Reality and Fiction in Virginia Woolf’s “to the Lighthouse” Essay

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Reality and Fiction in Virginia Woolf’s “to the Lighthouse”

Reality and fiction in Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse” I have chosen this subject because I found very interesting debate, and the author is one of the greatest writers of all times. His works is large and full, his characters are contoured such that it fascinate you. Victorian period also is one of the most famous, with most changes produced in English literature To the Lighthouse is a 1927 novel by Virginia Woolf. A landmark novel of high modernism, the text, which centres on the Ramsays and their visits to the Isle of Skye in Scotland between 1910 and 1920, skillfully manipulates temporal and psychological elements.

In To the Lighthouse ,one of her most experimental works, the passage of time, for example, is modulated by the consciousness of the characters rather than by the clock. The events of a single afternoon constitute over half the book, while the events of the following ten years are compressed into a few dozen pages. Many readers of To the Lighthouse, especially those who are not versed in the traditions of modernist fiction, find the novel strange and difficult. Its language is dense and the structure amorphous.

Compared with the plot-driven Victorian novels that came before it, To the Lighthouse seems to have little in the way of action. Indeed, almost all of the events take place in the characters’ minds. Although To the Lighthouse is a radical departure from the nineteenth-century novel, it is, like its more traditional counterparts, intimately interested in developing characters and advancing both plot and themes. Woolf’s experimentation has much to do with the time in which she lived: the turn of the century was marked by bold scientific developments.

To the Lighthouse exemplifies Woolf’s style and many of her concerns as a novelist. With its characters based on her own parents and siblings, it is certainly her most autobiographical fictional statement, and in the characters of Mr. Ramsay, Mrs. Ramsay, and Lily Briscoe, Woolf offers some of her most penetrating explorations of the workings of the human consciousness as it perceives and analyzes, feels and interacts. The Transience of Life and Work Mr. Ramsay and Mrs. Ramsay take completely different approaches to life: he relies on his intellect, while she depends on her emotions.

But they share the knowledge that the world around them is transient—that nothing lasts forever. Mr. Ramsay reflects that even the most enduring of reputations, such as Shakespeare’s, are doomed to eventual oblivion. This realization accounts for the bitter aspect of his character. Frustrated by the inevitable demise of his own body of work and envious of the few geniuses who will outlast him, he plots to found a school of philosophy that argues that the world is designed for the average, unadorned man, for the “liftman in the Tube” rather than for the rare immortal writer. The Subjective Nature of Reality

Toward the end of the novel, Lily reflects that in order to see Mrs. Ramsay clearly—to understand her character completely—she would need at least fifty pairs of eyes; only then would she be privy to every possible angle and nuance. The truth, according to this assertion, rests in the accumulation of different, even opposing vantage points. Woolf’s technique in structuring the story mirrors Lily’s assertion. She is committed to creating a sense of the world that not only depends upon the private perceptions of her characters but is also nothing more than the accumulation of those perceptions.

To try to reimagine the story as told from a single character’s perspective or—in the tradition of the Victorian novelists—from the author’s perspective is to realize the radical scope and difficulty of Woolf’s project. The Lighthouse Lying across the bay and meaning something different and intimately personal to each character, the lighthouse is at once inaccessible, illuminating, and infinitely interpretable. As the destination from which the novel takes its title, the lighthouse suggests that the destinations that seem surest are most unobtainable. Just as Mr.

Ramsay is certain of his wife’s love for him and aims to hear her speak words to that end in “The Window,” Mrs. Ramsay finds these words impossible to say. These failed attempts to arrive at some sort of solid ground, like Lily’s first try at painting Mrs. Ramsay or Mrs. Ramsay’s attempt to see Paul and Minta married, result only in more attempts, further excursions rather than rest. The lighthouse stands as a potent symbol of this lack of attainability. James arrives only to realize that it is not at all the mist-shrouded destination of his childhood.

Instead, he is made to reconcile two competing and contradictory images of the tower—how it appeared to him when he was a boy and how it appears to him now that he is a man. He decides that both of these images contribute to the essence of the lighthouse—that nothing is ever only one thing—a sentiment that echoes the novel’s determination to arrive at truth through varied and contradictory vantage points. The Sea References to the sea appear throughout the novel. Broadly, the ever-changing, ever-moving waves parallel the constant forward movement of time and the changes it brings.

Woolf describes the sea lovingly and beautifully, but her most evocative depictions of it point to its violence. As a force that brings destruction, has the power to decimate islands, and, as Mr. Ramsay reflects, “eats away the ground we stand on,” the sea is a powerful reminder of the impermanence and delicacy of human life and accomplishments. Subjective Reality The omniscient narrator remained the standard explicative figure in fiction through the end of the nineteenth century, providing an informed and objective account of the characters and the plot.

The turn of the 20th century, however, witnessed innovations in writing that aimed at reflecting a more truthful account of the subjective nature of experience. Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse is the triumphant product of this innovation, creating a reality that is completely constructed by the collection of the multiple subjective interiorities of its characters and presented in a stream-of-consciousness format. Woolf creates a fictional world in which no objective, omniscient narrator is present.

There is a proliferation of accounts of the inner processes of the characters, while there is a scarcity of expositional information, expressing Woolf’s perspective on the thoughts and reflections that comprise the world of the Ramsays. Time is an essential component of experience and reality and, in many ways, the novel is about the passage of time. However, as for reality, Woolf does not represent time in a traditional way. Rather than a steady and unchanging rhythm, time here is a forward motion that both accelerates and collapses.

In “The Window” and “The Lighthouse,” time is conveyed only through the consciousness of the various characters, and moments last for pages as the reader is invited into the subjective experiences of many different realities. Indeed, “The Window” takes place over the course of a single afternoon that is expanded by Woolf’s method, and “The Lighthouse” seems almost directly connected to the first section, despite the fact that ten years have actually elapsed.

However, in “Time Passes,” ten years are greatly compacted into a matter of pages, and the changes in the lives of the Ramsays and their home seem to flash by like scenes viewed from the window of a moving train. This unsteady temporal rhythm brilliantly conveys the broader sense of instability and change that the characters strive to comprehend, and it captures the fleeting nature of a reality that exists only within and as a collection of the various subjective experiences of reality.

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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 1 December 2016

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