To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

I’ve struggled in the past to follow and appreciate Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness style, making my way only a chapter or two into her books before setting them aside. The audiobook version of this novel, read by Virginia Leishman, has been languishing on my iPod for a while now and, after my recent success with another audiobook, I though I would give it a try.

The novel follows the Ramsay over a decade of their visits to their summer home on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. The first part follows Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay before, during, and after a large dinner party, providing an insight into their relationship and the importance of a trip to the lighthouse. The second part, titled “Time Passes” picks up after World War I and the death of Mrs. Ramsay, which leaves Mr. Ramsay adrift in grief. The final section concludes with an all important trip to the lighthouse.

I think I’ve discovered the secret to following along with Woolf’s narrative — you cannot read (or listen) to her books while doing something else that requires an intense amount of concentration. Converting letter attributes to numerical attributes? Not a lot of concentration required.

It’s a struggle to follow her at times because she packs so much information into such a short tale, but a worthwhile struggle. Personally, I think it’s also easier to listen to Woolf’s novel rather than read it for yourself; stream of consciousness replicates the style I’m more accustomed to in conversation than in printed works.

Woolf’s poetic and beautiful writing swept me away, particularly in the last section as the family returned to the lighthouse and Lily completed her painting. I even had to stop the reading at one point in order to stop myself from spilling over into tears.

Is it weird that this novel reminded of “Downtown Abbey”? Maybe because of the time and setting; maybe because of the fractured and complex family relationships. I just found myself imagine Lily and Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey played by the same actors who portray the Crawley family.

(Note: The book cover at right is of the printed copy available at my public library. I solely listened to this novel, never actually opening the printed copy. I have included the cover from the audiobook on the left.)

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1989. Originally published 1927. Print. 209 pgs. ISBN: 9780156907392. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Retrieved: June 20, 2012.
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