Elaborate the theme or the points of view in To The Lighthouse. How do the characters become the vehicle for the ideas.

Introductory Remarks
Virginia Woolf discarded both the first person and the third person narration in her novel because she found the method of narration known as multiple inner points of view as the best means to project her theme in the novel. Therefore, the mental processes of the characters seem to be presented without any interference from the author. The external world is depicted through its reflection in the observing consciousness.

The effect of this narrative mode is to force the reader to-construct the world of the novel for himself and to apply his own judgments to that world. While the omniscient narrator at one end of the scale of narration guides the reader carefully through the fictional world and the values by which that world is to be assessed, the multiple inner viewpoint of novel provides no certain or reliable ‘truths’ and forces the reader to become the novelist’s active partner in creating the novel’s fictional world. Another effect of this narrative mode is to concentrate the reader’s attention on how characters experience events rather than on what is experienced.
Use of the Stream of Consciousness Technique
The story, or plot, of To The Lighthouse is extremely simple. In the first part, ‘The Window’, we are introduced to the main characters and the central issue: whether or not the planned expedition to the lighthouse will take place. The second part, ‘Time Passes’, covers a passage of ten years and reveals the deaths of several members of the Ramsay family. The final section, ‘The Lighthouse’, recounts how the expedition to the lighthouse, which was planned ten years earlier, is finally accomplished.
It is obvious from this bald description of the novel’s plot that the reader’s main interest in To The Lighthouse is not of the ‘what happened next?’ The emphasis of this novel falls on how its events are experienced by those who participate, and the narration is carried out through the multiple point of view method, in which the reader has access to the mental processes of the various characters. This narrative mode provides a rich and complex perspective on the events and world of the novel. To make a simple example: Mrs. Ramsay is variously presented as a tyrant, a heroine, uncompromising, pathetic, and lovable, depending on the angle of vision of the observing consciousness. Which impression is the right one? The answer is all, and none. Mrs. Ramsay is, in the world of this novel, all of these.
Virginia Woolf’s particular use of the multiple point of view technique in To The Lighthouse poses certain problems, however, for the reader. The uniformity of language and style in the novel makes it difficult to distinguish individual points of view. The language of the consciousness of the six-year-old James, for example, is remarkably similar in vocabulary and style to that of his eminent philosopher father. Sometimes Mrs. Woolf uses phrases or images which, through repetition, become associated with the consciousness of a particular character. Lily Briscoe’s perception of Ramsay’s intellect and its associations with the kitchen table, and Ramsay’s image of human knowledge as an alphabet, are examples of such a use of imagery. In addition to the difficulties of distinguishing one point of view from another, an additional problem is raised in the discrimination of these points of view from the voice of the omniscient narrator, which is frequently intermingled with the other voices. The material presented by the omniscient narrator can often be identified by its indefiniteness in time and space, its tendency to generalise about people and life, and its extended perspective. The omniscient narrator’s voice also presents ‘stage directions’ such as ‘he said’, ‘she thought’, and so on. There are also certain characteristics both of style and tone which identify the omniscient narrator in To The Lighthouse. The reader will notice in the observation of the omniscient narrator a tone of hesitancy, of diffidence, which may lead him to question the omniscience of the narrator. The three parts of the novel are dominated by separate voices which provide a certain tone and attitude to those parts. The first part, ‘The Window’, is largely presented through the consciousness of Mrs. Ramsay as she sits by the window knitting, and later as she presides over the dinner party. The middle section of the novel, ‘Time Passes’, depends on the voice of the omniscient narrator. The third and final section, ‘The Lighthouse’, is presented largely through the alternate consciousnesses of Lily and those on board the boat.
One effect of Virginia Woolf’s choice of this multiple point of view narrative mode is immediately obvious when we examine the characters and characterisation of To The Lighthouse. Not only are these characters observed in action, or reflected in the consciousness of themselves and others, but their very perspective on external reality serves to define them. It is impossible, therefore, to make any clear-cut distinction between the characters in this novel and its narrative mode. Virginia Woolf’s method of creating the characters in To The Lighthouse is, in a sense, a cumulative one. Our knowledge of the characters depends on the accumulated impressions of them we receive, both from their own reflections and observations and from the responses they elicit from the other characters.
The Characters as a Vehicle of Virginia Woolf’s Ideas
The reader is obliged to recreate for himself the characters of this novel. The opening section of the novel gives us a clear impression of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay. The two, as they are presented here, provide a study in contrasts; Mrs. Ramsay is portrayed in images of softness and fertility — the fountain, the flowering fruit tree —while Mr. Ramsay is symbolised by the arid scimitar, the beak of brass. The husband-wife, male-female polarity of this opening section is a theme developed through the novel, and is reflected in the contrasting qualities of intellect possessed by both. Mrs. Ramsay is portrayed as possessing instinctive, intuitive intelligence, while her husband’s intellect is of the rational and orderly variety symbolised by his perception of human knowledge as a series of letters of the alphabet. To over-emphasise the symmetry of these characteristics is, however, to do an injustice to the complexity and suggestiveness of the novel’s characterisation. These symbolic intimations of characters are part of a larger scheme of characterisation which provides a psychologically realistic series of portraits. A fine example of the powerful juxtaposition of symbolic and realistic portraiture can be found in the description of Mrs. Ramsay as she sits with her husband after the dinner party. There is psychological realism in the description of her puzzling over her husband’s desire for fame, and in the description of a mind drifting through association rather than logic from one idea to another.
As Mrs, Ramsay’s is the dominating point of view in the early sections of the novel, the reader may easily be persuaded to take her side. She appears to represent feminity, maternity and sympathy, and we feel some aversion from the uncompromisingly severe truthfulness of Ramsay and Charles Tansley. Our sympathy is increased when we look through her eyes at her reflection in the mirror and see a fading beauty who is a model of unselfishness. This early limited version of her character and that of her husband is soon modified by her complex reflections about Charles Tansley, who arouses in her a mixture of maternal desire to please and protect and an equally strong feeling of repugnance based on his awkwardness. Her attitude towards the young student reveals social condescension and snobbery. When her husband corrects her forecast of the weather, she responds with strong anger to what she feels is a blindness to the feelings of others, and a sense of martyrdom and moral superiority. She dwells on their financial insecurity and her suspicion that his most recent book is not as successful as earlier ones. Another guest, Mr Carmichael, makes her feel uncomfortable because he makes no demands on her; her characteristic response is to feel pity for him. Yet she is aware of the ambiguity of her emotional response, however much she may try to evade personal responsibility.
She wishes to keep her youngest son and daughter in a state of perpetual childhood, and she admits to herself that she prefers ‘boobies’ to intelligent young men, for she can control children and boobies. This manipulative element in her character is alien to her perception of herself, and she is puzzled that Minta’s mother should have accused her of alienating her daughter’s affections. Mrs Ramsay defends herself from this accusation by direct reference to her appearance, to her fading beauty and to the shabbiness of her clothes, all of which are made to reflect her internal self-sacrifice as a kind of theatrical costume signifying goodness and thereby absolving her of hostile criticism. Mrs Ramsay instinctively identifies herself with Lily the artist and with Carmichael the poet. Like them, she is a creator but her medium is human beings and her form, human relationships. The novel makes it clear that she is only partially successful in her art; the radiance of her dinner party may draw people together momentarily, but it is inevitably destroyed by time. Paul and Minta may have their courtship of intense happiness under her guidance, but time destroys their marriage. Mrs Ramsay’s attempts to shield her children from the force; of mutability are defeated and she too is destroyed by her familiar antagonist, death.
The complexity of Mrs. Ramsay’s character is revealed through her consciousness of reality and the language and images she uses to describe it. It is created also through her reflection in the eyes of the other characters. The three male guests-Tansley, Bankes and Carmichael show varying responses to her. Carmichael is emotionally self-sufficient and is aware of the degree of manipulation involved in Mrs. Ramsay’s self-sacrifice. Bankes, Ramsay’s longtime friend and colleague, responds to her mystery and beauty, but is also partially conscious of her destructive powers. Tansley also responds to her beauty but is even more attracted by her pity for him. The young couple, Paul and Minta, are completely under her spell and obey her wish that they should marry. The Ramsay children respond with love and with varying degrees of admiration, ranging from James who adores her unquestiongly, to Jasper who reflects that ‘being his mother she lived away in another division of the world’.
Lily Briscoe’s perception of Mrs. Ramsay and how she responds is more complex than any of the other characters. She is fully aware of her friend’s ability to dominate through love and pity, but she also recognises her worth. Of all the characters in the novel, Lily is the one who fully grasps the ambiguities of her hostess’ character and comes to love the whole Mrs. Ramsay. It is Lily who has the final vision of Mrs. Ramsay, and it is Lily who makes that vision permanent through her art. Mr. Ramsay is, in many respects, the direct antithesis of his wife. He loves her very deeply, but can still be infuriated by her disrespect for factual truth. His worship of truth matters more to him than the feelings of his friends and family. His intellectual integrity gives him a quality of aloofness, but this is deceptive for he loves and needs his family more than his seemingly emotional but inwardly withdrawn wife. Unlike Mrs. Ramsay, Mr. Ramsay gives little thought to his effect on others; he stalks around the garden reciting poetry aloud, contemptuous of the responses of his family and guests. He makes overt demands on the sympathies and emotions around him. These traits are quite different from his wife’s acute self-consciousness and her covert manipulation of others. Like the character of Mrs. Ramsay, Mr. Ramsay’s is portrayed through his own consciousness and through the eyes of those who see him. An apparently contradictory web of images surrounds him: he is hard and arid like a scimitar, cruel as a beak of brass that gorges upon his wife’s energy and fertility. Yet he is also an intrepid explorer the sailor who travels where lesser mortals do not care. He is a loving, protective paterfamilias who responds with warmth to the sight of a mother hen and her chickens, and who can be overwhelmed by admiration for his wife. The other characters, especially Bankes and Lily, flesh out the details of his portrait. Bankes remembers Ramsay as a young bachelor and, in accordance with Bankes’s own emotional aridity, regrets the domestic and emotional aspects of Ramsay’s life which he feels, have weakened his potential and destroyed their friendship. Yet Bankes envies his friend and sees him in a powerful image that combines elements of Ramsay’s intellectual integrity and domestic affection as the father with the child on his shoulder, looking at a picture of in eruption, Lily is, once more, the most astute and balanced of the observers, noticing his single-minded fidelity to the truth as well as his egotistical pursuit of sympathy and admiration, while acknowledging his tenderness and courage. In Virginia Woolf’s portrayal of Mrs. Ramsay following the dinner party we noted a balance between symbolism and realism in the very language and style of the novel. This equilibrium is apparent also in the depiction of the Ramsays as a couple. Their portrait is drawn in a manner which makes them credible in terms of psychological realism but they exist also as powerful, generalised symbols.

