionism as a means of telling her story. Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To The Lighthouse (1927), her two generally acknowledged masterpieces, are stream-of-consciousness novels in which most of the action and conflict occur beneath a surface of social decorum. Mrs. Dalloway, set in London shortly after the end of World War I, takes place on a summer's day of no particular significance, except that intense emotion, insanity, and death intrude.To the Lighthouse's long first and third sections, each of which concerns one day 10 years apart, of the same family's summer holidays, are separated and connected by a lyrical short section during which the war occurs, several members of the family die, and decay and corruption run rampant. Orlando (1928) is the chronological life story of a person who begins as an Elizabethan gentleman and ends as a lady of the twentieth century; Woolf's friend, Victoria Sackville-West, served as the principal model for the multiple personalities. (The book was made into a movie in 1993.) Flush (1933) is a dog's soliloquy that, by indirection, recounts the love story of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and their elopement and life in Florence. Her last short novel, Between the Acts (1941), was left without her final revision, but it is, nonetheless, a major representation of a society on the verge of collapse. Having had periods of depression throughout her life and fearing a final mental breakdown from which she might not recover, Woolf drowned herself in 1941. Her husband published part of her farewell letter to deny that she had taken her life because she could not face the terrible times of war. Leonard Woolf also edited A Writer's Diary (1953), which provides valuable insights into his wife's private thoughts and literary development. Equally informative are his own autobiographies, particularly Beginning Again and Downhill All the Way (1967), and The Letters of Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey . Virginia Woolf's Granite and Rainbow contains 27 essays on the art of fiction and biography. There are many sidelights on Woolf in the writings, letters, and biographies of other members of her Bloomsbury circle, such as Roger Fry, John Maynard Keynes (see Vol. 3), and Lytton Strachey (see Vol. 3). Also casting much light on her life, thought, and creative processes are The Common Reader (1925), The Second Common Reader (1933), A Room of One's Own (1929), Three Guineas (1938), The Captain's Death Bed and Other Essays, The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (1942), and various collections of her autobiographical writings, diaries, and letters. In addition, in recent years there has been a veritable industry of writers dealing with Woolf and her work.
 
Published August 1, 2005 by Mariner Books. 312 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Education & Reference, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math, History, Children's Books. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for To the Lighthouse
All: 18 | Positive: 16 | Negative: 2

Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Mar 06 2006

The introspective Mr. Ramsey is consumed with his legacy of long-since-published abstract philosophy. This is a book that cannot be read—or heard—too often.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Susanna Rustin on Aug 10 2011

The Hebridean island setting, the company of old family friends, the rhythms and routines the characters adopt to pass the days, can all seem like so much incidental detail in a grand literary experiment. But they are not. To the Lighthouse really is a book about holidays...

Read Full Review of To the Lighthouse (Annotated) | See more reviews from Guardian

Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Margaret Atwood on Sep 06 2002

How was it that, this time, everything in the book fell so completely into place? How could I have missed it - above all, the patterns, the artistry - the first time through?

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Susanna Rustin on Aug 10 2011

If you, like the two youngest Ramsay children in the novel's final section (and like me – both the first time I read the novel and again next week) are going on holiday with your parents, take it with you.

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The Independent

Good
Reviewed by Meaghan Delahunt on Oct 23 2011

The novel is about creativity, memory, imagination. Woolf's great act of imagination gave me – a small Australian girl – a sense of entitlement. It taught me to hold fast to my own slow process, no matter what.

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The Independent

Good
Reviewed by Sue Gaisford on Aug 03 2008

Written in 1927 when she was 45, To The Lighthouse may well be Virginia Woolf's greatest novel, though its style has deterred many a resolute reader. The writing is intensely musical, with the classic three-movement structure of a symphony.

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Ploughshares Literary Magazine

Above average
Reviewed by Angela Pneuman on Jun 27 2011

The very things I love about it—the winged point of view, intimate with every character on which it alights, the ruminative return to purely emotional detail, the story’s purely emotional movement, the dogged pursuit of staggered, interrupted thought—would likely have been cause for workshop frustration.

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EzineArticles

Good
Reviewed by Janet Lewison on May 17 2011

You just have to hear her prose to know she was one of the most gifted artists of the twentieth century.

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Brothers Judd

Below average
on Dec 01 1998

A noxious blend of James Joyce, Sigmund Freud & feminism, it's all interior monologues & mini-epiphanies. No worthwhile human being could possibly live a productive life while having these banal, self-important soliloquies running through his head--we'd still be in caves.

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Things Mean a Lot

Good
Reviewed by Ana S. on Feb 15 2011

I also loved the novel’s exploration of time – both in the famous “Time Passes” middle section and throughout the text in general. The world of To The Lighthouse is one that is indifferent to its inhabitant’s struggles, and yet this isn’t presented as a source of anguish.

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The Blue Bookcase

Above average
Reviewed by Connie on Mar 29 2012

If you are not a fan of stream of consciousness, or you're looking for an exciting, fast read, this is not for you. If you are looking for something beautiful and quiet and brilliant, then by all means, pick this book up.

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Lit Lovers

Excellent
Reviewed by Molly Lundquist on Sep 29 2014

Try not to rush through this gorgeous work. Take your time and savor the writing—give Woolf leeway, allowing her to pull you in through her hypnotically luminous prose and imagery.

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Rebecca Reads

Above average
Reviewed by Rebecca Reid on Jan 29 2010

As I said above, I’m not sure I understood the book, but I’m glad I’ve experienced the modern novel and I look forward to trying more in the future.

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Shelf Love

Good
Reviewed by Jenny on Mar 27 2013

Woolf never flinches. This book’s portrayal of the devastation of the first World War is as powerful — if in a different key — as anything I’ve read. It is written with knowledge, but also with hope and compassion.

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Vulpus Libris

Good
Reviewed by Jackie on Nov 21 2011

I’m glad that I finally “got” this book. In fact, it turned into an almost magical reading experience. It makes me want to revisit other Woolf novels, but I’m almost afraid to. What if it breaks the spell?

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Medieval Bookworm

Excellent
Reviewed by Meghan on Mar 11 2010

This is only a short review, but it’s impossible to put all I felt about To the Lighthouse into words, honestly. Her work just feels so true to me. I immediately wanted to read it again...

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Tony's Book World

Good
Reviewed by Anokatony on Jan 31 2014

Somewhere I recently read that “To the Lighthouse” is not really a novel; it is more of a prose poem. That may be true, but what a transcendent prose poem it is. I’m quite sure ‘Novel’ is happy to have “To the Lighthouse” in its fold.

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Your Move, Dickens

Good
Reviewed by Darlyn on Dec 14 2011

Yes to everything, Lily. To The Lighthouse was released in 1927, but many women can still relate to what Lily’s going through. Yes, they might have careers and friends and lots of fun, but one question will always rise up. Is it enough?

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Reader Rating for To the Lighthouse
72%

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