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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Richly Imagined Life of the Mind
"Lighthouse" is a unique novel which established Virginia Woolf's reputation as a great writer. The story focuses on 2 days in the life of a large middle class family, with a middle interlude where the family's house is the major character. The setting is the family's summer home, filled with house guests. The action, however, is all internal, the chronology hazy and the...
Published on April 4 2004 by J. Marren

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3.0 out of 5 stars To the Lighthouse
To the Lighthouse is a novel about a boy named James Ramsay who is growing up during World War I. "The Window" opens up by telling us how James longs to go to the lighthouse that is just across the sea. He hates his father because he takes joy in being rude to his eight children and his wife, Mrs. Ramsay who would not say a mean word about anyone. The Ramsays'...
Published on Dec 2 2003 by Robyn S


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Richly Imagined Life of the Mind, April 4 2004
By 
J. Marren "jtm497" (Glen Ridge, NJ USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: To the Lighthouse (Paperback)
"Lighthouse" is a unique novel which established Virginia Woolf's reputation as a great writer. The story focuses on 2 days in the life of a large middle class family, with a middle interlude where the family's house is the major character. The setting is the family's summer home, filled with house guests. The action, however, is all internal, the chronology hazy and the events--to the extent anything really "happens" at all--rather mundane.
This all made for tough going until it "clicked" around p. 50. What Woolf does is create in real time not "real" events but what is going on within--that constant stream of thoughts and emotions that remains hidden from the world. Woolf spends a long time on a simple scene of Mrs. Ramsay reading a story to her 6 year old son. In the space of a few short minutes as she reads aloud Mrs. Ramsay considers whether an engagement she has been encouraging between two of her guests will occur, feels trapped between her son's desire to go to the lighthouse and her husband's cruel squelching of the idea, worries about the bill to repair the greenhouse, and underlying all senses impending doom just beyond the horizon. Another example is Woolf's description of the interior struggle of Lily as she paints in a style that happens not to be in fashion at the time. But Woolf shows us what Lily sees in her mind--a line here, a shadow there, a form.
Virginia Woolf has a reputation of being "hard to read" and I was unsuccessful in trying to persuade my book club to try "Lighthouse." But I'm glad I plowed ahead on my own--it's a rich and complex work, and totally unlike anything I've ever read. Try it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars My Boeuf with Virginia, Jan. 19 2004
By 
Buce (Palookaville) - See all my reviews
This review is from: To the Lighthouse (Paperback)
Here is a small point with a larger purpose: Virginia Woolf does not know Boeuf en Daube. Or at any rate, Mrs. Ramsay, the heroine of "To the Lighthouse," does not, and there is no suggestion of any irony in her thought on the topic:
"Everything depended upon things being served up to the precise moment they were ready. ... To keep it waiting was out of the question. Yet of course tonight, of all nights, out they went, and they came in late, and things had to be sent out, things had to be kept hot; the Boeuf en Daube would be entirely spoilt."
Well, if you know anything about the kitchen, you know that this is nonsense. Boeuf en Daube is probably the last thing that needs to be "served up to the precise moment ..." As Elizabeth David says in her "French Provincial Cooking:" "there must be scores of different recipes for daubes in Provence alone... essentially a country housewife's dish." And more to the point, per Ms. David:
"The daube is a useful dish for those who have to get a dinner party when they get home from the office. It can be cooked for 1  hours the previous evening and finished on the night itself. Provided they have not been overcooked to start with, these beef and wine stews are all the better for a second or even third heating up."
I wonder how many English majors from the 1950s sold their souls for a good Boeuf en Daube (did Sylvia Plath have the recipe?) - and how much better off they would have been if they'd seen through it: understood that Mrs. Ramsay did not get the point, because Ms. Woolf did not get the point. Indeed, strictly speaking, the creation is not Mrs. Ramsay's at all, but you'd have to be a sharp-eyed reader to catch on: it is the servant who does the work and delivers the finished product and she, I suspect, knows better than her mistress how flexible and compliant it may be. There is an irony here and it is lost, I suspect, on the mistress and on the mistress' creator.