The theme of To The Lighthouse is concerned with subject and object and Nature of reality. Discuss.

Introductory: Interpretations Differ
To The Lighthouse is, without any shade of doubt, a very complex novel and hence there are different interpretations from different critics. Norman Friedman’s comments on this point is worth noting: “To The Lighthouse is a very complex novel, and different critics have read different meanings into it.

While there is a general agreement that To The Lighthouse centres on questions of general order and chaos, male and female, permanence and change and intellection and intuition, the critics are far from unanimous in the actual tracing out of these themes. Thus, for example, it is clear that the simultaneous completion of Lily Briscoe’s painting and arrival of Mr. Ramsay, James and Cam at the Lighthouse are somehow functioning together to complete the book, but no two critics have agreed as to what the function means as an ending of what has gone before. One claims that Mr. Ramsay is undergoing a transition from his former intellectual personality to a newly discovered intuitive view, while another critic says that Lily is moving from a concern with form, that is art, to a concern with content, that is life. Another critic sees in the ending a shift from time to the timeless, while a fourth one sees here a shift from egotism to selflessness, and a fifth critic thinks of this simultaneous convergence as a clumsy device which solves no problem.”

We can multiply such examples, but it is evident that the dominant tendency is to interpret the thematic conflict—whatever it may be—as an antithesis to two mutually exclusive terms, one of which must be rejected in favour of the other. In fact, the full significance of the trip to the Lighthouse is not grasped. It is, more or less, seen as a one way affair. But a closer study of the novel will reveal that this either-or strategy is hardly adequate for dealing with the multiplicity of points of view through which each character is seen in the first section, the descending and the ascending movement of the second section and the shifting simultaneity of events which shape the third.
Relation of Self to Others
It is mainly the first part of the novel that deals with the relation of self to others. Very soon it becomes clear that not one single trait or characteristic of a person can be seized upon and cherished in order to know him or her. Mrs. Ramsay for instance, is really a warm and beautiful woman, yet annoyingly concerned with ordering the lives of others. And this is quite clear from the resentment which many of her circle express against her mania for marriage. She is, no doubt, maternal.
Mr. Ramsay
Next, let us take the example of Mr. Ramsay. Often he shows himself as a self-dramatising domestic tyrant, but still he is to be admired as a lone watcher at the dark frontiers of human ignorance. He is, no doubt, a detached and a lonely philosopher, yet he cannot but crave the contact of his wife and children. He is grim, yet optimistic, austere, yet fearful for his reputation; petty and selfish, and yet capable of losing himself completely in a novel of Scott; alert, yet he thrives on the simple company and the humble fare of fishermen.
Lily and Others
In the same way Lily Briscoe is also a complex figure. She is a spinster disinterested in ordinary sexual attachment; she is nevertheless capable of a fierce outburst of love. She is, no doubt, an artist perpetually terrified by a blank canvas, but still she is able to find a solution to the complex problem of art-life relationship. In the same way Mr. Bankes, Mr. Tansley, all are double beings or complex figures of the novel. And we find that the climax of the first section occurs at the dinner, a brilliantly dramatic communion meal where each ordinary ego, with its petty aggression and resentment, is gradually blended with the others into a pattern of completion and harmony. Thus it is clear that double vision or multiple perspective is very much necessary to know and understand human personality. And in this section we are able to have just such a perspective, as each character is presented from at least two points of view.
Man to Nature
We have seen how in the first section the relation of self to others has been dealt with. And Part II of the novel deals with the relation of man to nature. It does not portray merely the ravages of time and tide affecting the Ramsay family and their summer house. In addition the almost complete destruction of the house, we have also a chance to see its equally dramatic renewal. And then it is seen that its focus is on the comic-epic figure of Mrs. McNab, who lurches through the house wiping and dusting, breaking into a long dirge of sorrow and trouble, yet who feels, ‘looking sideways in the glass, as if after all, she had some consolation, as if indeed there were twined about her dirge some incorrigible hope’. Thus, it is she and her two helpers, Mrs. Bast and her son, who fetch up from oblivion all the Waverly novels, and who rescue the house from impending doom and destruction.
Further, we find in this very section that the fortunes of the Ramsay family suffer so many setbacks. Mrs. Ramsay dies unexpectedly, Andrew is killed in the battlefield in France, and Prue dies of childbirth. Even then we are made to understand that Mr. Ramsay’s work will endure, for the fate of his books was somehow tied up with the Waverly novels. Also, as the next section proceeds to demonstrate the family continues to develop. Thus it is clearly evident that section two or the central section of this great novel, therefore, demonstrates not the victory of natural chaos over human order, but rather the reverse. Man’s power and will to live ultimately prevail over death and destruction.
Relation of Art to life
Now, in the third section of the To The Lighthouse, the third level of the theme, the relation of art to life is treated. We find that the structure of this section is based upon the shuttling back and forth between Lily on the island and those in the boat watching the island, who in turn get further away. This is accompanied by the corresponding movement of those in the boat getting closer to the Lighthouse and Lily gelling closer to the solution of her aesthetic problem. And it must be noted that the determining factor in each case is love (the art of life), which might perhaps be defined as order or the achievement of form in human relations through the surrender of personality. Hence we find Lily brushing her painting as she feels the upsurge of that sympathy for Mr. Ramsay, which she had previously been stubbornly unable to give. James and Cam give up their longstanding antagonism towards their father. Mr. Ramsay, himself, at the same time, attains a resolution of his own tensions and worries. The point is not that they have made a one dimensional transition from this to that attitude, but that, since each is aware simultaneously both of what is receding and what is approaching, each has received in his way a sense of double vision.
Double Vision through Imagery
A closer look at the imagery of the book, its figure of speech, its scene and plot may further demonstrate the presence of this double vision. To begin with, the Lighthouse itself as the most conspicuous image functions in two ways as something to be reached, and as source of flashing light. This means has a symbolic role to play. As a source of light, it appears in two connections, first, as it impinges upon the consciousness of Mrs. Ramsay in the first section after she had finished reading to James, and second, as it flashes upon the empty house in section two.
Thus we find that Mrs. Ramsay, the busy mother of eight children often feels the need ‘to be silent, to be alone. Often she muses upon the alternating flashes of light in a mood of detachment, peace and rest. And this musing gives her a sense of victory over life, and she identifies herself with the third stroke—the long steady stroke—which becomes for her an image of purity and truth, of strength and courage, searching and beautiful. Her self, having shed its attachments, was free for the strongest adventures. When life sank down for a moment, the range of experience seemed limitless … Losing personality, one lost the fret, the hurry, the stir, and there rose to her lips always some exclamation of triumph over life when things came together in this peace, this rest, this serenity, and pausing there she looked out to meet the stroke, of the Lighthouse, the long steady stroke, the last of the three which was—her stroke.’
