Virigina Woolf published To the Lighthouse, her most autobiographical novel, in 1927. She is said to have written it as a way of "understanding and dealing with unresolved issues concerning both her parents." Woolf's husband aptly coined this masterpiece, a "psychological poem."
Like Woolfe's The Waves, TTL is stream of consciousness with concentration on introspection rather than speech or action. Its power soars in small gestures. Large events occur only as an aside, in brackets. Woolf avoids raw emotion, for the most part, dwelling more on interrelationships and qualities of mind and manners.
Part I of the novel describes an afternoon and evening from one of the Ramsay family's visits to the Isle of Skye in Scotland around 1920. Descriptions were certainly inspired by Woolf's family rental of Talland House in St. Ives. In Part II, ten years pass and the Ramsay's home goes to ruin. This image mirrors the death of Woolf's mother when Virginia was thirteen. In Part III, over the course of a single morning, members of the Ramsay family revisit the house and travel to the lighthouse, just as Virginia had visited Talland House after WWI and her father's death.
I was amazed by the weaving and rhythmn of the poetry pose and its ability to absorb the flow of my thoughts into the novel's scenes with much the same result as I experience while sitting, say, in a botanical garden. The meditation settles deep, expressing qualities, subtle and indirect, so gently they permeate rather than shout their illumination.
Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay are middle-aged parents of eight children. While love has lost its bloom, they love one another in a needy and appreciative way. Mrs. Ramsay is beautiful, and is at once liked and disliked by others. Her children love her. The father is interesting, brooding, complex and disliked by his children, in general. The dynamic changes as the novel progresses, showing the intransience of relationships, and houses.
My favorite sections belong to Mrs. Ramsay, and to the description of the house in ruins. The poetry and complexity wooed me beyond mere entertainment, and although I've given entertaining books 5 stars, I give TTL 4.75 stars because I use a different scale for magnificant, literay works such as this. The novel was close to perfection, but not quite. The last note, or fragrance, seemed off, a collaspe of an ending when I wanted, expected, something else. Perhaps life is like that. I look forward to reading Mrs. Dalloway in the near future.
P.S. On a different note, I felt a bit sensitive to Woolf's portrayal of women's minds as vague and less capable than men's in areas such as serious thought, spatical relations, navigations, etc. Her female characters recognized some of their strenghts, but they held their accomplishments a peg or two below men. Bram Stoker's Dracula female characters were self-effacing in much the same way, as low in confidence as children. Such were the beliefs of the time, and it is little wonder that breaking out of limiting mentalties was and is so difficult for both men and women.