Virginia Woolf’sTo the Lighthouse Context & Chapter Debriefing PART 1
“The best prose is that which is most full of poetry.” Virginia Woolf
What came before:Victorian Literature • Victorian novels: idealized portraits of difficult lives in which hard work, perseverance, love and luck win out in the end • Virtue would be rewarded and wrongdoers are suitably punished • A central moral lesson at heart
Modernism • Questions both the existence of God and the goodness in man. • Key themes • Transience of man • Nature as an eternal and sometimes menacing force potential to consume humanity
Modernism “As a concept ‘modernism’ is easier to employ than to define. At its broadest it refers not just to innovation in literature but to the radical remaking of all the arts that went on in Europe and America in the year 1914.” (From an Outline of English Literature by Pat Rogers )
Bloomsbury Group • Influential group of English writers, intellectuals, philosophers, and artists who believed in the importance of the arts • Rejected Victorianism taboos, including religious, artistic, social, and sexual • Known for “intellectual snobbery”
Context of To the Lighthouse • To the Lighthouse is an extended meditation on the relationship between art and life, and on late Victorian family structures.(Source: Mark Massey, “Introduction,” To the Lighthouse. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Books, 2005, xlviii.) • Note:Woolf was angered by critics’ interpretation of the fictional Ramsays as direct representations of the Stephens (Woolf’s family)
Writing Style • To the Lighthouse is highly experimental • Run-on sentences and meandering paragraphs work to replicate what her characters are thinking in addition to what they’re doing. • The text’s plot includes ever-changing shifts in the perspectives of each character’s stream of consciousness • Shifts can occur even mid-sentence • Some equate the shifts in perspective symbolically to the rotating beam of a lighthouse
Stream of Consciousness Coined in 1890 and became popular in the early twentieth century – “Flow of conscious experience” Creates the impression that the reader is eavesdropping on the flow of conscious experience Reader gains intimate access to a character’s private “thoughts” Involves presenting in written text something that is neither entirely verbal nor textual Lays open the imagined inner lives of characters (http://www.litencyc.com/php/stopics.php?rec=true&UID=1062)
More… • The novel is about the stream of human consciousness—the complex connection between feelings and memories—rather than a literary representation of it. • Note: Part One spans approximately seven hours and takes up more than half the book. • 20th century writers understood it was impossible to the reproduce the complexity of the human mind using traditional techniques • They adopted new techniques, including interior monologue to represent the unspoken activity of the mind.
Time Love Memory & Past Gender Marriage Manipulation Admiration Identity Friendship Laws & Order THEMES
Characterization • Each of the three main characters has a different approach to establishing the worth of his or her life • Mrs. Ramsey: Emotional • Mr. Ramsey: Intellectual • Lily Briscoe: Artistic
Why this book is cool: To the Lighthouse“doesn’t attempt to answer the question by sitting down and saying, ‘The meaning of life is…,’ but rather by showing us fleeting moments the lives of several different people who are attempting to extract meaning from their lives.”
“The Window” Chapters 1-4 • Which characters do we meet? • How do we learn about each character? • Which characters do we like/dislike, and why? • What are some assumptions/predictions we can make about the Ramsay family? • Million dollar question: Did you note any Freudian influence in Chapter 1?