Now this can be taken as the thesis of her emotional cycle, the antithesis is evoked as her mood soon changes into one of the grim recognition of inevitable facts of ‘suffering, death, the poor’, and she gradually descends from her state on triumphant freedom from the fact, the hurry and the stir by seizing upon the light from a different perspective, ‘for when one woke, all one’s relation changed’. Looking now at the light, it is the remorseless, the pitiless.
Reconciliation of Opposites
Then it is found that only when these two moods become reconciled, will the cycle be complete. The second view seems ‘so much here, yet so little hers’, and then her meditations are crowned in their third phase by ‘exquisite happiness, intense happiness’, and she cries out, ‘It is enough. It is enough’. It seems to be apparent that by seeing the long steady flash of light in two different aspects—as an image of expansion and release and, then, as an image of contraction and confinement, she has received the final intuition of the truth about the nature of reality. And this intuition is that one must be both subjectively involved, and objectively detached from life, and that true happiness rests neither in the one sphere nor in the other exclusively, but in achieving a harmonious balance, however fragile, between the two. Now she can rest contented, if only for a moment.
The second part or the middle section of the novel portrays the death and rebirth of the decaying and deserted house. Here the light makes its second appearance by gliding over the rooms gently as if it laid its cares arid lingered stealthily and looked and came lovingly again. It is clear from the sentence which follows immediately that this is one side of doubleness. ‘But in the very lull of the loving caress as the long stroke leant upon the bed, the rock was rent asunder; another fold of the shawl loosened; there it hung, and swayed’. And a few pages on, just before the arrival of the forces of renewal in the house, in ‘that moment, that hesitation when dawn trembles and night pauses’, the Lighthouse beam as an image of expansion and release (life-love-hope) and contraction and confinement (death-destruction-terror) held in relation, entered the room for a moment, ‘sent its sudden stare over bed and wall in the darkness of winter looked with equanimity at the thistle and the swallow, the rat and the straw.’ So we find that the three moods—loving care, tearing apart and equanimity are well represented by the light, It may now be asserted that only by going through the opposing experience or multiple perspective one can get a comprehensive view of life.
Lily’s Experience: Doubleness of Reality
In the third section of the novel, Lily’s brush descends in stroke after stroke when she begins her painting for a second time. ‘And so pausing and so flickering she attained a dancing rhythmical movement, as if the pauses were one part of the rhythm and the stroke another, and all were related. ‘Thus, in each of the lighthouse beam itself, her vision begins to emerge in stroke and pause in alternation, and ‘the truth, the reality which suddenly laid hands upon her emerged stark at the back of appearance and commanded her attention’. In other words, as the light flickers, as it goes and comes back, Lily begins to see the course that her painting was to take. This flicker, which to an ordinary observer is an endless dull repetition, holds Lily’s mind and enables her to discover the truth and reality that the appearance signifies to her. The stroke and pause of the Lighthouse beam symbolise the problem of subject and object and the perception of nature of reality. Hence it may be concluded that reality has always a doubleness; and this can be understood only through a double vision.
Subject, Object and Native of Reality
We find this phrase—subject and object and the nature of reality—in the first part of To The Lighthouse. Andrew Ramsay has used this phrase in answer to a question from Lily Briscoe about the content of his father’s books. And the words are significant and have underlying meaning also. In fact it is exactly this problem which works its way through the novel on three perceptible levels—human relations, metaphysics and aesthetics. The novel can be seen to have been built around the problem of how the knower looks at the known, how one person looks at another, how man looks at nature and how the artist looks at life. These points have been discussed in detail in the foregoing paragraphs. We have shown how the main characters of To The Lighthouse look at the world in various ways. In fact three specific ways of seeing the object can be examined in To The Lighthouse through the eye of the artist (Lily Briscoe) through the eye of a child (James Nancy and Cam), and through the feminine creative eye of Mrs. Ramsay, whose vision might be solid to be that of a poet. Hence the characters see themselves and the world differently and very often bring the objective world into subjective consciousness.
To understand life and the nature of reality the need of double vision is essential. We may now conclude with the very apt comments of Norman Friedman on this point: “A right understanding is achieved by those who try to understand the nature of reality simultaneously from two different stand points—subjective and objective—through which one must pass in making the transition from one perspective to the other. From whatever view point we regard life, whether it be that of a detached philosopher ironically contemplating from a height’ or that of the busy mother and the house wife frantically involved in the fever and fret of daily routine, one must give it up in favour of the other, becoming immersed in the waters of transition and emerging with a double perspective (synthesis). In other words, both an involvement in life and a certain detachment from it, are necessary to understand it fully. Doing only one of the two would naturally give a partial view of a life, which can be quite misleading. Hence the need for a double vision. One has to strike a balance, to lose which is to give way to the chaos, of a black and lovely darkness on the one side, and to the disorder of a terrifying and senseless force on the other.”

“To The Lighthouse shows Virginia Woolf’s lyricism in the most enchanting manner.” Discuss.

Introductory remarks
To rigidly define the form of a lyrical novel is rather a baffling task. A lyrical novel is a blend of lyrical poetry and the novel in the usual sense. In it the usual scenery of fiction becomes a texture of imagery. It also shifts the reader’s attention from men and events to a formal design. It has generally a poetic style. But this is not all. Any novel may rise to such great heights of language or present its narrative in imagery.

In fact the most important and distinguishing feature of a novel of this genre is that it transcends the casual and temporal movement of narrative within the framework of fiction. It rather uses the novel to perform the function of a poem. For such a novel it is not a matter of prime importance to reproduce external life truthfully. It discards the method of achieving objectivity through the dramatic and narrative form of the traditional novel, but combines the world in a strongly inward, yet an aesthetically objective norm. Thus its form is neither dramatic nor didactic, but poetic in the limited sense of being lyrical. And, generally speaking, a lyric is a short poem which a single emotion, usually personal, is expressed, although originally it was intended to be sung with the lyre. So it is musical and at the same time subjective, as it is built round a single mood, emotion or impression.

