To the Lighthouse

By Virginia Woolf

Sample Questions

1) "To the Lighthouse" is a commentary upon the differences between masculine and feminine modes of thought and being. Discuss.

Consider the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay. Look at the imagery associated with each: Mrs. Ramsay is maternal and the focus is upon the womb-like and circular nature of femininity, Mr. Ramsay is resolutely masculine and the imagery associated with him is angular and powerful.

Discuss the concept of a female writing style. How much does Woolf empathize with Mrs. Ramsay over and above the male characters through her use of prose? Has Woolf found the female voice (if such a thing exists)? How does she express it? Think about her use of imagery and poetic style above storyline and prose.

Consider the less important figures. Is Charles Tansley a representation of all that is negative about masculinity? Compare Woolf's portrayal of the relationship between him and Mr. Ramsay with Lawrence's more positive representations of male bonding in The White Peacock.

Are Paul and Minta a younger, more optimistic version of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay? Is this because Paul acknowledges his feminine side?

2) "To the Lighthouse" is more an elegy to those lost in the war than a novel about childhood experience. Discuss.

It can be both. Look at what distinguishes To the Lighthouse from traditional novels - its fluid approach to the presentation of time, use of symbolism, poetic prose style. Define 'Elegy'.

Look at death in the novel. It could be argued that aside from the deaths - which we only hear of second- hand, nothing really happens. However, the entire second and third sections of the book are concerned with the fall-out from the deaths. If we subscribe to Woolf's theories about the fluidity of time, then the beginning section is merely a preparation for the deaths which occur during 'Time Passes'.

Focus upon 'Time Passes'. Consider it as a piece of poetry. What imagery is particularly elegiac in nature. How is the human consciousness and its reactions to loss represented in this passage?

Look at Part 3. This is a resolution and an anti-resolution. Is Minta's painting a pictoral elegy? Does the trip to the Lighthouse lie to rest the ghost of Mrs. Ramsay. Is Woolf (especially in the more poetic passages) a female war poet expressing feminine frustration about her lack of involvement in the actuality of war?

3) In what ways can "To the Lighthouse" be seen as a Modernist novel?

Define Modernism - see above. Consider why Modernism happened - a break with the values of the Victorian era, but also a reaction to the increasingly turbulent times during the first years of the twentieth century.

How does To the Lighthouse manage to do both these things? Firstly, the stream-of- consciousness style and use of poetic prose form breaks with the idea of the novel being a story with a beginning, middle and an end. Secondly, the use of the interior monologue and shifting perspectives means we get much further inside these characters than, for instance, anyone in Trollope. Victorian moral codes are also being skewed. The elderly visitors and Mr. Ramsay are representations of the great days of the Victorians. Sir Leslie Stephen's favorite author was Sir Walter Scott. Mr. Ramsay quotes Tennyson. These characters are portrayed as anachronisms in the violent new century.

To the Lighthouse emulates the shifting social and political fabric of the pre- and post-war years in its tripartite structure. The 'Time Passes' movement (this is certainly the best word to describe it) is perhaps the most striking passage of Modernist prose. The pre- war years - Part 1 of the novel - seem to present an idyllic picture of a family holiday. However, look for the warning signs: Mr. Ramsay's quoting of "The Charge of the Light Brigade", the dichotomy between the young and the old, all of this points towards the coming of a new age. The third section is full of symbols which represent the profound shift in the world which occurred during 'Time Passes'. Is the final resolution of the completed painting and the trip to the lighthouse a sign of optimism, or merely an elegiac send-off for the ghost of Mrs. Ramsay?