Published in 1927, this novel by Virginia Woolf is one of her most successful and accessible experiments in the stream-of-consciousness style. The three sections of the book take place between 1910 and 1920 and revolve around various members of the Ramsay family during visits to their summer residence on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. A central motif of the novel is the conflict between the feminine and masculine principles at work in the universe. With her emotional, poetical frame of mind, Mrs. Ramsay represents the female principle, while Mr. Ramsay, a self-centered philosopher, expresses the male principle in his rational point of view. Both are flawed by their limited perspectives. A painter and friend of the family, Lily Briscoe, is Woolf's vision of the androgynous artist who personifies the ideal blending of male and female qualities. Her successful completion of a painting that she has been working on since the beginning of the novel is symbolic of this unification.

Excerpted from The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature

Professor Peter Kaye, Northwestern University, explored three main issues regarding To the Lighthouse: who Virginia Woolf was, what was her agenda as a modern writer, and how one should approach reading her novel. Kaye then gives a brief biography of Woolf, including her priveleged upbringing, the death of her parents, her involvement in the Bloomsbury Group, and her late arrival as a major writer. He outlines Woolfs dissatisfaction with conventional plot development and describes how she chose to focus instead on how behavior better illustrated reality. To that end, Woolf is shown to have suggested a preferable non-gender based literary voice that could avoid the traps of the traditional roles.

Professor Diane Percival, Wright College, read her paper "A Different Voice" which concerned the psychological and identity issues developed by Woolf in To the Lighthouse. She explains that according to Woolf, the male indentity concerns individuation while the female indentity was about connectedness. Professor Percival shows how the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay respectively symbolize these gender poles in their behavior. In conclusion, Professor Percival says that Woolf espoused a "perfect fullness" of androgynous perspective because the gender-based experience is a limited view of society.


Ruth Moscovitch, General Counsel of the Board of Trustees for the City Colleges of Chicago, discussed what each of the characters represented in each phase of the novel. Her primary point is that what is left after the transitions in the novel is what's important. With various gender roles assigned by society, most characters lead imbalanced lives and are expected to compensate and/or compromise in order to balance themselves out through partnerships. However, by the end of the novel the character Lily Briscoe remains the representative of Woolf's theme. Lily alone achieves her vision (through a painting of the bay) and in her singularity representing the perfect blending of the masculine and feminine principles at work in the universe.


Michael Kuby, Literary Critic, discussed Woolf's attitude about plot development and how the plot (or lack thereof) of the novel evolves. Kuby shows how Woolf felt that conventional story-telling had a superficial quality to it and that by limiting the plot to elements of interaction, a more aesthetically pleasing reading experience could result. Kuby then explores the recurring images of the novel: Mrs. Ramsay in the window, the bay, the house and Lily Bricoe's painting. He explains how Woolf eulogized the artistic vision and felt that through her writings she could portray the most encompassing connectedness of art.

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