“To the Lighthouse” is a modernist novel written by Virginia Woolf in 1926. The novel is both an impressionist description of a family holiday, centring on the Ramsay family and their visits to the Isle of Skye in Scotland, and a meditation on marriage, on parenthood and childhood, on grief, tyranny and bitterness. It recalls the power of childhood emotionsand highlights the impermanence of adult relationships
“The Window” opens just before the beginning of World War I. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay go with their eight children to their summer home in the Hebrides, on the Isle of Skye. The section begins with Mrs. Ramsay assuring her six-year-old son James that they should be able to visit the large lighthouse across the bay the following day. Mr. Ramsay,however, tells him coldly that the weather will not be clear, creating a certain tension between them. James resents his father and believes he enjoys being cruel to James and his siblings. The Ramsays host a number of guests, including Charles Tansley, who admires Mr. Ramsay as a metaphysical philosopher. Also at the house is Lily Briscoe, a young painter who begins a portrait of Mrs. Ramsay.Mrs. Ramsay plans for Lily to marry William Bankes, an old friend of the Ramsays, but Lily prefers to remain single. However, Mrs. Ramsay does manage to arrange another marriage between Paul Rayley and Minta Doyle, two of their acquaintances.
In the course of the afternoon Paul proposes to Minta, Lily begins her painting, Mrs. Ramsay placates the resentful James, and Mr. Ramsay contemplates hislimitations as a philosopher, turning to Mrs. Ramsay for comfort. The section closes with a large dinner party hosted by Mrs. Ramsay. Returning from a walk on the beach, Paul, Minta and two of the Ramsay’s children arrive late to dinner, as Minta lost her grandmother’s brooch on the beach. Lily is offended by Charles Tansley’s comment that women can neither paint nor write. Mr. Ramsay rudely snaps atAugustus Carmichael, a poet, when the latter asks for a second serving of soup. But as the night draws on, these missteps right themselves, and the guests come together to make a memorable evening. At some point Mrs. Ramsay leaves her guests in the dining room, thinking that this joyful moment, like any other, cannot last and has already slipped into the past. In a while she joins her husband inthe parlour and they sit quietly together. But again Mr. Ramsay’s characteristic need for assurance disrupts the peaceful moment; he wants Mrs. Ramsay to tell him that she loves him. His wife, however, is unable to pronounce the words he is hoping for, but agrees to his prediction that they wouldn’t be able to go to the lighthouse tomorrow, as the weather will be too rough. Mr. Ramsay is thusassured of his wife’s love for him.
Night falls and one night becomes another and time passes more quickly as the “Time Passes” section of the novel begins. The First World War breaks out and brings death and destruction to Europe. Mrs. Ramsay suddenly passes away one night. Her eldest son Andrew is killed in battle, and his sister Prue dies from complications of childbirth. The family’s summer homestands empty and falls into a state of disrepair. Ten years pass before the remaining members of the family return. The house is again set in order, looking quite the same as it used to, when Lily Briscoe and Augustus Carmichael arrive.
“The Lighthouse,” the last part of the novel, takes up the same slower pace of “The Window.” One morning, Mr. Ramsay announces that he, James and his daughterCam will travel to the Lighthouse across the bay. Irritated by the children’s delay he turns to Lily for the sympathy his wife can no longer give him. But unlike Mrs. Ramsay she is unable to provide him with what he needs. As the Ramsay’s depart, Lily takes her place on the lawn, determined to finish the painting of Mrs. Ramsay she started and abandoned on her previous visit. James and Cam are...