Mrs. Woolf and Lyrical Novel
Virginia Woolf was in quest of a meditative form through which she could convey simultaneously a picture of life and manners and a corresponding image of mind. In fact her essay ‘Mr. Bennett and Mr. Brown opened the door of the novel to fresh conventions, foreshadowing a lyrical manner for the English novel through the conversion of characters and scenes into symbolic imagery. She sought to convey inner life and she realised that this could be best done in a lyrical manner. Finding that the conventional novel of motives and environment had proved insufficient she has suggested in one of her famous essays that its form should be such that it provides like poetry ‘the outline rather than details, and stands further back from life in order to achieve the symbolic distance of impersonality.’
Lyrical Method
Ralph Freedman has pointed out that in Virginia Woolf’s search for a form in which the inner and the outer can be combined, she conceived of the moment as a concentration of the manifold elements of life into significant images or scenes. In addition to the literary use the moments also serve the epistornological function of clarifying the implication of consciousness for the artist’s experience of life, a version of the imagination. In fact, for Virginia Woolf the inner and the outer are included in a single whole. The thing is that consciousness combines disparate elements and form; these elements thus combined, the moment moves to associations and memories which expand perceptions into scenes. But when the perceptions are being expanded into scenes, the consciousness always remains aware of the objects which feed its cognition, and realizes that for the time being these things are freed from their time-bound existance. So we find that Mrs. Woolf’s lyrical narrative is based on a design in which various contents of consciousness are juxtaposed. David Daiches has rightly remarked that the method is to ‘distil a significance out of the data discovered by the personal sensibility and by projecting that significance through the minds of others, to maintain an unstable equilibrium between lyrical and narrative art.’ And the unstable equilibrium between the lyrical and narrative art shows how Virginia Woolf brilliantly achieves the telescoping of the poet’s lyrical self and the novelist’s omniscient point of view. For Mrs. Woolf, poetry is a symbolic relationship between the individual self and its range of experience. So we find that the omniscient self of the poet-novelist is crucial to her concept of lyrical novel.
Poetic Prose
We already know that Virginia Woolf’s aim was to convey inner life, to display life as an aspect and function of the mind. And she realised that the resources of ordinary prose were really inadequate for this purpose. Hence she had to adopt a very peculiar, a very individual style. Hers is a poetic style with poetic rhythms, repetitions and poetic imagery. We find her using vivid symbols and metaphors which carry a complex aura of associations and emotions just to enable her to enhance the expressiveness of the language. Hence her style becomes superbly allusive and suggestive. Rhythms, assonances, cadences and poetic refrains are the distinctive features of her poetic prose. R.L. Chamber’s apt remarks regarding this aspect of her style is worth noting: “This prose that approximates to poetry is not a spurious or hybrid form, but a genuine and legitimate medium of expression in its own right. Virginia Woolf is in a great tradition, which includes the names of Plato and John Donne and Sir Thomas Browne and the translators of the authoriscal version of the Bible. Furthermore it is a fact that by writing a poetic prose, by borrowing from the technique of poetry, while retaining the essential prose rhythms, all these writers exercised a true artistic insight into the possibilities and limitations of their medium. They realised the enormous advantage that was to be had for their purpose in shunning as far as possible that extreme pole of prose. Virginia Woolf realised this better than anyone else who was writing prose in her time.”
“Time Passes” Its Lyricism
The poetical character or the lyric note of Virginia Woolf’s style is fully in evidence in the lyrical nature of Part II entitled, Time Passes in her To The Lighthouse. Jean Guiguet has very nicely dealt with a very beautiful analysis of the lyrical aspect of this chapter. The lyrical character of the “Time Passes” has been compared with the opening of chapter 5 of Orland.
In these two passages Mrs. Woolf treats of her favourite theme, ‘this impersonal thing, the flight of time. ‘She has taken recourse to the same cosmic elements which bring about change-wind, water, light, shade, conceived of as mysterious powers, as an army of goblins attacking objects one by one to corrode them, to transform them, disintegrate them. Whether night in invading the Ramsays’ house or rainy gales assaulting the whole of England, the change of scale is scarcely noticeable, for the proportions of the opposing forces remain the same : man and his world on the one hand, and on the other the elfin army, unseen and immeasurable. The vision is the same in both cases.
The Lyricism is Impersonal
In Time Passes the lyricism is essentially personal or subjective, hence doubts have been expressed if the lyrical quality of this chapter in this novel is genuinely lyrical. So Jean Guiguet has discussed this point in great detail. There is no character, no individual consciousness, no voice uttering the poetic words. There is only a scene taking place independent of any spectators, life pursuing its course independent of any living being. Is this depersonalization not antagonistic to the very essence of lyricism? If by lyricism we mean the expression of exalted feelings, as in Shakespeare’s sonnets, the Immortality Ode or Epipsychidion, it rather becomes difficult to accept ‘Time Passes’ as a lyric. Nevertheless the presence of an ‘I’ of an individual consciousness as the seat of such feelings, is perhaps only an accidental element in lyricism, a literary convention and all things considered, a superficial characteristic. In the poems above mentioned, we are scarcely concerned with the ‘I’, which has no distinct features and is only the transparent support for the emotion—love, anguish, nostalgia, aspiration —which is the real substance of the poem. That Virginia Woolf did away with this support is not surprising; it follows logically from her principles.
Abstraction in this Lyricism
Evidently there is a degree of abstraction in this lyricism. Facing the cosmos, thinking about it and enduring it, we have only the anonymous human beings ‘we’, ‘one’, whoever’, the indefinite subject of an infinitive verb. This degree of abstraction appears to be a characteristic of one aspect of Virginia Woolf’s lyricism. Without passing through the intermediary of any individual experience it attempts to render directly the relations between the man and the universe. These are thus reduced to their most elementary form. The themes of traditional lyricism, nature, love and death are convenient labels for those fundamental complexities of which each poet creates his characteristic variant or blend. They are, in fact, so many questions without intelligible answer, whose mystery the artist tries to prove obliquely by means of a whole system of transpositions, whose evocative value and whose load of symbolism are destined to act on the sensibility and intelligence of the reader, so as to convey to him the inexpressible reality. And the two questions that absorbed Virginia Woolf and provided the matter for her lyric outbursts are the same as those which she asked and tried to answer under all the forms with which her art experimented in turn: time and—personal identity. They are complementary to such an extent that one cannot be contemplated without the other.
Abstraction made Concrete and Perceptible
It is really creditable for Virginia Woolf to succeed in giving body and substance to what abstract thought had devitalized. She apprehends time in the form of the changes it brings about, just as an artist is recognised through his creation. But change is also an abstraction to make it concrete and perceptible to the sense, it is necessary to expand the present until it contains the past too, and to insert, between the two limits, mobility, or rather mutation, which includes permanence within change. And Jean Guiguet has pointed out that the opening of sections 3 and 9 of part I is quite significant in this connection.
“But what after all is one night? A short space, especially when the darkness dims so soon, and so soon a bird sings, a cock crows, or a faint green quickens, like a turning leaf, in the hollow of the wave. Night, however, succeeds night. The winter holds a pack of them in store and deals them equally evenly, with indefatigable fingers. They lengthen; they darken.”
“The house was left, the house was deserted. It was left like a shell on a sandhill to fill with dry salt grams now that life had left it. The long night seemed to have set in; the trifling airs nibbling, the clammy breaths fumbling seemed to have triumphed. The saucepan had rusted and the mat decayed. Toads had nosed their way Idly aimlessly, the swaying shall swung to and fro.”
There is not a verb here, either standing alone or modified by an adverb, which fails to indicate some alteration: yet at the same time, under the change of aspect, of colour, of texture, we feel the enduring nature of night, of the house, of the wave, of the breeze, the saucepan or the shawl. This seems to be a description, although distended by time and undermined by mutability; but that which is describable, that which is seen, is only a means of expressing the indescribable, the invisible, that is contained within it. Surely this is described and precisely that abstract-concrete reality so necessary to Virginia Woolf. These images and sensations, merging together in the synthesis of an inner landscape over and above all their plastic value, have a lyrical quality or symbolic power which makes them linger in the mind.
Words with Double Aspect
It has also been explained that all the words in the two passages have a double aspect, night, the wave, the grain of salt, the wind, the toad, rust—these are agents of decay and destruction, the forces of time warning against the forces of life: the bird, the leaf, the house, the shawl…And so such passages expand into abstraction without a break, imperceptibly: the words, ruin, corruption, oblivion, insensibility of nature, which occur later are associated with so many images and sensations that they take on fresh life, an almost physical content. Meditation is superimposed on things seen, and it does not obliterate it, rather recalls it constantly. A few lines indeed can give no idea of the richness and artistry of these pages, in which words invoke and answer one another from one paragraph to the next, while awakening distant echoes from the book’s truest horizons. Their music moreover, adds to their incantatory power and perfects their poeti character.
Virginia Woolf undoubtedly chose prose for her medium of expression, but her prose is a poetic-prose, ‘prose that approximates to poetry’. In spite of her great achievements she is, in fact, not the originator of ‘the stream of consciousness’ novel in England. Dorothy Richardson precedes her as the Path-finder. But she fully deserves the credit for poetising and musicalising the novel of subjectivity. Allusions and images, rhythm, refrain and metaphors all these combine to make Virginia Woolf’s style poetic. The great novels of Virginia Woolf not only reveal the stream of consciousness of their characters but flow like a stream themselves soothing our soul with its musical murmur.

What is symbolism? Elaborate the various elements of symbolism in To The Lighthouse.

Much of the significance of To The Lighthouse is created by its symbolic structure, which pushes the immediate reference of the story and the individual characters on to a more general level, where they represent the common human experience of the encounter against time, death and the cosmic forces that forever threaten to destroy man. So closely is the symbolic material interwoven with the psychologically realistic details of the novel that the separation of symbolic elements from the rest of the novel and from each other does To The Lighthouse an injustice.

When literary critics use the word ‘symbolism’ what do they mean? In Theory of Literature, Wellek and Warren suggest that in literary criticism the usage of ‘symbolism’ be confined to discussion of an object which refers to another object but which demands attention also in its own right’. This description of symbolism indicates the dual nature of the symbol in literature, existing on the level of representational realism (demanding attention in its own right) as well as pointing towards another object of an area of experience. Thus, an object like the lighthouse in To The Lighthouse exists on one level as a lighthouse in the fictional world of the novel, while also directing the reader towards another kind of truth. In a letter to her friend, the artist and critic Roger Fry, Virginia Woolf seems to have agreed with such an understanding of symbolism.

