Home » England » Virginia Woolf » To the Lighthouse

Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse

This book takes up from Mrs. Dalloway, putting forward a feminist perspective and using impressionistic and stream-of-consciousness techniques to do so. The novel focuses on two main characters. Mrs. Ramsay, who is modeled on Woolf’s mother, is the apparently conventional wife of a rather bullying Oxbridge don. Lily Briscoe, clearly based on Woolf herself, is much more independent. However, despite their differences, the two women do admire each other.

The book is essentially divided into three stories. The first is about Mrs. Ramsay, her family and friends on holiday on a Scottish island, with the different viewpoints of the main characters shown. The second concerns Lily’s return to this cottage years later with the Ramsay family but after Mrs. Ramsay’s death. While Lily is finishing a painting of Mrs. Ramsay, Mr. Ramsay takes the children on a boat trip to the lighthouse, as a result of a promise made years earlier by Mrs. Ramsay to her children. The third part has an unnamed narrator sadly watching the abandoned cottage after Mrs. Ramsay’s death.

This is not an ordinary novel. It some respects it can be said to be like an impressionist painting, focusing less on narrative, character development and reality and more on thoughts, impressions, images, dreams. In this, like its predecessor Mrs. Dalloway and the other novels she was to write, it moves the English novel well away from the realist tradition. Sadly, this was not appreciated then and is still not fully appreciated now. Nevertheless, this remains one of the great books of twentieth century English literature.

Publishing history

First published in 1927 by Hogarth Press