All of which leads to a larger point: Virginia Woolf does not know servants. Instance in particular her observation of Mrs. McNab, the old char who comes to reopen the summer house after long disuse. We get an elaborate set-piece description of Mrs. McNab, and it is not pretty: indeed, it is mean-spirited and dismissive in almost every way. Mrs. McNab "lurches" and "leers" She "was witless and she knew it;" she sings "like the voice of witlessness." Now, if this is true, it is inexcusably rude: one may want, for some artistic purpose, to show her lurching and leering for, but here it serves no purpose, unless you count its actual function in throwing light on the author. Anyway, the chances are it is not true. My guess is that Mrs. McNab has operated under far more constraint in life than either Ms. Woolf or Mrs. Ramsay ever dreamed of. Witless people do not survive under the iron whim of a Mrs. Ramsay; poor chars who do learn to survive will find that it takes all the skill one can muster.
I could go on, but I need to stay within Amazon's 1,000 word limit. The point is not that "To the Lighthouse" is a bad book. It's actually quite a good book; or at least it is a book full of good paragraphs, and Virginia Woolf seemingly cannot write a bad paragraph. It is as bad novel, because Virginia Woolf has little of the capacity for imaginative empathy that makes a really good novelist. They say that Shakespeare stands as a void at the center of his plays because he has poured every part of his being into his characters. Virginia Woolf takes almost all of her characters into herself. It is well done, but often we get to know more than we really want to know.
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3.0 out of 5 stars To the Lighthouse, Dec 2 2003
By 
Robyn S (Pittsburgh, PA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: To the Lighthouse (Paperback)
To the Lighthouse is a novel about a boy named James Ramsay who is growing up during World War I. "The Window" opens up by telling us how James longs to go to the lighthouse that is just across the sea. He hates his father because he takes joy in being rude to his eight children and his wife, Mrs. Ramsay who would not say a mean word about anyone. The Ramsays' house a number of guests at their home in Hebrides. Mr. Tansley is a present day "understudy" of Mr. Ramsay who is a metaphysical philosopher who doesn't think his profession is impacting anyone. Mr. Tansley worships Mr. Ramsay because anything he says, Mr. Tansley is always backing him up no matter whose business he's intruding upon.
Lily Briscoe is also a guest at the home. She is a painter who like Mr. Ramsay feels her artistic abilities are getting her nowhere in life. She admires Mrs. Ramsay and starts a portrait of her, however never finishes it. Mrs. Ramsay introduced her to William Bankes who was a friend of the family. Her plan was to get them to marry one another but it did not work out that way. She did manage to arrange one wedding which was between Paul Rayley and Minta Doyle.
During the next chapter, "Time Passes", World War I spreads over Europe. The Ramsay's eldest son is killed in battle. Also one of their daughters, Prue died from a birth defect. During this chapter, Mrs. Ramsay passes away suddenly. James is left in a tough situation. He has to cope with the loss of his mother, but also come to the fact that his abusive father is the only one left. Through all of this misfortune, the summer house in the Hebrides is no longer visited.
Ten years pass and Mr. Ramsay decides to take James and James' sister, Cam to the lighthouse. James has turned into the kind of man that his father is, he is very moody and stubborn. When they get close to the shoreline to the lighthouse, bonding between son and father occurs. Mr. Ramsay is proud of his son because of person he came to be. Just as they arrive at the shore, Lily, the aspiring painter finishes one of her paintings.
I enjoyed this book overall. It was slow in the beginning but after the first few pages, I really came to enjoy reading it. It made me realize my life's worth even though my life has yet to start. No matter where it takes me, I now know to never give up and be persistent with what I like to do. If I continue on that path even with the bumps along the way, by the end my life with be put in perspective for me.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A work of genius which I HATED, May 1 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: To the Lighthouse (Paperback)
Look, I hated this book. I hated reading it. I hate all stream of consciousness writing, or very nearly all. I hate what little I have read of Joyce, I hate most of what Faulkner I have read, and I find Proust nearly as unreadable.
This work is the only work by Virginia Woolf I have ever read. It took me nearly forever to finish it. Reading it's long, winding, meandering sentences was like walking through molasses.
Thank goodness I have finally, FINALLY finished it.
I hope to never ever read anything else by Virginia Woolf.
And I mean that.
Keep her stuff away from me.
It just does not interest me at all.