I meant nothing by the Lighthouse. I can’t manage symbolism except in a vague, generalised way. Whether it’s right or wrong I don’t know; but directly when I’m told what a thing means, it becomes hateful to me.
Virtually every detail of the world created in To The Lighthouse can be seen to contain some symbolic suggestion and it would be impossible to trace and assess the development of each individual to a certain symbol. However there are associated symbols which, intertwined with each other and with the diverse ‘elements of the novel, create what we may describe as the ‘meaning’ of the novel.
The Sea
The sea is a powerful element in the setting of To The Lighthouse. The Ramsays’ summer house is situated on an island which faces the smaller island on which the lighthouse stands. The sea pervades the lives of the Ramsays and their guests. The house is full of bric-a-bric from the sea and beach which the children have collected, so that the sea is physically present even in the house. The sound of the waves is a constant background to the sounds of house and garden. This sound raises ambivalent fealings in Mrs Ramsay, representing to her both the reassuring permanence of natural forces and their potential to destroy.
Mr Ramsay, frequently depicted by the image of the sailor-explorer, faces the infinity of the sea, which suggests to him the vast expanse of human knowledge yet to be explored, at once terrifying and challenging.
“He reached the edge of the lawn and looked out on the bay beneath. It was his fate, to stand on his little ledge fancing the dark of human ignorance, how we know nothing and the sea eats away the ground we stand on —that was his fate, his gift.”
The seascape which can be seen from the garden becomes a focus for the feelings of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, bringing them together in spite of their differences.
“…the whole bay spread before them and Mrs Ramsay could not help exclaiming, “Oh how beautiful.” That was the view, she said, stopping growing greyer-eyed, that her husband loved.
While it is the benevolent aspect of the sea that is most in evidence in “The Window”, in “Time Passes” its destructive aspect is dramatised. In To The Lighthouse we learn of shipwrecks and storms, and the sea assumes a malevolent character.
In the final part, both aspects are reconciled in the perceptions of the various characters and this reconciliation is an aspect of the internal voyage undergone by the main characters. Mr Ramsay lives up to the promise of his image as the brave sailor, leading his little band across the dangerous sea to safety. Cam comes to terms with the past and her fear of death through the security her father’s presence confers. For Lily, as she paints, the sea becomes part of a whole which can be encompassed by her art.
The Land
In contrast with the mysterious cosmic forces that are symbolised by the sea, the land —the house on the island, the garden, the sand dunes — represent a precarious human stronghold. The house, Mrs Ramsay’s domain, is a haven of tranquility for family and guests, but its vulnerability is an illusion. In the early part of the novel, we learn that the children brings their sea treasures into the house, and after the death of Mrs Ramsay, the house falls prey to the destructive forces in nature. The garden also, time-honoured symbol of man’s ability to tame nature, is quickly overpowered by the elements in man’s relatively brief absence. House and garden are both recovered from these forces through human determination and effort, but, in keeping with the general theme of the novel, neither can ever he completely restored to its earlier state:
“Mr. Ramsay associated himself with the sand dunes, that mysterious territory between sea and land. ‘That was the country he liked best, over there; those sand hills dwindling away into darkness’. When Mr Bankes thinks of his friendship with Ramsay, he looks towards the sand dunes: ‘But in this dumb colloquy with the sand dunes he maintained that his affection for Ramsay had in no way diminished’. The climax of Bankes’ meditation is associated with sand dunes: there like the body of a young man laid up in peat for a century, withered fresh on his lips, was his friendship, in its acuteness and reality laid up across the bay among the sandhills.”
The Lighthouse
The Lighthouse, as the title of the novel suggests, and as Virgina Woolf acknowledged in her letter to Roger Fry, is the central symbol of the novel. It is associated with the many images of light and darkness that occur in the novel, as well as with the sea and land imagery. Mrs Ramsay, as she bargains with death and change, attempts to create and preserve the light. Mr. Ramsay is concerned with the dark reaches of human ignorance. When Carmichael extinguishes his lamp at the beginning of ‘Time Passes’, it is the signal for the invasion of the house by the sinister forces of nature. Lily’s painting attempts to capture this quality of life of light.
The atmosphere and achievements of Mrs Ramsay’s dinner party are expressed also in the imagery of light and darkness. Paul Rayley, entering the house when he returns from the beach with Minta, notices especially the lights. Mrs Ramsay is surrounded by a ‘golden haze’ and the lights on the table enable the guests to come out from the darkness of the outside world.
The alternating light and darkness represented in this imagery is amplified by the lighthouse itself sending its beam across the sea to the house and land. Mrs Ramsay particularly identifies with the light that comes from the lighthouse: she looked at the steady light, the pitiless, the remorseless, which was so much her, yet so little her, which had her at its beck and call (she woke in the night and saw it bent across their bed, stroking the floor). ..Her thoughts reach a climax as she faces the power of the lighthouse over sea and darkness.
In the ‘Time Passes’ section the lighthouse cut off from human associations, becomes an ambivalent observer of the chaos which descends upon the house. Just as light is powerless to stay the destruction of house and garden’ it too fails to save the local fishermen who are drowned nearby.
The final section of the novel, “The Lighthouse”, uses the lighthouse as a central focus for the narrative and symbolic structure of the novel. On the narrative levels Ramsay and his two children finally make the journey to the lighthouse, and on the symbolic level these three characters, and Lily Briscoe, accomplish an internal journey until they can accept that truth is frequently contradictory. The lighthouse as it is seen by James represents this synthesis very powerfully.
Mr Ramsay’s spiritual renewal is signalled by the last glimpse we have of him, springing ‘lightly like a young man’, towards the lighthouse. For Lily, the final stage of her inward journey occurs at the moment of Ramsay’s landing, when the lighthouse has become almost invisible. The final line of her painting, drawing all together, represents the lighthouse, ‘a line there, in the centre’.

Q. 3. Does it seem to you a just criticism that in To the Lighthouse the usual concerns of a novel—character and plot—have been subordinated to symbols and ideas? (P.U. 2004)

Introductory Remarks
Symbolism, in general, is the presentation of objects, moods and ideas through the medium of emblems or symbols. At the end of the nineteenth century in France and Belgium the symbolists were members of a school of literature and music that rebelled against realism and also against the conventional in form and sought to express themselves by indirect rather than direct suggestion. In literature when words are invested with the suggestion of concealed spiritual and intellectual significance, they become symbols. Words then suggest much more than is conveyed by their literal meaning.

As a novelist Virginia Woolf’s main purpose was to look within and ‘convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit’, hence she has to make extensive use of symbols in her “stream of consciousness” novels including To The Lighthouse. In fact imagery permeates and symbolism pervades the whole of To The Lighthouse. The title of the novel, To The Lighthouse, is symbolic. The sea, the waves, the window and even the characters assume some sort of symbolic significance in this great novel.

