To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

February 18, 2008 at 2:30 am Leave a comment

A sort of transaction went on between them, in which she was on one side, and life was on another, and she was always trying to get the better of it, as it was of her…for the most part, oddly enough, she must admit that she felt this thing that she called life terrible, hostile, and quick to pounce on you if you gave it a chance. And yet she had said to all these children, You shall go through it all.

I really want to like Virginia Woolf. Honest, I do. I think she’s a great writer, a brilliant thinker and critic and essayist, and that she does exactly what she sets out to do when she begins to write, with the exception of those disappointments all authors have with their finished products.

Still, I just don’t like To the Lighthouse. I know that my enjoying the novel is more or less irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, as I’m just a piddly undergraduate living 100 years and 4,000 miles away from where Woolf was writing from.

The ideas are brilliant, and really more of what’s in Mrs. Dalloway — mourning the passage of time and lamenting the burden of life (can you tell Woolf was a teensy bit suicidal?). I suspect James will never get to visit the lighthouse, and that Mr. Ramsey will continue quoting “The Charge of the Light Brigade” without ever getting past that one line.

Is it okay to say the book is amazing without having actually enjoyed it? When I count down the criteria I consider necessary for a work to be “good,” To the Lighthouse fits them perfectly. Strong theme? Check. Good metaphors? Check (though sometimes they are a bit obvious). Plot? Check — kind of, but that’s not a major one, anyway. Solid, fluent and fluid sentence structure? Check.

I have a feeling this novel(la?) is one of those books that will be taught widely in twenty years or so, even though I think it’s relatively obscure right now. It has all the earmarks of a great work, but as of yet none of the attention of Mrs. Dalloway or A Room of One’s Own. Still, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, I just…couldn’t like it.

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Entry filed under: Classics.

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