...Having said all that, I must hasten to add, however, that I do recognize this novel, this ability to string together random thoughts and make some semblance of sense out of them, to be a work of clear genius. It must've taken her a staggering amount of work, amount of thought. The woman clearly had a wealth of intellect and talent. Just keep anything else by her away from me, because it doesn't interest me in the slightest, this detailed, ultra-remonstrated British upper-crust mindset stuff.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Slow, April 19 2004
This review is from: To the Lighthouse (Paperback)
Slow isn't necessarily bad, but in this book it was. I am biased against the 'consciousness' style of writing, so my perception of this book was already negative before I started reading it. The book wasn't too difficult to understand (unlike The Sound and Fury by Faulkner) but it was just plain uninteresting. William Bankes (a character in the book) said concerning literature "let us enjoy what we do enjoy," and I simply did not enjoy Virginia Wolfe's book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WARNING:, June 15 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: To the Lighthouse (Paperback)
This book is not for people who need lots of explicit flash-bang style action. Or for people who think they want deep concepts, but only if they are clearly spelled out so that the reader doesn't have to work to hard. There is no sex, but there is pleanty of romance, there is no killing, but there is death (on many levels). It is a book that deals with the inner workings of the mind and Virgina Woolf gives us a glimpse into some thoughts that come from people who are honest. Perhaps the best example of this is when Mrs. Ramsey, one of the main characters, struggles inwardly with her motivations and asks herself honestly why she helps people. She comes the remarkable conclusion that she helps people so that others will look at her and think about what a wonderful person she is. That may not seem so profound, but very few of us are able to be that honest with ourselves.
It is difficult to get through, so if you want a candy book go read Tom Clancy. Her points are subtle but honest. She says more about human nature in her 200 pages than any other author I've read. I wouldn't classify myself as an intellectual, but this is still one of my all time favorite books.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Virginia Woolf Writes Like Magic, Aug. 8 2009
This review is from: To the Lighthouse (Paperback)
The plot of this book on the surface does not seem necessarily like it would engender a classic: a family with a caustic father, a loving mother and a youngest son who despises his father and in this particular instance wants to visit a lighthouse out in the ocean, a desire his father opposes. However, Woolf infuses this story with her fabulous (I think) writing style and a breadth of insights and observations that leave one fascinated and thinking throughout. Her writing style includes long sentences and a flow consciousness that some might find too burdensome. Somehow her writing reminds me of Sylvia Plath, with that same brilliance of wordplay. Quite simply it is a great book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Here and now, June 22 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: To the Lighthouse (Paperback)
So here we have Mrs Woolf masterpiece, her great achievement at grasping time. This is a book for those that like a challenge in reading. It is not passive reading, Virginia needs your whole attention throughout the novel, and if you are lucky and get inside you will hace a wonderfull experience, you will be there with her and the characters, reading with a dim light, saling towards the lighthouse, painting, the air will brush your face and you will smell salt and sea and be dizzy after lunch. I do not Know if what she tells really interested me because it was jus something you experiment. Good chance
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4.0 out of 5 stars Woolf's "Lighthouse:" Persistence Pays, April 16 2004
By 
Martin Asiner (jersey city, nj United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: To the Lighthouse (Paperback)
Those who come to Virginia Woolf for the first time do not know quite what to make of her style. Most authors structure their novels in the traditional rising action, climax, falling action manner. A linear line of plot is most often the key to their works. In Woolf's novels, she eschews such straight line plotting in favor of a weirdly blended kaleidoscopic view that makes relentless use of both a stream of consciousness narrator and interior monologues. In TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, Woolf tells the tale of a married couple, the Ramsays, who lived in England just before the First World War. The Ramsays are the prototypical Victorian family replete with servants, a summer beach house, eight children, and a keen awareness of the fragility of life. What happens to them is neither earth shaking nor memorable. What happens within them is of far greater consequence. As Woolf focuses on each character, she presents a highly subjective view of the internal thought processes of that character. Each thought is like a ripple caused by a stone thrown into a still pool. Woolf allows her character to meander not only spatially (from point to point) but also chronologically. Events are described as if they were occurring within the literal present, but most often the events are from the past merging into the future. Thus, the plot ripple pool is constantly crosscutting each other with events removed from each other both in space and in time. It is no wonder, then, that readers unfamiliar with such an expanding and contracting temporal flux are confused. Woolf challenges her readers to involve themselves in a manner that requires a dedication to reading not often found in more traditionally structured novels.