(a) The Lighthouse Symbol
The most important and impressive symbol in Mrs. Woolf’s To The Lighthouse is the Lighthouse itself and such is the importance of this symbol that it can be described as a character. Standing lonely in the midst of the sea it is a symbol of the individual who is at once a unique being as well as a part of the flux of history. The Lighthouse undoubtedly seems to be a mystery, but it also concerns day-to-day living. It is at once distant as well as near, It is man-made; something permanent and enduring that man has built in the flux of time to guide and control those at the mercy of its destructive forces. From this aspect it seems related to the human tradition and its values, which last from generation to generation and tell of both the unity and continuity of man. Man tends its light, which sends its beams out over the dark waters to those on the island and so establishes communication with them and illumines them. Thus we find that to Mrs. Ramsay it seems at one moment the light of truth, stern, searching and beautiful, with which she can unite her personality, at another, steady, pitiless, remorseful, an enemy of any place of mind; or again a reminder of past ecstasy, thus bringing it into the present. But it always illumines and clarifies the human condition in some way. In fact the title of the book, To The Lighthouse, signifies the quest for the values the Lighthouse suggests. Thus the journey itself assumes a symbolic significance. In the very opening chapter of the book we have a sentence that deserves consideration. “Yes, of course, if it is fine tomorrow.” “If” points to the uncertainty and insecurity of human fate and “tomorrow” to its imprisonment in time. And then in the last sentence of the book we get: “1 have had my vision.” This means that by landing on the lighthouse something stable has been revealed as a flash in the general doubt, something which seems to triumph over the eternal cycle of change.
Contact with Truth outside Oneself
David Daiches’ remarks, regarding the symbolic significance of the Lighthouse are very interesting as well as illuminating. According to him: “To reach the Lighthouse is, in a sense, to make a contact with a truth outside oneself, to surrender the uniqueness of one’s ego to an impersonal reality. Mr. Ramsay, who is an egoist constantly seeking applause and encouragement from others, resents his young son’s enthusiasm for writing the Lighthouse, and only years later, when his wife had died and his own life is almost worn out, does he win this freedom from self and it is significant that Virginia Woolf makes Mr. Ramsay escape from his egotistic preoccupation, for the first time just before the boat finally reaches the Lighthouse. Indeed, the personal grudges nourished by each of the characters fall away just as they arrive; Mr. Ramsay ceases to pose wits his book and breaks out with an exclamation of adoration for James’ steering; James and his sister Cam lose their resentment at their father’s way of bullying them into this expedition and cease hugging their grievances.
A Mystery
In fact the Lighthouse is a mystery and holds a cluster of suggestions. That is why different critics have tried to explain it in different ways. To Joan Bennett the alternate light and shadow of the Lighthouse seem to be the rhythm of joy and sorrow, understanding and misunderstanding. H.K. Russet asserts that the Lighthouse is the feminine creative principle. And to John Grahams the Lighthouse as symbol has no one meaning. He thinks it to be a vital synthesis of time and eternity: an objective correlative for Mrs. Ramsay’s vision, after whose death it is her meaning.
(b) The Sea and Waves
The sea with its monotonous fall of the waves provides a kind of background music to the life of the Ramsay family members who have come to pass their vacation along with their friends in a tiny island in the Hebrides. It can be seen and heard all day long from their holiday home situated in the Isle of Skye. So it is but natural that the sea permeates thoughts, reflections and imagery throughout the novel. Indeed it symbolises the eternal flux of time and life in the midst of which we all exist.
In To The Lighthouse we find the sea constantly changing its character. At one moment it sounds soothing and consoling like a cradle song to Mrs. Ramsay, at others, ‘like a ghostly roll of drums remorselessly beating a warning of death’ it brings terror. And sometimes its power, ‘sweeping savagely in’ seems to reduce the individual to nothingness, at others it sends up ‘a fountain of bright water’ which seems to match the sudden springs of vitality in the human spirit. Then again we find the sea surrounding the island on which the action takes place and this suggests both the human race in general and the individual personality.
The Waves
The waves have also been used as symbol — the symbol of the moment of life carrying us towards the shore, irresistible but on the whole beneficent. We can say that they have a dual aspect while identifying themselves more closely with existence in its alternating serenity and anguish. The waves are predominantly storm-tossed in Part II of To The Lighthouse, but in Part III there is a restoration of calmness and serenity.
We find that the ‘action’ of To The Lighthouse takes place on an island. Hence the location is surrounded, and cut off, by the sea: Then there is an even smaller island off the coast of the above location. And on a rock of this smaller island stands the Lighthouse. The link between the two islands, is, firstly the sea, and also in a different way, the light beams of the Lighthouse shining rhythmically through the darkness. James passionately longs for a journey to the Lighthouse at the very beginning of the book. And the longed-for journey takes place across the sea in the third or the last part of the book. So it is at the literal, concrete level, that sea, light and the journey are bound up with each other. But these take on a symbolic dimension from the literary level, so that symbolically they weave the texture of the whole, and again each is linked or interwoven with the other at that symbolic level.
(c) The Window
The Window has really an important part in To The Lighthouse. Even the title of the first part of the novel is ‘The Window’. It is not a transparent but a separating sheet of glass between reality and Mrs. Ramsay’s mind. It may be noted that in almost all of her novels the reader may see a character standing at a window, gazing at the landscape, at the street, at the sky and experiencing as by some catalytic phenomenon, the mingling of his own being with the outer reality which he beholds. In To The Lighthouse Mrs. Ramsay is found experiencing moments of both revelation and integration. In fact the window is a screen between reality and consciousness. The pageant of the world is reduced by the window to the scale of the being who contemplates it. And finally we realise that this window is really the very symbol of the imperfection of our knowledge.
(d) Day and Night
In Virginia Woolf’s novels the change of day and night provides at every instant the image of the mind’s constant rhythmical alternation between darkness and light, concentration and dispersal, attention to life and attention to the outside world. Day with its light, giving shape and colour to the objects, is the creative presence of the universe, reborn at every dawn. ‘But if day represents life in its richness and splendour, the dazzlement, which accompanies it and the multiplicity which it imposes, represents disorder and confusion. Night, obliterating one colour after another,one form after another the whole of visible world, leaving us alone with what faint afterglows of vanished light are left within us, will restore our integrity, our self control, after having felt the vision, which sight had concealed from us.’ And hence we find that it is in the heart of darkness that Clarissa’s world in Mrs. Dalloway and that of Mrs. Ramsay in To The Lighthouse take one meaning. Thus symbolically day means sensation, contact and night consciousness and fusion—the two complementary modes of existence. In fact, they are the rhythms of Virginia Woolf’s books as, they are of her life.
(e) Colour symbolism
Even the colour has some sort of symbolic significance in To the Lighthouse. David Daiches, comments on this aspect is worth noting “There is a colour symbolical running right through the book. When Lily Briscoe is wrestling unsuccessfully with her painting, in the first part of the book, she sees the colours as ‘bright violet and staring white’, but just as she achieves her final vision at the book’s conclusion, and is thus able to complete her picture, she notices that the lighthouse ‘had melted away into blue haze; and though she sees the canvas clearly for a second before drawing the final line, the implication remains that this blurring of colours is bound up with her visitor. Mr. Ramsay, who visualizes the last unattainable step in his philosophy as glimmering red in the distance, is contrasted with the less egotistical Lily, who wakes with blues and greens, and with Mrs. Ramsay, who is indicated as a ‘triangular purple shape.’ Red and brown appear to be the colours of individuality and egotism, while blue and green are the colours of the impersonality. Mr. Ramsay, until the very end of the book, is represented as an egotist and his colour is red or brown; Lily is the impersonal artist, and her colour is blue; Mrs. Ramsay stands somewhere between, and her colour is purple. The journey to the Lighthouse is the journey from egotism to impersonality.”
(f) Characters
Symbolic Pattern
The very setting of To The Lighthouse is indefinite and symbolic. And in this symbolic the characters also become symbolic. They are so carefully arranged in their relation to each other that a definite symbolic pattern emerges. This group of people on a remote island represents a microcosm of society, while the background of the natural scenery provides images and suggestions that can be used as interpretative symbols.
Mrs. Ramsay
Mrs. Ramsay has been depicted as the creator of fertile human relationship, symbolized by her love of matchmaking and her knitting. She is also the creator of warm comfort, symbolised by her green shawl. Draped first over the frame of a picture of the Madonna and the child, the picture is then put over her shoulder when she goes out for a stroll with her husband and later used to cover up the skull in her children’s bedroom. And we find that these qualities of Mrs. Ramsay are illustrated clearly and concretely in the scenes with her husband, with her children, her friends and guests, or anyone in distress or difficulties. Even the perverted and cynical Charles Tansley has a vision of her — ‘stepping through fields and flowers and taking to her breast buds that had broken and lambs that had fallen ‘As the creator of fertile human relationship she plays a wonderful role in the dinner party, as ‘the whole of the effort of merging and flowing and creating rested on her’. And her efforts were crowned with superb success.
Mr. Ramsay
If Mrs. Ramsay is the symbol of creative vitality, Mr. Ramsay stands as the symbol of the sterile destructive barriers for relationship. Just as Mrs. Ramsay is shown to us in images of fertility and the warmth and the comfort of love and harmony with others, Mr. Ramsay is evoked in the images of sterility, hardness and of deliberate isolation. To James he is the wagon while going blindly over a person’s foot, leaving it purple, crushed. This is how he felt about his father while sitting in the tiny boat that was at last approaching the silvery, misty looking tower of the Lighthouse.
Lily Briscoe
Lily Briscoe is the artist who refuses to get married and tries to express her sense of reality in terms of colours and form. And In To The Lighthouse art is the ultimate symbol for the enduring ‘reality’. In life, relationships are doomed to imperfection and decay, but in art the temporal and the eternal unite in unchanging form. It also must be noted that Lily’s struggle with the composition and texture of her painting are a counterpart of Virginia Woolf’s tussles and triumphs in her own medium. But in fact Mrs. Woolf has chosen poetry as the image that reminds mankind that the everchanging can yet become immortal. This becomes evident when we find that a poem recited by Mr. Ramsay just before the dinner party ends seems to crown the harmony of the evening.
Mr. Carmichael
Even old Mr. Carmichael with his yellow beard and inscrutable mind is a symbolic character. In To The Lighthouse we have two creative figures—Lily the painter and Carmichael the poet. And Carrmchael’s is the only mind we never enter. He seems to us, as it were, poetry itself. And in the final scene when he stands on the edge of the lawn ‘spreading his hands over all the weakness and suffering of mankind’, it seems that for Lily he has taken the role of a sea God or figure of Fate.
Thus a careful and close study of Mrs. Woolf’s To The Lighthouse clearly reveals to us that the theme of her novel is symbolic in its implication. “The framework of To The Lighthouse is simple but upon it Virginia Woolf weaves a delicate pattern of symbolic character and situation.”

