TO THE LIGHTHOUSE – Virginia Woolf
ENG 140Y1 –Professor Nick Mount
There is no real plot.
Plot – illusion of 3D before Picasso.
Stream of Consciousness the unbroken flow of thought. James Joyce was particularly good at
this, there is narrative technique of how our mind works/reflects.
“Smooth narrative can’t be right...the reader must sort it out” –Virginia Woolf
Pg. 92- “In the mind of Mrs. Ramsey” – The middle of a mother’s thoughts.
Chapter 1- a tour of the house, the kitchen, dinning room. The wind goes through. Narrative
mind moves around.
Mind perceives the world.
Virginia Woolf does not pretend to know Mrs. Ramsey but offers Perspectives from everyone
else in the house and asks us to piece it together. It is a new kind of Realism.
Stream of consciousness requires stream of perception. It is carefully pasted. Virginia Woolf
drew it as two blocks joined by a corridor.
This is how Virginia Woolf pictured the novel.
Part I being room one which is the day in the life of a family. And Part two being another day 10
years later of the same family. The 10 year gap is the corridor.
It uses the technique of the Odyssey known as in medias res. “In the middle of things”
Beneath stream of consciousness there is a beginning, a middle and an end.
“A butterfly’s wings resting on the arches of a cathedral” how Lily wanted her painting to be
like. It is the critical point in the action the argument of whether or not to go to the lighthouse.
To get us in the story as soon as possible but it’s method is due on an epic of an entire nation. Beowulf, the Inferno, the Odyssey, Paradise Lost, To the lighthouse. They are all Epics and this
book too covers the formula of an epic.
Nostoi = Homecoming this is where we get the term NOSTALGIA. “Algia” = Algos
which meant pain. Meaning there is always pain associated with homecoming.
CRITERIA OF THE EPIC (6 traditional rules)
1. Epic begins IN MEDIAS RES. “Quarrel between wife and husband” vs. Iliad where there
is a fight between Agamemnon and Menelaus over whoever gets to keep a certain girl.
2. A serious tone/elevated language. Homeric/epic simile the vehicle is a elaborate
length. “As when” to the lighthouse page 45.
3. Setting is vast, whole world, underworld. The Lighthouse is only a house, BUT to these
characters this house IS the whole world.
4. Superhuman deeds, monsters etc. In this novel what could be a longer journey than to get
to the Lighthouse.
Penelope said as soon as she finished her tapestry she’d choose a suitor. To the
Lighthouse page 13.
Page 108-110 the mention of the suitors is DELIBERATE.
5. The Gods get involved. Here they don’t. Tansley is the atheist and they laugh at him.
6. The hero is of great importance and of a whole nation. Achilles. Here we have the hero as
Mrs. Ramsey the mother. Pg.78 – inside her mother there is a god.
There is Aeneas, Adam (always a founding person). Deliberately Virginia Woolf made her hero
a mother. She’s playing with the elements of the epic. In fact, Woolf was a big fan of Homer.
She taught herself to read in Greek before she was 12.
In 1922 Ulysses came out by James Joyce. (Same year The Wasteland was published).
To The Lighthouse was the first “domestic epic.” There were many critiques. In fact in Russia at
the same time people were writing that modern literature was the death of the epic.
It is always about men and their wars. Helen and Penelope don’t count. The Iliad is the WAR for
Helen, and the Odyssey is about Odysseus’ journey returning home. Virginia Woolf added
women to this.
Mr. Ramsey recites Tennyson and knocks over Lily’s painting of her mother – This is a Virginia
Woolf “joke.” She knows that the domestic is hardly respected. “Bloomsbury group”
Woolf met Eliot and described him as “That strange young man”
Leonard Woolf was her husband and he was a journalist. Voyage out was Virginia’s first novel
and To the Lighthouse was her fifth. Between the years of 1925-1927 Hogarth Press was in their
*Fun Fact: Virginia Woolf set the type for the first edition of The Wasteland.
In 1941 she drowned herself. She had a mental breakdown and she had attempted suicides
before. There was the war, abuse of her half brother. She also thought she had lost her talents as
a writer. She had real “clinical” depression and was institutionalised. The entire book was based
on her real family. She is Lily. She wrote it as