As one reads from section to section (there are three: The Window, Time Passes, and The Lighthouse), one becomes aware that the novel's primary symbols--the lighthouse, Lily's painting, the sea, and the internalized thought processes of Mrs. Ramsay--function in a manner that does not become clear until after one has read considerably into this admittedly puzzling work. The initial clue lies within the title of the book: "To the Lighthouse." Thus, the lighthouse is seen both as a starting point in a journey (its radiating beacon of light lies close to the Ramsay's summer home) and a destination in that the youngest of the Ramsays, James, wants to go there, but it takes him ten years to do so. Lily is Lily Briscoe, a close friend of the Ramsays who seems to have difficulty painting a portrait of Mrs. Ramsay, no great surprise there since that portrait points not so much to Mrs. Ramsay as it does to an abiding life-long interest of Virginia Woolf herself: the desire to impose order and form on a universe that is inherently chaotic. It is crucial to note that Lily succeeds only at the very end of the novel when Mrs. Ramsay has long been dead, thus emphasizing the ephemeral nature of her task. Mrs. Ramsay's personality also is a barometer of Woolf's belief that the post Great War society of England would forevermore be seen as formless as Mrs. Ramsay's meandering thoughts. The first section "The Window" forms the bulk of the book. It is here that Woolf depicts a rather ordinary family who collectively symbolizes the inability of individuals to leave an abiding footprint on the shifting sands of time. In the second part "Time Passes," time does indeed pass, ten years worth. The home of the Ramsays falls into decay that requires the re-entry of the surviving family members to invigorate it and themselves in the final section "The Lighthouse." Lily's painting of the now deceased Mrs. Ramsay allows Virginia Woolf to claim even a minor victory in the ultimately losing battle against cultural entropy.
I suspect that the major reason that most readers have with this book lies in their immediate recognition that they have to pay a great deal of attention to psychological free associating. As the characters' thoughts bounce off each other both temporarily and spatially, so must those of the readers, a most imposing task. But for those with persistence and an eye for the nontraditional in plotting, the effort is usually worth it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Elegy to the Moment, Jan. 27 2004
This review is from: To the Lighthouse (Paperback)
I just reread what I think of as Virginia Woolf's finest book and my personal favorite. Even if one isn't too fond of Woolf, I don't know how any serious reader or lover of great literature could fail to be impressed with the sheer beauty and timelessness of this radiant novel.
TO THE LIGHTHOUSE is a portrait of the Ramsay family; a portrait "taken" as they are vacationing at their summer house on the rugged coast of Scotland. This is a very interior portrait, though, the most interior I've ever encountered in any book to date. For me, at least, this book transcends the barriers of time, culture and all else and speaks straight to the soul, from the soul, something few authors have ever been able to do.
This is also the most profoundly human novel I've ever had the pleasure of reading. The Ramsays face tremendous challenges in TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, but the book's focus isn't on the challenges per se, but on how the Ramsays react to those challenges and how they are affected by them.
There are probably as many interpretations of this novel as there are readers, and I think that's a great tribute to Woolf. One of the novelist's main jobs is to touch the heart of her readers and TO THE LIGHTHOUSE certainly does that. What makes this book a masterpiece, however, at least in my opinion, is the fact that the Ramsay family act as a microcosm of all humanity; in the Ramsay's we can find something of all families. In the Ramsay's we can find something of ourselves.
Some people have told me they found the inclusion of Lily Briscoe extraneous. I don't think there's one extraneous thing in this book and certainly not Lily. She loves the Ramsay family yet she isn't a member. She's the one character who's able to step back a little and see the family as a whole, with love, yet without becoming overwhelmed. I think Lily is as essential to this book as is the Boeuf en Daube or even the lighthouse, itself.
And why the focus on the lighthouse? Will the journey to it really change anything? Will it really add to or subtract from the life of the Ramsays, especially when so many other factors threaten to disrupt and tear them apart? For me, the lighthouse represents constancy in a world of change. A point of reference to which the Ramsays can cling. The journey out to the lighthouse, for me, at least, represents the promise that one can go home again, even if that home has greatly changed. If the journey to the lighthouse is made, and the promise is fulfilled, then life can go on, even if it is as storm-tossed as the rocky Scottish coast.
I remember feeling awed the first time I read this book and subsequent readings have only increased that feeling a hundredfold. TO THE LIGHTHOUSE is Virginia Woolf ar her very finest. This book is one of the greatest masterpieces of 20th century fiction. It's radiant; it's miraculous; it's triumphant. It's a book no serious reader, or lover of life, can afford to miss.
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To the Lighthouse
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (Paperback - Feb. 1 2001)
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