Virginia Woolf wanted to capture, in words, the nature of human consciousness—what it actually feels like to be alive”. Discuss with reference to To the Lighthouse. (P.U. 2005)

Introductory Remarks

In our introduction to this novel we have already quoted at length from Virginia Woolf’s famous essay on Modern Fiction to point out that it is her firm conviction that—“Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.” And in the very same essay she has also very sharply criticised the current form of the novel as represented by the novels of Arnold Bennett. His main point is: “Life escapes, and perhaps without life nothing else is worthwhile… ‘Whether we call it life or spirit, truth or reality, this, the essential thing, has moved off, or on, and refuses to be contained any longer in such ill-fitting vestments—as we provide.”

So this ‘Arnold Bennett form’ of the novel which prevailed in the first quarter of this century seemed to Virginia Woolf to obscure, even to falsify her experience. Hence she had no way but to reject the traditional technique or set herself to destroy the current form of novel and then to invent one that would express her own vision of life. She had to adopt a new technique ‘to convey this varying’, this unknown and uncircumcised spirit. The older novelists were obsessed with the outside husk and so could not get on to the inside kernel of life. That is why H.G. Wells and Bennett were just materialists to her and Joyce and Proust of France were spiritualists as their mode and endeavour was to capture that ‘uncircumcised spirit’, the fleetingness of life. She realised that the most important thing for a novelist is to comprehend and delineate the numerous impressions that the minds of the characters receive in the ordinary business of life.
The Stream of Consciousness Technique: Essential Elements
The ‘stream of consciousness’ novel is in fact a new type of fiction that developed in the early part of the nineteenth century. Dorothy Richardson was, no doubt, the pioneer in this field in England. But ‘Virginia Woolf is the most important name among this type of novelists. And the most important thing about this type of novel is that such novels have mainly as their essential subject-matter the consciousness of one or more characters. The depicted consciousness serves as screen on which the material in these novels is presented. There is very little external action. In its place we get the interior monologue and the fluid mental states—a fluid existing simultaneously at a number of points in a person’s total experience. Without any intervention in the way of explanations or commentary the interior life of a character is introduced to us by means of this interior monologue by the novelist enabling the reader to enter into the inner life of a character. And the most important aspect of this interior monologue is that it is a speech which precedes logical organisation reproducing the intimate thoughts just as they are born and just as they come. And as regards its form it finds its expression in direct sentences, reduced to a syntactic minimum.
Another very important factor is that in this new type of novels the writers do not treat time in a chronological way like the novelists of the old school. To them time ceases to have a positive nature. Its value and duration are relative to other fluctuating factors. In this respect they were much influenced by Bergsonian concept and ideas. Thus we find that in these novels plot, action, character and thought are drowned in the stream of consciousness.
To The Lighthouse and ‘The Stream of Consciousness Technique’
It has already been mentioned before that Virginia Woolf realised that the conventional technique of narration was not at all suitable to express her own view of life and so she had to adopt a new technique, more suited to her purpose. Hence in To The Lighthouse we find no sensations and thrills, no conventional stock-in-trade of the traditional novelists. There is hardly any story in the sense of a series of events. In it she has totally rejected ‘The Arnold Bennett form’. She has designed her book to present life as she sees and understands it. Virginia Woolf is more interested in inner than in the outer life. Hence she has freely exploited the interior monologue of the different characters. We are able to view each of the important characters through his or her own thoughts and actions as well as through the consciousness of different characters. So the depicted consciousness of Mrs. Ramsay enables to understand the true character and personality of Mr. Ramsay, Lily Briscoe or Charles Tansley. In the same way the stream of consciousness of Lily Briscoe reveals to us the personality and the finer shades of the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay or the odd and maladjusted personality of Charles Tansley.
New Concept of Time
The novelists of this new school brought about a deliberate change in the prevailing concept of time and introduced in its place a new concept. In this they were greatly influenced by Bergson who held that we all are remoulded constantly by experience and our consciousness is a process of endless accretions, as long as mind and senses are functioning. ‘The continuation of an infinite past in the living present’ is always there. Hence in their novels we find the action moving backward and forward freely in time. There is no chronological forward movement which is a common feature of the traditional novel. For them time ceases to have a positive nature. According to David Daiches—“The stream of consciousness technique is a means of escape from the tyranny of the time dimension. It is not only in distinct memories that the past impinges on the present, but also in much vaguer and more subtle ways, our mind floating off down some channel, superficially irrelevant but really having a definite starting off place from the initial situation, so that in presenting the character’s reaction to events, the author will show us states of mind being modified by associations and recollections deriving from the present situation, but referring to a constantly shifting series of events in the past.”
To the Lighthouse and Concept of Time
This manipulation of time has been done with remarkable skill in To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. The same was done very successfully also in Mrs Dallaway. We find that the clock-time is strictly limited; and this enables us to move freely in time and space in the consciousness of Mr. Ramsay or of Lily Briscoe. The interior monologues of Mrs. Ramsay in the first part and that of Lily Briscoe in the third part of the novel illustrate the point quite convincingly. Often in the mind, past and present merge. Virginia Woolf s peculiar technique, as exemplified in part I of the novel where Mrs. Ramsay sits knitting a stocking, consists in the fact that the exterior objective reality of the momentary present which the author directly reports and which appears as established fact—here the meaning of the stocking —is nothing but an occasion. The stress is entirely on what the occasion releases, things ‘which are not seen directly but by reflection, which are not tied to the present of the framing occurrence which releases them,” remarks an eminent critic.
Story and Form
After her second novel, Night and Day Virgina Woolf ceases to tell stories. In To The Lighthouse also we no longer find the sequence of events leading to a climax. She abandoned the convention of the story for the same reason that she abandoned the convention of character drawing, as neither of them could be made to express life as she saw it. The events noted by her are not the immediate causes or consequences of other events in her book. In fact their importance depends upon their effect in the consciousness of her creatures and not upon their function in a plot. So in the third part of To The Lighthouse the importance of Lily Briscoe’s intense recollections from the past and her vision of Mr. Ramsay sitting in the same old place in that room really depends upon their effect in her consciousness.
Virginia Woolf perfectly realised that the tools and established conventions of the Edwardian novelists would mean sure ruin for the novelists of the new generation. That is why she made continued experiments with the form of the novel. Her chief purpose was to record what life felt like to living beings and then to communicate the impression made by one individual upon others. She also aimed at revealing human personality partly through its own self consciousness and partly through the picture projected by it upon other minds. Hence she has removed the narrator from the scene. Thus in the third part of To The Lighthouse when James emerges into manhood, we get his impressions of the world of the elderly linked with past memories and projects for the future through the medium of his own reflection. This shows that the direction, in which she is moving, is towards complete objectivity. But this is not the objectivity of the drama. It is an objectivity in which the feelings, the meditations, the memories of the protagonists are projected without intervention upon the mind of the reader.
Some Other Aspects
Another aspect of Mrs. Woolf’s technique is to create suspense and curiosity in the mind of the readers. We find in To The Lighthouse that the opening remark of Mrs. Ramsay is an answer to an unstated question which we have to supply by picking up clues from what follows. This is for getting the readers, natural curiosity involved. We find that there is a pattern; and the pattern is one of brief statements in direct speech separated by longer descriptions of the character’s reactions and thoughts in indirect speech. And the conversation about going to the Lighthouse acts as a stone thrown into the middle of a pool starring ripples of reaction in the minds of several characters.
Mrs. Woolf has also used the device of third person narration with great skill. Her use of indirect speech for the interior monologues of her characters makes it easy for her to work into these rental soliloquies a number of statements and ideas which are outside the range of knowledge of the character she is dealing with. This is quite evident in the opening chapter when she describes the feeling of games about his father and then she begins to describe through impersonal sentences what Mr. Ramsay did and said:
“What he said was true. It was always true. He was incapable of untruth…….“
Narrow Framework
Another important point to be noted is that Mr. Woolf planned almost all her later novels within a narrow framework. For this purpose either she confined the action to a brief period of time, or by limiting the foreground characters to a small number. Often she employed both these devices. So in To The Lighthouse we find the action confined to a period of only two days with a gap of ten years in-between. There may be ten characters making any permanent appearance, but only seven of them, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, Lily Briscoe, Mr. Bankes, Mr. Tansley, James and Cam reveal themselves fully in speech and in silent soliloquy. Thus we find that in To The Lighthouse the outward structure is simple consisting of three movements of unequal length and of two different kinds, as it were two acts linked by a chorus.
Poetic Prose
Virginia Woolf’s use of poetic prose is also quite ingenious and noteworthy. As in Mrs. Dalloway the form is the vehicle for two kinds of experience—one on the plane of prose and the other on the plane of poetry. On the prose plane To The Lighthouse tells about the Ramsay family, and their relations to one another. On the other plane the Lighthouse is a poetic symbol with an uncircumscribed power of suggestion.
Stream of Consciousness Novel with a Difference
The convention of plot, tragedy, comedy, climax, catastrophe are to be disregarded by the novelists of this school. And Virginia Woolf is one of the greatest among them. To The Lighthouse is no doubt a stream of consciousness’ novel, but with a difference. She has used the technique of ‘the stream of consciousness’ with interior monologues to capture the inner reality, the truth of life with remarkable skill. But still in most of her novels she has not followed her theory in every detail. She knew that art implies a selection and ordering of material. Hence there is some form and pattern in To The Lighthouse and there is some inner unity. And then the novelist is also playing the role of a central intelligence and is constantly busy, organising the material and illuminating it by frequent comments. If we follow the discussions between Mr. Ramsay and Mr. Bankes regarding the French recipe, we shall see how the central intelligence is reporting a part of the dinner conversation. In fact Virginia Woolf was a great experimenter. She experimented with many methods and gave to ‘the stream of consciousness’ technique so many twists and turns and finally achieved her complete success in Mrs. Dallaway and To The Lighthouse. We may sum up by quoting some relevant comments by R. L. Chambers: “The novel represents a perfect compromise between the need for formal clarity and the requirements of ‘The stream of consciousness’ method. In this novel ‘the stream of consciousness technique achieved a balance which it had hitherto seemed to lack. It proves that ‘the stream of consciousness’ method, though it might be queer, was not very, very queer after all.”

