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NA203612 - WOOLF, V.: To the Lighthouse (Abridged)

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf

To The Lighthouse


Virginia Woolf was born in 1882, the daughter of editor and critic Leslie Stephen. The early deaths of her mother, stepsister and brother left her prone to bouts of depression, which continued throughout her life. After teaching for a time at a college for workingwomen in south London, she began writing reviews for The Times Literary Supplement and was drawn into a group of radical writers and artists later to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. Here she met the socialist intellectual, Leonard Woolf, whom she married in 1912. Together they founded the Hogarth Press, whose list included such influential literary figures as T.S. Eliot and Katharine Mansfield.


Through her early essays and articles, and later her novels, Virginia Woolf gained a reputation as a feminist and modernist and was keen to develop new techniques to express her vision of life. Her major novels include: Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To The Lighthouse (1927), A Room of One’s Own (1929) and The Waves (1931). In 1941, overcome by fear of another attack of depression, she drowned herself.


In writing To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf drew largely on memories of her father and mother and the summers they spent at St. Ives. However, she uses her own experiences only as a resource for her energetic imagination, and the book is concerned primarily with the inner processes of the mind, rather than with the ‘objective’ material. It is significant that the painting of Lily’s picture, the work of art in which she tries to express the essence of her experiences, is a central part of the book. It is this fusion of the ‘subjective’ and the ‘objective’ which concerned the author when writing this book.


There has been much debate about the intrinsic symbolic significance of the lighthouse, but given that Virginia Woolf seems to be saying that there is no ultimate reality, it is unlikely that she intended it to represent one fixed idea; it is simply a lighthouse, and it becomes for each character what they choose to project onto it.


For Mrs. Ramsay it is ‘something immune which shines out’, and for James, as he approaches the lighthouse, he sees it ‘as it really is’ and yet ‘No, the other was also the lighthouse. For nothing was simply one thing.’ As we penetrate the minds and different perspectives of each character, we are, almost unwittingly, drawn into a world, which is at once unreal, and an expression and exploration of the fundamental truth and mystery of human perception and reality.


Notes by Heather Godwin



Juliet Stevenson


Juliet Stevenson has worked extensively for the RSC, the Royal National Theatre, and other major theater companies. She won an Olivier Award for her role in Death and the Maiden at the Royal Court, and a number of other awards for her work in the film Truly, Madly, Deeply. Other film credits include The Trial, Ladder of Swords, Drowning by Numbers and A Secret Rapture.




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