Friday, April 13, 2012

To the Lighthouse


To the Lighthouse (Oxford World's Classics)
To the Lighthouse (5 May 1927) is a novel by Virginia Woolf. A landmark novel of high modernism, the text, which centres on the Ramsays and their visits to the Isle of Skye in Scotland between 1910 and 1920, skilfully manipulates temporal and psychological elements.

To the Lighthouse follows and extends the tradition of modernist novelists like Marcel Proust and James Joyce, where the plot is secondary to philosophical introspection, and the prose can be winding and hard to follow. The novel includes little dialogue and almost no action; most of it is written as thoughts and observations. The novel recalls childhood emotions and highlights adult relationships. Among the book's many tropes and themes are those of loss, subjectivity, and the problem of perception.

In 1998, the Modern Library named To the Lighthouse No. 15 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. In 2005, the novel was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the one hundred best English-language novels from 1923 to present.

The novel lacks an omniscient narrator (except in the second section: Time Passes); instead the plot unfolds through shifting perspectives of each character's stream of consciousness. Shifts can occur even mid-sentence, and in some sense they resemble the rotating beam of the lighthouse itself. Unlike James Joyce, however, Woolf does not tend to use abrupt fragments to represent characters' thought processes; her method is more one of lyrical paraphrase. The lack of an omniscient narrator means that, throughout the novel, no clear guide exists for the reader and that only through character development can we formulate our own opinions and views because much is morally ambiguous.

Whereas in Part I the novel is concerned with illustrating the relationship between the character experiencing and the actual experience and surroundings, the second part, 'Time Passes' having no characters to relate to, presents events differently. Instead, Woolf wrote the section from the perspective of a displaced narrator, unrelated to any people, intending that events be seen related to time. For that reason the narrating voice is unfocused and distorted, providing an example of what Woolf called 'life as it is when we have no part in it.

To The Lighthouse and its characters often display elements of the Modernist school of thought. Characters such as Mrs Ramsay disparage Victorian ideals of society and question both the existence of God and the goodness in man. Furthermore, the transience of man is emphasized as a central theme alongside nature as an eternal and sometimes menacing force with the omnipresent potential to consume humanity.

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