Discuss Virginia Woolf’s Theory and Practice in To The Lighthouse.

We have discussed in detail Virginia Woolf’s theory of fiction and have also quoted extensively from her famous essay on contemporary fiction for our purpose. Mrs. Woolf has clearly expressed her view that the older novelists failed to portray life as they were preoccupied with the outside husk, seldom getting on to the inside kernel of life. By presenting the story chronologically they divorced themselves from life, which is equal to human consciousness, and consciousness, modern psychology had proved, as also one knows from one’s own experience, does not move in a straight line.

In fact, it is a fluid existing simultaneously at a number of points in a person’s total experience. To Virginia Woolf ‘life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end’ and hence it should be ‘the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit…..‘And though she tried the traditional forms in her first two novels, she abandoned them, as she realised that the traditional novels could never portray the fleeting impressions and the inner reality. And then she admired and appreciated Joyce of England and Proust of France, as she recognised in their innovations something that would help her realize her own ideal. To her Wells and Bennett are materialists, whereas Joyce and Proust are spiritualists for they try to capture the fleetingness of life.

The Stream of Consciousness Technique
When Virginia Woolf found that the conventional technique of narration was not at all suitable to express her own view of life, she had to adopt a new technique more suited to her purpose. Hence she had to adopt the stream of consciousness technique by freely exploiting the interior monologue of the different characters presented in To The Lighthouse. We are able to view each of the important characters through his or her own thoughts and actions as well as through the consciousness of different characters. We find the depicted consciousness serving as screen on which the material in this novel is presented. So the depicted consciousness of Mrs. Ramsay enables us to understand the true character of Mr. Ramsay, Lily Briscoe or Charles Tansley. In the same way the stream of consciousness of Lily Briscoe reveals to us the personality and the finer shades of the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay or of the odd and maladjusted personality of Tansley. There is very little external action or violent deeds; instead there is the interior monologue and the fluid mental states.
Form and Pattern
Then, in To The Lighthouse we no longer find the sequence of events leading to a climax. Virginia Woolf abandoned the convention of story also for the same reason that she abandoned the convention of character drawing, as neither of them could be made to express life as she saw it. The events noted by her are not the immediate causes or consequences of other events in her book. In fact, their importance depends upon their effect in the consciousness of her creatures rather than upon their functions in a plot. And her chief purpose, was to record what life felt like to living beings and then to communicate the impression made by one individual upon others. So there is no plot-construction in the sense of a logical arrangement of incidents and events, leading chronologically to a catastrophe or denouement.
Mrs. Woolf’s Practice: Her Deviations
Virginia Woolf was undoubtedly one of the greatest novelists of this new school, who disregarded the convention of plot, tragedy, comedy, climax or catastrophe of the older novelists to capture the inner reality, the truth of life with remarkable skill. But still in most of her great novels, specially in To the Lighthouse she has not followed her theory in every detail. She was, no doubt, much impressed by the writings of Joyce and Proust, but their influence on Mrs. Woolf should not be over-emphasised. She is by no means a blind imitator of the great masters of the new technique or the psychologists who furnished the theoretical framework for the ‘stream of consciousness’ novel. Her essential method is her own. Hence, whatever may be die opinion of some critics, Mrs. Woolf’s To The Lighthouse is definitely a ‘stream of consciousness novel—but with a difference. She knew that all art implied a selection and ordering of material. So, as Mrs. Woolf set herself to destroy the current form of the novel, she was also driven to invent one which would express her own vision of life. Hence there is some form and pattern in To The Lighthouse and there is some inner unity. And then the novelist is also playing the role of a central intelligence and is constantly busy, organising the material and illuminating it by frequent comments. She realised that simply the record of a character’s impressions did not produce a novel superior to a more conventional story.
Thus we find Virginia Woolf planning almost all her outstanding novels of the later period within a narrrow framework. And she achieved this either by confining the action to a brief period of time, or by limiting the foreground characters to a small number. And sometimes she employed both the devices. That is why in To The Lighthouse we find the action confined to a period of only two days with a gap of ten years in-between. There are only ten characters making any prominent appearance, but only seven of them, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, Lily, Mr. Bankes, Mr. Tansley, James and Cam—reveal themselves fully in speech and in silent soliloquy. And then we find that in To The Lighthouse the outward structure is quite simple consisting of three movements of unequal length and of two different kinds, as it were two acts linked by a chorus.
It may now be asserted that To The Lighthouse is definitely a ‘stream of consciousness’ novel, but with a difference. A close study of the novel clearly reveals to us that there is a careful weaving together of the character’s consciousness, the author’s comments, and one character’s view on another. Hence To The Lighthouse is neither chaotic nor incoherent like most of the novels of this genre—it is more finely organised and more effective than anything else Virginia Woolf wrote. In fact her theory of fiction is very nicely revealed in this great novel. Elizabeth Drew’s comments on this point are worth noting and we may conclude by quoting her apt remarks:
“It is indeed a wonderful piece of workmanship. Her foundation of ideas is ‘clamped together’ in the symbolic structure she chose to suggest it. At the same time the ‘feathery, evanescent’ nature of consciousness—the permeation of the present by the past, the outer by the inner, the currents uniting personalities and dividing them, the moments when things come together and fall apart, the intermingling of the emotions and the senses, all the hazy motions of reverie—all this is vividly revealed. Her characters all come to life, as we see into their own minds and into their images in the minds of others. We constantly recognize the truth of her psychological insights. Her mastery of her medium and her riches, of concrete metaphorical suggestion are everywhere. Unquestionably she was a ‘professional’, evolving a new form of fiction and creating a masterpiece in it.”