The Significance of Virginia Woolf's 'To the Lighthouse' Essay

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1542 Words
Date:  2022-05-17

Virginia Woolf composes the novel 'To the Lighthouse' in 1927 following two other important literary works by the author. These are 'Jacobs Room' 1922 and 'Mrs. Dalloway 1925. In these two previous publications, she had already tested her new writing style, and readers were already aware of what to expect from her in regards to the nature of fiction. Nothing much is available to summarize on the plot of 'To the Lighthouse'. The plot seems to be secondary to the ideologies especially following the inherent modernist nature of the narration. To brush over things, 'To the Lighthouse' is a story of Ramsay family and their guests at a private vacation house in some islands of the Hebrides, Scotland (Woolf 120). It all begins with a desperate call by six-year-old James Ramsay to visit the lighthouse. A wish that is never granted to him. Next is that the book divides days into decades concluding with an eventual trip to the tower. The narration here is nonfiction, engages little dialogue and as Ferrer claims is a concentrator of the literary techniques (33). To the Lighthouse is a significant book to the readers and Woolf herself in the body of works and places her in the context of 20th-Century British literature.

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Readers do not have to go too deep into the novel before realizing the complexity in the prose and narration of the story. The book turns out to be dense yet exhilarating and exciting. You are sure to enjoy the storytelling because of its interesting and stimulating plot. For much of Woolf's narration, this remains to be her unique technique and 'To the Lighthouse' is no exemption. In most parts of the novel, the author creates a narrative voice of the story using the third person. It is through these observations and thoughts that the book highlights women and their struggle to obtain self-sufficiency in a male-controlled society. The novel presents several instances where there is a clash of ideologies between the genders. Through the character of Lily Briscoe, the author puts a lot of emphasis on the subversion of female traditional gender roles. Lily is an unrealistic woman who is ready to challenge the male domination, and she does so with a lot of courage. Lily begins his painting despite the critics that she cannot complete the piece. In the end, Lily finishes the painting serving to establish her role as a female painter (Caughie 15). Through this act, she finally breaks from the conventional cultural norms concerning females and achieves autonomy. Equally the author exploits the dual approach to the truth in feminism in what is seen as the masculinity that Mr Ramsay embodies and the feminists that Mrs Ramsay represents.

Gender equality and rights are one of the underlying themes in the book that makes it a significant work. As Mulas claims, it is in 'To the Lighthouse' that Virginia Woolf visions and aesthetics of reality on women rights are depicted best (167). The novel's interest is in exposing patriarchal forms of power as a cause of the unequal and subordinate state of women in Western society. Through this writing, Virginia Woolf becomes instrumental in the developing of the revisionist's literary history of woman writing. By these Woolf leaves a rich legacy and her influence remains essential to readers and what is left is to stay thankful for her contribution.

Besides this, To the Lighthouse also holds historical importance based on the literary context and the time that it was written (Clewell 198). The author composes the book at a time when there was heightened unrest. The world was on the brink of its first major war. This is a time of post-industrial society with horrors of war and coping with deep-seated political ideologies. Equally, Beer describes that this was a period when there was the importance of scientific developments over religious doctrine (137). In this world, the tradition was mainly in question, and one that seeks to challenge these traditions was frowned upon. Woolf into the lighthouse defies the literary conventions that were part of the conservatism of the 20th Century (Detloff 12). The book engages the then modernism and pushes beyond boundaries. History was generally a field that was only written by men. In these publications, much of the stories revolved around men. Women were rendered almost invisible in the history, and their achievements were significantly undocumented. People ignored attempts documented by women on women in history. 'To the Lighthouse' is important because, through the book, the author establishes the account of women and their experience in the time of the wars. Ratcliffe mentions that Woolf stood out and penned down for the marginalized (16). In a field that was flooded by men, the narration in the book manages to give readers a first-hand account of what was it to be a woman during the first world war. This novel and several others become the first stories that chronicled women experiences to be recognized. It is hard to deny the contribution of this piece to the broader culture of contemporary modernism where women are welcomed as authors of history.

Another factor that makes To the Lighthouse even more important is that it attempts to answer the age-old inquiry of what is the meaning of life? Apparently, the book does not respond to this question directly, but the storyline answers the query. What this means is the moments presented in the book. At the beginning of the book, things seem to be all right with passing and momentary moments. The author nails special life moments figuratively through Mr and Mrs Ramsay and Lily. All of them do things that they want to live beyond their lives. Ramsay writes, her wife tries to be good by making enemies kiss and Lily paints. By exposing the lives of these people, the author shows how each and everyone attempts to find the meaning in their lives.

In regards to Woolf herself, the book stands out as an essential piece in her body of works. Collective opinion is that Woolf is at her best in this book compared to her other publications (Jian 16). Woolf claims that the story of "To the Lighthouse' centres on her birth parents. She relates to her late mother's suffering in the desperate times of the world war and a time where women were belittled. The sudden loss of her mother and sisters leaves her sorrowful and profound in mourning as echoed of the death of Mrs Ramsay and her daughter Prue in the book. Woolf feels that her father had stifled them the same way Mr Ramsay does to his children. As a result, the book is an important piece since some aspects of it takes on the elements of the author's own life. However, what makes this piece more critical in literary terms is it is here that she achieves her ambitions. In her previous publications, the author has been developing her signature style in writing. After some formal experimentation, on run on sentences, and meandering paragraphs works to replicate characters everything becomes a success here. It is even worth a mention how the author uses two days separated by ten years to evoke the whole image of the life of the Ramsays.

Lastly, the book also places Woolf in the context of the 2Oth century British literature. A characteristic of these writings is a fragmented structure (Birch 7). Woolf uses interrupted plot style whereby the characters happen to interject in between the flow of the story through memories. Equally, the author happens to jump up back and forth between time periods. All these imitate the feeling of how time can be experienced subjectively.


In the light of what has been discussed above novel "To the Lighthouse' is important. The book stands out as a significant publication in exposing the dark side of the male-dominated society. In this manner, the book serves as a revelation to the injustices of gender inequality. On a similar note, the book is historically important in its roles of being among the first publications by the marginalized. Most importantly, the purpose of the book in giving the meaning of life make s it significant too. However, this section would not end without acknowledging the achievement that 'To the Lighthouse' brought the author. This is one of her literary a success that places her in the context of the 20th-century literature.

Works Cited

Beer, Gillian. "The island and the aeroplane: the case of Virginia Woolf." Virginia Woolf. Routledge, 2016. 132-161.

Birch, Dinah. The Oxford companion to English literature. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Caughie, Pamela L. Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2006.

Clewell, Tammy. "Consolation refused: Virginia Woolf, the Great War, and modernist mourning." MFS Modern Fiction Studies 50.1 (2004): 197-223.

Detloff, Madelyn. The Persistence of Modernism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009.

Ferrer, Daniel. Virginia Woolf and the madness of language. Routledge, 2018.

Jian, P. A. N. ""Virginia Woolf's Concept of Androgyny and its Writing [J]." Journal of Hunan University (Social Sciences) 2 (2008): 016.

Mulas, Francesco Gesuino. "Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse: a work in progress from vision to reality." Annali della Facolta di Lingue e Letterature Straniere dell'Universita di Sassari 5 (2009): 167-178.

Ratcliffe, Krista. Anglo-American Feminist Challenges to the Rhetorical Traditions: Virginia Woolf, Mary Daly, Adrienne Rich. SIU Press, 2016.

Woolf, Virginia. "To the lighthouse." Collected Novels of Virginia Woolf. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1992. 177-334.

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